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 So there is also a historical reference to the use of terracotta here.”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.


Darling buds of May on a Scottish Estate

The gardening team at Aldourie were delighted to get to work on the Estate during the Spring. As the team tirelessly planted and mulched their way through truckloads of plants, the energy was rampant. Tom Stuart-Smith, the landscape gardener, designed our new garden layouts, and Duncan Hall, Aldourie’s head gardener, helped with implementation. (If you want to recap we link back to this previous blog post towards the bottom of this page).

More mulching and larger plant deliveries

During Spring, our work on the Castle garden had been a big undertaking with lots of soil to fill. The prepared beds, lovingly tended during the colder months in preparation for the final showcase, were an impressive expanse of plants and topiary trees. After this was completed, the green-fingered team then went on to work on the walled garden. Duncan describes the initial process:

‘Firstly, we rotorvated and raked the new beds to level them and remove the larger stones. The plants were then delivered – about 20,000 of them this time! The same process as before continued; Tom (Stuart-Smith and Ed (his colleague) came up to set out the plants, which the garden team helped with again. We then started planting and mulching.’

The National Trust lends a helping hand

Because of the quantity of plants to get in, Duncan made the decision to get more hands on deck.

‘I called upon the help of the National Trust for Scotland’s gardening students. During my time training as a gardener I spent some time training with the NTS at their School of Heritage Gardening – Threave Garden. I got in touch with them and they agreed to send up five students with two supervisors to help with the planting and gain some valuable experience.’The Scottish Estate Gardens at Aldourie Castle

The team spent three days planting and mulching in the walled garden, which was both extremely productive and fulfilling. Duncan admits they were brilliant to work with. He hopes to establish a working relationship with NTS School of Heritage Gardening for future projects.

Walled garden can reap what it sows

Meanwhile, amongst all the ground work taking place, the long-awaited fruit cages in the walled garden have finally started to appear. This will become an additional element of the ‘exclusive use experience’ for the Castle’s private guests. As well as being able to select fresh produce from the glasshouses, guests can wander through the fruit tunnels outside to add to their pickings.

More variations of vegetables are starting to take root too. Some of the veg has been planted directly into the ground such as the perennial crops, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes. Aldourie will have to wait for three years before the asparagus is ready for harvest; so it important to get it in this year. Crops such as carrots and beetroot were directly sown into the beds while others were sowed into pots in the glasshouse to get them started.

‘We have also been chitting potatoes’ says Duncan; an intriguing term we asked him to explain further: ‘This is when you lay potatoes out somewhere cool and light to encourage the tubers to sprout before planting.’

Farm to table cooking and dining

The Castle kitchen and our dedicated chef will use all of this delicious veg and transform it into nutritious, fresh dishes. Now Aldourie can really and truly consider itself a ‘farm to table’ working estate. We have bigger plans afoot for contributing further to conservation in the Highlands but this is a great starting point.

The farm to table movement is becoming increasingly popular up and down the UK’s hospitality sector, and local produce is being used in new and imaginative ways. Take a look at our sister property Killiehuntley’s farm to table dining style.

Home grown flowers to fill the Castle

In and amongst the rigorous gardening the Aldourie team has begun to plant cut flowers for displays in the Castle and cottages. This is yet another example of the property depending on the Estate for its day to day function. Aldourie can easily become self-sufficient in many ways; an ethos long forgotten in these modern times.

Whereas hotel chains like large businesses buy in flowers weekly to display in communal spaces, our hospitality team can just nip down to the gardens and pick the freshest florals with no manufactured scent. Which is your preference to stay in?

Aldourie’s cut flower garden will be a wonderful asset to the private property. We anticipate having fun matching colour schemes to spaces and choosing the best fragrances. We will fill the exclusive group accommodation bathrooms and bedrooms with traditional, bold florals and choose the wilder meadow flowers for the cottages.

Gardeners section in blog

Look out for our new gardens and grounds section of the website. Head Gardener, Duncan, will also appear more regularly in the Aldourie blog, showcasing recent project work in the Castle grounds. He also hands out seasonal tips for your own garden and plants throughout 2018 – read his advice for March in our recent gardens and grounds post. For more information on exclusive use stays at Aldourie please contact the Castle’s hospitality team.


Recreating a Victorian garden in the Castle grounds

This past month has all been about planting; well, what else is Aldourie Castle’s gardening team going to do with a delivery of 20,000 plants! Let’s take a look at what the dedicated green-fingered team got up to in the grounds of this exclusive use venue in Scotland.

Planting in the woodland; a thorough process

The team has been busy for months clearing and preparing the woodland for planting. Good things come to those who wait – the gardeners have had to be patient to say the least. The Scottish Highlands, as with all the UK, have endured unusually cold weather. Coupled with heavy rainfall, this makes full gardening days difficult to maintain.  Head gardener Duncan says: “We were waiting on the soil drying out properly to enable the team to complete the final preparation on the main beds.

Aldourie Castle Estate woodland

“We have also started removing lots of daffodils so that we can plant different bulbs. The woodland is to be clear of yellow so that’s why we are removing yellow Azaleas and Daffodils.”

You may wonder at this choice to clear the woodland of such a symbolic springtime colour. The reason for this is simply a design choice. Much of the existing collection of Rhododendrons is in a range of cooler colours such as blues, purples and pinks. We don’t want it to clash with strong yellows. The 400 new Rhododendrons we planted recently in the woodland are again mainly cooler coloured, to complement the existing collection.

The gardening team’s overarching aim in this exclusive use venue in Scotland is still to recreate the Victorian elegance that permeated the estate gardens of the 1800s. With that comes the planting of specific plants in tune with the gardening style of that period. That doesn’t just happen overnight, however. The garden design team, headed by Tom Stuart-Smith, has worked hard to ensure that the look and feel of each of the four garden areas in the 500-acre grounds will eventually showcase a perfect portrayal of a Victorian Scottish estate.

   Victorian Garden Aldourie EstateAldourie Castle garden Loch Ness

Transforming the Castle garden

The Aldourie gardening team have had time to perfect the way they work together having planned the revitalised estate design for over the past year. It is no surprise therefore that when it came to physical planting of these highly anticipated flowers each member of the team had a specific role to play in making the fantastic grounds of this exclusive use venue in Scotland so special.

The recent delivery for the Castle garden alone, the enclosed area facing Loch Ness, totalled 10,000 herbaceous perennial plants. With such a large delivery and working to a tight timescale, preparation is key and eases the potential stress or problems that may occur. Duncan explains: “As the photos show, there are some of us setting out the plants and some of us planting and mulching. First, Tom Stuart-Smith and Ed Shackleton (from his office) came up and we all set out the plants according to Tom’s design. Then, after Tom and Ed left we planted them all.”

The gardening team then mulched the beds with a thick layer of composted bark, which helps to prevent weeds and keeps moisture in the soil. There are a few gaps that will be filled shortly when additional plants arrive.

“It doesn’t look like much now but it will change a lot through the seasons and even more over the next few years. This was hard work but really exciting to get so many plants in the ground.”

Aldourie Castle Estate gardeningAldourie Castle gardening team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gardening team of four had some additional support during the Castle garden planting as spring arrived. “We also had a student, Louise, from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh with us for a week, which was a great help.” We are sure that working in authentic Victorian walled garden has proved a learning curve for Louise and a credit to her gardening portfolio.

THE NEXT PHASE: new vegetable patches in our walled garden

Aldourie Estate has just received the next delivery of plants (approx. 20,000) and these are destined for the walled Victorian garden. Also, something to excite our ‘farm to table’ lovers: the outdoors crew will soon start work on filling the vegetable beds to complement the glasshouses and al fresco dining experience. This means that by the height of the season we should have a fully functioning walled garden just like in the Victorian times. Yet another way for the Castle’s private guests to appreciate exclusive use living on the Highlands Estate.

Gardens team Aldourie Castle Estate Loch Ness

Elsie, the gardening team’s loyal and diligent canine friend, is excited to begin work on the walled garden beds. We’re sure those paws are just raring to go!

Duncan’s gardening tip for early spring

TIP: At this time of year it’s important to keep a really close eye on the weather.  Some late frosts may still appear, so take care when putting things like tomatoes into an unheated glasshouse. If anyone has potatoes beginning to show and a frost is forecast you should put a fleece covering over them. Conversely, this time last year we had a dry spell, so ensure seedlings and pots are regularly watered.

Look out the new gardens and grounds section of the website that will sit within the existing grounds pages. For more information on our exclusive use venue in Scotland please contact the Castle’s hospitality team.