On Sunday May 20th Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT) held an ideas gathering event for the Walled Garden in Aros Park. About 40 people came out to explore the garden and to talk about their memories or experiences of being in the garden over many years.
For some, the garden has always been abandoned, and yet it still forms part of their regular walk in the park. For others, they could remember playing in the garden when they were young, and some could remember details about how it once looked and for others, they simply didn’t know it was there at all.
Part of the exercise was to find out if visitors to the park wanted the walled garden restored, and thankfully all those who attended said that they would. Another aim for the afternoon was to find out ideas about what the garden could become once it is restored.
Ideas came from all sides, and all were very good. Whether some of them would ever be possible is questionable, but all the ideas were welcome, and these will be taken forward to the next community consultation meetings that will take place soon.
The garden is pretty big, 117metres long by 35metres wide, so it is quite a space. There are many well established trees in it, plus the foundations of buildings, and the original arched entrances. It’s neither flat nor rectangular so there could well be challenges ahead. From the ideas and comments from the event, most people would like to see a combination of spaces and functions being made available, i.e. not just a formal garden, or allotments, but a combination of two or three different functions. Whether this opinion changes from the subsequent consultation meetings remains to be seen, but this has been a tremendous start.
On Thursday 5th July there will be a further consultation session, this time drop in meetings to be held in the afternoon and evening at the Scout Hall in Tobermory. These sessions will be to capture new ideas, to develop further ideas from the last meeting and to start to form a Steering Group. There will be some draft designs on show, these are guides at best and nothing has yet been decided.
When the Aros House Estate was sold in the late 1950’s to Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), the walled garden was not included in the sale. Since then, the garden has been left almost untouched. In 2017 the owner approached FCS to sell the garden. FCS purchased it, and then approached Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT) enquiring as to whether the community would be interested in purchasing it for restoration in whatever form they decide, within reason.
Research has been ongoing to find what the garden looked like before it was abandoned. This was more difficult than first expected, and even now the earliest record that has been found is from 1946. Searches of the local museum found nothing about the garden, although there was plenty of information on the “big house”.
Contact was established with a direct descendant, who has been very helpful, and through her, we now have a small water colour painting of a corner of the garden, and a plan made from memory of the garden from around the 1950’s. Shortly after the event a photo from 1946 was loaned to the project. This was taken from some height above the garden, but still has sufficient detail to show large areas of the garden and how it was laid out.
Ideas from the Event
• Restored to being a working garden as it was before
• If restored to being a formal garden it could be used as a wedding venue
• Formal garden with a performance space
• Feature garden for specimen plants e.g. Rhododendrons and Azaleas
• Part informal (low maintenance) garden and part allotments. Need to be aware of ongoing maintenance of the garden
• Informal garden with informal (not straight) paths running through it. (Prairie like)
• Sensory garden for a charity e.g. Mairi Curie daffodil garden
• Wellness and mindfulness garden
• Forest burials or memorial garden/wall. A memory garden with pictures/memories of deceased loved ones with some history of the person and where they lived on the island.
• Install a map of Mull where people could populate it with memories of people from specific areas of the island
• Pet Cemetery
• Tree house and platform for children & rope swing
• Picnic benches
• Create a maze (from 2 separate visitors)
• Men’s Sheds – where volunteers could look after the garden in exchange for a shed where they could meet
• Produce plots for what would effectively be market gardens where each plot tenant would then have a produce stall where the community could purchase what has been grown
• Plots for a community herb garden where community members could grow herbs for the benefit of the whole community. (submitted by three separate people)
• If the garden is restored as allotments then a community greenhouse will be needed
• Communal education garden for schools and groups
• Herb & produce garden run as a co-operative – work for a share of the output, rather than individual allotments
• Garden divided into plots for community groups, schools, and local businesses e.g. B&B’s. Each group would be responsible for their own patch. Would grow produce for their group or businesses, similar to the hotel gardens on Iona.
• Apple orchard with annual cider festival
• Community orchard, similar to what has been created at Dervaig