The walled garden at Amisfield Tower Estate just outside Dumfries, although not vast, is still perhaps a daunting prospect in an age where employing a full time gardener is not always a viable solution. It is often the case that walled gardens are situated at a distance from the main house, but the walled garden at Amisfield is right next to the house and very much a part of the immediate policy gardens. 

While the estate owners do not live at Amisfield full time, they are there regularly and have always enjoyed the gardens as an extension to the house. As such, the requirements were that the garden be maintained and used traditionally, whilst also retaining access for the family and their friends and privacy at weekends. Potentially a tall order, but where there is land, there is opportunity, and by the time Galbraith took over the management in 2019, Cloverglen Support Services had held a lease over the walled garden and greenhouses for over ten years. 

Cloverglen is a care service providing for those with learning difficulties from the age of 16 upwards, and it was founded by Eric Bridgwood in 2003. He had tried to get something very similar up and running in 1995 but was prevented as a result of local planning difficulties. Eric had the original idea in the late 80s while working as a learning disability nurse, becoming aware that task related experiential learning was a more achievable way of working around learning disabilities.  

Cloverglen was originally based at Barjarg Tower, where they had the use of the walled garden and the former game keeper’s cottage. The garden at Barjarg was little more than a wall in the woods and was very overgrown with mature trees, so when the estate at Barjarg was put up for sale Eric was faced with finding a new base for Cloverglen. Chance would have it that the walled gardens at Amisfield were being advertised at this time, and Eric made contact and met with the estate owner to discuss whether the Cloverglen project could work at Amisfield. 

On agreeing terms, a lease was put in place, and Cloverglen moved to Amisfield. At the start of the lease, Eric remembers that the garden was mostly grass, the box hedges, fruit trees and the area around the rose garden were the only areas with any plants. It was the perfect project, with the walled gardens providing a safe enclosed work space for Cloverglen’s service users with the added advantage of a micro climate environment.  Eric states that ‘It is a marvellous therapeutic mini world that is very relaxing for the people attending.’ He goes on to suggest that ‘there is a need for more people to reconnect with the outdoors especially with the current COVID-19 epidemic and walled gardens provide the ideal environment to do that.’ Cloverglen has continued to operate throughout the pandemic, providing a much valued space for the service users, and also continuing to maintain the gardens. Eric is hopeful that ‘in 10 years Cloverglen will still be putting a smile on the faces of the service users, and helping them to maintain their mental and physical health.’

Like all Landlord and Tenant relationships, communication is key here, as well as a level of understanding and management of expectations from both parties, and Galbraith as managing agents are responsible for maintaining this good relationship. As could be predicted, the greenhouses and walls are old and showing wear and tear in some places. The tenants cannot be expected to renew or rebuild these structures, so Galbraith have been examining options and liaising with both parties to ascertain how best to ensure the structures can be repaired and maintained in an affordable way. Our first thought was to look into what funding might be available, and while there is potential here, it is not, as is often the case, straightforward. We are also examining the possibility of a phased repair and maintenance approach with the finances handled in house. With regard to minor renewals or larger repairs, the landlord and tenant have generally managed to agree to shared costs thereby ensuring the continued enjoyment of the gardens by both parties.

With regard to the lease terms, different parties and situations will have their own requirements peculiar to each individual circumstance, but the terms that work for Cloverglen and Amisfield are that the  onus for the care of the gardens lies with the tenants, who are responsible for pruning fruit trees, buying and planting flowers, bedding plants, fruit and vegetables and for weeding flower beds and vegetable patches, and also for maintaining the greenhouses, walls and paths. They also carry out all mowing and hedge cutting, which considering there is an intricate box hedge maze, is no mean feat. The Estate owners agree for their part to ensure that the walls, greenhouses and potting sheds are maintained in good order. The tenants do not use the gardens at weekends, and have their own parking facility to the rear of the gardens, so both parties manage to get along in fairly close proximity without getting under each other’s feet.

Fundamentally, this arrangement shows that it is possible for a garden owner to continue to enjoy the space, whilst also creating opportunity for others, the key being the management of expectations, transparency and a good understanding and acceptance of the condition of the garden infrastructure and how this will be managed going forward at the commencement of the lease. Galbraith, with considerable experience in assisting with landlord and tenant liaison are well placed to manage this sort of arrangement, and so if you are looking for a new venture or a diversification,  then please do give us a call and we would be happy to discuss options.