Florists unearth photos of Scots garden’s Victorian heyday

One of the pictures uncovered showing Victorian life in the garden

One of the pictures uncovered showing Victorian life in the garden

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A pair of florists who have taken on a neglected walled garden in East Lothian have uncovered a set of pictures which show the life of the garden – and those who worked in it – in the Victorian era.

Fiona Inglis and Natalya Ayers of Pyrus Botanicals, who took a lease on the Saltoun walled garden a year ago to grow flowers and plants for high-end weddings and magazine displays, have regenerated the garden, which had been left untended for years.

Natalya Ayers and Fiona Inglis at the walled garden. Picture: 
Scott Louden

Natalya Ayers and Fiona Inglis at the walled garden. Picture: Scott Louden

But the pair have now uncovered a photograph album of early pictures taken by a keen gardener in the late 1800s or early 1900s, showing the men who worked in the garden, many of them living together in a bothy on the site.

The album had been kept by a descendent of one of the original gardeners for decades.

The photographs include a gardener called Bobby Clark playing the bagpipes, while four other workers are captured dancing to his music. Even “Maggie the garden pony” features, as well as young boys carrying baskets of produce grown in the garden.

One picture shows the workers trying to set up posed photographs in front of a grubby white sheet in the garden next to the glasshouses. Another picture offers an insight into life inside the bothy, depicting 
the men reclining on their beds.

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Inglis said: “In the late 1800s there would have been 30 gardeners on the site, living in a bothy and the potting sheds in the garden – some of which are still there. The pictures show what their life was like, living there altogether and creating all of the produce for the estate.”

Ayers added: “It is quite an amazing record of what life in the garden was like. It feels like there has been a lot of fun going on there.”

Other photographs display the now-defunct glasshouses in all of their original glory, when the garden would have fed the entire estate of Saltoun Hall, near Pencaitland. Some of the Victorian-era buildings were heated by hot pipes running around the side of the garden, allowing the gardeners to grow exotic fruits such as pineapples which would otherwise not thrive in Scotland.

The estate, which is now split into flats and individual houses, is still home to descendents of the Fletcher family who have lived in the hall since the 1800s.

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A glimpse of the “upstairs” of the big house is also seen in the photographs, where the gardener-photographer has captured pictures of the inhabitants of the house playing tennis and of ladies 
in long dresses posing with the family dog next to bird cages. A snap of toddler “Miss Olive” on a donkey 
ride is also shown in the photos.

The florists, who both have a fine art background and met while working in another floristry business in Edinburgh, found the 2.75-acre site last year.

“The garden really just came to us,” said Ayers. “We had been working on an estate and were looking for a new site.

“Then two separate people told us about it and took us to see it.

“It was a lot bigger than we had initially been looking for, but as soon as we saw it we thought ‘we could do something with this’.

“When you’re in there, you feel like you’re in a different world. It really has a feel of a secret garden.”

Pyrus plans to develop the site over the next five years to grow flowers for wholesale as well as stocking their own projects.