On an unfavourable site overlooking the North Sea, a pair of energetic growers have created an award-winning garden.

When Lizzie and Malcolm Schofield approached their local authority in Buckie about buying the small area of flat ground adjacent to their cottage so that their young daughters could have somewhere to play, they were told that they could have it on the condition that they bought the steeply sloping piece of land that surrounded it.

More experienced gardeners would have walked away, recognising the enormity of the what lay ahead, but instead the couple, neither of whom had ever grown anything before, simply rolled up their sleeves and took on the challenge of making something out of an almost-vertical site that was covered in brambles and rough grass.

They started by digging out terraces and creating supporting walls in order to create space to plant and they scoured nursery websites for good value offers on small plug plants that they could  grow-on before planting out.

Scottish Gardener:

“We always had a vision about what we wanted to achieve, but we literally learnt as we learnt along, coming up with solutions when we hit problems,” says Lizzie.

Their cottage overlooks Buckie harbour and the soil is light and sandy so very quickly Lizzie and Malcolm, who are both primary school teachers, learnt the importance of using plants that would stabilise the slope.

“We now wait for new plants to develop a strong root system before removing the grass surrounding them, and we’ve also learnt not to dig into the banking as that can undermine it, so instead we mulch heavily with manure that we get from a local farm in order to add nutrients and moisture to the soil.”

Their choice of plants has been dictated not just by the soil but also by the exposed nature of their garden.

“We are in the Moray Firth microclimate so seldom see snow or frost, but the winds can be ferocious,” says Malcolm.

What they’ve discovered, however, is that both pampas grass and eucalyptus relish the conditions and are unaffected by the 40-miles-per-hour gales. Other plants that thrive in the garden include bamboo, hydrangeas, alliums, lavender and osteospermums, while box balls add a classic touch and a willow tunnel provides a space for Freya (9) and Isobel (7) to play.

Scottish Gardener:

The garden covers 900 sq metres and in summer it is smothered in flowers and foliage, which are much admired by passers-by using the footpath that skirts the boundary. A pergola at the top level is covered in roses and, whereas the first parts of the garden to be developed have a cottage-feel, with soft perennials and annuals that have self-seeded, elsewhere the planting has a more exotic vibe.

In 2020 the garden was named Gardeners’ World Magazine ‘Reader’s Garden of the Year’ earning plaudits, not only from readers but also from Alan Titchmarsh who described it as “a really good lesson in what you can achieve in inhospitable conditions with limited knowledge and money.”

Today Lizzie and Malcolm are no longer novices but they are still experimenting with ways to get more out of the garden. Recently Malcom has created a series of raised beds that run alongside the steps that lead to the harbour, a second pergola has gone up and Lizzie has been developing a winter garden, full of things that flower during the darkest months.

All this has been achieved in six years and Lizzie says: “We have loved developing the garden and the girls are very involved in it. They have their own little patch, next to the rabbit hutches which house their pets, where they grow flowers. The irony is, however, that because it slopes away from the house, we can’t see the garden unless we are in it.”

The next step, she says, is to consolidate what they have created, refining the planting and enjoying what it has become.

“I think we are both looking forward to sitting under the rose-covered pergola and watching the whole garden grow up around us.”

Garden Notes
Cuthbert’s Brae
84 Seatown, Buckie AB56 1JS
The garden will be open as part of Scotland’s Gardens Scheme on Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 July, 2pm - 5pm.