Kirkwall’s Pocket Garden

There are some bonnie gardens in Orkney and  folk had the opportunity to look round them at the 2017 Orkney Garden Festival  but some are hard to find. (Editor)

By Duncan McLean

” The town has only one street, nearly a mile long. with many excellent houses ranged on each side of it,which, both for the style in which some of them are built , and in the manner in which they are furnished, {to say noting of the neat little gardens that are annexed to them}, may bear a comparison with those of any small town in the kingdom.”

from  The History of the Orkney Islands

Rev George Barry , 1805

Kirkwall’s Pocket Garden

When the cathedral was built in 1137, this was foreshore. Land was gradually reclaimed westwards.

In the 1380’s Earl Henry Sinclair built a castle here, with this area being part of the smithy.  It was partially demolished  in 1614 and then again in 1742 (when stone was reused in building the town hall and jail at the far end of Broad St.) The final vestiges were removed in 1865. by which time…..

 …. this garden belonged to the flat and shop at 13 -15 Broad St , occupied by James Kirkness, founder of our family business.
No doubt the Kirknesses grew vegetables here, but it was also used as a back yard and store for the shop.

It was here one midnight in winter 1875. that James Kirkness and an accomplice from the Castle Hotel rolled several barrels of gin illicitly imported from Holland.

Kirkness and Gorie reopened in 2007.

To this day we treasure this pocket garden, with its roots in medieval times, and its long family history. Many customers enjoy a peaceful time here when they visit, and we hope you do too.

 ‘ Gories oak’

Immediately after the first world war the shop was run by Mary Kirkness and her husband John Gorie. The family legend goes that a friend of John’s in the highlands sent them a brace of pheasant as a gift. On preparing one bird, Mary found an acorn in its crop, and John planted it in a flower bed in their garden. Nearly 100 years later it is still flourishing – one of only a handful of oaks in Orkney.

n.b. According to The Quaternary Association of Orkney oaks used to be very common in Orkney! — analysis of archaeological sediments. Similar evidence was presented to The Forestry Commission who accepted it and then permitted Hazels to be planted on Orkney as part of one of their schemes. Several hazels are now growing albeit slowly in Orphir

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1 reply »

  1. This speaks straight to my gardener’s heart. Anywhere can be a garden – even one little flower pot, can be a garden. And life always comes, as soon as there are plants to come to.
    And the Gories oak? I’ll tell a short tale. There’s a place in County Limerick (Eire), called Adare Manor. It’s now an hotel, and the peasantry aren’t allowed! Years ago, folk were allowed to walk in the grounds there, and….there’s a big oak tree with a stone plaque at it’s base, telling of how the acorn was brought to Adare in the pocket of someone’s jacket. It was planted, and now – there’s a huge oak tree! I have a picture of the plaque, somewhere, way back in the photo albums – pre-digital. It may even be google-able!

    That’ll be the day, though when we get oaks growing freely in Orkney – the shelter there will have helped a lot.
    What a great tale though – an oak, from a pheasants crop.
    “Great oaks, from tiny acorns grow.” Worth remembering when looking at the work that needs doing at the Hall of Clestrain!

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