On Fife’s Garden Trail …

Every summer – through late June and into early July – a group of gardens across the Kingdom of Fife opens to visitors. The Fife Garden Trail provides an opportunity to see nine privately owned gardens – five of which have never or rarely admitted visitors before. We visit one – Gilston – and delve into the garden’s past and present …


Gilston is a farm on Fife’s East Neuk – one of the East Neuk Estates. The farm – owned by the Baxter family – has been their home since 1862, so there is plenty of history and heritage behind their garden. Gilston’s landscape has been an important part of the family’s management of the area. In the 18th century, there were no trees. For 5 generations, the Baxters have planted and maintained woodland. In the last 20 years, no fewer than 75,000 trees have been planted – and 56 acres of the farm have been converted to bog and marsh, now rich in waders and rare marsh plants. In addition, they have worked hard with neighbours and the RSPB on a project that has been instrumental in protecting and helping the population of the rare Corn Bunting.

Gilston belongs to Edward Baxter – the great, great grandson of the first Edward Baxter. Edward’s wife, Catherine, has continued the work of generations of the family to shape the garden. Catherine says: “I inherited my mother-in-law’s garden and started gardening it properly around 10 years ago. We set about reinvigorating some of the borders with some favourite perennials and shrubs. We laid out a new terrace with French lavender, dusty purple sedums, geranium, Japanese anemones and firecracker alliums.

Gilston’s setting and soil help in Catherine’s work: “It is in a fantastic spot because of it’s sea views to the south and the Lomonds to the west. Mecanopsis relish the acid soil here and come up in all different shades of blue and mauve.” Azaleas and Rhododendrons grow well at Gilston too – and these can be enjoyed on a woodland walk. Catherine explains: “Up until now, we have concentrated on the garden immediately by the house, but this year we are starting to develop the woodland walk that leads to a Victorian curling pond and boat house.” She tells us to “watch this space for some giant, crazy gunneras and exciting new trees“.

The Trail runs on selected days in June and July, but the planning for the garden is “year round“. Catherine says: “There are always masses of jobs to do. This week we are trimming hedges and edges, weeding and restoring garden furniture. We have also been working on a new border on the west side which is now looking well established.

The Trail helps to raise funds for a variety of charities and causes. Close to Catherine’s heart is the farm’s support for the Royal Highland Educational Trust. “The trust gets farmers into classrooms and kids into farms” says Catherine. RHET provides free educational activities and experiential learning opportunities linked to Curriculum for Excellence. In the last ten years, Gilston has hosted more than 2,500 primary school children from in and around Leven. The last Trail at Gilston welcomed 300 people and helped to raise close to £12,000. It is a very worthwhile project for all involved.

Catherine says: “I can’t wait to meet the garden trailers this year as they are always so unfailingly enthusiastic and appreciative and just want to share the gardening love and swap knowledge! We’ve got a lovely terrace to sit on and have a cream tea – or one of my special blondies whilst looking out at the Bass Rock.


Interested in visiting?

Gilston – and nearby Balcaskie – are open on Thursdays during the Trail period …

For all other gardens and opening times, there’s a hand online guide – you can view via this link.

The Trail offers a very flexible way to visit the gardens – across days or weeks and at different times. Some are open all day, some in the afternoon – others in the afternoon and evening. Some have plants for sale: others provide visitors with the option to enjoy tea. You’ll discover recently developed as well as rejuvenated historic gardens, each reflecting great gardening and creative talent. All are different, but have one thing in common: their owners would love to share their garden and passion for gardening with you and raise funds for charity in the process.


Buying Tickets?

Admission to all nine gardens is just £20.00 per head plus £1.00 P&P. Accompanied children are free. You can purchase online – please follow this link. The Trail organisers are aware there have been intermittent problems with making payments on-line: if you experience any difficulties, please email Sally Lorimore s.a.lorimore@dundee.ac.uk.

Trail tickets can also be purchased at participating gardens on the days they are open or by sending a cheque – payable to Scotland’s Gardens – to:

S. Lorimore, Willowhill, Forgan, Newport on Tay, Fife DD6 8RA. Please ensure you enclosed a SAE for the tickets’ return.


For further information on RHET, please follow this link.


Thanks for reading!