Head gardener revitalises exclusive use castle gardens on Loch Ness

Here at the Aldourie Castle estate, we’d like to introduce you to our new Head Gardner – Duncan Hall. Duncan is taking the exclusive use castle gardens and grounds to new heights; literally. So much thought and hard work has been put into the design of the restored Victorian landscape. It now features four considerably different garden areas. Each is enchanting to the eye, featuring various levels, from tall ancient trees to our ankle-grazing kitchen garden. Moreover, each has its own particular purpose.

You can read about them in our previous ‘Revitalised Gardens and Grounds’ blog post. But for now, we’re focusing on Duncan and his story. Along with ‘leadership of landscape’ architect Tom Stuart-Smith, Duncan and his team recently improved important parts of Aldourie’s 500-acre grounds.exclusive use castle gardens

The history of a Castle gardener

Duncan’s passion for gardening grew as he worked as a landscape gardener where he grew up in Dumfries and Galloway. He felt at home working outdoors surrounded by nature and as a result studied for a “HND in Horticulture with Plantsmanship” at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. It was here that he developed his passion for horticulture and researched the huge range of plants at the RBGE. After finishing his HND, Duncan spent a year as a student gardener for the National Trust of Scotland and was 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. His guru was the inspirational Head Gardener Elliott Forsyth. Furthermore, he was also involved in teaching students about naturalistic herbaceous planting and design, as well as other general horticultural skills.exclusive use castle gardens

Tom Stuart-Smith designs exclusive use castle gardens

Whilst working at Cambo, Duncan studied the work of Tom Stuart-Smith as well as visiting various gardens that he has designed. So, when the opportunity arose to work with him, revising the exclusive-use castle gardens 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, however the process has allowed Duncan to learn a lot about the construction of an exclusive-use castle garden, Duncan comments, “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. We can now start the process of replanting with trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.”

Duncan says, “it has been very interesting and enjoyable working with Tom and his team. He has learned first-hand about Tom’s style and how he works”. Tom has produced some wonderful planting plans for the castle gardens. The gardening team at Aldourie are now preparing to implement these in spring, something which Duncan is really looking forward to.exclusive use castle gardens

Gardeners’ section in blog

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


Revitalised gardens and grounds heighten exclusive use experience

Aldourie Castle and Estate underwent some renovations during 2017. We are always looking to add to the exclusive use experience of our private guests and beauty of the Castle and Estate. We coated the exterior of the Castle with a limewash harl (we’ll cover this more in the next post), revitalised the old walled gardens and carried out further landscaping around the Castle. However, behind reviving this 17th Century exclusive use Estate, there’s a lot more meaning than initially meets the eye.

The gardens design team

The plan was to develop the gardens to create a fitting, high quality setting for the Castle. We employed a head gardener Duncan Hall, who is passionate about innovative landscaping for historic settings. Duncan and his dedicated team have been thrilled to work alongside landscape architect, garden designer and writer Tom Stuart-Smith, an inspirational leader in his field. Aldourie Castle Estate feels privileged to have Tom designing the revised estate including the four main garden areas (detailed below).exclusive use experience

Formal Garden: on the Castle’s doorstep

The main Castle Garden (to the west) creates a formal setting for Aldourie whilst hinting at playful associations with the property. The turret-inspired topiary trees and historic references like the planned fortress-inspired bastions are good examples of this. The already impressive space combines order with fun to heighten the exclusive use experience. The idea is for the garden to be used and enjoyed by private guests, despite its formal layout.

Walled Garden and Glasshouses: for ‘living off the Estate’

This garden has a rugged feel in comparison to the Castle garden and has been restored to a very high standard. It features attractive dry walls made with a local stone. As guests walk into it tey definitely feel as though it belongs in the highlands. Its central area is primarily for vegetable and fruit production (including high value crops and soft fruit). These are used to supply the castle kitchen as well as the other Wildland properties. Do you remember the 18th century glasshouses being restored in 2016? Now they also grow fruit and veg and are open for exclusive use guests to wander through.

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Arboretum: historic discoveries through hard work

This has been a major renovation. The gardening team unearthed a fine tree collection dating back to the 19th Century. The Castle is now committed to nurturing them all. All design elements have been carefully planned, for example, the winding paths and interweaving plant patches at the foot trees. These will, in effect, guide Castle guests from one garden to another allowing no aspect of the arboretum to go undiscovered. The burial ground is also a significant historical feature. Tidying this area has helped to preserve its ornamentation and archaeological relevance.

Parkland: keeping it green

There are further plans afoot to create a landscape of wild meadow and Highland cattle. But for now, the parkland starts to rejuvenate with new trees. Guests will notice that an Estate railing clearly separates the Castle setting from the wider park.exclusive use experience

Head Gardener, Duncan, comments on the parkland design; “The new trees have breathed some life into the park, which is the first part of the Estate that guests will experience as they enter the main drive. Enticing views of different parts of the estate are revealed encouraging guests to explore, as well as stunning views across the wider landscape of Loch Ness.”

Focus is on the exclusive use experience

The landscape of Aldourie Castle and Estate is of outstanding scenic value. It’s therefore vital that the design and gardening work serves to enhance its beauty. It forms an archetypal Scottish Baronial scene highly visible from the northern shores of Loch Ness. One of the key reasons for revitalising the Castle and grounds was to compound the feeling, during an exclusive use experience, of staying in such a historically valued, spectacular location.

The initial warm welcome at the Castle now extends to the entirety of the 500 acre Estate. Guests are now encouraged to really discover the gardens, to explore and play, and feel the heritage beneath their feet. Regular pruning of tree branches in the walled garden will offer glimpses of the estate and wider landscape. This will entice exclusive use guests to wander further afield.exclusive use experience

The ‘farm to table’ aspect of this particular garden will also transcend to the guests’ experience. This will allow them the opportunity to pick their own fruit and veg for the Castle’s chef to cook that day. The idea is to reinforce the exclusive use experience at every opportunity. As a result, exploring the beauty and history of Aldourie Estate becomes an integral part of their stay.

Look out for our next instalment of the Revitalisation of Aldourie Castle & Estate. For more information on exclusive use of Aldourie please visit our Private Hire pages or contact the main office through our online contact form.