Attractive gardens have been a feature of Crichton Royal Hospital since it opened in 1839. Their purpose was therapeutic on two counts: firstly their maintenance gave occupation to certain patients; and their beauty has given "happiness and restoration to the other patients." (1841 Annual Report).
The essential features of the present gardens, first proposed in 1919, were laid out in the period 1923 to 1926 by hospital staff. Their chief architect was Sir George Watt who had been Professor of Botany at Calcutta and who after returning to Britain became a Director of the Board of the Hospital. As Convener of the Gardens Committee he supervised the development of the scheme of reorganisation, which was an integral part of Dr. Easterbrook's general policy of enhancement of the hospital scene.
However, it must be said that it is thanks to the Head Gardener of the day, Mr. E. Joss, that the original moderate plan became an ambitious scheme to create a model garden "in keeping with other model aspects of the hospital."
A whole new concentration of glasshouses and offices, designed by the Clerk of Works, Mr. J. Flett, and Mr. Joss, and extending to half an acre approximately, was erected in 1923 at a cost of about £7,000 to replace various greenhouses in outlying pockets of hospital properties. There were separate houses for peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, cucumber, vines, and melons, as well as for plants and seedlings. Latterly pot plants were grown and trees, shrubs, and heathers propagated for use in the hospitals and their gardens throughout the South-West and for sale in the Gardens' Shop, opened in April 1989.
A new central flower and kitchen garden was created to the east of the greenhouses also in 1924.
"To create the rock garden, rocks weighing between one and ten hundredweight were hewn from the hospital's own quarry at the Craigs and transported to the site by horse and cart. Between 600 and 700 tons of rock were incorporated into the layout. Over the three years 1923 to 1926 the wages of all the men involved amounted to about £600 - a far cry from what the same scheme would cost to build today," said Mr. W. Carson, the last Gardens Superintendent.
It had been estimated that some 3,000 alpines would be required to complete the scheme. To augment what could be purchased hospital Directors, who numbered among their ranks many of the foremost landowners of the region including the Duke of Buccleuch and the Earl of Stair, gave cuttings and seeds from their own gardens; and donations were received from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, and from Darjeeling. The decision was taken to employ a specialist alpine gardener: Mr. M. McDonald, who subsequently became Head Gardener, was appointed in 1924.
In 1925 the old orchard was transformed into an ornamental scene, more in keeping with the main entrance to the grounds. Fully 200 species of trees and shrubs were selected for the beauty of their flowers or foliage. Specialist trees to be seen today are paperbark maple, snakebark maple, Chile pine, monkey puzzle, Indian bean tree, handkerchief tree, fern-leaved beech, tulip tree, dwarf Weymouth pine, and umbrella tree.
In 1989 a workforce of thirteen men (the same number as in 1924), along with some patient help, maintains a 190acre site, comprising flower beds, rock garden, bowling greens, golf course, tennis courts, sports fields, greenhouses, and lawns.
In 1995 the gardens ceased to be part of the hospital being part of the estate taken over by the Regional Authority.
The gardens have had an annual open day under the Scottish Gardens Scheme since 1943.
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