The Garden’s Secret

It didn’t surprise me to hear from Cath that Keppoch House once had its own kitchen garden. We’d already seen the size of the stables so it was clear that Alexander Dunlop was a wealthy man with all that was needed to run a comfortable country home. The kitchen garden has been sold so we peeped through the gates and imagined tidy rows of vegetables and herbs growing there in 1829. The grey, stone wall is high and very long. I hadn’t really noticed just how long until Cath took out a large, old key from her pocket and asked if we would like to see the flower garden. I’m not sure if she noticed the look on my face as I realised that the answer to one of our big mysteries had just been handed to me.

Next to what was the kitchen garden is the most enormous flower garden and beyond that, further down the hill and along the drive, is another walled garden, that was an orchard full of fruit trees in 1829.

There’s something very personal about reading a woman’s diary entry for the morning of her wedding day. Georgiana wrote “I gathered my wedding flowers and put them in their rooms.” It’s always puzzled me. Why would such a genteel young lady have to go and collect wild flowers when there were plenty of servants to do so? I assumed that she’d preferred to gather wild flowers herself because she already loved them – but I worried that her collection might look rather frugal in such a grand setting. How could she possibly collect enough for a wedding display? It seemed unlikely that she’d plundered them from the formal gardens around the house – it really would’ve been bad taste for a guest to do such a thing when the flower beds would probably have been manicured down to the last petal by a gardener. And suddenly I knew!

Such a grand house had a huge walled garden just for growing the cut flowers they needed for display. And so this was where Georgiana went on her wedding morning. Not for the first time on this trip, my breathing was short and I think the dogs could sense my anticipation as I stepped through the same doorway as she did that day under a low, stone lintel and walked into the garden. I wanted the moment to go on forever.

Although the rows and rows of flowers have been replaced largely by beautiful lawns, the basic shape of the garden is the same, with a central path, a sundial and pathways around the sides. The greenhouse looks as if it may be the original one, with heating beneath the brick floor to warm delicate flowers during the cold Scottish spring and autumn. Are there any experts out there who can tell from the photographs? Please let us know if you’re an expert on 19th Century greenhouses! I have some more close-ups of the interior.

Some of the large trees must have been growing there when she last walked in the garden, that same day. This was one of the times when I felt as if she was very close by my shoulder.

It’s such a quiet place and so warm, protected by the high stone walls and facing to the sun. I’m sure she would have thought of this beautiful garden when John laid out her own smaller garden for the first time at Augusta.

In the far wall there was once a doorway, now bricked up with a small statue placed there. You can just see it on the left in the photograph below. In 1829 it led out from the garden and into the forest beyond. What a wonderful escape from the daily life of the house for Georgiana and her friends, the Dunlop girls.

I would have liked to stay longer and to explore more but we had already imposed on Cath’s hospitality beyond anything reasonable so we bade our farewells.

Mike set off in the car but I decided to walk back down to the road on my own. I just wanted to walk away down the drive as G would have done so many times. I wasn’t sure that I would ever go to Keppoch House again. I feel that Georgiana had just that same feeling in 1829.
It was a special walk, something much too personal to try to describe to you. A feeling that felt shared with someone else.

But how could I feel miserable?! We were on our way to Roseneath!

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2 Responses to The Garden’s Secret

  1. Mr Mrs Von Kotzebue says:

    Lovely composition of the forgotten 1st Female botanist of her time Georgina Molloy!

    Having being inspired through your article to visit, we timed it for spring. Delighted to share it was a wonderful spring encounter..a long windy we’ll build road passing lanes of very large (old) trees and saw on approach of the house a wee boy playing among the daffodils with his doting mother pruning on some sort of (flowering) tree in the middle of two large lawns surrounded by hundreds of daffodils in bloom and woodlands as a backdrop.

    This wonderful private garden has been invested in via the ethos of history and conservation to date Mrs Brodie softly confirmed with a delighted confident smile. Since 2001 it still privately run and funded by family Brodie (Keppoch Estate) Scotland. Sadly we had to go but was left with the wish to come back for the fields of Scottish bluebells that apparently burst into flower by the hundreds.. A sight to be seen many would say. This garden, with pockets of different trees, plants and wall garden and backdrop of rolling heather hills and the estate familie’s warm unpretentious hospitality on a warm spring day ..overlooking the waters of the Clyde burns a certain set print into the mind and soul one could say. Indeed a very special encounter with all here.

    Thank you to the author Jen G & family Brodie

    • Jen Gherardi says:

      Thanks for your delightful description and especially for taking the time to share this with us. We are currently moving towards launching the new project on Georgiana. Jennifer Gherardi

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