January progress in the Castle grounds and gardens

What’s been happening on the Estate recently? The gardens have endured a rather cold winter and are currently either covered in snow or frozen at the moment. The consistent cold temperatures mean that it’s tricky to get really into the soil but our dedicated team of gardeners are not easily defeated and love a challenge so Aldourie’s Castle grounds and gardens are back to thriving as never before. Here you can see some stunning images taken by our head gardener, Duncan, during a magical snowfall on the Highlands’ Estate.Castle grounds and gardens

An enchanting winter walled garden

The glasshouses have a surreal feel about them when coated in snow and it gives exclusive use guests at the time such pleasure to walk amongst them. The Castle team are looking forward to spring and summer when the newly refurbished architecture can really come into its own for guests. It’ll then be warm enough for them to enjoy sitting, drinking and dining in the buildings whilst watching the world go by in the walled garden.

Here you see one of our lovely team members, Fe, planting a fruit tree in the Castle’s new orchard at Garden Cottage, situated just behind the walled garden. The orchard featured a variety of different plums, a few apples, a medlar, a quince and a damson. The wildflowers you see have since been cut but they will regrow in the spring.

Conservation at Aldourie continues to thrive

The orchard area is attached to the walled garden but forms the new garden for the cottage, which is a lovely little orchard with wildflowers growing under the trees, helping to attract pollinators. As always, Aldourie is striving to cultivate an estate in complete harmony with its main aim of conservation, by planting new and tending to the old. Come rain or shine, our gardening team is committed to conserving every inch of the 500 acre Estate.Castle grounds and gardens

You may recall Aldourie’s ambitious plans for the four main garden areas we developed over 2017. Part of this was to bulk plant across the woodland to increase our plant collection. Well, this work has indeed begun during the cold, wintry months of December and January. We have been planting approximately 400 new rhododendrons in the arboretum.

These comprise many varieties to build upon the collection we already have. See this beautiful image of the generous flower the moment they arrived at the Castle; an exciting moment for the passionate gardening team! Plans continue to add to the collection of colourful rhododendrons in the spring.

Aldourie gardening team expands for 2018

The other exciting news is that we have taken on a new Assistant Head Gardener, Chris Smart, so Aldourie Castle’s team has grown to four. Yes, we really do cover all that ground with this small but talented and capable team.  Chris joins Duncan, Sarah and Fe at the right time meaning he can settle in before the major planting of no fewer than 35,000 plants on the Castle grounds and gardens begins in spring.

Castle grounds and gardens

Just like the hospitality team inside the Castle the outdoors team is always having to make forward plans and be extremely organised. There is a set itinerary for each of the four spaces on the Estate. We need this in order to stick to the proposed time frame for the grounds and gardens project as it moves into its second year. “Once new planting begins in early March the team of four will be really busy planting, mulching and watering, etc. so I wanted to make sure we were ready for that,” says Duncan.

As winter turns to spring at the Castle on Loch Ness

From now on and over the next few weeks Aldourie’s gardening team are preparing the soil in the new beds for planting. We are also continuing to keep on top of the woodland garden – pruning and digging out all of the unwanted plants that have regrown. Soon, the contractors will be back on site to complete the architectural elements of the walled garden including hanging all of the gates, building and installing the fruit arches and cages and finishing the cold frames. The look of this thriving garden space will change yet again in no time.

We look forward to showing you more of the Castle grounds and gardens progress as it develops and comes into fruition. Keep a look out on our social media pages for snapshots of work in the gardens, which we continue to share with all our Aldourie followers.


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

Our new gardner, Duncan’s passion for gardening grew over time 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 after realising his love for gardening Duncan studied for an “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. 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 and 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.