The Walled Garden
Raasay Walled Garden
Located on the road to Oscaig, the community-owned walled garden provides both a beautiful place to visit and to purchase fresh produce and flowers. Raasay Walled Garden is open to visitors daily with picnic tables in the new orchard.
As always, our team have been busy over the winter and have cleared and repaired one set of the original cold frames. These are now are being planted to create a rose garden, with all the roses sponsored locally.
The interiors of the east and west garden walls and the beds below them have also been cleared of fallen trees, brambles and weeds. We are planting apple trees, also sponsored, against the walls which will then be trained as espaliers.
It is very exciting to see both the cold frames and the walls back in use.
Since April 2018, the income from renting out Raasay House has enabled us to employ a part-time gardener who works alongside a small team of dedicated volunteers.
We have been able to maintain production in the polytunnels and increase the outside growing areas. Our produce is grown using natural fertilisers, such as our own compost from the island’s vegetable peelings etc as well as local seaweed and manure.
The opportunity to access fresh, locally grown, seasonal fruit, salad and vegetables has been welcomed by the community and is now sold from the ‘Veg Shack’ outside the garden gates and our customer numbers have increased dramatically since the project began.
The importance of this project was highlighted during lockdown in 2020 as the Veg Shack reduced the need for people to travel off the island to get local produce and we introduced a donation scheme so that no one was excluded due to their financial situation.
Our volunteer numbers also increased during the pandemic as we were able to offer safe opportunities for people to volunteer both to help the community and to look after their own welfare.
Whilst our income from sales covers more than an average year’s expenses, excluding wages, selling produce alone on this scale is never going to create enough of an income to pay the gardener, so we’re still looking for additional funding opportunities to support this.
Longer term, we are planning to reinstate some of the greenhouses and cold frames, repair the walls, reinstate the paths and improve the general infrastructure of the garden.
Our aim is to create a multi-purpose building within the footprint of the original central greenhouse that will allow us to expand what the garden has to offer.
The garden is Category A listed so we will be working closely with the relevant authorities – and, of course, we will also be looking for further funding for this part of the project.
Walled Garden Orchard 2019–2020
In 2019, we received funding of £4,900 from The Mushroom Trust. This, along with over £1,600 raised through sponsorship of the trees allowed us to plant an orchard of 37 apple and plum trees in another quadrant of the garden.
We purchased three picnic benches made by the Raasay Sawmill using Raasay-grown larch and planted over 8,000 spring flowering bulbs along the path.
COVID-19 delayed the delivery of the dedications until February 2021, when the hand-turned elm apples that open up to reveal the dedication engraved inside were finally unveiled to the tree sponsors.
The apples were made by Bob Hastie, a wood turner based on the Isle of Mull and the Oak Swill basket that the apples are displayed in was made by Jane Yeomans, a basket maker from the Lake District who has family connections to the island.
Raasay Roots Shoots and Fruits 2017–2018
We knew that it would be too much work for a small group of volunteers to get the garden back into production so, in 2016, we applied successfully to the Climate Challenge Fund for a grant of £61,000 which, along with £8,000 of RHCC’s own money, allowed us to move the project forward dramatically.
The year-long Raasay Roots Shoots and Fruits project allowed us to employ a full-time gardener and a part-time community engagement officer. We purchased three polytunnels, seeds, plants and trees, equipment and materials. Despite a few hiccups, we successfully grew around 300kg of produce which we sold to local businesses and through the community shop.
We held many successful and well attended events and workshops celebrating the garden and local food, advising on how to reduce our carbon footprint and learning new skills related to the project. The project enabled us to lay the foundations of a productive garden, with one quadrant producing salad, vegetables and fruit.
In 2007, the community of Raasay set up Raasay House Community Company (RHCC) to facilitate their purchase of Raasay House and grounds, the walled garden and some other small areas of land. In January 2009, a few weeks prior to the completion of the renovation of the house, a fire destroyed most of the building. It was rebuilt and finally reopened under lease to Raasay Outdoor Centre in April 2013.
The private lease on the walled garden ended in late 2013 and, following consultation with the community, it was decided to make the garden productive again, running it as a community project. A group of volunteers stepped forward and the Walled Garden Action Group was formed.
From 2014 to 2016 much work was done by the volunteers (assisted by a couple of pigs at one point) to plan the future of the garden and large areas were cleared and tidied. The original paths were uncovered, the neglected box hedging trimmed, large quantities of black plastic were lifted and the grass regularly mown.
The first mention of a garden in this area was in 1549, and by 1695 there was an ‘orchard with several sorts of berries, pot herbs etc’. At the time of Boswell and Johnson’s visit to Raasay House in 1773, the garden was ‘well stocked with kitchen stuff, gooseberries, raspberries, currants, strawberries, apple-trees’ and the Ordnance Survey map of 1877 shows the greenhouses in place and the layout of the garden largely as it remains today.
In 1907, an advertisement for the sale of the estate noted the ‘flower and kitchen gardens well-stocked and in excellent order. There are also vineries, peach houses, hothouses and greenhouses’.
The house, garden and estate changed hands many times over the years and was run as a hotel in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1979, the Highlands and Islands Development Board bought the estate and Raasay House was leased out and run as an outdoor centre. The garden was leased separately and eventually became overgrown and the greenhouses derelict.