Dunmore: "If you like piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain.”
Well, it’s not quite piña colada, but it is a pineapple and you may well get caught in the rain.
This month we visited what is described as “the most bizarre building in Scotland” - the Dunmore Pineapple near Airth - to check out the garden and walks nearby.
Within Dunmore Park are gardens maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, the remains of what was Dunmore House (not accessible) ... and an extraordinary stone pineapple.
The “Dunmore Pineapple” is clearly signed from the A905 (25 minutes from Falkirk) and a track of about a mile takes you to a small car park. Walk through the gates into the walled garden and you are presented with a sloping vista north to south. The gardens are dominated by the huge stone pineapple.
The pineapple was built by the 4th Earl of Dunmore, John Murray, most likely on his return from Virginia where he was routed as the last royal governor in 1776 as the American War of Independence kicked off. It stands some 14m high and was built on top of a pavillion which he had had built in 1761 in his walled garden. Walled gardens were built in Scotland to allow plants to be protected against the vagaries of the climate and to enable more exotic species of plant to be grown. The walls here had a cavity through which hot air was circulated to allow the cultivation of exotic fruit. Lord Dunmore’s son, the 5th Earl wrote how "hothouse fruit ... was sent every fortnight from Dunmore Park, where my father had no house, but an excellent garden." Pineapples were seen as a great symbol of wealth in the 18th century, and the folly is perhaps a rather vulgar symbol of the Earl’s wealth.
Nonetheless, the detail of the work is outstanding. The construction is fine example of masonry with the leaves designed in such a way that they are largely immune from frost damage. The architect is unknown, the design and workmanship outstanding, and the mystery of the pineapple is enhanced by the complete lack of any references to it in diaries or records from the time. Lord Dunmore had no house here, but this spot must have been quite special for him to have conceived of this extraordinary monument here, tucked away on his quiet Scottish estate, a far cry from the subtropical heat and rebellious turbulence of Virginia that he had recently left; it is perhaps a statement that despite the defeat in America, he was back, wealth intact and larger than life.
Stone bothies either side of the pineapple pavillion, which were built for gardeners, are now holiday cottages which are available for hire via the Landmark Trust.
The gardens themselves have a mixture of mature plants growing against the walls, with roses in full bloom when we visited. The garden slopes down through two avenues of trees to a pond which marks the southern boundary. At the top of the garden on the right there is a gate which takes you on a delightful walk through mature woodlands. There is another walk through a second walled garden, which is being restored, through an avenue of Redwood trees planted by the 4th Earl to celebrate the marriage of his son in 1804. The walk takes you to the ruins of Elphinstone Tower.
Verdict: You can bring a picnic and have a pleasant afternoon in a garden that radiates tranquillity, with the pineapple definitely adding a curiosity factor. Best visited in the spring and summer; the walled garden, the pond and the short woodland walks are a delight. One criticism is that the walks are not well sign-posted so it is easy for you to go off piste. Dogs are welcome if kept on a lead. Airth Castle is nearby for those who want lunch, which is £12-£15 for two courses.
The Earls of Dunmore
The garden’s instigator was the 4th Earl of Dunmore who was the last colonial Governor of Virginia. Described as “vain and vexatious” by Patrick Henry, the American founding father, he helped ferment what was already a fraught situation between the native Virginians and their British Colonial rulers. In 1776 he had to flee the colony. However even without anything to govern he still managed to draw his salary until 1783. Previous Earls had been imprisoned in the Tower of London for supporting the Jacobite cause. The 8th Earl was a distinguished soldier who went on to win the VC during the Boar War. The present Earl is a marine contractor and lives in Tasmania.
Published in Konect August 2019
Author: Helen-Jane Shearer