See all stories
29 Jun 2020

How lockdown has changed our gardens

Written by Ann Steele, Head of Heritage Gardening (Policy)
Wildflowers grow in Inverewe Garden, with Inverewe House in the background.
Our Head of Heritage Gardening explains how, during the coronavirus epidemic and while our doors were temporarily closed, Trust gardeners had to prioritise their efforts this spring ... and why our gardens might look a bit different as a result.

When lockdown was announced, along with most other workers in Scotland, the Trust’s gardeners were immediately instructed to stay at home. The exception to this was undertaking essential watering to prevent plant death or to care for livestock, but not much more.

In the days and weeks that followed, we responded by identifying clear priorities for our gardens so that we could make best use of our greatly limited resources.

While we’ve been lucky to have gardeners working at most of our gardens throughout lockdown, they’ve focused on essential activities.

This is a long list and included: watering protected areas (display glasshouses, propagation glasshouses, polytunnels, conservatories), on dry days watering stock beds and lined-out plants (eg for plant sales, or collections), watering planters and pots, watering plantings or lawns showing drought stress, some pest management, minor herbicide application, feeding livestock, mulching for weed control, removing invasive weeds, limited mowing (high value areas only), planting out of early vegetable or display plants that were already in production (to save further watering work), some planting of potatoes, checking drains, daffodil dead-heading (essential at Brodie at this time of year to keep the collection healthy) and bringing on bedding plants that had been delivered (potting them up, watering and then planting out).

A man holds a small plant still in its pot, and a trowel in his other hand. He bends over a flower bed, ready to plant it.
We have been able to plant out some plants.

Now we’ve reopened many of our gardens, how are things looking?

It varies for every garden, of course, but there’s definitely some differences this year, which we can all see.

  • We’re behind with weeding, and you’ll see this around buildings and car parks in particular. With the phrase ‘one year’s seeding means seven years weeding’ in the back of their minds, our gardeners have been focusing inside the garden walls rather than outside!
  • We’ve done a limited amount of grass-cutting around buildings, driveways, vistas and on the wider estates, and our lawn edges probably won’t be as sharp as usual.
  • Some hedges might not have been cut at all and less fruit work has been possible, so we might not see as much of a crop this season.
  • We haven’t been able to net and stake all our herbaceous borders as we usually would – timing for that is critical. Plants might flop over paths and collapse. It will still be pretty, but more ‘free flowing’ than our usual presentation!
  • We have not planted as many bedding plants or vegetables, so there may be a few empty beds around.
A red admiral butterfly perches on a pink flower in Kellie Castle Garden, with a blue sky in the background.
Red admiral butterfly

You’ll already have a sense of these differences if – like me – you’ve been enjoying the videos and pictures our busy gardeners have been uploading to their property Facebook pages in the past few months. We’re keen to learn from this lockdown experience, which could even change how we work in some places for good. This year there will be fewer acres of neatly mown grass around our castles, but if we reduced grass-cutting permanently across our wider landscapes it would cut down on our carbon emissions overall and could encourage both wildlife and wildflowers. We’ll be interested in your feedback!

We think that being able to get out into the green space of our gardens and landscapes will be a much-needed breath of fresh air for visitors after the last few months of restrictions.

As you plan your next visit, why not whet your appetite and take a look at our Colours of our Gardens page for a reminder of some of the beautiful plants you might see.

Explore our gardens