Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

“One is nearer God’s heart in a garden …”

September 20th, 2008

CAPABILITY BROWN was the eighteenth century's greatest English landscape architect. The gardens at Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland, were first laid out by locally born Brown in 1750, and remained one of the grandest extravaganzas of that county until the start of the twentieth century.

After a century's decline the present Duchess of Northumberland had a vision of a new garden and, using the historic footprint of previous gardens, in 2000 started the monumental task of creating the 21st century's response to Capability Brown. The Doyenne had several times talked about visiting the gardens and last weekend we made the trip.I had some misgivings as we entered the very modern visitor centre and pavilion but the moment we were in the garden itself all my doubts disappeared. The old landscaped parklands which had been derelict and forgotten have been transformed.

We were bowled over by the visual interest and sheer exuberance of the flowers, foliage and planting patterns which have been achieved in just eight years. Sadly the anticipated romantic and fragrant experience of the Rose Garden was marred by the weather which had been as bad in Northumberland as back here at home.

Eight mirror-polished stainless steel water sculptures are concealed within the topiary coils of the Serpent Garden, illustrating different aspects of water and how it can be made to move. Alongside is the Bamboo Labyrinth which rustles conspiratorially in response to even the lightest breeze.

Belladonna and rhubarb leaves are two of the potentially fatal plants in The Poison Garden, and the Doyenne's insistence that she wanted to visit this feature sent a wee, cold shiver down my spine! “These Plants Can Kill” announces the notice on the locked gates, and entry to the garden is only under supervision of trained Poison Garden Wardens.

The original walled garden has been laid out as the Ornamental Garden, with 16,500 plants to produce colour and scent throughout the year. The slightly absurd memory that stands out of a quite intoxicating experience, is the crab apple trees laden with fruit hanging like bunches of grapes. There's too much to take in at once, and we've already made up our minds that we'll be returning to Alnwick next year.

Surprisingly, for all the vegetation and wildlife friendly cover we hardly saw any songbirds. A small colony of Peacock butterflies on white buddleia and several species of bees feeding on bugbane was all the insect life to be seen.

We were neither of us greatly impressed by The Grand Cascade, a series of waterfalls obviously intended to be the focal point of the entire garden. Perhaps it's a matter of waiting till it beds down properly into its natural setting for it to properly re-enact the splendour of previous centuries. The Alnwick Garden has a long way to go and there are ambitious plans for further development.

Written on Saturday, September 20th, 2008 at 6:22 pm for Weekly.