Although breathtakingly beautiful, Orkney might not immediately seem like the ideal place to pursue gardening as a serious hobby. Apart from our salty maritime air, it frequently gets a bit breezy here, with little by way of natural shelter to protect sensitive plants more used to kinder southern climates.
But, as you’ll already know if you’ve visited, Orkney is full of surprises and our remarkable local gardens are just one of them. The islands are home to dozens of truly stunning horticultural creations that stand as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of their owners.
The Quoy of Houton, one of the beautiful gardens you can visit as part of the 2017 Orkney Garden Festival
For a number of years now, some of Orkney’s finest gardens have participated in the biennial Orkney Garden Trails event, opening their gates to visitors from around the world and raising cash for charity in the process.
This year, organisers have gone one better and organised a fully bloomed garden festival – the most northerly in the UK - set to run between 17 and 25 June.
Twenty-eight beautiful local gardens, dotted throughout the islands, will be open to the public during the festival period, along with four garden trails. A host of other events for the green-fingered – and anyone else - are also being planned, including plant sales, live music performances and lots of afternoon teas.
The vibrant colours of the garden at Stenwood in Finstown
Amongst the festival highlights will be a special ferry trip to Hoy to view eight of the island’s rarely seen gardens, and a guest appearance by eminent Shetland gardener, Rosa Stepanova, author of the ‘The Impossible Garden’.
“If you live further south there are lots of opportunities to enjoy spectacular public gardens and visit major events, such as the Chelsea Flower Show,” said Orkney Garden Festival organiser, Caroline Critchlow. “With our local garden trails proving so popular over the past decade, we wondered whether we could go one better and organise a proper local festival.
We’re hoping the opportunity for folk to experience something new and maybe a bit surprising too will prove a big draw, whether you’re a keen gardener, or just someone who enjoys a good day out in nice surroundings.”
Gardening in Orkney can be a challenge but there are plenty of stunning locations to see
“The 28 gardens featured in the festival come in all shapes and sizes and are in a variety of locations throughout Orkney,” continued Caroline. “What they do have in common is that they are all utterly charming and demonstrate what can be achieved in probably some of the most adverse weather conditions in the British Isles. Visit them all and you’ll also get a great impression of how varied Orkney’s landscape really is.”
According to Caroline, none of the gardeners opening their gates to visitors claim to be experts.
“They’re universally nervous about opening their garden gates, though equally delighted that others might want to come and share what they have achieved,” she revealed. “All of our participating gardeners love where they live though and adore their gardens.”
There are so many places to explore on the Orkney Garden Trail
Caroline added: “We are, of course, hoping for great weather between 17 and 25 June, but regardless of what the Orkney climate throws at us, the festival is guaranteed to be a warm and friendly event.”
Profits from this year’s Orkney Garden Festival will be donated to a number of charities, including Friends of the Neuro Ward Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Scotland’s Gardens and Marie Curie, and The Marengo Centre.
There might even be some special guest appearances during the Festival!
Tickets for the festival are available from Scapa Travel, Kirkwall. Further information on the event can be found on the Orkney Garden Trail and Diary of an Orkney Gardener Facebook pages. Enquiries about the event can also be directed to Caroline Critchlow at firstname.lastname@example.org.