Garden · Photography · Scotland

Scotland’s Gardens: Backhouse at Rossie Estate

The Backhouse family has a long history of working with plants. Throughout the past six generations the family has produced a number of horticulturists and botanists, including pioneering daffodil grower, William Backhouse II, who was born in the early 1800s.

Later generations carried on the tradition of daffodil development, and many varieties of daffodil can be seen each spring at Rossie Estate, home of the current generation of the family. In 2016 the Backhouse daffodils were acknowledged with National Plant Collection status, a conservation scheme for cultivated plants in the UK.

I visited Backhouse Garden, which is located just outside the village of Auchtermuchty in Fife, for the first time this week. Unfortunately I was too late to see the daffodils, but there was no shortage of other things to look at.

The first thing that caught my eye was a circular grass maze that reminded me of my youth. My mum used to leave the grass to grow long in our back garden and then mow a maze into it, for the entertainment of me and my siblings.

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Circular grass maze at Backhouse Garden, with standing stone in the middle. (Note the intrepid adventurer about to enter the maze. My dad had a bash at the maze but after wandering around, sweltering in the sunshine and getting nowhere, he eventually gave it up as a bad job).

The maze was situated in a very large walled garden that had a number of interesting features. Around the inside, expanses of wall supported numerous varieties of heritage fruit trees. The apples from some of these trees go into the garden’s own apple juice, which I can confirm is absolutely delicious.

Apple trees in walled garden at Backhouse
Fruit trees growing against a bit of the walled garden. Dead daffodils can be seen in the foreground, in front of small box hedges. All round the garden there were decaying signs of the national collection of daffodils, remnants indicating what must have been a magnificent display.

Along from the grass maze was an extensive herb garden, filled with culinary plants. Two elegant seats and a table positioned among the herbs made me wish a waiter would appear with a silver salver bearing afternoon tea.

afternoon tea table at Backhouse

Beyond the herb garden lay a succession of arched trellises with roses growing up them. I imagine later in the summer when the roses come out it must look, and possibly smell, beautiful.

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The wiggly path beneath the trellises was designed to represent the double helix of a DNA molecule. The twisting strands were picked out in grey stones set against a background of crushed white shells.

There were several other references to science and art in the garden, as well as a fascinating water feature. The water bubbled up into a well-like structure, creating vortices on the surface.

Water feature at Backhouse
You can’t tell what’s going on in this picture, but the water came up in the middle of the feature and swirled around the shallow curved areas in a quite mesmerising manner.

Disappearing again through the holes in the middle of the structure, the water reappeared at the bottom, pouring into a long straight channel leading to a pond guarded by lions.

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Lions guarding the pond with water flowing down from the mesmerising water feature.

In other parts of the walled garden, flowers burgeoned in beds lined with hedges.

Burgeoning flowers at Backhouse

Beyond the walls lay other attractions for the visitor. These included a putting green, which I didn’t have time to investigate, and a tree-lined walk to a Covenanter’s Tomb, which I did go and see.

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The start of the walk to the Covenanter’s Tomb.

It was an usually hot day and the dappled shade of young trees along a grassy path was very welcome.

grassy path to Covenanters' Tomb
En route to the Covenanter’s Tomb.

To get to the grassy path, a stone style had to be negotiated. It was challenging for someone with mobility problems but my mum, who is still recovering from a knee replacement operation earlier this year, managed it okay. The same could not be said for the second style that came after the grassy path.

Although she climbed gamely up one side, the other side proved rather too difficult, with the first step down being a 2 foot drop.

Style number 2 with a steep drop

She decided against attempting it and later learned of another way into the area via a flat path leading off the main driveway into the garden. (Something to remember for the next visit.)

Not being hampered by a dodgy knee, I went over the style and had a look at the Covenanter’s Tomb.

Covenanter's Tomb
The Covenanter’s Tomb, seen from one end of the building. (The wooden fence is there to deter people from climbing on the ruins.)

Deliberately constructed to look unimportant (there was never a roof, so that seen from a distance it would look like an abandoned building) the tomb is thought to contain the remains of Sir James Scott and Lady Antonia Scott, both of whom were Covenanters in the 17th Century. (The Covenanters were a group of Scottish Protestants who opposed the belief in the divine right of kings. Their name came from a document called the National Covenant, which supporters signed in 1638.)

Covenanter's Tomb 2

On arrival at the garden (before we saw any of the above) we went straight to the cafe, housed in an old stable block at the entrance to the garden, for a spot of luncheon.

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Garden entrance with cafe on the left.

The menu was unusual, offering daily specials using ingredients grown in the garden. I was tempted by the prospect of homegrown asparagus on toast, but opted instead for Orkney cheddar and homemade apple chutney open sandwiches. My parents had bread with hummus, and mini croissants with cheese and ham. We all enjoyed Backhouse apple juice, which was extremely refreshing on a hot day.

Before leaving the garden we called in at the cafe again for afternoon refreshments. The ‘cake of the day’ was lemon drizzle and we each had a slice, with breakfast tea for the parents and Earl Grey for me. The teas were loose leaf and branded with the names of previous Backhouse botanists. The sturdy glass teapots held more tea than we could drink, but we certainly drank our fill and it was a splendid way to round things off.

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Tea and cake at Backhouse Garden. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a little vase of buttercups on a tea table before.

Backhouse at Rossie Estate is open from 1 April to 30 September, Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday) from 10:00 to 16:00. Entry to the garden costs £5 for adults, £4 for senior citizens, £3 for children aged 5-16, and under 5s go free. If you’re a member of the Royal Horticultural Society you can get in for free on Fridays. If you’d like to read more about Backhouse, you can visit their website here: www.backhouserossie.co.uk.

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10 thoughts on “Scotland’s Gardens: Backhouse at Rossie Estate

  1. What an interesting adventure. I would love to see that unique water fountain, and I found the information regarding Covenanters particularly interesting. And, as usual, you managed to top off the day perfectly! You can never go wrong by ending with a lemon drizzle.

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    1. How right you are, Connie, lemon drizzle cake was a perfect way to end the visit. I’m sure you’d have enjoyed watching the water bubbling up, especially on such a warm day when just being near water felt refreshing.

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  2. What a wonderful place to visit and the food looks amazing. Just the sort of menu I like. Looks like you picked the perfect day for this outing. Glad your mom didn’t risk those steps. Great pictures!

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    1. The menu would have pleased you, I think, Darlene. It was small but contained a number of veggie options, including veggie sausages on a roll, which isn’t something you see all that often in Scottish cafes. We did pick the perfect day for our outing, in fact it was the hottest day of the year so far in Scotland and, amazingly, we almost had the garden to ourselves.

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  3. What an amazing place. Scotland is so full of suprises, and very nice ones at that. I must try to get here! Glad you had the perfect weather for it.

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    1. Very true, there are so many places of interest tucked away like this. I hope you get the chance to visit Backhouse some day, especially if you get weather like we had. I felt very fortunate to see it on such a beautiful day.

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  4. This looks such a beautiful place, Lorna, and I’d never even heard of it! Must seek it out. We tend to overlook Fife. I love your photos of the gardens and the water features. And the beautifully paved path! A lovely place for a day out. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Jo, there’s so much to see throughout the country, isn’t there? It’s too easy to miss lots of wonderful wee gems. I was really surprised to find out about Backhouse because I pop in and out of Fife a fair bit. It makes me wonder how many other treats like this I might stumble over in years to come. It was indeed a lovely day out.

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