Eco-gardening on an exclusive use Scottish Castle Estate

The gardens and grounds team at Aldourie have a strong desire to work alongside nature where possible. This doesn’t simply mean being out amongst the soil, plants and foliage; potting and mulching, growing and tending. It means that their primary concern is the environment and – now more than ever before – both realising and acting on what can be done to preserve and improve it, is a fundamental part of their gardening. As an exclusive use Scottish Castle on an historic estate, Aldourie has a responsibility to the environment. This Highlands estate has been nurturing its wildlife and encouraging nature for centuries. But it has to go a step further and protect the wider environment against climate change.

Small changes make a big impact

Everybody has the opportunity to play their part in being eco-friendly. Whether that’s tending your own garden at home, looking after public grounds such as a park or school, or creating a working Estate in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. Aldourie is known for its commitment to conservation across the wider Estate and being part of the WildLand group of properties.exclusive use Scottish CastleBut what are the smaller things we are doing to help save the environment on a day-to-day basis? We asked our head gardener, Duncan, to share the various ways in which Aldourie Castle is fast becoming more eco-friendly within its gardens and grounds.

“We are aiming to make the running of the garden at Aldourie as environmentally friendly as we can, whilst still producing a beautiful, tidy and well-maintained garden. This is a great challenge. The horticultural industry is changing to meet the demands of an increasing awareness of environmental issues. However, there is still an over-reliance on plastic and chemicals.”

An eco-friendly garden functions just as well

Duncan and his team is very passionate about “doing what we can” at Aldourie whilst also demonstrating that a very high standard of garden can be maintained without costing the environment.exclusive use Scottish Castle

“We are gradually phasing out plastics as much as possible and using alternatives, such as terracotta pots. Watering plants in terracotta is different from plastic pots but once you get used to it, it is not a problem. Aldourie had a pottery in Dores for a few years around 1900 and we still have some of the original pots. So there is also a historical reference to the use of terracotta here.”

Within the walled garden, Aldourie’s gardening team is also using wooden blackboard labels for herbs, fruit and vegetables. “As well as reducing plastic, the wooden labels look great and help the garden to feel more natural” says Duncan. The same applies to the use of string. We are using natural hessian, which doesn’t tend to catch your eye the way that plastic string does.”

Home made mixtures replace chemicals

Aldourie Estate is also aiming to eliminate the use of chemicals in the garden. The horticulture industry has become completely reliant on glyphosate. It is used to kill weeds and keep areas such as gravel paths and car parks clean. Duncan conveys the Estate’s dedication to keeping things green; “We have recently bought a hot-water sprayer. This allows us to kill weeds on these hard surfaces without the use of any additives. We have several car park areas and many gravel paths at Aldourie. Now we can keep on top of them just using hot water.”exclusive use Scottish Castle

“Aldourie is also using no chemical pesticides or fertilisers. Growing so many plants does attract pests so we still need address this. Having a wide and varied garden habitat has seen a massive increase in the numbers of insects and birds in the garden over the past year. Thrushes are foraging for slugs in the vegetable, herb and cutting beds. Ladybirds are eating aphids on roses and plants in the glasshouses. Unfortunately, this alone is not enough when there are large numbers of aphids. Therefore, we are spraying when needed simply with eco-soap.”

The grounds team is currently trying out other home-made mixtures for use as fertilizers and for deterring pests. This includes a brew made from tomato leaves. The vegetable garden is fed every year with local manure so there is no need to add other fertilisers. And in the glasshouse an organic seaweed extract is the only feeding any of the plants get.”

Forward thinking for a greener environment

Duncan continues; “The use of peat in horticulture is another systemic problem that we are tackling by using no peat-based composts. There are a few peat-free options including coir, which is made with coconut husks. However, our alternative is a compost made in Cumbria from sheep’s wool and bracken (Dalefoot Composts).exclusive use Scottish Castle

We have grown all of our plants in this compost this year and, so far, are very happy with the results. If this proves to be a good alternative over the long-term then perhaps this is something that could be used more widely. We have plenty of sheep’s wool and bracken in the UK!”

Aldourie Estate is one of many Castle estates in the Highlands who are striving to protect the environment in as many ways as possible. This is mainly through less reliance on chemicals and the eradication of plastic to discourage plastic waste, and therefore plastic pollution. This forward thinking attitude is being adopted worldwide. So, let’s all continue to work together to ‘do our bit’ for the environment and, ultimately, a greener future.


5 benefits of a working walled garden on a private castle estate

Spring will soon be upon us and Aldourie will literally reap the rewards of last year’s work out on the Estate grounds. It may not seem possible right now, with the high winds and heavy rain battering the soil and whipping around the foliage. But at this exclusive use venue in Scotland, once winter has left us for another year, all the dedication and hard work of the Castle’s gardening team will come to fruition.  The benefits of those long hours of sorting, mulching, digging and planting will have been worth the wait.

By the end of summer into early autumn of 2018 the dozens of differing shaped soil beds were showing signs of life, abundant in green. But now that spring 2019 is nearly here, a kaleidoscope of colour, scents, patterns and textures will be unveiled within the red brick and natural stone border of the walled garden.

Imaginative wild flower beds evoke nostalgia

The gardening team worked with landscape designer Tom Stuart-Smith on the Estate to create floral displays akin to the Victorian style. Our exclusive use venue in Scotland was already witnessing wild flower growth in September last year (pictured). Tall grasses and plants blended in close-nit harmony as species stumbled into one another to create a medley of colour and style. The benefit of time has allowed these flowers to mature into different heights and shapes giving a sense of freedom and disarray to the structured square beds. That contrast in itself is the romantic lure of the wild flower garden…

Thriving veg patches encourage healthy eating

There’s no doubting a spectacular Castle which has welcomed guests since its origins as a mansion house would’ve ever offered anything less than fine dining. But we all know that centuries ago the extravagant food served in castles was far from healthy. The phrase ‘fine dining’ has in recent years resolutely rediscovered its meaning.

By April the walled garden of our exclusive use venue in Scotland will look like it did in its heyday with lush, leafy veg in abundance. It’s always good to know that the food on the table has come straight from the earth (with a bit of clever cooking in between). But now, more than ever, the concentration on healthy eating is all-consuming and the hospitality industry is no bystander. By providing a farm to table experience for our Aldourie Castle guests we can guarantee nutritious food cooked to the highest standard with the care and attention it deserves from the moment it is picked.

Tasty pickings from the glasshouses; fun in the sun!

Another benefit of the walled garden is its Victorian-inspired and designed glasshouses. Not only do they look splendid under a blue sky on a hot summer’s day, their tall thin window panes shimmering in the sun. But the real treasure is what’s housed within. Guests can select for themselves brightly-coloured, crisp salads, exotic fruits and hardy vine-growing vegetables. The walled garden glasshouses simply by their very nature reinforce many aspects of the Aldourie ethos: ‘in the moment’, meaningful time spent with family and/or friends in the great outdoors.

Herbs help create flavoursome Castle dishes

Not only does Aldourie’s walled garden produce the freshest fruit and veg but our little herb patches in the glasshouses also fill to the brim. It’s wonderful to be able to flavour our traditional and contemporary Castle cuisine with such a wide selection of freshly grown herbs. And they’re all right here on our doorstep, meaning Chef has only to open the kitchen door and take a five minute stroll to the walled garden in order to transform any one of his seasonal dishes.

Fruit cages; a new Aldourie experience for spring 2019

One of the most exciting developments in the walled garden of this exclusive use venue in Scotland last year was when the gardening team erected the two long fruit cages down the centre of this generous outdoor space. Here they are pictured then and we’re looking forward to seeing how much fruit has grown come spring, which will have transformed the look of this bold, asymmetric caging into something rather wild and pretty.

Look out for our next garden blog post where we’ll discover all the new and old plant and tree species now thriving in the arboretum and parkland. Conservation will always continue on the Aldourie Estate and we can’t wait for the next chapter; the greener the better!

Take a browse through our Private Hire pages on the Aldourie Castle website for details of an exclusive use stay. Then take a look at The Grounds gallery to discover all the other exciting areas on the ever-developing 500 acre Estate.


How conservation is key at the Castle on Loch Ness

Walled kitchen gardens are such an important part of our history but without conservation efforts they quickly decline. Here’s how Aldourie Estate is putting conservation first to recreate a thriving walled garden for the Castle on Loch Ness.

For centuries, most large country houses featured a walled kitchen garden. They were a hive of production; growing food, herbs and flowers for use by the family and staff of the house and their guests. The historic walled garden used to be considered the main provider of fruit and veg, acting like a supermarket would today. Shipping food from overseas is now more common, which is highly unsustainable. In short, it is the reason why so many properties are reviving their historic walled gardens, reclaiming and using them productively for their original purpose.

historic walled garden

Aldourie Castle is no exception. We are determined to bring Aldourie’s walled garden back to its former glory by fully utilising the land on which it sits. The overall Estate conservation project started in 2017, and reviving the walled garden is only one element of this. Needless to say, this in turn has had other significant benefits to the Estate – something which we will talk about in a later blog post.

How does the walled garden function?

Historically, walled gardens were created to provide fruit and vegetables for the family of the house. The high walls provide protection from predators and the elements and also create a micro-climate within. This is especially important in northern climates such as Scotland which fall prey to wind and frost. These tall sheltered walls create a higher temperature by absorbing and retaining the heat. As a result, this enables species of fruit and veg to survive and grow. Most walled gardens have stone walls that act as a slow release radiator of solar energy. Many walled kitchen gardens have glasshouses, like those on the Aldourie Estate. Heated kitchen gardens extend the growing season and allow exotic fruit and plants to grow.

historic walled garden

Conservation will revive the historic walled garden

Conservation management is the key to the success of a historic walled garden. This incorporates good design and features plus a dedicated plan for repairs and restoration. Conserving a walled garden’s microclimate, mentioned above, is crucial to growing collections of historic fruit cultivars from centuries ago.  Understandably, many stately homes and historic houses wish to achieve historic fruit cultivars by restoring their walled kitchen gardens.

Environmental sustainability is another matter that is important to to reviving the historic walled garden. Part of this process is to monitor the effect and impact of climate change. Doing this ensures that wear and tear don’t get the better of a functioning walled garden. If we can limit the use of peat and manage green waste, historic gardens can be conserved.

Conservation efforts by the Castle on Loch Ness

Pests and invasive plant species continually threaten historic gardens and landscapes such as Aldourie Estate. Although these threats can be managed on private historic estates to a degree, nature is a force which cannot be controlled. The gardening team at Aldourie are only too aware that the presentation and workings of a walled garden can be easily disrupted as the result of wind, water or wildlife.

Aldourie Estate is part of the Wildland portfolio of properties. Wildland is committed to conservation; understanding and appreciating the value of nature as ‘the world’s greatest asset’. Wildland is concerned that wilderness in Scotland, and in fact the world over, is disappearing at an alarming rate. Therefore, above all else, it aims to preserve and regenerate nature. Aldourie Castle on Loch Ness specifically is achieving this through the revitalisation of the 500 acre Estate in line with Wildland’s ethos.
historic walled garden

Within Aldourie’s conservation efforts is the restoration of the historic walled garden. Now the area is both more aesthetically pleasing and functions as a walled garden should do. It grows and sustains a variety of fruit, veg, salads, herbs and plants that it used to do in another life, once upon a time.

Keep up with our conservation projects across the Highlands Estate through our social media pages, particularly via our Facebook page.