By way of introduction, this post arose from a request from Thinking Gardens that someone would review this garden. I volunteered, drove to Scotland and wrote this review. It has till now been exclusively on the TG website. I have now decided to show it  here, add some photos and reprise it, in its new form, exclusively for the readers of this website!

Some of you will remember that Arabella Lennox Boyd has recently received  a BALI award for this garden.



Sometimes there is a happy synchronicity in things. Here, it is the Maggie’s cancer caring organisation, Ninewells Hospital Dundee, the ‘Silvery Tay’ Estuary of Mcgonigal fame, the architect Frank Gehry, Arabella Lennox Boyd renowned garden designer, and perhaps most vitally a warm and supportive bunch of people who ‘want to make a difference’.


I visited to see the garden, but it would be hard to separate any of the elements at play in my experience here. Like all the centres, Maggie’s in Dundee aims to support those who have cancer and their families, by providing information, benefits advice, psychological help and stress management techniques.


Compared to the rather faceless and necessarily vast adjoining hospital, Gehry has designed an intimate ‘cottage’ with a roof which is humorous and uplifting. The situation,on the edge of a bank overlooking the Tay, is also uplifting. This, it seems to me, is what we often receive from a ‘good’ view: the ability to see beyond the current-a sense of perspective.


Bizarrely the centre itself is, like a Tardis, bigger than it looks. And its welcome is HUGE. Unannounced as our visit was, and with the many other things they had to do that day, we were made comfortable, given coffee and their work was explained us. We were then invited to take in the view from the funky tower room upstairs. And although it was a lousy day, the Tay was appropriately silvery. As we watched, skeins of geese were lifting up from Invergowrie Bay-it was magical!


But what of the garden I had come to see? It was an intriguing mix of intimacy and spaciousness. Simple, in the way that all well thought out landscape is – paired down to key elements, but not spartan. From the car park you will pass through a haze of scented shrubs. Throughout, curved paths sweep pleasingly around, and interact with the curves and angles of the building. There is no mystery as to which way to go and no unnecessary distance travelled. As you look up from the road below the landscape interface is also successfully handled.

To the left an intimate circular enclosure, prettily scalloped within, gives privacy and engaging detail. 


A deck projects from the building, taking you out into the landscape as though on a jetty, but without you actually leaving it.


The simple contemporary grasses beneath it work well with both the pines and the quirky modern architecture.


It is early days for some of the planting, but it is admirably understated and I respected the choices. A plain sheet of ivy around the base of the building will let the building do the talking-anything more flowery such as a small leaved vinca would be too complex.


The maze is the largest and most striking garden feature.


Wrought in appropriately sea washed stones, even just sections of it make satisfying images.


The scalloped centre links back to the little enclosure I mentioned earlier almost in a positive/ negative way.


At first I thought the maze too large. But standing there I came to see that it is middle ground and middle size between the vast hospital and the intimate centre.  It is also fitted into the landscape with curve matching and mirroring curve.

It is however far more than a satisfying pattern. It is very functional. One can see that it would make an elegant and atmospheric place for fund raising events. It gives individuals and families privacy in distance, offers a distraction for kids and adults alike and it is an achievable gaol for all. A maze also reflects the complete mystery of our being and perhaps offers part of the answer in the metaphorical journey? Maybe this is what the mysterious bronze figure by Gormley standing on one of the surrounding grass terraces is contemplating.


These terraces grass act as embracing arms for the maze, but they also help (with backing trees) to screen the bland and blank hospital, offer you gentle, yet strength testing strolls, seating in warm dry weather and yet more perspectives. One suspects they must also have been a nod of respect to Maggie Keswick, the founder of the Maggies’ Centres and her role in the creation of the extraordinary earthworks in The Garden of Cosmic Speculation.

I have to say that if I were to need such help I would find it here, from the people, the building and the landscape.