Wednesday, May 04, 2016


Shepherd House, Inveresk, Edinburgh
Click on any image for a larger version

Lord and Lady Fraser, Charles and Ann to you, live in Shepherd House in the picturesque village of Inveresk just outside Edinburgh.

The house is situated on one acre and for the last fifty years or more that acre has been growing in maturity. And growing is the right word. It has been reared, so to speak, to its present state through years of experience, constant refinement and even drastic makeovers when the results of immature choices began to block further progress.

Today it is a single living organism renewing itself with the passage of the seasons acquiring new, and disposing of old, body parts in a way we could only envy. Of necessity it maintains the gift of eternal youth.

There is an amazing combination of features, animate and inanimate, packed into this one acre. A single visit is just a teaser and an invitation to follow the garden through the seasons as the different plants assert themselves, and through the years as its structure evolves under the steady hands and green fingers of its lord and lady.

Our Guide

So let's get on with it and make the acquaintance of our guide waiting for visitors outside the dovecot at the gate.

Charles has been rearing these white pigeons, or doves, from way back. They had to move out of their original "house" when the dovecot and stables were converted into a cottage for human habitation but they seem to have settled into their present location and calling as gatekeepers and guides.

This is a view of the "backbone" of the garden, looking away from the house and towards the source of the watercourse which runs almost the entire length of the garden. This feature was inspired by one in a garden in India where Ann spent her early years.

And you won't fail to notice the young lady at the end of the watercourse, washing her hair in wild abandon.

The source of the watercourse, at the far end of the garden, brings many a classical feature to mind. Mr. Lutyens would be pleased.

Charles built the shellhouse which celebrates both the couple's enduring partnership and the location of the house and garden.

Ann has decorated the inside walls with local shells in pleasing artistic formations. Predominant among these are the mussel shells.

Inveresk is in the outer ring of the town of Musselburgh, which, in turn is a suburb of Edinburgh.

Combining and arranging the inside and outside of the mussel shells makes for a very delicate version of allium.

The stained glass windows at either end of the shellhouse not only let in the light but they also set off the pastel shades of the shells with a discrete burst of primary colours.

One of the early criticisms of the garden was that there were too many trees and so they had to go. This one "survived", however, as a tree-sculptured tulip.

When I first saw this I thought it was a maze, but it proved to have both too many exits and none. I gather the word is topiary, ornamental hedging, and this is a combination of boxes.

This is Dollina, who undergoes a regular clipping/shearing like any other respectable sheep. What, you may ask, is she doing in this setup? Well, it's not as way out as it seems at first sight, as Dolly, the first ever cloned sheep, first saw the light of day just down the road in Roslyn.

She is placed here inside a fank, a scots word for a sheep pen. This one is made of stones and is a miniature version of what can be much larger pens. The word is thought to derive from the Gàidhlig "fang".

Follow me

Our guide is now urging us on to check out some of the individual blooms.

While our guide may know the names and history of the wide variety of plants, including what is edible and what is not, I don't, so I am just going to include what I found either aesthetically pleasing or unusual.

If you want to pursue this in a more learned and systematic manner you can always buy the excellent book on the garden, which Charles and Ann have self-published and which sells for £35. You can contact Ann to arrange purchase.

Our guide is joined by a junior trainee for the rest of the tour.

Where would you be without the old potting shed?

Incidentally, I notice some of the stone around here has a pinky tinge. Reminds me of farmhouses in Jersey.

This is the golden goose, appropriately flying above the coop of the Silkie Banthams. These hens appear to be very shy, however, and anytime I approach, they scuttle back into their henhouse.

For instance, this one thinks it's pulling a fast one by scuttling back into the henhouse as I come within photo range.

For once, that didn't work and I subsequently got this shot through the window.

So next day I caught them feeding and fortunately they were more interested in guzzling than worrying about me. And that really does look more like fur than feathers.

This very impressive sundial is above the back door of the house. I wondered if it was an antique but became a little dubious when I saw it was presented to Charles by United Biscuits.

A free one with every packet of Hob Nobs or Cream Crackers?

But, seriously, it was presented to Charles, in MCMXCVI - a whole score of years ago, on his retirement from the non-executive Vice-Chairmanship of United Biscuits (Holdings). By profession a lawyer, he has held many major business positions in the course of his career.

As well as being the creative force behind the garden, Ann is also a serious botanical artist and illustrator and you can check out the catalogue for her upcoming London exhibition (10 to 20 May 2016) here.

And finally, it's goodbye from our guide who hopes we enjoyed the visit.

Garden Website

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