Priorwood Garden can be found almost immediately to the south of the grounds of Melrose Abbey. We say "almost" because the two are separated by a pedestrian path: nonetheless, it is the abbey's southern neighbour. When viewed from Abbey Street, Priorwood Garden hides behind high stone walls, and the same is true when it is seen from the path referred to above. As a result, although it stands in the heart of Melrose, the garden can seem strangely retiring, almost to the point of being reclusive.
To the outside world, the public face of the garden comes in the form of the visitor reception and shop that stands at its north-west corner. When you pass through the shop you emerge into a garden which is, in the growing season at least, incredibly vibrant and attractive. And surprising. We visited Priorwood Garden having previously viewed it from the top of the south transept of Melrose Abbey, and from there the floral areas of the garden are completely concealed from sight by the range of buildings along the northern edge of the garden. They were therefore very unexpected.
The two acre garden has three main areas. The northern portion, the one you emerge into from the shop, used to be given over exclusively to cultivating flowers for drying and preservation. Beyond this is an orchard, while off to the left as you view from the north is a woodland garden. (Continues below image...)
We suspect you have to have more horticultural knowledge than we can muster to fully appreciate the finer points of flowers selected for use in dried flower arranging or potpourri. It takes less depth of understanding to be attracted to the drifts of living flowers in their beds. As a result, while what might make Priorwood Garden so special is that it used to be the only garden in Scotland devoted entirely to growing flowers for for drying and preservation, for many visitors it is simply its innate beauty that provides the draw.
The orchard offers some great views of Melrose Abbey and is home to more than 90 varieties of apples, sourced from all over the world. Around a quarter are fairly recent additions, being planted to replace old and unproductive trees between 2009 and 2011. Other fruit trees are also grown, and the produce can be purchased in the shop. Some of the fruit is also pressed for its juice.
The woodland garden was developed from 2011 to make best use of a part of the garden that had previously been largely ignored. When we last visited parts of the new planting had still to reach maturity, but this area of the garden certainly provides an interesting counterpoint to the formality of the flower borders and the ordered domesticity of the orchard.
It has been suggested that the orchard had its origins in the kitchen gardens of Melrose Abbey, but while this is an attractive idea, no evidence has been found to support it. The truth is that not much is known about the use of this part of Melrose until the 1800s. What is now Priorwood Garden formed part of the grounds and gardens of Priorwood House, built in about 1815 to the south-east of the site and for a long time serving as Melrose's youth hostel.
The house was taken over by James and Blanche Curle in 1904. They increased the height of the garden walls to what you see today, and added the amazing wrought iron inserts depicting grape vines. By the 1970s the garden was overgrown, and there was talk of turning it into a car park to help cope with the increasing numbers of visitors to Melrose.
In 1975 work began to turn Priorwood into a dried flower garden, and it later passed into the care of the National Trust for Scotland, who continue to look after it (and the nearby Harmony Garden) today.