Head gardener revitalises private Castle gardens on Loch Ness

Introducing Duncan Hall, Aldourie Estate’s new head gardener, who is taking the gardens and grounds to new heights. Literally. So much thought and hard work has been put into the design of the once-Victorian landscape that it now features four considerably different garden areas. Each is enchanting to the eye, featuring various levels, from tall ancient trees to ankle-grazing kitchen garden produce, and each has their own particular purpose in direct relation to the Castle.

You can read about them in our previous ‘Revitalised Gardens and Grounds’ blog post. But for now, we’re focusing on Duncan and his own history, who, through the leadership of landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith, has brought important parts of Aldourie’s 500-acre grounds together with his dedicated team.

Biography of a Castle gardener

Duncan’s passion for gardening grew over time as he worked as a landscape gardener in Dumfries and Galloway, where he grew up. He felt at home working outdoors surrounded by nature. After coming to realise his love for gardening Duncan went to Edinburgh to study for an HND Horticulture with Plantsmanship at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh where he developed his passion for horticulture and explored the huge range of plants at RBGE. After finishing his HND Duncan spent a year as a student gardener for the National Trust of Scotland based at both Threave Gardens and Branklyn Garden. Threave is a teaching garden for the NTS and Branklyn is a small collectors garden full of interesting woodland and alpine plants.

Duncan was then offered the role of Assistant Head Gardener at Cambo Garden, Fife, where he spent three interesting years. At Cambo he developed a passion for contemporary naturalistic planting and learned a great deal in this area from the inspiring Head Gardener Elliott Forsyth. He was involved in teaching students naturalistic herbaceous planting and design as well as other general horticultural skills.

Inspired by Tom Stuart-Smith

Whilst working at Cambo Duncan studied the work of Tom Stuart-Smith as well as visiting various gardens that he designed, so when the opportunity arose to work with him making a garden at Aldourie Castle he jumped at it. Duncan says: “This is a fantastic time to be involved with a project like this and it is very exciting to be able to contribute to the creation of the garden.”

The project to date has been challenging and rewarding. Going through this process has allowed Duncan to learn a lot about the construction of a garden: “As a plantsman, I particularly enjoyed seeing the first of the trees and topiaries planted, which started to bring the garden to life. We have also carried out extensive clearance works in the arboretum, which were completely overgrown with the invasive Rhododendron ponticum. It is now wonderful to see and feel the potential of this space, which we can now start the process of replanting with trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.”

For Duncan, it has been very interesting and enjoyable working with Tom and his team, learning first-hand more about his style and how he works. Tom has produced some wonderful planting plans for the gardens and the gardening team at Aldourie are now preparing to implement these in spring, something which Duncan is really looking forward to.

Gardeners section in blog

Look out for our new gardens and grounds section of the website coming in 2018 to complement the existing grounds pages. Duncan will also be popping up more frequently the Aldourie Blog, showcasing recent project work in the Castle grounds as well as offering hand tips for your own garden and plants at different times of the year. For more information on exclusive use stays at Aldourie please contact the Castle’s hospitality team.


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