By the 1990s, the walled garden, on the outskirts of Haddington, was an abandoned council tree nursery, thick with overgrown saplings, brambles, thistles and dock, the towers, with their Doric-pillared porticoes, which stand in each corner, barely visible.
However, in 1999 this lost landscape was thrown a lifeline with the creation of the Amisfield Preservation Trust, a group of local enthusiasts hoping to recreate what was once described as “the chief monument of 18th century neoclassicism in Lothian”.
And after 12 years of work, the trees are gone, the formal network of radiating paths with their gentle symmetry have been lovingly restored, a rose garden has been planted, as has an avenue of hornbeam trees. Much is still to do, but next Saturday the trust, which leases the garden from East Lothian Council, is inviting visitors to an open afternoon to marvel at the work completed so far, as part of the Garden Open Scotland scheme.
“This Garden Open day is our first big event,” explains trust chairman Kate Rycroft. “And we hope to get a lot of locals coming along as well as those from further afield.”
Aside from strolling around the garden, visitors can learn about the past times and future plans, as well as snapping up some of the produce now grown there – including apricots and peaches which flourish against the south-facing wall.
The work so far has been completed with the help of several grants, including from the National Lottery, and of course the enthusiastic labour of a group of volunteers who have had very little information to go on. “We don’t have any photos of the walled garden and we don’t have any detailed plans. We only have the basic estate plans and OS plans,” explains Kate. “We keep hoping someone whose great-grandfather worked here will turn up! And we are still appealing for people to come forward if they have any mementoes of the garden.”
Around 20 regulars turn out on Monday and Wednesday mornings and Saturdays, with students lending a hand during the summer, companies sending out teams as part of “bonding” exercises and those with special needs and mental health problems using work in the garden as therapy, a side which trust members are keen to see more of. “We would like to develop the horticultural therapy element,” says Kate. “In fact, we are not fully using the garden at the moment and we would like to take it up a step.”
This autumn the trust is aiming to take the first step towards that next phase of the garden development with a bid for £250,000 from landfill tax charities to fund the post of a project manager to drive forward plans for a shop and cafe.
“We are hoping to bring the garden back to life as a community resource for the people of Haddington,” says Kate. “It is a very special place that is worth preserving.”
Amisfield Walled Garden, EH41 4PU, is open on Saturday, August 27 from 2pm to 5pm. Visit www.amisfield.org.uk or www.gardensofscotland.org.