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Thursday, 28 May 2015

Garden glories surround the gothic splendours of Lilburn

Well garden: One of its features is a thyme lawn surrounded by purple sage.200734

IT’S fortunate that the Devil is such a poor shot.

For long ago, so the story goes, he was standing on the Cheviot and spotted St Cuthbert sitting on the nearby hill of Ross Castle.

Being a mere devil’s stone’s throw away, the forked-tailed beastie threw a huge boulder at the saint, but missed him by a mile.

The standing stone is still there today and is known locally as the Hurlestone.

And nearby, sharing the stone’s name, is a folly built in 2000 by the owners of Lilburn Tower, Mr and Mrs Duncan Davidson.

Standing outside the 19th century mansion of Lilburn Tower, the estate’s parkland stretching towards the folly certainly attracts the admiring eye.

But don’t get too distracted by the awesome views when there’s so much to see closer at hand.

So much to see, in fact, that you’ll spend the full four hours there on Sunday, when Lilburn Tower’s gardens are open to the public in aid of the National Gardens Scheme.

The private house was built by John Dobson as an Elizabethan-style mansion. It was the first to incorporate some of Dobson’s Gothic designs.

Previously, a 15th century manor house, known as West Lilburn Tower, stood on the estate. This incorporated a pele tower, the ruins of which you can still see today, next to a ruined 14th century church. A Crusader tomb in the graveyard allegedly contains two grave slabs belonging to the Knights Templar.

The estate was bequeathed to Henry J. W. Collingwood of Cornhill in the 1820s and he had Lilburn Tower built for him in 1829.

It passed through the hands of various Collingwoods, including, Edward John Collingwood (1815-1895), nephew of Admiral Lord Collingwood.

Another Edward Collingwood – knighted for his services to mathematics – was the last of the family to live there. His grandfather, by the way, was a keen astronomer and had an observatory built in the garden which attracted star-gazers from Edinburgh University.

When Edward died in the early 1970s his brother, Group Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, sold it to the Davidsons.

Henry Collingwood designed much of the park and gardens himself and today the Davidsons are continuing this role, helped in no small part by their head gardener David Sinclair, who has worked on the estate for 22 years.

The parkland stretching towards the folly was created eight years ago and much work has also taken place, over the past 18 years, in the woodland.

“In the woods there was masses of elm which was killed by Dutch elm disease and they were taken out before I came here,” said David.

“This left great holes which gave us the chance to plant new trees and shrubs, leaving long grass with the bluebells and daffodils.”

The woodland walk takes you past the ruins of the church and pele and across a bridge to where a gentle waterfall flows into the pond garden.

Here primulas, mecono-psis and trilliums vie for attention, while the air is heady with the scents of azaleas like Azalea ponticum.

The large white flowers of Vibernum carcephalum are also famed for their strong scent and it’s hard to believe that not so long ago this area was a mass of brambles and nettles.

Look out for the birch grove with the blue flowers of Camassia growing in the middle. If you wonder why the birches look so white, it’s because David and his team of three gardeners wash them every year.

“At night, if you get a full moon in the winter, they look tremendous,” he said.

Among the more unusual trees are silver limes which flower later in the year than their counterparts – at around July time.

Formal and walled gardens, which back on to the house, include another relatively recent addition: a well garden with a thyme lawn, surrounded by purple sage, irises and potentillas.

Box hedges (Sempervirens) are used to create a Dutch garden, which dates from the 1930s, and below this are what, in Collingwood’s day, were the kitchen gardens.

Much of these have been transformed into ornamental gardens. A stroll along the lilac walk before taking the arched pathway is highly recommended.

The arches alternate with honeysuckle, Elaeagnus, Rosa raubritter and ramblers.

A large area is still dedicated to fruit and vegetables and the range of apples include Suntan, George Cave and Egremont Russet.

According to the National Gardens Scheme, there are 10 acres of walled and formal gardens to explore as well as some 30 acres of woodland with walks. So your four hours on Sunday will soon be swallowed up.

Lilburn Tower is open on Sunday from 2pm to 6pm when home-made teas will be served.

The garden is also open on Sunday, June 10, during the same times, in aid of the Red Cross.

Lilburn Tower just off the A697 three miles south of Wooler.