Offbeat Flowers: Gardening in the Hebrides
As one drives along the West Coast of the ravishing Isle of Mull it is hard to concentrate on the single track road ahead let alone spot the passing places for cars, such is the sheer beauty of the landscape. But I defy any garden loving tourist visiting Mull not to be stopped in their tracks by Lip na Cloiche (www.lipnacloiche.co.uk) which means ‘Edge of the Rock’ in Gaelic, a miraculous garden brimming with plants, verve and colour.
This densely planted garden has been created in less than a decade by Lucy Mackenzie Panizzon, a ‘Muileach’ – a native of Mull. Lucy was born on the island but left for thirty two years to live in Rome with her Italian husband. After his death she returned to Britain with their daughter, Vittoria Panizzon (www.vittoriapanizzon.com) an international eventer who represented Italy in the 2012 Olympics. Initially they lived in Hampshire and Lucy worked for Longstock Nursery (www.longstocknursery.co.uk) at the same time enrolling on a Horticultural course at the City and Guilds. When Lucy bought the one acre plot on Mull it was a wilderness of dense bracken and gorse surrounding the remains of an old bothy.
She built a traditional style cottage before embarking on the garden. At first she made a living gardening for other people but gradually she became enveloped by her own garden and nursery. Lucy didn’t set out with a master plan but has skilfully created the garden so that one finds oneself ascending the steep slope behind the house drawn ever onwards and upwards by paths twisting and turning amidst a thrilling array of plants until one reaches the very top.
There one can sit and marvel on a bench framed by reclaimed ropes bedecked with the rose ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ and gaze down over the garden past the soaring echiums. The top boundary is demarcated by an eccentric chicken run. ‘I have to enclose the hens to protect them from otters and buzzards’.
At first glance it is hard to assimilate the complete ensemble, there is just so much to feast the eyes on. Innumerable plants are to be seen in every direction: clambering over the house, spilling out of whimsical containers, such as old tin trunks, sprawling over sinuous lengths of driftwood and in a multitude of flowers and containers.
‘It is almost too much. I ought to cut back’ admits Lucy. And then of course there is the dazzling view over Loch Tuath and the Isle of Ulva.
‘Most Scottish gardens have sacrificed their view, usually by planting windbreaks,’ says Lucy.
The whole garden is imbued with a delightful air of eccentricity as it is artfully strewn with ‘found objects’ – rusty old iron bedsteads, wheels, driftwood (‘I love beachcombing, it is an excellent way of linking the topography with the garden’) as well as long abandoned farm implements.
‘In winter I seek out old farm tips and salvage what I can. It is part of our heritage’. If you are wondering what Lucy does to while away those long Scottish winter evenings when she can’t be toiling away in her beloved garden the answer is what she calls ‘craftwork’. She gathers flowers native to Mull, dries them and makes them into greeting cards which she sells from her porch, and also makes cards with shells and fragments of washed up glass.
What I found most interesting was her love of ‘boody’. In 19th-century dialect in Northumberland and Northumberland boody was used to describe broken china originally collected as playthings but increasingly used to decorate jugs, bottles and boxes. The recent exhibition ‘British Folk Art’ at the Victoria & Albert museum had several examples. Plants have to withstand very wet and windy conditions – ‘they jolly well have to survive’. Like all true gardeners, Lucy is always propagating and has a fine display of plants for sale arranged on old doors used as tables.
‘At least half are bought by people living on the island as they know they will grow. Unlike plants bought in a garden centre grown in a polytunnel in Holland’. Every new plant is given a dose of blood, fish and bone but ‘I don’t believe in regular feeding. It would only encourage growth that would be unable to withstand the wind’.
The garden is open every day all year from dawn to dusk and has rapidly become well known in its brief life. ‘Between 8-10 cars stop during the height of the season’. A garden club all the way from Orkney recently turned up. And it has become a regular stopover for people on the Hebridean Princess, the small luxury cruise liner. The garden is one of the most personal I have ever been fortunate to visit. I urge you all to make the pilgrimage too.