Further down the Dell is St Peter’s Well, once a stopping place for pilgrims making the journey to Queen Margaret’s shrine in Dunkeld. More recently Andrew found a small boy with his bottom in the air fishing out the silver coins visitors throw in the water before making a wish. At the foot of the valley an arched Chinese style bridge leads over the burn and through a forest of bamboo which is being made into a maze. ‘Bamboo is so much more fun than yew,’ he muses, ‘and children love it.’
Every year fame and life are brought to this garden when The Fingask Follies, a musical and literary revue, takes place in the house. Established by Andrew when he moved to Fingask, the revue is directed by Helen, who came here to produce the revue and married Andrew. Using professional musicians and actors, the production capitalises on the current popularity for old style drawing room entertainment.
[Images – clockwise from top left: The rough bark of a giant redwood tree; The views over the Carse of Gowrie stretch out beyond the topiary; The Tay Valley sits at the foot of the hill; A small bridge with a pantile roof spans the burn in the Dell; A cast of the Greek god Doryphoros; A door in the garden wall hints at the garden beyond.]
Yew and holly are both suitable plants for use as topiary. Another option, which works well in a country garden, is hawthorn, which has the added bonus of producing blossoms in the spring and berries in the autumn. In the winter the bare framework looks wonderful when lit from behind by a low sun and it can tolerate the weight of snow on its branches. When planting yew, Taxus baccata, make sure the young plants are placed in well prepared ground with a mixture of compost and sharp sand. This will allow for good food and drainage and will ensure the plants get off to the fastest possible start.
Unless you have an artistic eye and are confident you can clip the branches into the desired shape or outline, be sure to buy a suitable frame from a garden centre. If you can’t find anything suitable ask a blacksmith to make a metal frame and paint it black. The branches will soon grow up and hide the frame.
Instant holly topiary in the shape of a ball can be bought at garden centres. Allow the central stem to grow out of the topiary shape and you can eventually train it into a second ball. Ilex ‘Golden Queen’ and ‘Silver Queen’ are suitable.