Where we are, What we do
An Gàrradh Mòr – The Big Garden – is the historic high-walled kitchen garden at Cille Bhrìghde [West Kilbride] on the island of South Uist, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. It is the only such walled garden in these islands with its walls intact, and the only such garden used for its original purpose – to supply the needs of the household.
Just a few paces from the beach, the garden looks out over the Sound of Barra and the many islands scattered across an ever-changing canvas of sea and sky. This is where we live and work.
Here at the walled garden, and our croft on the nearby island of Eriskay, we grow a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and soft fruit, and also keep chickens, geese and sheep. Together, these provide most of the food we eat – and a small surplus besides.
A variety of Big Garden jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles can be found in the Hebridean Woolshed’s garden shop, which is open March to September. Occasionally we may have fresh eggs and garden produce available for sale : availability will be shown on a chalkboard in the garden shop. (If there’s no chalkboard, then there’s nothing currently available.) See opening hours ⇒
The garden and the croft are what we came to Uist for: to work the land and grow and make things for our own needs and for a small surplus to help pay the bills. The simple life? Maybe – to those who haven’t done it! Lots of equipment and supplies, buildings to store them in, devising strategies that work around the Hebridean weather, rules and regulations as soon as you start selling anything …
Nonetheless, we have a varied and exceptionally healthy diet, plenty of exercise, meaningful and satisfying work – mostly outdoors during the summer months … Certainly, there isn’t a single day of the year when the majority of the food on our plates isn’t from the garden, and the very best the season has to offer: whether that be mouth-watering tomatoes or strawberries, fresh-picked rocket or lettuce, tasty parsnip or artichoke, irresistible jams with gooseberry or rhubarb, or a glass or two of blackberry wine.
We’re often asked by visitors to the islands calling in at the Big Garden, Where’s the best place to eat in Uist? Our answer is consistent, brief and to the point: Here!
Please respect the fact that the walled garden is our private home, from which we sell some of the things we grow and make. If you’d like to look round the garden, please ask at our house when paying for your purchases from the Big Garden or from our Hebridean Woolshed (which is also in the walled garden)
Eat fresh, Buy local
According to the time of year, and as available, we sell –
- Jams, Marmalades, Chutneys and other preserves (March to October. At other times please enquire)
As far as possible these preserves are made with produce from the walled garden, especially soft fruit.
- Lemon Curd – freshly made (April to September)
The main ingredient is yolk from the eggs produced by our own hens
- Hogget Lamb (12m-24m old) – Roasting joints, chops and more (Frozen, November to July or August)
All lamb is from our own flock of black Hebridean Sheep, kept on our croft in Eriskay
- Herbs – fresh parsley, chives, fennel, dill, rosemary, sage, basil, … (April to September)
All fresh herbs are grown here in the walled garden, some in the greenhouses
- Fresh vegetables and soft fruit *
Grown in the walled garden without use of artifical fertilizers or pesticides.
- Eggs *
These are from our flocks of pure-bred hens – Buff Orpington and Welsumer.
* Fresh vegetables, soft fruit and eggs (for eating) are available on general only very occasionally – most likely during May and June. Availability will be shown on a chalkboard in the garden shop ; but if there’s no chalkboard, then there’s nothing currently available.
The half-acre walled garden is worked according to organic principles. We see a three-fold justification in this: environment, health, and quality. From our experience, our organically-grown potatoes, cabbages or whatever, fresh from the garden, are far tastier and more nutritious than anything that can be bought in a supermarket or retailer, anywhere, at any price. And how can working only with natural materials entirely of this place be anything other than good for the health of ourselves and the environment?
Crops are inter-planted and rotated so that the soil does not become exhausted, and to resist pests and diseases. In late winter the rhubarb beds and soft fruit bushes are mulched with a heavy blanket of seaweed. In early spring the soil is fed with a compost of seaweed from the shore outside, garden and kitchen waste and soiled straw animal bedding. We sow more than we need, so that if a few seedlings are lost to pests, disease or extreme weather, we have replacements. When propagating fruit bushes or trees and shrubs for shelter and ornament, we have to allow for a high proportion of losses to the harsh weather. Thus we often end up with more than we can use, and so there may at times be shrubs and plants for sale at the garden ‘shop’.
As well as growing fruit, vegetables and herbs, we also keep a small flock of pure-bred Buff Orpington chickens – for both meat and for eggs. We keep, also, a much larger flock of chickens – pure-bred Welsumers – on our croft in Eriskay. The eggs of both breeds are also sold (subject to availability) as hatching eggs on eBay.
Our croft – on the nearby island of Eriskay – is a long narrow strip of land, totalling 5.75 hectares (about 15 acres), running from the rocky north shore of the island for about half a mile to the rocky buttresses of Beinn Sgiathan, Eriskay’s highest point. From the shore (with its plentiful supply of seaweed for fertlizing the ground) and the ‘new’ road is the most productive part of the croft, with better quality grazing, the hen houses and croft store. Here too is the eco croft house we built 2008-2009 (which we let out as a self-catering holiday cottage, Carrick – The Blue House).
Our hens and geese have free-range over the lower croft – including the shore with its many tasty morsels amongst the seaweed. The hens are mostly Welsumer, but also Orpingtons (mostly Buff), Cream Crested Legbar, and usually a few of other breeds. We also keep white Embden geese, which are left pretty much to their own devices, but in spring they provide a limited supply of huge and very tasty eggs ; and in autumn the freezer is re-stocked with goose.
Above the ‘new’ road and up to the hill fence the croft heather, grasses and low-growing herbs, and – especially in spring and early summer – wild flowers, orchids, and amongst these many ground-nesting birds. In 2012 we enclosed between the new and old roads – and then in 2013 we completed a third field, from the old road up half way to the hill fence. Although very expensive – and absolutely exhausting work, investment in these fences is the key to making our croft productive and economically relevant in today’s world.
The three new fields between the ‘new’ road and the hill fence – together amounting to three-quarters of the total area, will enclose our flock of pedigree Hebridean sheep which we keep both for their black wool and for their meat. Being native to the islands and very hardy, they are ideally suited to the extreme conditions here.
The slower maturing of this ancient breed, combined with the completely natural grazing, gives incomparable flavour and texture to the meat, whilst the lack of need for routine treatment with medicines, makes it naturally organic and healthy. For details of joints/cuts,, availability and prices, see the Hogget Lamb page.