'There's a joyful sense of being overwhelmed'

Ed Ikin studied biology before training at the Crown Estate and at RHS Wisley. Before joining RBG Kew’s sister site, Wakehurst, he worked in prominent gardens including Chelsea Physic Garden and Nymans.

Ed Ikin studied biology before training at the Crown Estate and at RHS Wisley. Before joining RBG Kew’s sister site, Wakehurst, he worked in prominent gardens including Chelsea Physic Garden and Nymans.

Wakehurst’s Deputy Director and Head of Landscape, Horticulture & Research, Ed chooses Cambo garden in Fife.

The first time I went to Cambo, I had that feeling of being a guest in someone’s private home. Not aimed at the masses and all the better for it. It’s an intimate and playful garden, which gives an insight into both the desires of the owner and the skills of the horticulture team.

You go through the small door into the walled garden and it’s like stepping into an alternative reality. It manages to be naturalistic, loose and open in a way that works in that space, while the walls and glasshouses add structure. You can hear water runs through the centre and there are big beds of tulips, planted among perennials and set into a matrix of grasses.

I think it’s one of the best practical uses of the European style of prairie planting. The gardeners at Cambo have made it their own; it is not dominated by external design influences. Every new development oozes confidence and assurance and there is an intangible sense of house style

The magic is in the connection to the wider landscape. The garden quickly turns into a dense wooded valley, then suddenly the wood stops and you are on an exquisite little beach next to the wild North Sea. Last time I was there eider ducks were swimming in the waves.

It makes me feel incredibly excited and reconnects me to the early days of being a gardener. This is the thrill of being in a really good garden, you can’t quite rationalise what’s in front of you and there is a joyful sense of being overwhelmed.

When the sun is out in that part of Scotland, the light is brilliant, almost glassy. The spirit of the garden is revealed in sharp relief. It verges on the surreal; your brain does nothing more than process and take it all in.

Gardens should be thrilling and at Cambo it’s the overarching sense of place rather than the individual plants that give it its magic. Bringing a sense of this to a large, public garden, and avoiding looking institutional, is the challenge; it’s what I aspire to for Wakehurst.

Cambo House & Estate, Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 8QD
www.cambogardens.org.uk