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13 Jan 2023

Greenbank Garden – stories behind the records

Written by Jennifer Hollywood, PLANTS Team Manager
A view of the white stone 18th-century Greenbank House, seen from between two stone pillars in the garden. Lush flower beds run down either side from the gate pillars, filled with colourful plants, shrubs and trees.
Greenbank Garden
As the PLANTS project inventory teams examine existing garden records, we are uncovering facts that reveal some interesting and personal stories behind the plants in the Trust’s collections.

Greenbank Garden, on the outskirts of Glasgow, was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1976. Records were kept of plants added to the garden, and when the Trust took ownership of the property, an extensive plant database was developed. From this data, we can now see that Greenbank’s former owner brought some favourite plants from their previous garden, several of which can still be seen growing here today.

The dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), situated at the front of the house, was transplanted in 1962. The species was only discovered as a living specimen in the 1940s, in the Hubei area of China – it received a huge amount of international interest as a living fossil. Seeds were quickly dispersed to botanical gardens around the world and it would have been introduced to the horticultural trade in the 1950s. It can be assumed that the Greenbank tree would have been at least 5 years old when it was brought here.

A view of the bottom section of a dawn redwood tree, when it has bright orange and yellow leaves on branches reaching almost to the ground. It stands in the middle of a grassy area.
Dawn redwood in leaf | Image credit: Tai Dundua, Shutterstock

There are several other notable trees and shrubs that were brought to Greenbank around this time. The cherry tree (Prunus sargentii) that dominates the central path of the walled garden delights visitors with a canopy of pink flowers in April and brightens the autumn with a carpet of scarlet leaves. One of my favourite sights in the garden is the Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum’ near the side gate. Underplanted with a carpet of snowdrops and with branches clothed in moss, this dwarf relative of the sycamore is at its best in spring when the new pale-pink leaves unfurl.

Magnolia stellata (star magnolia) is a popular shrub in gardens across Scotland. The specimen growing at the entrance to Greenbank Garden shows that it is a valuable plant for a small garden, having only grown to a height of 2 metres in 60 years yet reliably covered in white flowers every spring.

In addition to highlighting plants transplanted by Greenbank’s former owner, existing records also reveal other small but interesting details. The Magnolia sieboldii subsp. sinensis (Chinese magnolia), growing near the central sundial, was gifted by a gardener near Helensburgh in 1977. A previous head gardener liked to tell the story of how the plant sat on his knee in the car and he thought of how big it would eventually grow. It now reaches 3.5 metres, but the record notes the plant was originally only 18 inches high!

Visitors might also notice a Ginkgo biloba growing near the entrance to the property. Records reveal that the tree was originally destined for the Hidden Gardens in Pollokshields in Glasgow but it was damaged in transit. Unwanted, it was donated to Greenbank in 2003 where it is now very much at home.

A close-up of a ginkgo biloba branch, showing its smooth, scalloped-edged green leaves.
Ginkgo biloba leaves | Image credit: Wertien, Shutterstock

On a personal note, the records also provide the names of many people who have donated plants to Greenbank over the years. Some were visitors who loved the garden; others were volunteers, Trust staff and Friends of Greenbank Garden. All of their contributions are greatly valued, and we feel privileged to continue to care for them today.

Plant Listing at the National Trust for Scotland (PLANTS) is the biggest horticultural audit project undertaken by the Trust and aims to celebrate, protect and better understand the flora and vegetation across our gardens and designed landscapes.

Read more about the PLANTS project

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