The vibrant beauty of Ellicar Gardens today is in stark contrast to the 11 acres of neglected fields we bought in 2008. We spent the first two years clearing brambles and fencing paddocks for our ever-growing menagerie. It was hard work but fun, and we loved the wild, open feel and big skies.
We were itching to start the garden but found it daunting knowing where to begin with such a vast, empty space. We knew we wanted to create a naturalistic garden for our family, including our animals, who are a big part of our lives. So, I watched the sun, the wind, learned about our rich black soil and observed our five children using the space.
We began in earnest in summer 2010 and it started with our natural pool. Moving Will’s cow off the front lawn, we started excavating - the whole family got involved. By November, the pool was finished. Today it’s the focal point of our gardens and family life, where we come together to swim and enjoy the last of the sun’s rays.
We started planting the winter garden, gravel and rose gardens and pool borders the following year. Wildflowers were sown in places that later became permanent planting schemes. These wildflowers still seed themselves freely about the borders. We don’t try to control the garden; self-seeding is welcome, plants move about, borders are in flux.
As a family, we planted 250 specimen trees in the main garden in 2010. Today they frame walkways and create intimate spaces for exploring and niche planting.
Three years later we added a 500 whip native wood complete with a crab apple avenue and in 2018 sowed the perennial meadow and planted a butterfly garden. The woodland walk, planted in 2019, is already a joyous tapestry of shade lovers.
Today the gardens are a haven for wildlife, including some quite rare species. In the peak of summer, borders vibrate with bumblebees and shimmer with butterflies. Birdsong is so loud we call it Radio Ellicar. There are bats, amphibians, grass snakes, dragonflies, hedgehogs, voles and more. The ecosystem is diverse, and the garden is in good health because of it.
We cherish our wildlife; it brings the garden alive. And so we’ve learnt to garden with nature and the environment in mind.
In 2020, together with our children, we planted another 400-whip wood bringing the total trees planted to 11,000 across 11 acres in 11 years. Watching everything grow together gives us a good feeling, and we love sharing the beauty and wonder of the gardens with visitors.
At the heart of our garden is our beautiful natural pool; the start of our gardens and showcase for our work as natural pool specialists. Our pool is a magnet for wildlife and planted with water lilies, reeds and marginals. Many are repeated in the surrounding bog garden and pool borders to merge the pool and garden seamlessly.
In early summer the water is fringed with delicate Siberian irises, followed by waves of wild Moon Daisies, bright Monardas, then elegant Lythrums and towering Eupatoriums. The pool borders flow into looser, prairie style planting with grasses and late season perennials lasting long into autumn.
All the plants are left standing in winter for wildlife and the beauty of seed heads silhouetted against airy grasses. These borders look magical back lit by the low winter sun, or transformed with a dusting of frost. Grasses dance in the slightest breeze, and the pool is like a huge sky mirror, reflecting the moods of the sky.View Gallery
Adjacent to the Tea Room terrace, Ellicar's Rose Garden is the place for flower lovers. In spring, thousands of white daffodils are followed by jewel-like tulips, then purple Alliums and Siberian irises take centre stage. Old roses and shrub roses perfume the air in summer, jostling for space with giant Cardoons, colourful perennials and grasses. Archways are clothed with trained crab apples and this garden is enclosed by a pergola with cascading rambling roses. Sparrows love this space and if you look closely into the heart of each of the weeping standard roses you may see the bright red face of a tiny goldfinch, sitting tight on its nest.
At the front of the house is a sweeping Gravel Garden, where plants self-seed and move about with joyous abandon, attracting clouds of butterflies and bumblebees. Aromatic creeping thymes, lavenders, hebes, tall junipers and Euphorbias form evergreen structure. This is where you will see wrens, dunnocks, and robins, hopping amongst the herbs, feeding on the invertebrates that live in the free draining gravel.View Gallery
Leading from the orchard is a long crab apple avenue, under planted with thousands of Molinias, Siberian irises, Geums, Lythrum and other moisture loving perennials. Known as 'Butterfly Walk', this walkway was extended in 2018 leading to a perennial meadow sown from seed. Narrow grass pathways winding through the meadow take you on an uplifting journey through thousands of jostling flowers, bumblebees and butterflies. We call this experience 'meadow bathing' and it's a favourite place of our family and visitors.
The Woodland Walk, planted in 2019, is our latest development, and a tapestry of spring shade lovers carpeting the ground under birches, oak and hornbeam. The season extends with woodland specials like Dicentra, dog tooth violets, ferns, foxgloves and wood anemones and asters in autumn. With flowering shrubs, a collection of fragrant Hamamelis, Magnolias and Amelanchiers, this woodland garden is a calm, reflective space where you can escape to sit in the shade and immerse yourself in birdsong.
Winter is a season we celebrate with a dedicated Winter Garden where the first snowdrops break bud on New Year's Day. Fragrant flowering shrubs like Sarcococca and Viburnums perfume the air, and a carpet of dusky Hellebores and tiny winter bulbs are waiting to be discovered. Wrapped around these winter treats is a colourful back drop of Cornus stems, from darkest purple, through to flaming reds and yellows.
Elsewhere in the garden, borders are left standing to feed the visiting birds and create a habitat layer for wildlife. This tonal tapestry of seed heads and grasses looks magical with a dusting of frost. Swathes of Cornus and ornamental willows glow in the low winter sun, ghostly white birches stand sentinel and specimen trees planted for their winter bark are starting to mature.
Ellicar's crystal clear natural pool is a huge reflective surface in winter. Bird feeding stations are packed with winter visitors, it’s a lovely time to visit the gardens for some winter inspiration and cheer, and for bird watching.View Gallery
Ellicar gardens aren’t only family gardens, they’re also home to our menagerie of friendly rare breed pets. Pekin chickens, guinea fowl and a couple of giant Toulouse geese wander freely around the gardens. You can say hello to our friendly Golden Guernsey goats in their paddocks in the gardens and enjoy watching the kids jumping about together. And don't be surprised if a couple of curious llamas pop their heads over the fence behind our natural pool to check you out.
In the back field is our flock of Hebridean sheep and ponies. And no visit to Ellicar is complete without saying hello to Agnes our old Kunekune pig and her rescue companion Betty, tucked away behind the winter garden.
Ellicar gardens are a haven for wildlife. Since starting our gardens in 2010, the biodiversity and ecosystem that have developed in a few years is astounding.
We have 23 species of birds on the red and amber Birds of Conservation Concern lists living, breeding and regularly visiting the gardens. Kestrels, tawny and barn owls nest here. A kingfisher visits our natural pool. The gardens are alive with goldfinches and noisy tree and house sparrows. dunnocks, thrushes, blackcaps and wrens thrive here. In winter we marvel as starling murmurations fly over the gardens, often landing in trees or visiting our natural pool, while field fares and redwings feast on windfalls in our orchard.
Our natural pool is a magnet for wildlife. There is a fascinating world of pond life in the water including water boatmen, pond striders, diving beetles, and whirligigs. Dragonflies and damsel flies emerge from the water in summer darting across the reflective surface. Birds bathe in the shallows, including grey wagtails and oystercatchers, while reed buntings nest in the reeds. Toads, frogs and newts breed in our natural pool and so grass snakes are prolific in the gardens. Recently we recorded 7 species of bats over our natural pool, including Daubenton's Bat.
Hedgehogs live and breed here, we come across them with their young, tucked away in the dense shelter belt around the garden edges. Here we have log piles rotting for beetles and invertebrates. In summer the borders are alive with butterflies, bumblebees, pollinators and insects. The garden is in good health because of this incredible biodiversity and we have maintained the gardens with wildlife in mind.