Fresh Produce

On a sunny evening in May we spoke to our gardener Wendy Mount. Wendy has worked with the gardens at Modern One since 2005; tending, sustaining, and harvesting our popular kitchen garden, orchard, and flower beds.

(L-R) The gardens at Modern One prior to planting, in August 1983; the rear garden in 1993, before the kitchen garden install; the flower garden around 1993. Images © National Galleries of Scotland.

Could you describe the gardens?

The flower garden was planted way back in 2006, when I worked in collaboration with a senior curator at the time. The borders were planted as a short-term project, with prolific flowering plants that would provide colour and beauty throughout the busier seasons. Thirteen years later we now have a garden that has grown around these plants. Some have been lost; others have matured over time. Ultimately the flower garden is planted for a full on display of flowers for visitors and wildlife.

The memorial border at Modern One in 2012. Image © Wendy Mount.
The memorial border in 2017. Image © Wendy Mount.

The memorial border was planted in memory of Sandy Mcmorron, and the plants were chosen around a poem, which is inscribed on one of the plaques. The peonies here are fabulous, and the roses cascade around them during the summer months. The kitchen garden was planted in 2013, so it’s still very young but steadily maturing, and the apple orchard has a mixture of apples, and I have recently added two plum trees and a damson. I love seeing how the garden has benefitted over time from having been managed without chemicals. It is completely chemical free, and the health and vitality of the plants is obvious. This garden is so wholesome on so many levels.

The orchard in the Kitchen Garden, in 2013. Image © Wendy Mount.
The orchard in its fifth year, in 2018. Image © Wendy Mount.

How do you decide what to grow in the vegetable garden?

For the kitchen garden I chose varieties which would thrive in a Scottish climate, have disease resistance (which is important for organic gardening), and are also heavy cropping. We are also limited in space, so I try to get as much produce as possible into a small area, and have a quick turnover of fast growing varieties. I like to support ethical companies that supply heirloom and/or organic seeds. The heirloom varieties tend to be strong growers and give reliable crops.

What produce grows particularly well here?

Plants will tend to respond to the climate on a yearly basis, so what is thriving now may not necessarily thrive the following year. The climate is fluctuating wildly, from year to year, and season to season. It’s so difficult to predict what is going to happen. But the raised beds are phenomenal, as they are positioned in a very sheltered spot. The choice is endless but we’re limited by space, so I really try to cover most aspects, which takes a lot of careful thinking ahead, sowing, planting and careful harvesting. In the summer months working on the raised beds I am quite often reminded of Mary Poppins and her magic bag.

(L-R) The raised beds after installation in 2013; the beds after plants were introduced in 2013; the beds in winter, 2018.

Does all the produce get used by the kitchen?

All of the produce from the raised beds, and most of the crops from the perennial fruit goes to the kitchen. Wildlife also like to take their share. The morello cherries rarely make it to ripening stage because they are taken early by the birds. A certain amount of produce will always be shared with the wildlife. It’s the law of having a kitchen garden.

Is there a difference between gardening edible produce and flowers?

Yes, the difference is massive. The flower garden is well established, so in the summer months there is light weeding to do, and keeping plants from tumbling around too much. The bulk of work tends to be in the autumn and winter months preparing for the seasons ahead. In spring and summer the kitchen garden is a lot more demanding. It’s like a baby; it needs constant care and attention, watering in the dry season, and so many other small jobs to do to ensure healthy crops.

What about wildlife?

There is so much wildlife! There are so many species of birds including my friends the robins. There’s a song thrush, a wren is often flitting around, blackbirds chase each other, and I often hear the sparrow hawks circling overhead. In the summer the garden is buzzing with bees, and the sunflowers last year were absolutely smothered with ladybirds who made a very grand appearance after being scarce for so long. We have peacock butterflies later in the year, and they always appreciate the asters, which are in full flower then. We also have a toad. I have never seen the badgers but I believe they have a home here amongst the woodland, and although I haven’t seen it, I know there is a fox. Something has been getting into the raised beds, leaving very big paw prints…

Do they contribute to the success of the gardens?

The wildlife is mostly beneficial to the garden, and have symbiotic relationships with many of the plants. For example, the bees pollinate the crops and flowers, and the ladybirds eat the aphids. The robins are always close by and I often feed them the vine weevil grubs that are an absolute pest here. It’s a joy to watch them go off and feed their young with them. The toad will be munching its way through our slug populations and hopefully is breeding; so maybe we will end up with more toads and less slugs. That would be ideal!

What relaxation and wellness qualities do you believe gardening and gardens can provide?

To breathe in, and fill our lungs with oxygen in the right environment, can create wellness in our bodies. The very act of breathing is taking in that which is essential to life on a very deep cellular level. Scent is another of nature’s gifts. So many plants are healing through the release of their volatile oils; lavender and chamomile are known for their relaxant qualities, rosemary can improve memory, and clary sage is known to make you feel more joyful. In the garden we are subconsciously benefitting from the plants that we brush past. Plants sustain our lives in countless ways. Ultimately they serve the most important life giving factors; they take up excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and they produce the oxygen we breathe. It rarely gets more healing than that; to be surrounded by life giving plants that not only sustain us but also sustain the nature and biodiversity around us. ​

How do gallery visitors interact with the gardens?

Visitors to the gallery grounds really appreciate the gardens. Many people find the space relaxing and they like to sit back and unwind. I tend to be in constant conversation, answering questions, giving advice, taking advice.  Children love to run around and play hide and seek. Many are really interested in what I am doing and more often than not want to help; wanting to put their hands in the soils and to help with the watering. I really believe they are natural gardeners.

To hear more from our chat with Wendy, have a listen to our audio tour of the gardens here.

Visit the gardens and café at Modern One between 9am-4.30pm on Monday - Friday, and 10am-4.30pm on Saturday and Sunday.

All images © Wendy Mount unless otherwise stated.

6 August 2019