Our Gallery Gardens are in full bloom so we thought this would be the prefect time to reflect on the transformation of both our Gallery and Basement Gardens. Read on to hear from gallery artist and horticulturalist Alex Knubley, whose exhibition The Growing Season forms part of our Summer Show this July.
I have been working with The Scottish Gallery garden for several years now. It is a a sanctuary for me: a small, perfectly proportioned ‘secret’ oasis in the heart of the city.
In 2016, Gallery Director Christina Jansen asked me to rethink the whole area – to create a garden for all seasons. I was afforded carte blanche to reimagine and implement a new vision for the space which was a rare opportunity and one I took on with no small amount of trepidation!
The brief was to create a space with all-year-round interest adding bulbs, trees, shrubs and perennials and enhancing the plants already in situ. It was such a fantastic project and one I absolutely relished. As I had been working with the space for some time I already had a real empathy for the inherent soul of the garden and was bursting with ideas to help it flourish.
The garden is an interesting shape as it sits on the corner of Dundas Street and Northumberland Street so I started by looking it from all angles and levels,. It slopes upwards to a very dark point where a Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum sits like an umbrella at the top. The plan had been to work around a large goat willow, but it was sadly coming to the end of its life – it dominated and overshadowed half the garden and we resigned ourselves to the fact it would inevitably have to go.
In 2017, The Gallery was celebrating its 175th year, and we began with our first shopping trip to bring the garden back to life. The beginning of the year brought hellebores and snowdrops followed by fritillary and white daffodils (Thalia). The spring always brings a mass of euphorbia robbiae which has become the real backbone of the garden with its acid green and yellows zinging the space to life in spring, then flooding the borders throughout the rest of the garden. The euphorbia has been under planted with a multitude of tulips: black queen of the night, deep reds and crisp whites which appear in succession throughout the spring and early summer.
We even have a tulip called ‘artist’ which is splashed with a plethora of brush marks and colour on the petals that pick up on the rust in Andrea Geile's magnificent sculptures.
During this period of continuous growth and gardening, three new trees strategically replaced the Goat Willow which came down in February 2022. We chose a multi stemmed betula utilis jaque montii for its beautiful white bark, a liquid amber sweet gum for its fiery autumnal colour and leaf shape and a cercidyphylium
tree, which randomly sends out whiffs of burnt sugar and deservedly has the name of the candyfloss tree. The liquid amber needed plenty of care initially as it fought to establish itself next to the willow. Now the willow is gone, the garden has opened up with light and is already beginning to flourish. The new trees can be seen and appreciated in all their glory and because of careful planning the garden has been unaffected by such a big change. In fact, the whole space has been transformed and we are even more excited by it than ever before. We are continuing to add interest in all corners with large corten steel planters and a small, contained pond to attract more wildlife.
The basement area at the front of the gallery has also recently undergone a radical change. During the pandemic, urban gardening really came to the fore, more people were working from home and were unable to travel to outdoor spaces. There has been a dramatic rise in the doorstep garden, transforming basement areas with greenery and creative planting.
I think scent an incredibly important part of a garden so by using saracocca, lilly of the valley, lavender and climbing roses there is a beautiful perfume. For me this is one of the most important aspect of gardening.
We chose corten steel planters as an homage to Andrea Geile, a sculptor who is a long-standing exhibitor in the Gallery Garden. We have two bold planters at either side of the front door of The Gallery and we wanted to tie them in with the Basement Garden. We planted highly scented climbing roses on either side of the bridge coming up from the basement that will hopefully entangle themselves along the railings.
We are really delighted with the Basement Garden, it proved to be quite a deceptive space – every time we thought we had enough planters, we decided we needed more! The soil delivery is the stuff of legends, with us having to reorder 4 times and needing at least 3 tonnes!! It involved a lot of acrobatics for Andrea Geile and myself, manoeuvring more than 60 bags over the wall and railings!
Every year, we discuss and add to the garden, it is an ever-evolving space that magically always has room for just one more plant! We are working to make the garden a really special place for the team and visitors to enjoy.
We made several films during the construction process and we now have web cam in place to capture the wildlife which is already making its presence known. We have a robin, and sparrows and blue tits making regular appearances. All we need now is for the sun to shine (with a little rain too), to watch our garden grow.