On the night of the 26th November 2021, Storm Arwen hit many areas of Scotland, causing fearsome damage. In some places, the highest recorded gusts reached 110mph. The storm's devastation has left a community wondering how to help restore and repair one of Scotland's incredible and essential gardens.
At beautiful Cluny House Gardens near Aberfeldy, in Highland Perthshire, the severity of the storm wreaked havoc, laying waste to massive heritage trees that caused further devastation to other precious plants as they fell. Garden owners Wendy and John Mattingley lay in bed, while the terrifying screaming noise of savage gusts of wind filled the night. The most brutal cyclone witnessed for over 30 years rampaged right over the garden. Cluny took a very hard hit.
‘In the house, the storm’s angry roar was louder than any we had ever witnessed before. Even interior doors and pictures shook with the force. We had to sleep on the ground floor for fear the windows would smash inwards. Explosive cracks and other petrifying loud creaking sounds filled the night as massive trees came down all around us. We were terrified of what would happen and what we would find as day broke,’ said Wendy.
Come dawn, the Mattingleys found a scene of devastation outside. Hundreds of giant redwood cones made it treacherous underfoot. The area had been cut in half when eight 30 metre shelter belt conifers were felled, crushing other precious trees, dozens of rare rhododendrons and numerous treasures that lay beneath them. A 200-year-old walnut tree with a canopy spread of 15 metres lay smashed. A favourite tree of Cluny’s thriving red squirrel population, only its stump remained. A 30 metre Norway Spruce had fallen onto a 60-year-old Japanese red cedar with an expected lifespan of up to 1000 years. It now lay suspended on a mature oak. A massive Noble fir planted around 70 years ago was also lost to the storm – it should have lived for up to 400 years.
A pair of 200-year-old trees smashed a large, full woodshed, and massive pine, cherry and southern beech limbs landed on paths and flowerbeds, flattening rare Himalayan shrubs. The woodland canopy creaked and groaned as suspended branches dangled precariously, making it dangerous to assess the damage. Huge trees had flattened vital perimeter deer fencing too, and sylvan giants had had their roots so badly loosened that they will now have to be removed for safety reasons.
As well as the mayhem of finding an arboreal wasteland, concerns over the unseen wildlife dependent on Cluny’s rich ecosystem grew. Bats, birds and one of the best known, and most important populations of rare red squirrels in Scotland, had been put in jeopardy. Dreys, as well as numerous bird and bat boxes, had all been wrecked.
It was as if a life’s loving dedicated work had come to a brutal end. The Mattingleys, who currently receive no public funding, need our help to repair their unique garden. The Cluny ethos has always been that paths, and bridges and bank reinforcement on the steep slopes, are made with only natural materials. No weedkillers or pesticides are ever used at Cluny, which ensures a wealth of all-important invertebrates. It is a haven for the rare and spectacular, for the endangered red squirrel and myriad birds, bats, fungi and invertebrates. Cluny is nationally renowned as one of the great collections of Himalayan flora, a place of peace – of rich biodiversity in a troubled world.
History & Importance of Cluny House Gardens
Cluny was created by Bobby and Betty Masterton. When they arrived in the early 1950s, there were a few trees on the site – conifers, beeches and oaks, but more notably two magnificent redwoods, one with a girth of over 11m. Although over 150 years old, these natives of North America are still youngsters as the trees can live for a thousand years.
The Mastertons had a particular interest in Himalayan and North American woodland plants which thrive in Cluny's rich, damp loamy soil. Many of the seeds they lovingly nurtured are now large trees, such as the Tibetan cherry, notable for its mahogany peeling bark. Since 1987 Cluny has been cared for by their youngest daughter Wendy and her husband John Mattingley.
Cluny is an award-winning garden featuring many plants you are unlikely to see in such an evocative setting elsewhere, and they blend perfectly with the native woodland flora, which is also nurtured with the same passion and care. Until this terrible storm, the garden was well-known for its exceptional rhododendrons displaying an awe-inspiring array of leaf forms and bark textures, some of which twisted up through the tall canopy in true Himalayan style. Visitors delighted in the fantasy world they could enter, the tranquillity and life-enhancing benefits they experienced on every visit.
Cluny is particularly renowned for its thriving population of rare red squirrels. This is a place where you are guaranteed to see these glorious arboreal acrobats, and there are numerous places around the site to sit quietly to watch them as they busy themselves at the feed stations, or bury stores for winter in the leaf litter.
Over the years, John and Wendy have mentored numerous volunteers and young people who have shown an interest in botany and garden maintenance – some of them have gone on to become leading arborealists and horticulturalists in their own right.
Cluny is also renowned for John and Wendy’s sensitive approach, where a natural ethos lies behind decisions to weed carefully, leaving mosses, lichens, fungi and native flora to do the rest. The result is a garden that seems different to the many visited by enthusiasts around Scotland. Here there is no weedkiller or pesticides, and birds, squirrels, bumblebees, moths, butterflies and thousands of other insects, as well as bats, are present in high numbers. This is a garden where nature is in balance. Plants are carefully propagated from seed sourced from accredited collectors, ensuring many authentic Himalayan species are grown in conditions similar to their native habitat.
This terrible storm has drastically altered Cluny. Unfortunately, Cluny will not be receiving much support from the insurance broker. Some of its former glory will reappear in just a few years, but so much work needs to be done in the interim. This is why we are seeking your support.
Like the trees, the Mattingleys have been severely shaken. They are daunted by the sheer scale of the repair operation. Despite the ongoing work of numerous willing volunteers, much of the structural damage needs to be undertaken by heavy forestry equipment operated by arboreal specialists with experience of working on steep slopes such as those at Cluny.
A huge task lies ahead. With the right help and expertise this precious garden can again be enjoyed by hundreds of visitors every year, and its precious ecosystem can continue to flourish.
You Can Help
We're putting the call out far and wide to those across Perthshire, Scotland, the UK, and anyone who has enjoyed visiting Cluny or can appreciate the incredible haven the Mattingleys have helped create over the years. Cluny needs what feels like a mountain of funds to help clear up the damages of Storm Arwen. At this stage, we are hoping to raise in excess of £20,000. Please donate now and help us tackle this huge, vital restoration and repair project!
In return for your donation:
- John and Wendy will offer a family ticket for 2022/2023 for Cluny Gardens.
- Your gift will help Cluny reopen to the public: allowing Cluny to remain an oasis in a sea of ecological mayhem, a haven of peace that visitors can enjoy in any season and on any day in the year.
- You will have contributed to safeguarding a nature-rich environment, ensuring that the endangered population of red squirrels, for which Cluny is so famous, continue to thrive.
Cluny is a vital part of Scotland’s heritage, an ecological paradise home to a thriving population of red squirrels – an unusual garden brimming with rare species and one of our finest arboretums, an important visitor attraction in the heart of Big Tree Country.
Please help us restore this Scottish treasure, for the wildlife and generations of visitors to continue to enjoy. Please donate now. Visit www.clunyhousegardens.com to learn more about Cluny House Gardens.