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 more in depth look at what the dedicated green-fingered team got up to during March and April.
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 and the gardeners have had to be patient to say the least. The Scottish Highlands, as with all the UK, have endured unusually cold weather and heavy rainfall making 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.’
‘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; because 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 is still to recreate the Victorian elegance that permeated the estate gardens of the 1800s. With that comes the planting of specific plants in certain designs and patterns 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.
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.
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, as simple as it may sound, 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.’
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 Castle gardens 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 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.
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. It can be really changeable and 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 late frost is forecast it is worth putting a fleece covering over them to protect them. Conversely, this time last year we had a really dry spell so make sure seedlings and anything in pots are regularly watered as they begin growing.
Look out for our new gardens and grounds section of the website that will sit within the existing grounds pages. For more information on exclusive use stays at Aldourie please contact the Castle’s hospitality team.