As you will have gathered, from previous blog articles relating to the Estate, our 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.
Everybody has the opportunity to play their part in being eco-friendly whether tending your garden and home, looking after public grounds such as a park or school, to 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. But 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.”
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.
“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had a pottery in Dores for a few years around 1900 and we still have some of the original pots so there is also a historical reference to the use of terracotta here.”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 & 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.
Aldourie Estate is also aiming to eliminate the use of chemicals in the garden. The horticulture industry has become completely reliant on glyphosate 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, which 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 so we can now keep on top of them just using hot water.”
“We are also using no chemical pesticides or fertilisers at Aldourie. 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 & cutting beds while ladybirds are eating aphids on roses and plants in the glasshouses. Unfortunately, this alone is not enough when there are large numbers of aphids so 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, including 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.
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 coconut husks, however our alternative is a compost made in Cumbria from sheep’s wool and bracken (Dalefoot Composts). 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 through less reliance on chemicals and the eradication of plastic to discourage plastic waste. This forward thinking attitude is being adopted worldwide; let’s all continue to work together to ‘do our bit’ for the environment and, ultimately, a greener future.