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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In other parts of the walled garden, flowers burgeoned in beds lined with hedges.
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.
It was an usually hot day and the dappled shade of young trees along a grassy path was very welcome.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.