Thanks for highlighting Canna. Some of my best moments in the Trust.

Canna House garden weaves a spell over everyone who visits it but it is not always obvious how much devoted work goes on behind the scenes. I am delighted to publish this tribute to the Thistle Camps, the dedicated volunteers of the National Trust for Scotland who have played such an important part in restoring the garden.  Now over to Jan Haenraets, landscape architect and former NTS Head of Gardens.

It’s great to see your article and photographs here [see The Not So Secret Garden] and recall the fine days on Canna. I thought I would add a little background to the project.

tunnel vision

Hard work reclaimed the wonderful Escallonia tunnel

Around 2003 I made an initial visit with Pete McHugh to Canna and the house, and we started envisioning the revival of the walled garden. Together with Pete we worked out the idea to get the voluntary Thistle camps involved in the conservation work of the walled garden, while continuing other island activities with the Thistle camps.

At that stage the garden was a complete wilderness and overgrown and there was no gardener. Over a period of four summers we managed to strip back the wilderness and slowly uncover the original layout and plants of the garden.

In 2004 David Waanders helped as a placement student with our first historic garden survey and planning work. We interviewed Magda and the late Margaret and collected all historical documentation and images we could find.


With the volunteers we continued to slowly uncover this island garden’s canvas. The ongoing camps and conservation vision documents generated wider support and the NTS fundraising team introduced the project to the NTS US Patrons who appreciated the work required on the island and for the safeguarding of the most significant Gaelic archive in the house.

The resulting support of a major private US donor meant that we could move a next step forward in our vision. We felt that to restore the use and presentation of the garden required gardener posts. Towards the fourth or fifth summer of our garden Thistle camps (probably around 2008) we finally had Neil in place as the on-site NTS gardener, who moved there with his family. This also was a part of the NTS attempt to increase the number of people living on Canna. The old canvas of the garden had by that time been uncovered and with Neil we finally could start the more detailed restoration.

Neil did the most amazing job and the garden looks better than we ever could have dreamed of when we started to envision this.

I believe that this is one place that deserves much more attention. That said, the garden is only one small effort of the work undertaken on Canna by the residents of Canna and the NTS, and as always, there are sensitivities relating to every initiative. Having been welcomed on Canna since about 2003 I very much wish to thank the Canna residents, many volunteers and students, and NTS staff and supporters for their amazing efforts. Canna is magic.

walled garden

The walled garden during restoration

Jan Haenraets is a Landscape Architect and editor of the Explearth blog