Take a seat. There’s a bench by the pond, or a stump from the old ash tree over there. I’m sitting on the edge of the beechwood which has suddenly turned the freshest, brightest green. A treat for ears and eyes, it’s ringing with birdsong and bluebells.

To be honest, in some parts it’s now a wild garlic wood and there are times I worry that the bluebells will lose ground to the starry white mass that seems to spread as far as I can see through the young beech and old ash trees. Then I turn round and there’s a great ripple of blue beneath the ‘alien’ spruce and sycamores, the native bells of Hyacinthoides non-scripta bobbing in the breeze.

It’s probably the most spectacular display of the year in The Pond garden and I hope visitors will be able to enjoy it for a couple of weeks to come. Depending on the weather, the show can last a month or more. This May it feels more precious than ever. We need to tread softly…

Welcome to The Pond Garden, we’re opening again through Scotland’s Gardens Scheme. This year, because of pending building works, we are open for small groups by arrangement.

Just get in touch if you would like to visit (Sundays and Mondays tend to work best for us but other days are possible). See directions at the end or via SCOTLANDS GARDEN SCHEME

An ancient legacy of the Wildwood

Sunlight filters through beechwood, a mix of light green leaves and starry wild garlic on the ground:picture Tommy Perman
A member of the allium family, wild garlic or ramsons, are edible though this year for some reason I didn’t take part in the great pesto season.

We didn’t know what we were taking on when we first arrived here almost thirty years ago. Lured by romantic notions of ‘woodland gardening’ we quickly realised how little we knew. I enrolled for a conservation module at Oatridge Agricultural College (even then I was probably twice as old as most of the students) and the very first lecture brought a thrilling discovery. Certain plants, the tutor told us, are evidence of ancient woodland, the inheritors of what Oliver Rackham called the Wildwood. These plants spreading around me – bluebells, wild garlic, primroses, wood avens, dogs mercury – they are clues to the past. Trees have been growing here for a very long time.

Somehow that’s both thrilling and comforting. This year, with daily news of human-made disasters, it’s hard not to get caught up in a spiral of what feels like determined self-destruction. It’s a comfort, then, to feel solid connection with something that’s hundreds of years old. Not this beechwood of course. These young trees are not ancient (although there are splendid specimens of much older beech on the other side of the pond). Like the spruce they were planted probably in the last fifty years or so. The ash, however, have been here a long time. You might count the rings of a recently felled old tree, we gave up around 120. And, though it’s very sad to see our trees succumbing to ash dieback we watch with interest the extraordinary new growth of wych elm from felled stumps.

In 1993, the stark forms of dead elm dominated the skyline. Their logs kept us warm for many winters. We planted hundreds of new young native trees (gean, bird cherry, rowan) on the banks of the old quarries, but this spring many of them are almost completely obscured by a vibrant burst of elm leaves and spectacular seed heads. And it’s hard to believe the vigorous sturdy trunks are less than thirty years old. Perhaps it won’t be in our lifetime, but we hope eventually healthy elm will outgrow the disease that has destroyed millions of trees over the last forty years. Perhaps our grandchildren will see the revival of the ash around the pond.

Reflecting spring growth, wych elm over the pond: picture Tommy Perman
Elm leaves and seeds reflected in the pond

Light and shade

So it’s good to sit here and daydream with light filtering through fresh green growth. I can’t resist taking my phone out of my pocket. But it’s very difficult to capture that brilliant blue and I’m grateful to one of our sons who has been working here with a proper camera. Thank you Tommy!

In a couple of weeks’ time the show will be over. The leaves of wild garlic which appeared first and spread energetically are already beginning to turn yellow, and will soon disappear under the darkening canopy.

Their advance across the woodland floor might be slowed by new light gained from felling two diseased old ash in early March. Bluebells may take advantage – Hyacinthoides non-scripta, delightfully fragrant but poisonous to foraging pests, is programmed to survive.

Light and shade favours different species at different times. The flowers of ancient woodland are opportunists and take the chances opened up by storms or chainsaws. Even so, I tread carefully on my way out.

All images by Tommy Perman (surfacepressure.net)

Bluebells and Wild Garlic, treeguide uk.

Six top tips for photographing bluebells: Natural Trust

The Difference between Natives and Spanish Bluebells: Wildlife Trusts

Open by arrangement 1 April – 30 June (2022)Admission £5.00, children free. contact fay@fayyoung.org

Nominated charity: All proceeds to SGS Beneficiaries.

Directions: From the North, take the M90 south from Perth and exit at Junction 7 (Milnathort). Turn left into Milnathort village and at the mini roundabout in the centre of the village turn left (signed for Path of Condie) up Wester Loan, then North Street. At the top of the hill, past the church on your left, you will cross the motorway again. Carry straight on for 1/2 mile.

Scotland’s Garden Scheme
Light filtering through wych elm seeds: picture Tommy Perman