General George Melville of Strathkinness built the first Mount Melville House in the late 18th century and commissioned landscaping of the surrounding estate land, including the planting of 230 trees, many of which still stand today. For example, the giant Turkey Oak near the cafe whose girth of 4.87m qualifies its entry in the Woodland Trust’s Inventory of Ancient Trees.
In 1901, the second owner of the Mount Melville Estate, Dr James Younger, commissioned architect Paul W. Waterhouse to design a new mansion house and to further landscape the park. Waterhouse introduced formal built structures to the park, including formal gardens, the Walled Garden, Cypress Avenue, Rose Garden, Italian Garden and a Temple (demolished in 1966). The style of these structures are familiar to St Andrews local people and visitors because Waterhouse also designed the University Union, St Regulus Club and the Younger Hall.
In 1920, Waterhouse was commissioned to carry out further work on the gardens, including the addition of the two connected lakes and the Dutch Village. The lakes were probably a picturesque way to meet a new insurance requirement for a ready supply of water in case of fire at the mansion house. The Japanese Garden sits in the shaded area between the two lakes.
In 1947, the gardens and house were sold by the Younger Family to Fife County Council for £25,000. The Council designated the gardens Craigtoun Country Park and the mansion house became the local maternity hospital, separate from the park. The park was opened to the public and quickly became a significant tourist destination. Regular visitors to the park often refer to the spectacular displays of bedding plants created by Fife Council’s gardeners in the glasshouses - a favourite spot to shelter on rainy days. The gardeners also provided educational opportunities for children and would happily offer expert advice to amateur gardeners.
Successive Head Gardeners have developed areas of the garden and the plantings we see today include:
Exotic and specialist plants sourced from plant collector Michael Wickenden of Cally Gardens by Gatehouse of Fleet . You will see these plants in the Walled Garden and Rose Garden.
Two National Collections of beautiful Siberian Iris. The best time to visit these spectacular plants is late May to early June.
The Walled Garden and its summerhouse are situated at the East side of the Park. The garden is likely to have first been established in the late 18th century and the summerhouse added in the early 19th century. Both are listed buildings. The garden would have had a significant role in providing fruit and vegetables to the mansion house. Unfortunately, we know little about how the Craigtoun walled garden was used in the past but, in common with other mansion houses, the garden is likely to have had a mix of orchard, vegetable beds and glasshouses. We can only imagine the Younger Family might have dined on pineapples grown on the estate!
The present day Walled Garden features:
The Cypress Avenue was designed in 1901 by Paul W. Waterhouse, the architect for the second Mount Melville House (which can be seen from the boundary of the park). The walk begins at the North End, through the B listed formal archway and down through stately cypress trees to the C listed Italian Wellhead.
The walk gives us a sense of the ambition of the Victorians. The saplings they planted at the turn of the 20th century are now stately mature trees.
When is a rose garden not a rose garden? When it has been completely transformed by creative gardeners!
Another of Paul W Waterhouse’s designs, created to complement the architecture of Mount Melville House, the rose garden is backed by an enormous hedge, beyond which we view treetops of the woodland behind.
The garden no longer houses roses but instead contains a fascinating range of plants, collected by plant hunter Michael Wickenden of Cally Gardens in Gatehouse of Fleet. It is still a very formal garden, as the architect intended, but the planting is much more interesting and varied, reflecting more modern tastes.
Another B listed structure designed by Paul W Waterhouse, architect of the second Mount Melville House.
This garden comprises a formal built structure of classical screen wall and balustrade. Three alcoves in the screen wall are thought to have contained statuary.
Four rectangular beds contain host a surrounded by mixed heuchera. A circular bed close to the screen wall currently contains spring bulbs - an experiment by the Craigtoun Garden Group to assess whether anything might be safe from the squirrels.
The Tranquility Garden is in a small area beside the Park Lodge where exotic birds and small animals used to be kept. The garden was started in Spring 2020 with the intention of creating a quiet seated area away from the hustle and bustle of the main park, specifically planted to attract pollinators: butterflies, bees and hover flies to provide a peaceful buzz. Local community group, Options in Life, did an amazing job last year, clearing out the bottom bays. The Royal Burgh of St Andrews Community Council kindly sponsored the plinth and bowl in the area behind the gazebo for a formal planting. In the future, we plan to restore the fountain to provide running water throughout the garden, down into the pond, hoping to attract more wildlife.
The Japanese Garden is sited in a shaded area alongside the stream below the lower pond. The garden is a particularly pleasant spot to picnic on a hot day. The sounds of the stream and rustling tall grass provide a peaceful interlude from the park when it’s busy. As part of its Winter programme, Craigtoun Garden Group moved three large acers from the greenhouses to the Japanese Garden. We will increase the planting this Spring on the far side of the stream to include more plants of Japanese origin.