Nineteenth Century

Scotland’s Gardens in the 19th Century

In the 19th Century, Scotland, along with the rest of Britain, saw increased prosperity through greater industrialisation. The nobility, and the increasingly populous middle classes, sought to escape from the dirt and squalor through the romantic and the picturesque; in art, in novels and poetry, and in the design of landscape. Although the Napoleonic Wars put a halt to the original ‘Grand Tour’ of the previous Century, once peace was restored, prosperous Scots travelled far and wide, returning home with plants and ideas that settled comfortably in the temperate climate.

The land clearances that started in the previous Century, and continued on in to the middle of the 19th Century, had created vast sporting and agricultural estates without any people. Yet the house or castle at their centre was often still surrounded by the old medieval walled kitchen and physick gardens. If a pleasure garden existed at all, it was often still in the geometric, ordered Renaissance style.

Having such vast lands and vistas at their disposal, the incumbents eagerly sought to emulate the ‘English Romantic’ style of garden that had been revolutionizing Europe; swards, parkland, trees and apparently natural planting, coupled with managed woodland, grottos, follies and frequently fake ruins.

Scottish Baronial Style

It was during this period that there was a resurgence in popularity of the Scottish Renaissance towered and turreted building, which came to be known as Scottish Baronial. The original style at the end of the 14th Century and beginning of the 15th incorporated original fortified, earlier towers with the more ornamental styles of German and French Renaissance chateaux; elaborate turrets, gables and steeply-pitched rooflines.

This rather ‘fairytale’ style suited the romantic sensiblities of the 19th Century nobility, spurred on particularly by the writings of Sir Walter Scott, whose enthusiasm for this period in history led him to build his own home in the borders, Abbotsford, in the Baronial style. Consequently, a number of castle-like mansions were built, the most well-known being Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire.

These buildings sat happily in the extensively-planted vistas of the Romantic style, and worked perfectly with the artificial grotto and folly.

Walter Nicol

A garden and hothouse designer from Niddry, Edinburgh, Nicol was born in 1769, and wrote a number of books on practical horticulture, including The Gardener’s Kalender, which although often rather grim and Presbyterian in tone, was extremely popular, and by 1812 was already in a second edition.

The cultivation of culinary vegetables is certainly the most important branch of gardening. It occupies the attention of a large proportion of the community, of the fruits of whose labours all daily partake. To the palace, and the humble shepherd’s cot, the kitchen-garden is a necessary appendage … The labours of the industrious man yield peace; of the scientifically industrious man, wealth. But the garden of the sluggard is a reproach to him, and to the public a certain loss.

He was employed at a number of estates in Scotland to improve the design and layout of both gardens and glasshouses, and is responsible for the new layout of the walled garden at Dalhousie Castle in Midlothian.

Charles McIntosh

Born in 1794, McIntosh was employed as a landscape and garden designer by a number of notables, including the Queen of Belgium and the Duke of Buccleuch. He wrote a number of books on the subject, his major work being The Book of the Garden in 1853. He was not a follower of fashion, and sought on the whole to combine practical improvement with aesthetics. In Scotland, the best example of his style being the palace gardens at Dalkeith. His greatest talent, however, is generally held to be his expertise in the design and heating of hot and glasshouses.

Examples in Gardens to Visit

Inverewe, Ross-shire
Threave Estate, Dumfries and Galloway

Examples in Restoration

Glen Tanar Estate, Royal Deeside

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