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1 May 2023

Reviving Inverewe’s stonework gem

The historic walled border in front of Inverewe House
Built around 1860, the sweeping and majestic stone wall fronting Inverewe House is one of the historic property’s most striking features, but the beautiful stonework was in poor condition and at risk of complete collapse – needing expert restoration to restore it to its former glory.

One of the most significant features of Inverewe Garden is the sweeping wall surrounding Inverewe House, which until 2017 was highlighted by a vibrant and intricate herbaceous border that spanned the length of the 80m wall.

Sadly, the herbaceous border became infested with bindweed, which suffocates and out-competes most other plants. This resulted in the herbaceous plants being removed from the border to enable treatment of the bindweed. For several years the border was planted annually as a pictorial meadow before being left fallow in 2020, and the house without its abundant highlight.

While the lack of a full and colourful border exposed the beautiful stonework, it unfortunately also revealed its extremely poor condition and that it could be at risk of complete collapse.

January 2021 saw the start of the search for an expert mason to restore the wall to its former glory – no small task with less and less qualified stonemasons in the country and a huge backlog of work post-pandemic.

It took until October 2022 to secure the services of Craig MacKay, Highland Building and Conservation Ltd and his team who have worked on many of Scotland’s finest heritage buildings including Eilean Donan Castle, Crathes Castle and Brodie Castle.

Craig and his team began a £40,000 six-week restoration project, carefully removing old vegetation which had infested the wall before repairing and preserving it. It was a painstaking process, made all the more challenging by the harshest snow and frost to hit the garden since the winter of 2009/2010.

But now, with work on the wall complete, the gardening team are moving on the exciting second stage of the project: to restore the beds at Inverewe House. Since 2020 a permanent control over regrowth has been necessary before the restoration of the historic herbaceous plantings could proceed. To achieve this, the border has been covered with a black Mypex fabric membrane to block out the light with which weeds need to grow. The weed control fabric membrane significantly reduces the need for chemicals and is breathable, allowing water and air exchange with the soil. Beneath, there is a deep layer of compost. This means that the soil is now healthy ahead of replanting.

The new border colour palette will feature blues and purples merging with pinks and whites, with bursts of golden yellow, combining late summer colour and nectar rich plants developing into autumn and winter interest. The border is designed to be bee friendly, with the British Black Bee being of special interest. These bees are attracted to purple, violet and blue, so we are looking to promote this colour scheme in the border plants.

Some of the bee friendly plants we intend to use are: bee balm (Monarda spp.); white wild indigo (Baptisia alba); purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea); black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta); joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum); marsh blazing star (Liatris spicata); and wrinkleleaf goldenrod (Solidago rugosa).

The newly-revived wall and border at Inverewe House, from where garden founder Osgood Mackenzie and his daughter Mairi Sawyer planned their designs and planting-hunting trips, will be complemented by specially commissioned hand-crafted green oak seating. An artisan carpenter has been consulted, and the seating will aim to recognise the Arts and Crafts movement, a gentle theme already running through the existing features of the garden.

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