Panoramic view of the The Lomond Hills from Downfield garden (Photo by Byron Becker)
There has been a flower garden at Downfield House for over 150 years. A semi-circular lawn was already in place in 1893 flanked by conifers; these are the Japanese larch Larix kaempferi, which are still here.Recently felled specimens show from their tree rings that they are at least 110 years old and may be older given their prominence on the Ordnance Survey map. L. kaempferi was introduced to Scotland in 1886 in Dunkeld and Blair Athol. These larches served the function of a windbreak together with the native Scots pine, sycamore, ash and lime that were planted later.There was some underplanting later which included Soloman’s Seal, Polygonatum x hybridum, Philadelphus, Buddleia, Ribes, Olearia x haastii, Berberis darwinii, rhododendrons and Prunus laurocerasus. Self-seeded yews and elders also occurred.There were flower borders and a rockery between the house and the lawn and more borders of perennials, notably Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow,’Aconitum and bulbs to the south.To the north is a stand of old native pines at the highest point of the garden, fronted by cypresses and beyond the garage sycamores, limes, elders and hollies.
In 1996 the property comprised the house and garden of 0.9 acres, a pasture field ,drying green and orchard to the east of 0.6 acres and a pasture field of 1.3 acres to the west. The house lies at an altitude of 670 feet above sea level. The soil is a silt overlying weathered basalt. It is shallow , rarely more than 30cm and is acidic; the pH ranges from 4.0 to 5.9. The soil is well drained and drainage is rapid as the gound drops away to the north and west.
From 1997 onwards a design for the garden evolved. The semicircular lawn was retained,and a line was laid out at right angles from the centre of the west elevation of the house westwards. A flight of stone steps led from the terrace upon which the house sits down to the lawn; over the landing flag was a low metal arch carrying two clematis , one white the other pink.The line crossed the lawn and up the slope on the far side ; a flight of stone steps was later constructed using flagstones from Kellie Castle with the help of my undergraduate and postgraduate students.The fence that bounded the existing garden was cut and the line extended across the pasture field to the western boundary as shown on the plan. Remarkably, the vista was closed 20km further west by the shoulder of Benarty Hill.As one walked through the field , one arrived at a point where other eye-catchers appeared in the further landscape and these were used in constructing a patte d’oie [goose foot] formalised by the yew hedges. Using the main axis to Benarty Hill and turning two 23 degree angles, one south-west and the other north-west the vistas were closed by the cuesta form of Dunearn Hill some 00km distant and the West Lomond 14 km distant respectively. By the time the garden boundary was reached in a north-westerly direction one felt enclosed by the angles of the wire fences and the prospect lost, which was unsatisfactory. Many large stones and boulders lay about here and there and they were mounded up and capped with soil to form a rondel 15 metres in diameter. the rondel was reached by a soil ramp and both were grassed. The rondel serves as a viewing platform as shown on the plan.
Some 2500 native trees, ash,rowan ,pine, birch, were planted in the late winter and early spring of 1998 in rows six feet apart and six feet spacing in order to combat the strong wind climate.They have been thinned on two occasions and the canopies lifted.They have had the effect of moderating the wind climate and now provide mixed woodlands through which paths meander.Underplanting with shrubs and herbaceous plants has recently begun.
Forty 0ne different genera and species of trees have been planted including Pinus mugo from Central Europe, Pinus Montezuma from Mexico and Pinus wallichiana from the Himalaya.115 different shrubs and climbers have also been established of which the clematis do particularly well. 124 herbaceous plants and bulbs have been planted including plants bred by Gertude Jekyll including Aquilegia nivea, Lunaria annua ‘Munstead’, Primula ‘Munstead Bunch,’Sedum telephium Munstead Dark Red, Viola minor ‘Gertrude Jekyll,’and Viola ‘Jackanapes’.