01 Jul Orkney’s Secret Garden In St Margaret’s Hope
Let me introduce you to Orkney’s Secret Garden in St Margaret’s Hope. The Marengo Garden in St Margaret’s Hope is the stunning work of the villages volunteers, in a secluded and wind sheltered spot. It’s one of my favourite places to visit in Orkney.
St Margaret’s Hope is the last in a string of islands which extends out from Orkney mainland to the South. To get there, you have to drive over a series of smaller islands, connecting with hulking cubes of rocks. There’s a road paved over the top, which barely feels wide enough for one car, let alone two. The barriers and the Italian Chapel reminding me of the Italian Prisoners who built them.
I love being a passenger on this stretch of road. The drive from Kirkwall offers panoramic views across the islands, and It’s almost like being at the heart of everything. I always feel surrounded by the overlapping horizons, as the land masses start joining into one another. I love the stretch from the island of Burray to South Ronaldsay best. Here, you can make out Hunda (an island connected by a causeway) in the distance. Beyond that are the Hills of Hoy and the little island of Flotta. Whilst looking over the islands, into the belly of Scapa flow, the waters are clearer than the Mediterranean. In contrast, they are usually a dark, frothy bowl of indigo ink.
Greeting us was a calm sea, clear sky and unrelenting sunshine. Rumour has it there’s a hole in the ozone over Orkney, perfectly positioned when the sun does come out. This means I’m more susceptible to burning. Although the tale sounds more like folklore, I’m telling myself it’s true.
With this in mind, I put my sun cream on. I got severely sunburning in Edinburgh the weekend before, so I’m trying to avoiding that fate all over again. We park up in the village of St Margaret’s Hope. An old fishing town, the village has an air of Kingsands in Cornwall, where the houses all face the sea. The pavements are making of slabs of warming rock, and the houses are cobbling in gorgeous red sandstone, or plastered in a pleasing pink lime mortar.
I’ve always liked St Margaret’s Hope’s feel. It’s busy today, full of tourists and locals, wandering the streets. There’s a couple of pubs open, and the air feel jubilant with the warmer weather. We stop at Robertson’s for a pot of tea, with Peggy laying down on the warmed stone floor and sleeping.
Finding The Secret Garden
After filling up on tea and chips, we head down to find the garden. I’ve come to think of the Morengo community gardens as Orkney’s secret garden, even though it’s right in the middle of St Margaret’s Hope. Hiding just off the high street, just past the lovely Robertson’s Coffeehoose. On the corner, as the road slopes painfully towards the sea, the road takes a sharp right. Following the road, you come to a peppermint gate, flanked by dry stone walls and hidden with hedges. I had to convince Jack and Peggy to take a look, as we’ve only been here once before. It was last summer, and the gardens were still glorious, but had gone to seed in the summer haze.
A Brief History
Although the gardens were lovely to me then, they’ve taken on greater significance as I’ve been reading Alice Vincent’s Rootbound. Up The book has got me interesting all over again in the history of gardens, their secrets and how they came to be. I hadn’t given the garden a thought since I last went, but this time it was different. I wanted to know how the garden had got there, who had designed it, and how it came to be sitting in the middle of the Hope.
The garden had been a glorious attraction for visitors, until it eventually they lay overgrown and derelict. In January 1997, the garden was saving by the Burray and South Ronaldsay Community Garden Association, restoring it to its former glory and establishing Orkney’s first Community Garden. The garden is now beautifully maintaining by a group of volunteers. To see more about Orkneys secret garden, you can take a look at their Facebook or this article.
The Secret Garden
But now, the garden puts on the most jubilant display. Greenery and fronds and ferns are everywhere. The walled garden provides good shelter, and from looking at the plants, they’ve thrived tall from being out of the wind. Lupins so big they look like a giant variety, foxgloves which tower over the dry stones wall, and poppies with heads so heavy they flop exhausted over the garden paths. I can’t name all of the varieties, but there are some that I desperately want in my garden next year too.
I’ve been hunting out green spaces ever since we’ve been back from Edinburgh, and I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed the coconut gorse and prickly hedgerows, The garden provides the most perfect lush green space I’d been looking for, so I’ll be back next time with a book in hand. In the mean time, my blog has lots more posts to explore, so let me know what you think!