Buying a copy of Gardener’s World, with the ‘2 for1’ deal about entry to over 400 gardens was one of the best things that I did. The Guidebook tells me about all sorts of gardens that I had never heard about, that I probably would never have visited. Cambo Gardens was one of those; I’d never heard about it. However, it wasn’t far from where I was staying in Fife. On a perfect sunny day, wind and cloud-free, off we stomped to Cambo Gardens. It was definitely not an easy place to find, understated, but it is also a secluded Country House Hotel so it isn’t going to have a big flashing sign.
It was charming, magical, unlike any other garden I have been to. First task was to work out how you got from the car park to the garden entrance because we quickly realised that you didn’t go through the front doors of the hotel. The woman in charge of admissions was sitting in a quiet, partly covered courtyard, with a feel of Tuscany about it. She was also in charge of plant sales. She is delighted to see us and says “You’ll see a marquee on one of the lawns. There is a wedding going on. Don’t worry about it because they know that the gardens are open to the public and people might be wandering around. There’s a bit of a ceremony in the Walled Garden but it isn’t closed to the public”. Interesting.
We started on the Woodland Walk where the smell of Wild Garlic was certainly ‘heady’, if not almost overwhelming, where there were banks of white Wild Garlic flowers as far as the eye could see; the sound of the running water from the stream, going towards the sea, was in competition with the birdsong. The sun streamed through the leaves of the trees. We weren’t sure where we were going but walked on until we saw the sign for the Coastal Path. Coastal Path? “That’s not what I was expecting”, as Lyra would say. Suddenly, in front of us, where the woodlands ended, was Number 12 tee of the Golf Course and beyond that, the sea. It was a pebbly beach, the tide was in and we watched the waves gently lapping, back and forth and feeling somewhat vulnerable since four players were about to tee-off and their shots would ideally go over our heads, but then you don’t know how good (or bad) the players were. We needed faith that these were experienced golfers who knew what they were doing, otherwise we were in the direct firing line.
We returned up the other side of the stream and found our way into the Walled Garden. It was exquisite; no wonder that someone wanted to get married here. The Walled Garden was very large, not a Kitchen Garden. There was a newly restored sensory greenhouse; colour, smell, texture; stained glass panel, small mosaics amongst the plants, with a bench from which you could peruse the whole garden. As I sat there, thinking what an incredible place this was, I heard the sound of bagpipes. I then saw the Piper slowly entering the Walled Garden followed by the Wedding Party, walking the paths to the central lawn. OK so I was trapped in the greenhouse for the time being; I know the Wedding Party were expecting visitors to be wandering around but they definitely wouldn’t be expecting someone in a t-shirt and trainers to burst in on the Piper leading the Wedding Party. It was a big wedding, a traditional Scottish wedding, men in kilts with some fancy knives down their socks and women in footwear inappropriate for wandering along stones paths. It took ages to pass by. What a great place to be trapped. ‘People-watching’ at its best although clearly some guests wondered what I was doing in the greenhouse. After the guests were all seated, I was able to ‘escape’ before the bride and her bridesmaids arrived. The Walled Garden was a great source of pleasure, small areas of the garden with different plants and themes, garden statues lurking amongst the bushes (although the two statues of children doing handstands on top of the high garden wall weren’t hidden, they stood out against the sunlight. Beautiful). We finished wandering around the gardens, occasionally meeting a late wedding guest, and returned to the tea room for a cup of tea.
Cambo Gardens are renown for their Snowdrop collection (shame to have missed them but I doubt I will see such a profusion of Wild Garlic ever again, so I just need to win the competition I’ve entered to have a two-night stay at Cambo House in the snowdrop season). I asked myself whether they will have a tea towel with snowdrops on it, and knowing that it is unlikely. There was a shop, always worth a try. They had napkins, aprons, mugs, dinner plates, bowls, ornaments and much more, all with snowdrops. I couldn’t see tea towel with snowdrops, tea towels with everything else however. I felt a bit deflated; I had set my heart on a snowdrop tea towel and then I saw a basket full of tea towels, all mixed up, different designs; I rummaged through and at the bottom I found one. Success. This is a Heather Raeburn design; I have others of hers. It is delightful and will certainly remind me of my lovely visit to Cambo Gardens, taking part in a wedding that I wasn’t invited to and without having to buy a present, and discovering an understated garden that I would want to come back to in the Snowdrop season.