A Garden Fit for A Queen Mother

Horticulturists live with and (usually) love change and the latest change at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) sees the successful completion of a two-year £525,000 collaboration between The Queen Mother’s Memorial Fund for Scotland and RBGE, in association with architect Lachlan Stewart. The Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden is an evocative tribute featuring a Celtic labyrinth surrounded by four gardens containing plant species from the four corners of the world. Lachlan Stewart
The outer borders sport colourful “regal’’ plantings and the garden has, as its focal point, a stone pavilion housing a bronze low relief portrait of the Queen Mother. Nearby a curved, stepped, grassy area provides seating, designed particularly with school groups in mind.
Prince Charles, who is Patron of the Fund, said he was delighted the Garden had been completed on schedule and within budget and commented, “I am enormously proud so many people at home and abroad had wished to contribute to the Memorial with such generosity.’’ He added that the Garden would be a growing tribute to his “darling grandmother.’’
The late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother had a remarkable life, spanning more than a century. The major events of the 20th Century were fully reflected in her own life and that, along with her outstanding personality, made a compelling case for telling future generations about her life and work.
Launching the Queen Mother’s Memorial Fund as an educational charity in 2003 First Minister Jack McConnell said, “Scots everywhere retain a special place in their hearts for The Queen Mother.”

children playing in the bog myrtle

The Vision
From the outset the Trustees’ primary aim was to create a National Memorial which would reflect and illuminate the Queen Mother’s values, particularly her close interest in voluntary service. They believed it was vital to illustrate to young people today – and in the future – the principle of freely giving service to others. At the same time, there was a strong educational case to demonstrate how such an inspirational life impacted on the history of the 20th Century.
Through discussions with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the Trustees selected an accessible site which is open all year round, free of charge.
The landscape was designed by the Highland architect Lachlan Stewart and RBGE staff have planted it extensively with species of royal name and association.
Three years is not long to plan and build a garden! Work began in Autumn 2004, when the former Winter Garden was stripped of turf and the existing plants rescued for use elsewhere. In Spring 2005, contractors moved in to add additional drainage, form the hard landscaping and build the stone pavilion housing the grotto.Martyn Dickson
Autumn 2005 saw the gardeners back in to begin planting. Nursery supervisor Peter Brownless chose the plants and it was left to Martyn Dickson and his team to undertake the planting. The last parts to be completed were the borders around the pavilion, due to the upright stones at the edges of the borders being engraved with the names of all the organisations that the Queen Mother has been involved with.
Entering the Garden
The garden is entered through a gap in the huge lime hedge and straight ahead can be seen the pavilion.
Each corner features plants from the four corners of the earth, symbolised by four trees: Cercidiphyllum magnificum, with its wonderful autumn colours and burnt sugar scent, representing Asia, Liriodendron tulipifera ssp fastigiatum, with green and orange flowers in early summer, from North America, the English oak Quercus robur ssp fastigiatum from Europe and Nothofagus antarctica from the southern hemisphere, a deciduous tree which is uncommon in this country.
All the trees are supported underground and fastigiate forms have been selected to avoid them outgrowing their space too soon. Common to each corner are the Siberian Carpet Cypress Microbiota decussata – which has fantastic autumn colour – unusual for an evergreen! Hornbeam hedges (Carpinus betulus), and Liriope muscari (a member of the lily of the valley family which has delicate green grass like foliage and purple hyacinth-like flowers ).
Many of the plants were chosen for their regal names, but most visitors are surprised to see their origins.

Climate Change
Supervisor Martyn Dickson explains, “The climate here in Edinburgh is getting warmer so we can have olive trees (Olea europaea) and tree ferns (Dicksonia antartica) out of doors, at least in summer. We might have to wrap them in situ or bring them indoors for winter.”
The 60 year old Dicksonias, a protected species, were wild collected from Tasmania, where urban encroachment threatened them. The tree ferns were collected before development began and homes such as this were found for them.
E layout in gardenThe central section incorporates a labyrinth inspired by a Celtic Cross at Eassie, close to Glamis Castle, where Elizabeth Bowes Lyon spent much of her childhood. The design of the labyrinth takes the form of a series of plantings in the shape of an “E’’ for Elizabeth. Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) was selected for the labyrinth – rather than the more usual yew or box – to represent Scotland and, in particular, the moorland surrounding the Castle of Mey, her retreat in Caithness. “We blew up the drawing from two feet across to 45 metres square,” explains Lachlan, “to define the formal pattern.”

window in pavilionShell Grotto
At the head of the Garden stands a stone pavilion. Its internal grotto-like walls are adorned with shells collected by school children around Scotland – “although,” Martyn observes, “some of them are not native and must have come from holiday collections”. The Queen Mother was very fond of grottos and architect Lachlan Stewart had lived as a student in Newhailes where he fell in love with the shell grotto there.
shell saltires in the pavilion

This was the last work to be completed – with hours to go – and was designed by Lachlan’s wife Annie. Thousands of shells were donated and Martyn’s team had to sort and grade them – “Some of them weren’t particularly clean,” he recalls, “but Lachlan called in a favour and one of the distilleries up north cleaned them for us.”
Mussels and scallops are arranged in the shape of hundreds of saltires with queenies forming the edges. Smaller shells form the infill. Many hours of work – not to mention glue, silicon and nails – have resulted in a magical little space. And if you crane your neck to view the ceiling, another huge saltire can be seen, formed from pine cones which the team had collected from thirteen species of conifer growing in the Botanic gardens.roof of pavilion
All of this is a delightful addition to the garden and children love to play in the labyrinth, running through the E-shaped plantings of scented bog myrtle.

In the wild, the plant is rarely more than half a metre high but, in the pampered surroundings of Edinburgh, it has already doubled in size and is expected to reach over a metre.
That is the beauty of all gardens; they grow and change with the seasons, and there’s more to see next year. “Come back in Spring,” Martyn suggests, “when we will have a wonderful display of alliums and tulips.”

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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