This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Balcarres, the seat of Sir Coutts Linsday, Bart., is pleasantly situated on a rising eminence about three miles north of the Firth of Forth, on the south-east coast of Fifeshire.
Balcarres House, formerly the residence of the Earls of Crawford and Bal-carres, is a substantial old building, to which considerable additions have been made by the present and former proprietors. It was in a small room of the original building that Lady Ann Linsday, afterwards Lady Ann Barnard, wrote the fine old ballad, "Auld Robin Gray." From the situation of Balcarres extensive and varied views are obtained along a rich and fertile coast; and far out into the German Ocean is seen (in mid-ocean) the beautiful Island of May, with its beacon-lights and its carpet of green verdure; and westward along the coast, and far inland, the prospect is varied and beautiful, embracing a number of thriving towns, and a rich agricultural and mineral district.
The last object the eye can discern in the far west is the lofty summit of Ben Ledi; while looking southwards the eye takes in the whole range of coast and country from Qaeensferry and the Pentland Hills in the west, to St Abb's Head near Berwick-upon-Tweed in the east; and, looking directly south, on the opposite side of the Forth is seen the picturesque little town of North Berwick, with its lofty Law (hill) immediately behind; while a little further east, and in the waters of the Forth, stands that wonderful mass of solid rock (the Bass) whose sole inhabitants are Solan geese. Looking to the south-west the eye takes in the shipping port and town of Leith; also Edinburgh, its Castle, Arthur's Seat, etc. etc.
On the north side of the Forth, and immediately south of Balcarres, stands the village and parish church of Kilconquhar, with its beautiful and picturesque loch of fresh water, covering nearly 90 acres of land: all combine to make Balcarres very interesting in point of view, scenery, etc.
The park in which the mansion-house and gardens are situated is of great extent, and has a gentle declivity to the south, and contains a number of fine old trees, amongst which are several fine old Hollies, including two very fine specimens of the Queen Holly, denoting great age. We likewise observed two grand specimens of Evergreen Oak, which were planted in the year 1616. From their healthy condition, they have the appearance of being well cared for. On approaching the kitchen-garden from the west, we first came upon the gardener's house, a very neat, substantial, and commodious building, well ornamented with choice Roses and standard Hollies. The kitchen-garden is about 6 acres in extent, and is enclosed and divided into three divisions by stone walls 12 and 14 feet high. The first division we entered consists of about 1 1/2 acre; and on entering there is a very romantic rockery containing an extensive and varied collection of British Ferns, Alpine plants, etc. A portion of this division is divided with neatly-kept Yew hedges, and contains modern designs of flower-gardens, in which are collected a choice and extensive assortment of Roses and herbaceous plants. We may mention here that the Rose Souvenir de la Malmaison is very extensively grown in this garden, and with good effect.
Mr Adamson seems to take this Rose under his own peculiar care. The plants are taken up in autumn, after the wood is thoroughly matured, and planted at the bottom of a south wall with a little kindly soil thoroughly worked in among the roots; and after all danger of frost is over, they are carefully lifted and planted out again in their old position, the ground meantime having been thoroughly trenched and well manured, and a good portion of fresh soil added to the beds [an excellent practice. - Ed.] With this treatment they grow most luxuriantly, and produce blooms we have never seen equalled. The principal forcing - houses are in the above division, and occupy a south wall about 320 feet in length. They consist of a large greenhouse, four Vineries, two Peach-houses, and a Fern-house. On the north of this Avail are a number of roomy sheds, Mushroom-house, seed-room, dwelling-house for garden-assistants, garden-office, etc. Exotic plants are extensively grown here; and flower-forcing is carried on to a considerable extent during the winter and spring months: likewise the forcing of Strawberries is extensively and well carried on. Mr Adamson's treatment of these differs in some respects from that which is generally practised.
Small runners are taken off about the end of August; these are pricked out pretty thickly into beds, and are allowed to stand over till the following July, when they are carefully taken up, potted and treated in the usual way. By the above means they never fail to produce fine crops. Vine-growing has always been a great success at Balcarres, and the pot-Vine (Black Hamburg) with its thirteen bunches sent through to the International Fruit-Show at Glasgow last autumn, very deservedly took first prize in this department.
The next division is the kitchen-garden proper. It contains 3 1/2 acres, and seems to be under thorough practical management, always producing abundant crops of fruit and vegetables, particularly small fruits; Gooseberries and Strawberries, in particular, being very superior in size and flavour.
The third division consists of about 1 1/2 acre, and is principally occupied as an orchard. In this division, however, is the fruit-room and a large pit filled with stove-plants, also Melon and Cucumber houses, Strawberry-pit, and frame-ground. Near the top of this division stand two or three Irish Yews of unusual size, evidently of great age, and several fine specimens of Pampas Grass (Gynerium argenteum), producing from 70 to 100 flower-stems 10 feet in height. We also observed several plants of the curious Gunnera scabra, producing flower racemes 18 inches long. The flower-garden, lawns, and croquet-ground adjoin the mansion, and extend in all to about 5 acres. These have been all remodelled within the last few years; the old grassy steps and slopes have been all done away with, and substantial and ornamental terrace-walls erected in their stead, varying from 12 to 18 feet in height. These walls are being speedily covered with the finest sorts of Roses and other choice climbing plants. The walls occupy three sides of the flower-garden proper, which consists of about two acres, and presents nearly a flat surface.
The principal promenade walk is about 300 feet in length, and 20 in breadth. All the other walks are 10 feet in breadth, edged with a neat fire-brick edging, made especially for the purpose. A border, 12 feet wide, runs along the terrace-wall; then the ground is divided into three equal divisions, in which are designed large geometrical figures, with scroll-work, in box-edging. These figures were principally designed by Lady Lindsay, in the designing of which much line taste has been displayed. They are planted during summer with the most choice collection of bedding-plants, in the planting of which much care has been taken to have the colours well balanced, in order to produce perfect harmony and good effect. In the centre of the mid-division, there is a very neat ornamental fountain with a large basin; and between the terrace-stairs there s another fountain, in the basin of which is a large number of gold and silver fish, which, from their appearance, seem to thrive very well. Roses are extensively cultivated here, being all arranged according to class and colour, and carefully and properly named, which is very essential in a horticultural point of view. Soil and situation seem admirably suited for the cultivation of the Rose, as they thrive amazingly.
In connection with this flower-garden there is a large greenhouse for storing bedding-plants during winter, and a very commodious propagating-pit thoroughly heated with hot water, also for the propagation of bedding-plants. Then there is a very comfortable two-roomed house, built expressly for the accommodation of the two young men who have the charge of the flower-garden. Were such comfortable domiciles more common for young gardeners, one would hear less of the discomforts of the bothy system. In the completion of this beautiful flower-garden, it reflects the greatest credit on Mr Adamson for the very substantial and business-like manner in which everything has been finished, the making of which, I understand, cost over £4000. One grand feature connected with this place is its Standard Sweet Bays. Nearly one hundred of these have, within the last few years, been brought from Belgium. They are magnificent plants, having fine, clean, tall stems, and finely-formed bushy heads, and look the very picture of health. During the summer and autumn months these plants are arranged along the terrace-walks, and have a grand effect, and give the place much of an Oriental appearance. They are all growing in uniform wooden tubs, painted green, and when moved, are drawn oh a lorry by a pony.
Large and commodious wooden sheds have been erected for the purpose of sheltering those Bays during winter.
The croquet-ground is on the upper terrace to the eastward of the mansion, and is a large piece of ground, finely kept, having on its east end a clump of choice Rhododendrons, intermixed with Kilmarnock and other Weeping Willows, and rendered gay during autumn with Tritomas and late Phloxes. Parallel with the croquet-ground, and in order to screen the offices, a large and very handsome verandah has been lately erected, which has been covered with Ptoses and other climbing plants. The verandah has a span of 12 feet, and affords a spacious promenade within, being about 140 feet in length. To the east of this verandah stand the remains of a fine old family chapel, bearing the date of 1545. It is now roofless, and covered with Ivy to the balcony.
The common Yew seems to be much used here for the double purpose of forming hedges and affording shelter, and to produce effect. Those hedges are all planted in lines to correspond with the general character and arrangement of the whole. At a short distance east from the kept ground, stands Balcarres Craig, a huge mass of blue whinstone rock, and on its summit there is a lofty tower, forming a grand object in the landscape, and seen at a great distance. On going along the public road eastward, and almost immediately on leaving Colinsburgh, there is a very handsome porter's lodge and gateway just newly erected. This is a new approach to Balcarres, and it is about a mile in length, with fine easy curves quite in keeping with the surroundings. In connection with this new approach we observed a number of newly-planted clumps of choice trees and shrubs, the designing of which shows good arrangement, and in time the effect will be good. John Downie.
West Ocates, Edinburgh.