Scotland had been a dream destination for several years. In 2019 we booked a two-week tour and travel package for 2020. COVID changed everything. This year, when it felt safe to travel, we flew to Europe to see castles, isles, glens, and beautiful gardens.

Scotland is a large island surrounded by almost 900 smaller islands, about 100 of which are inhabited year-round. We visited the Orkney Islands, taking a large ferry which carried hundreds of passengers, dozens of cars and at least two motor coaches the days we were traveling. The countryside is rugged and beautiful, the hillsides covered in gorse and heather. Salmon, mussels, and scallops are raised in tidal lochs. Sheep are a mainstay, as are the Scottish Highland Cattle, and we witnessed a magnificent example of border collies herding sheep that I will never forget. I am always interested in agriculture and forestry when traveling. Sadly, though there are some magnificent mature trees in gardens and parks, there is no native original forest left anywhere in the country.

Most inhabited castles in Scotland seem to have both kitchen and formal gardens. There were three public gardens we toured that I particularly enjoyed. The first was in the south on the Isle of Bute at Mount Stuart House. This eighteenth century Gothic palace in red stone is large and ornate, with a chapel, pipe organ and huge and lavish public rooms. Long a residence of the chief of the Stuart clan, it is now held in the Mount Stuart Trust, and is open for public tours. Though the current house was begun in 1879 and completed around 1900, the property has been in the Stuart family for many generations. There are several national record tree specimens in the extensive gardens, forests, and meadows.

A private garden for many years, the most personalized and unique garden we saw was called Inverewe. Located on the West Coast of Scotland between Poolewe and Ullapool, this magnificent garden was begun on over 100 acres in 1863, beginning with windswept ridges of bare stone and peat. This garden was developed along the coast and up the ridges by planting and nurturing hundreds of trees.

Osgood McKenzie was the lord of the manor, building a fine stone manor house in Scottish Baronial style on the property. He added a walled garden, continued to add trees and plants throughout his lifetime, and the gardens became well known and regarded across Scotland and beyond. When Osgood died in 1922, his daughter Mairi inherited the estate. She had been actively involved in the development of the property she inherited from her father, and she continued to develop the gardens and collect additional species. The original manor house suffered a catastrophic fire in 1914. The family owned several other homes in the area, but in 1937 Mairi added a lovely home to the property on the former site of the stone manor.  She designed around the kitchen, which she felt was central to any home.

Late in life Mairi McKenzie donated the property to the National Trust for Scotland. Framed by riveting ocean views, gorgeous hills and trails and the combination of sun and shade, the garden is enchanting.  A big storm last spring had taken down many large trees and the scars and the loss were still very evident on the hill overlooking the sea. The fierce power of nature was still on display, months after the fact. This garden is truly a national treasure, and sees over 100,000 visitors per year.

In Edinburgh, we stayed an additional day past the formal tour to have time to visit the Royal Botanical Gardens. Inside the city, these 70 plus acres contain magical mature trees, immaculately kept perennial beds and wonderful display and teaching gardens. I marveled at the many species that could thrive there due to the warming effect of the gulf stream ocean currents. Much of Scotland is zone 6, but some is zone 7…far warmer than our zone 5. Seeing a rocky coastline and the occasional palm tree in a protected garden is an exciting shock to the system of a Michigan gardener. There is a very nice visitor center and café, and the garden is a great place for weddings and family outings, as well as for passionate gardeners and scholars. With entrances on three sides and no cost for admittance, it is accessible to all who are interested.

I noticed everywhere that people used roof lights, (what we call skylights) in their homes with regularity, seeking as much light indoors as possible to help balance the high number of cloudy, rainy  days. Most homes seemed to have some sort of garden or landscape even though soil is thin and rocky in most places. The Scottish people love their gardens.