In the 1960s, two Scottish gardeners, Stella and David Rankin, happened on a way of combining their two shared passions – for plants and high mountains – into a collection of alpine plants and replaced part of their lawn with a then fashionable rock garden. Over time as their collection grew the lawn gradually receded until eventually there was very little grass left, and Stella and David decided to exchange their small garden for an acre of Scottish hillside and woodland – which they soon also filled with their plants.

Photograph of poppies and find out facts about them

Here Stella set up a small nursery called Kevock Garden Plants, based on seeds and plants from their collection, that soon gained a reputation as a good source of rare plants from around the world. Four years ago, when one of the nursery staff, Elea Strang, heard that the couple were planning to sell she jumped at the chance to make it her own. The nursery is still a great source of alpine plants but Elea has brought in changes too. The exacting horticultural standards remain and the team is looking to the future, embracing the digital age, fine-tuning propagation processes and rejuvenating the plant list.

Incarvillea mairei
Incarvillea mairei © Jason Ingram

That plant list ranges from small cushion plants to herbaceous, trees and shrubs, but with an emphasis on alpine, bog and woodland plants. A catalogue that contains more than 700 kinds of plant from more than 300 different genera includes specialities with familiar names, such as Primula, Pulsatilla, Meconopsis, Daphne, Saxifraga and Trillium, and others that are not widely known, but easy to grow. Choice plants include Anemonopsis macrophylla, an elegant herbaceous plant from the mountain woodlands of the Japanese island of Honshu, with slender stems and delicate white and lilac flowers in mid to late summer; Ypsilandra thibetica a small, rosette-forming evergreen with feathery plumes of white flowers that appear in early spring and Penstemon pinifolius whose fiery, orange-red blooms burst from mounds of needle-like leaves over several weeks in summer. “There is currently a resurgence of interest in alpines,” says Elea. “The fact that they are adaptable and suitable for gardening on a small scale from pots and troughs to window boxes or crevice gardens, in sun or shade, makes them ideal for the modern garden.”

Kevock Garden Plants nursery owner Elea Strang
Kevock Garden Plants nursery owner Elea Strang © Jason Ingram

There is also a renewed interest in rock gardens. Kevock Garden Plants moved into design, construction and restoration by chance when one of their many gold-medal, ‘best in show’ displays prompted a request to create a rock garden. Large-scale restoration and planting projects at Whinfell Quarry Garden in Sheffield, Newby Hall in Yorkshire and Hever Castle in Kent followed and the team are experts in the art of construction. “Creating or restoring a rock garden is always demanding and a long-term team effort, but in the end, it gives us all immense pleasure,” says nursery manager Graham Gunn. For Elea it is the commitment to producing great plants that is the bedrock of the nursery. “Our success is based on our passion for rock gardens and alpine plants,” she says. “It is something we are very keen to share.” This nursery with an illustrious past, is looking ahead and plotting a quiet revolution.

Plants from Kevock Garden Plants

Dianthus 'Nyewoods Cream'
Dianthus 'Nyewoods Cream' © Jason Ingram
Saxifraga 'Alisa Ruth'
Saxifraga 'Alisa Ruth' © Jason Ingram
Helianthemum x sulphureum 'Cupreum'
Helianthemum x sulphureum 'Cupreum' © Jason Ingram
Saxifraga 'Kath's Delight'
Saxifraga 'Kath's Delight' © Jason Ingram
Sempervivum 'Kramers Spinrad'
Sempervivum 'Kramers Spinrad' © Jason Ingram
Lewisa Brynhyfryd Hybrids
Lewisa Brynhyfryd Hybrids © Jason Ingram
Oxalis lone Hecker
Oxalis lone Hecker © Jason Ingram

Useful information Address Kevock Garden Plants and Designs, Kevock Road, Lasswade, Mid lothian EH18 1HX. Tel 0131 454 0660.
Web Open Kevock Garden Plants is mail order only and not open to the public, although the nursery attends shows and fairs across the UK. Find details on the website. Garden open by appointment only, email for details.

Read our feature on how to build a rock garden


Matthew Biggs is a Kew trained gardener and panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. He is also a prolific author, with a passion for plants and their histories.