A celebration of snowdrops at Fife’s Cambo Gardens


Sheltered behind the old stone of Cambo’s walled garden is a wild delight of seasonal blooms

 words Miriam Methuen-Jones 

We have the humble snowdrop to thank for this beautiful walled garden in Fife, just half a dozen or so miles along the coast from St Andrews. It dates from the early 1800s and was created to supply Cambo House with fresh produce and flowers.

In a lovely bit of symmetry, the modern iteration of the garden now provides produce
to the on-site vegetarian cafe. But getting to this point required a lot of effort – and the intervention of the snowdrop.

Cambo Gardens
Snowdrops have always been a part of Cambo Gardens

“The topography of the garden is really interesting and unusual: it’s on a slope with a
burn running through the middle,” says Keri Ivins, managing director at Cambo Heritage
Trust. “We surmised that it was chosen just because it was interesting! There were 100
acres to choose from to build this walled garden and it was placed here, right around the
view of the burn.”

Even more unusually, the garden had a glasshouse constructed over the burn. “You
could be in the glasshouse looking down at the water. Again, there’s no reason to do
that, apart from the fact that you could,” Keri laughs. “Unfortunately, we had to dismantle the glasshouse in recent years because structural engineers couldn’t be certain it was stable.”

Cambo Gardens
The garden is full of life and doesn’t feel overly manicured or contrived, even though it is carefully maintained by a team of seven

After many fruitful years, Cambo hit hard times in post-war era, as was the case for many country estates. “The garden went to pasture, and it wasn’t a garden as such until the early 1970s when the estate was inherited by Peter and Catherine Erskine. They do a lot for Cambo. Catherine is a passionate gardener and really wanted to bring the place back to life.”

What Catherine capitalised on was the snowdrops. There are millions of them in the woodlands that surround Cambo – in fact, the estate is now so well known for the early-spring blooms that it hosts an annual snowdrop festival.

“In the late-1980s Catherine saw a gap in the market for snowdrop bulbs,” continues Keri. “She cornered it and all the money from snowdrop sales went into bringing the walled garden back to life. Cambo Heritage Trust then took it over because a lot of the work involved volunteers.”

In 2017, this volunteering scheme and further fundraising allowed a visitor centre and cafe to be opened in the old stable block. The cafe is understandably popular; head chef Gillian Veal even has a second cookbook coming out in July.

As well as providing supplies for the kitchen, the garden has a host of other attractions, including two wildflower meadows, one of which is full of native flowers. “My goodness, they’re so popular with visitors! It makes sense – they’re eye-catching displays full of butterflies and bees.”

There’s also an area of prairie planting, with wildflowers from North America, which is unique in Scotland. “Our old head gardener, Elliott Forsyth, didn’t think he’d get it going here, but he planted it anyway. Allegedly, there’s a bit of a microclimate here on the coast, which might be why it’s doing so well. It has certainly exceeded all expectations.”

The cafe serves vegetarian and vegan food made from the walled garden’s produce; Cambo’s famous snowdrops in bloom

Beyond the walled garden are Cambo’s woodlands which are left mostly to their own devices. There’s a network of paths throughout and during snowdrop season (February to
March) the walk to Kingsbarns beach looks phenomenal. So when is the best time to visit?

“Obviously I’m going to say you should visit in every season,” laughs Keri. “But we’re actually quite a late-season garden. August and September are magical times to come. We have huge herbaceous borders which look amazing, and the prairie section is very late-blooming. It can be at its best as late as October.”


Inside a stylish fisherman’s cottage in the East Neuk of Fife

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