International Museum Day: 30 Objects – The Seeds of Kew

02 May 2017

The Beginning of Mount Stuart’s Gardens

For International Museum Day on 18 May our Head of Collections, Alice, has chosen her top 30 objects from Mount Stuart’s Collections which we’ll bring to you throughout the Month. Ranging from books, furniture, silver-work, paintings and documentation from hundreds of years of Stuart family life, this barely scratches the surface of our Collections so make sure to plan your visit and experience it for yourself!

A great house can’t be considered complete without grand enclosing gardens, and carefully preserved in our archive, is an almost 300 year-old scrap of paper marking the beginning of the ever evolving gardens around Mount Stuart. This scrap of paper is from David Dowie, a garden surveyor, acknowledging payment from Anne, 2nd Countess of Bute, for his plans for Mount Stuart house, grounds, gardens and parks on the 1st May 1731, 286 years ago.

Lady Anne Campbell, the daughter of the powerful Duke of Argyll, married the second Earl of Bute, a fledgling Scottish peer and rising star in 1711. Despite the fact that Anne’s great-grandfather the 8th Earl of Argyll had previously burnt down Rothesay castle, the historic home of the Stuarts of Bute,  their relationship was reportedly a love match and the pair were rumoured to have courted in a rowing boat off the coast. The couple were married within the year and as befitted a peer who now found himself married to the daughter of a Duke, and with only the broken remnants of his former home left, he set about creating the first of the great houses of the Stuarts of Bute. This was to be a statement about a family on the rise, who had safely negotiated the troubled times of the Civil War and Union, and were now an established part of the Scottish peerage.

Receipt for plans for Mount Stuart's gardens

The foundation stone of the first Mount Stuart house was laid on the 25th October 1718 but a mere 5 years later, in 1723, the 2nd Earl passed away. Now widowed, Anne, a highly educated and powerfully connected woman, continued to develop and employ a ‘policy’ of improvements to the estates. It doesn’t take much to imagine that this interest in gardening and horticulture on her part was because of her brother the 3rd Duke of Argyll, a renowned gardener and hunter of exotic species of plants and trees. Indeed, the Duke was so well known for this passion that he was called the ‘Treemonger’ by his contemporaries.

It is intriguing to think that perhaps this early exposure to the creation of gardens with his mother and uncle would lead the 3rd Earl to found Kew Gardens alongside the royal Hanoverian princesses Augusta, Charlotte and Caroline. The 3rd Earl of Bute eventually became the first director of Kew transplanting many of the rare and specialist species collected by his uncle, including fully grown trees, to the new gardens at Kew after the Duke’s death. Perhaps this scrap of paper, a receipt made out for his mother, was the seed from which his horticultural passion grew.