The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

Sunday, May Day, was a bit dreich. In Scotland, dreich is shorthand for damp conditions with mist-like rain (which we call smir) and threatening grey cloud covering the sky –  with no blue in sight. In these weather conditions, you have three choices – pull the duvet back over your head and have a lazy day at home; dress for rain and head for a nice, warm coffee shop with the Sunday newspapers; or wrap up warm and head out into the country. So that is what we did. Undeterred by the possibility of the smir becoming actual rain, we wrapped up well, put the wellingtons and walking poles in the car and headed for Protrack, Hollywood. No, not the one with the film stars and never ending sun. This Holywood, about 5 miles north of Dumfries, is home to the private garden of Charles Jencks – The Garden of Cosmic Speculation. The garden is only open once a year for half a day, under the Scotland’s Gardens programme.

Charles Jencks is a world renowned cultural theorist, landscape designer, architectural critic and co-founder of Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres.  His personal statement on his website describes the garden and how he sees the world:

To see the world in a grain of sand, the poetic insight of William Blake, is to find relationships between the large and the small, science and spirituality, the universe and the landscape. This cosmic setting provides the narrative for my content driven work, the writing and the design. I explore metaphors that underlie both growing nature and the laws of nature, parallels that root us personally in the cosmos as firmly as a plant, even while our mind escapes this home.

Now I did mention it was a dreich day – well, we were not the only people undeterred by the weather. There was a long line of cars queuing to get into the car park and a huge number of people already in the garden by 1.30pm. Once inside the garden, there is a landscape feast for the eyes. The Snail Mound catches everyone’s attention first, with queues to climb the grassy spiral.


Whilst two of us ventured up the grassy slopes, the other two headed off to explore.  We read the iron red flags hanging from a long line of trees tracing The Scottish Bloodline – key events, people and periods in Scottish history.

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Along the Fractal Terrace and the Garden of Worthies he uses the metaphor of a railway journey to consider the ideas of some of Scotland’s greatest thinkers, like Adam Smith and Mary Somerville. The Rail Garden heads along the line of the real railway towards the Dalswinton viaduct , where a narrowing platform allows you to step out towards it and the river below – an amazing feeling.


By the time we reached Quark Walk and the Garden of Taking Leave of Your Senses, our legs were beginning to weary and we yearned for a cup of tea. Then close to the big white house we spied Mr Jencks himself.   We forgot our thirst and continued across the Comet Bridge and then headed towards more formal gardens and a water feature making music (a clear favourite with small children).

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All around the garden, Jencks mixes landscape and words, trees and meaning, water and glimpses of life. It is a garden for the curious, a garden to feed the mind.

People of all ages and from all over the world journey here for this one afternoon a year. We heard many people saying they had been waiting 5 years to get here, so make sure you put it in your diary for next year.

But you don’t need to wait a whole year to see some of his work in Scotland. So here’s a few ideas,  designed by Jencks, if you can’t wait until 2107:


Photo credit Rosser1954

Photo Credit Rosser1954

Crawick Multiverse is a major land restoration and art project in Dumfries & Galloway.  Crawick uses  landscape art to transform a former open cast coal mine into an outdoor space that can be enjoyed by future generations. It links the themes of space, astronomy and cosmology, creating a truly inspiring landmark that will appeal to everyone from art enthusiasts and scientists to the wider community. Events this year at Crawick include:

Friday 24 June: Exhibition Opening: Landscape of Waves
The opening of “Landscape of waves”, an exhibition of the work of Charles Jencks with Alex Rigg in the old lemonade factory in Sanquhar.

Friday 24 June: Our Universe in Pictures, Poetry and Music
(Sanquhar Town Hall) A talk given by the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

Saturday 25 June: Summer Solstice Celebration, Science Day
A fun day of science talks lead by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Professors from the fields of applied mathematics, physics and more will explore some of the mysteries of our universe.

Sunday 26 June: Summer Solstice Celebration
A showcase of exhibitions, performances by regional schools, artists and community groups in a celebration of the Summer Solstice.

Jupiter is ready to orbit

 Life Mounds by Charles Jencks

Photo Credit Callum Black

Since 2009, Nicky and Robert Wilson have been opening their garden at Bonnington House, Wilkieston (near Edinburgh). Jupiter Artland started as a personal journey for the Wilson’s but is now open to the public (14th May to 25th September 2016) and is supported by the ambitious Jupiter Foundation.

We want to recreate the inspiring world of Jupiter through temporary installations in socially challenged environments by using today’s best known architects and artists.
We want to create a Jupiter presence that travels through every city in Scotland.

We want to create a unique engagement through contemporary art and ignite that spark of inspiration in young people who are difficult to reach.
Every young person in scotland will benefit from Jupiter’s inspirational environment.


Scotland’s Gardens, is a registered charity created in 1931 to raise funds for other deserving charities by facilitating the opening of gardens of horticultural interest of all sizes throughout Scotland to the public.  You’ll find a list of the gardens in the Scottish Borders in the areas marked Roxburghshire and Etterick & Lauderdale.

Eating and drinking along the way

We stopped for a fabulous brunch at the Buccleuch and Queensbury Arms Hotel, Thornhill.  Normally we head for Thomas Tosh (one of my all time favourites), but alas, it is closed on a Sunday.  After visiting the garden we stopped for tea (and lots of water) at Heathhall Garden Centre, before heading for home.

Don’t be deterred by the weather. Just get out there and enjoy some of the best gardens in the world. See you at Crawick or Jupiter Artland soon.

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