Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Scottish Gardens
Whitehouse, Midlothian

HE modest demesne of Whitehouse abuts upon the high road which, for the best part of a mile, flanks the old royal chace of Cramond Regis, now a country gentleman's spacious park, whereof the name has been altered by an unpoetical generation into Barnton.

Whitehouse belonged of old to the Knights Templars. On the suppression of the Order in the fourteenth century, the lands were bestowed upon William Earl of Douglas, who, in turn, granted them to James Sandilands, husband of his sister Alianora, a lady who must be credited with extra-ordinary attraction, physical or other, seeing that she married five husbands in succession. From James Sandilands is descended the present Lord Torphichen, twelfth baron in the creation of 1564, who retains the superiority of Whitehouse, the reddendo, or annual feu-duty, being a white rose. After passing through several hands, the property was purchased by Mr. Mackay, the present owner, who has renovated and enlarged the seventeenth century mansion with tasteful discretion.

The chief features of the garden of Whitehouse are at their best, like daffodils, "before the swallow dares." Nowhere else in Scotland, and only in one place in England (Stocken Hall, Lincolnshire) have I seen such wealth of winter aconite. A belt of trees round the garden is thickly carpeted with them; they run through the ivy and grass, which sparkle with myriads of their little golden cups and dainty green frills ; only the surrounding stone walls and hard gravel paths suffice to keep them within limits.

It was a day of sullen gusts and bitter snow showers when I visited Whitehouse; the lawn of crocuses, which Miss Wilson has depicted so charmingly, was but a mass of tightly closed purple cones, for the crocus is too careful of its golden anthers and stigma to open except in full sunshine. To the crocus, as to most herbs which hold their blooms erect, is given the power of shutting out foul weather; but the winter aconite heeds neither cold nor storm. Appearing above ground when the days are not long past their shortest, it seems determined to enjoy every ray of light that it can gather, before it obeys the law of its being, and goes to its long sleep underground throughout the summer and autumn months. Certainly that innumerable company of golden blossoms remains the one bright memory of that unkindly February day.

It is a flower whereof enough use is not made by country lovers. Perhaps we despise it for being so cheap; you can get a thousand of its gnarled tubers for a few shillings. But these require a little care in starting. Many people have been disappointed at the result of planting out tubers in a dry state as they come from a tradesman. They simply rot if they are set out in close turf. The proper way to naturalise them is to grow them for a season in rows in rather a sandy border; in the following spring, when the bloom is fading, take them up carefully with as much soil as will stick to them, and plant them where you would have them grow permanently. No place is more favourable than a hollow wood of deciduous trees, where the turf is not too dense. Here they will rapidly increase by seed and offsets ; rabbits will not touch them, and the display will be something to look forward to in the darkest time of the year. A newly introduced species, Eranthis chicica, has been described as better than our old friend hyemalis. I cannot see wherein is its superiority ; the frill, instead of being bright grass green, has a bronze tint, undesirable at a season when verdure is particularly to be coveted, and as yet the plant is ten times the price of the other.

Unlike the aconite, it is only in enclosed grounds like those of Whitehouse, where the accursed rabbit comes not, that the crocus can obtain and maintain a footing. Even so, the bulbs are often the prey of mice and voles ; but where these charming flowers can hold their own, they increase rapidly and provide a feast of colour every spring. A feast to which, as I was grieved to notice a few days ago, some people show strange indifference. On the outskirts of a small country town in south-western Scotland stands an old grey house, surrounded by about an acre of garden and pleasure-ground, upon which until twenty years ago, the owner used to expend much care, planting therein many a choice shrub and herb. He died ; the property passed into other hands and the garden into neglect. But the purple crocuses have taken possession of the whole turf, and, as I passed that way one bright March morning all the enclosure was steeped in Tyrian dye. All of it, except where a goat was tethered on the lawn ; which beast had browsed everything bare within the radius of its rope Surely, methought, the human retina is alike in all ranks and conditions of men, except the colour-blind. Is there not one member of this household who cares to prevent the marring of this exquisite display?

Matters are very different at Whitehouse, where the crocuses have taken possession of every available breadth of turf and are the pride and delight of the family. Miss Wilson has chosen for her subject the spot where these pretty flowers cluster thickly round an old sun-dial, which bears the inscription, MR. DAVID STRACHAN, 1732, the name of a former owner of Whitehouse. It might now be inscribed with a legend applicable alike to the dial and the sunloving flowers—Horan non numero nisi serenas—"I take no account of hours that are not sunny."

Like the dial, these crocuses are no affair of yesterday. Who shall declare how many generations of men have passed away since the original bulbs were planted. Brought thither they must have been by hand, for, although the purple Crocus vernus is admitted to the list of British plants, it is not native to North Britain. Spring after spring, for an untold number of years, they have multiplied and spread, covering the turf with their imperial flush. It may be that King James V. in his incognito wanderings may have noted the pretty flowers as he passed that way. For he had a pretty adventure just outside this garden.

He was a monarch of many fancies, some of which were highly offensive to Angus "Bell-the-Cat," and other haughty lords. Among these fancies, it was James's humour to wander about the country disguised as a peasant, or, at best, a bonnet laird. Thus, coming one day alone to the bridge of Cramond, he was beset by a party of gypsies, who were for relieving him of the contents of his pockets. All men went armed in those days, as constantly as do Albanians and Montenegrins at the present; so the King out with his sword, and running upon the steep and narrow bridge, managed to make good his defence for a while. Yet numbers must have prevailed in the end; and it was well for King James that a real husbandman, threshing corn in a barn hard by, heard the cries for succour uttered by the counterfeit. This man hurried up, flail in hand, and plied it to such good effect that the robbers decamped. Then the peasant took the King, in whom he beheld but one of his own class, into his house, brought him water and a towel to wash away traces of the fray, and escorted him part of the way back to Edinburgh. As they walked, the King asked for the name of his deliverer.

"John Howieson is my name," was the reply, "and I am just a bondsman on the farm o' Braehead, whilk belongs to the King o' Scots himsel'."

"Is there anything in the world you would wish more than another for yourself?" asked the King.

"'Deed, if I was laird o' the bit land I labour as a bondsman I'd be the blythest man in braid Scotland. But what will your name and calling be, neebour?" enquired the peasant in his turn.

"Oh," replied the King, "I'm weel kent about the Palace o' Holyrood as the Gudeman o' Ballen¬geich. I hae a small appointment in the palace, ye ken; and if ye hae a mind to see within, I'll be proud to show ye round on Sabbath nixtocum, and maybe ye'll get a bit guerdon for the gude service ye hae dune me this day."

"Faith! I'd like that fine," said John, and on the following Sunday presented himself at the palace gate to enquire for the Gudeman o' Ballengeich. The King had arranged for his admission, and received him dressed in the same rustic disguise as before. Having shown John Howieson round the palace, he asked him whether he would like to see the King. "Aye, that wad I," exclaimed John, "if nae offence be gi'en or ta'en. But 'hoo' will I ken his grace amang the nobeelity?"

"Oh, you'll ken him fine, John," replied the King, "for he'll be the only man covered amang them a'."

Then the King brought his guest to the great hall where were assembled many peers and officers of state, bravely attired in silk and velvet of many hues, passmented with gold and silver lace. John had on the best clothes he had, but felt abashed amid so great splendour, and tried in vain. to distinguish the King.

"Wasna I having ye telt that ye wad ken his grace by his going covered," said James.

John took another look round the hall; then turned to his guide, saying:

"God, man it maun either be you or me that's King o' Scots, for there's nane ither here carryin' his bonnet."

Then the secret came out, followed by the promised guerdon, which was no less than a grant to John Howieson and his descendants of the farm of Braehead, to be held of the Crown for ever, on The title of "Majesty" was first assumed in England by Henry VIII., and in Scotland was first applied to the monarch in Queen Mary's reign. Some may be disposed to regret the change, holding that grace is a more kingly attribute than majesty condition that the owner should ever be ready to present a basin and ewer for the King to wash his hands withal, either at Holyrood house or when crossing the brig o' Cramond.

"Accordingly," says Sir Walter Scott in the Tales of a Grandfather, "in the year 1822, when George IV. came to Scotland, the descendant of John Howieson of Braehead, who still possesses the estate which was given to his ancestor, appeared at a solemn festival, and offered his Majesty water from a silver ewer, that he might perform the service by which he held his lands."

Less seemly, but not less characteristic of the social system of the sixteenth century, is another memory connected with this place. The fourth Earl of Huntly, the great champion of the Roman Church in Scotland, had a brother, Alexander Gordon, who was Bishop-designate of Caithness from 1544 to 1548; elected Archbishop of Glasgow in 1550, his title was disputed and he resigned the see to the Pope in 1551. He was then created Archbishop of Athens, a sinecure, and became Bishop of the Isles in 1553, which see be held till 1562 together with that of Galloway, whereof he acquired the temporalities in 1559. He also held the abbacies of Tongland, Inchaffray and Icolmkill—whence it may be inferred that he was a peculiarly affluent prelate. He also showed sagacity in noting the signs of the times, for he turned Protestant, being the only consecrated bishop who joined the Lords of the Congregation at the Reformation.

"But what," exclaims the perplexed reader, "has all this to do with the crocuses at Whitehouse?" Only this, that the crocuses set a desultory mind astray among the memories of Cramond, and, at the time when this astute pluralist was attending the Court of Holyrood, there lived one David Logie at King's Cramond. With David lived a fair daughter Barbara, whom Bishop Gordon made his mistress, and had by her four sons, three of whom he succeeded in getting made bishops. But in one thing he did not succeed, though he tried hard. He never could get Barbara recognised as his wife, even after his change of religion released him technically from his vow of celibacy.

Return to Scottish Gardens Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus