Darling buds of May on a Scottish Estate

During March and April the gardening team at Aldourie was delighted to turn over new soil after a freezing winter on the Estate. The energy was rampant and optimism was in full swing as the team tirelessly planted and mulched their way through truckloads of new plants. A variation of bulbs were bedded into new garden layouts designed by landscape gardener Tom Stuart-Smith and helped to be implemented by Aldourie’s head gardener, Duncan Hall. (If you want to recap we link back to this previous blog post towards the bottom of this page).

More mulching and larger plant deliveries

During March and April work on the Castle garden had been a big undertaking with lots of soil to fill. The prepared beds had been lovingly tended during the colder months in preparation for the Big Day and the final showcase was an impressive expanse of plants and topiary trees taking the eye all the way down to the shores of Loch Ness. With that particular garden planted, the green-fingered team then went on to work on the walled garden. Duncan describes the initial process:

‘Firstly, we prepared the soil by rotovating all of the new beds and raking them, to level and remove the larger stones. The plants were then delivered – about 20,000 of them this time! The same process as before continued; Tom (Stuart-Smith and Ed (his colleague) came up to set out the plants, which the garden team helped with again. We then proceeded to start planting and mulching.’

The National Trust lends a helping hand

This time, because of the quantity of plants to get in, Duncan made the decision to get more hands on deck, where he anticipated the experience to be mutually beneficial.

‘I called upon the help of the National Trust for Scotland’s gardening students. During my time training as a gardener I spent some time training with the NTS at their School of Heritage Gardening – Threave Garden. I got in touch with them and they agreed to send up five students with two supervisors to help with the planting and gain some valuable experience.’The Scottish Estate Gardens at Aldourie Castle

The fabulous five spent three days planting and mulching in the walled garden, which was both extremely productive and fulfilling. Duncan admits they were a great bunch to work with and he hopes the Aldourie team can establish a working relationship with NTS School of Heritage Gardening for future projects on the Scottish Estate.

Walled garden can reap what it sows

Meanwhile, amongst all the ground work taking place, the long-awaited fruit cages in the walled garden have finally started to appear. This will become an additional element of the ‘exclusive use experience’ for the Castle’s private guests, one which Aldourie is intent on nurturing. As well as being able to select salad and veg from the glasshouses, guests can wander through the fruit tunnels outside to add joyously to their pickings.

More variations of vegetables have started to take root too. Some of the veg has been planted directly into the ground such as the perennial crops, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes. Aldourie will have to wait for three years before the gardening team can start to harvest the asparagus so it was important to get it in this year. Crops such as carrots and beetroot have been directly sown into the beds while others were sowed into pots in the glasshouse to get them started.

‘We have also been chitting potatoes’ says Duncan; an intriguing term we asked him to explain further: ‘This is when you lay potatoes out somewhere cool and light to encourage the tubers to sprout before planting.’

Farm to table cooking and dining

All this delicious veg in due course will be used by the Castle kitchen and transformed into nutritious, fresh dishes by our dedicated chef. Now Aldourie can really and truly consider itself a ‘farm to table’ working estate. We have bigger plans afoot for contributing further to conservation in the Highlands but this is a great starting point, being able to provide food for guests on our own land.

The farm to table movement is becoming increasingly popular up and down the UK’s hospitality sector, from Cornwall to Scotland, with local produce being used in new and imaginative ways. Take a look at our sister property Killiehuntley’s farm to table dining style.

Home grown flowers to fill the Castle

In and amongst the rigorous gardening the Aldourie team has begun to plant cut flowers for displays in the Castle and cottages. This is yet another example of the property depending on the Estate for its day to day function. The beauty of a place like Aldourie, and many private properties, is that it can easily become self-sufficient in many ways; an ethos long forgotten in these modern times.

Whereas hotel chains like large businesses buy in flowers weekly to display in communal spaces, our hospitality team can just nip down to the gardens and pick the freshest florals with no manufactured scent. Where would be your preference to stay?

Aldourie’s cut flower garden will be a wonderful asset to the private property. We anticipate having fun matching colour schemes to spaces and choosing the best fragrances. We can fill the exclusive group accommodation bathrooms and bedrooms with traditional, bold florals and choose the wilder meadow flowers for the cottages.

Gardeners section in blog

Look out for our new gardens and grounds section of the website that will sit within the existing grounds pages.

Head Gardener, Duncan, will also be appearing more regularly in the Aldourie blog, showcasing recent project work in the Castle grounds. He also hands out seasonal tips for your own garden and plants throughout 2018 – read his advice for March in our recent gardens and grounds post. For more information on exclusive use stays at Aldourie please contact the Castle’s hospitality team.


Recreating a Victorian garden in the Castle grounds

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.’

Aldourie Castle Estate woodland

‘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.

   Victorian Garden Aldourie EstateAldourie Castle garden Loch Ness

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;

Aldourie Estate castle garden

‘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.’

Aldourie Castle Estate gardeningAldourie Castle gardening team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Victorian 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 Victorian 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.

Gardens team Aldourie Castle Estate Loch Ness

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.


12 days of Christmas during a private use castle stay in Scotland  

Make yourself at home: day 1

The moment you enter the large wrought iron gates at the top of the drive you have begun your Aldourie experience. Turn down the winding drive towards the Castle, relishing luscious view across the Estate and Loch Ness. Then, park up and appreciate a friendly and relaxing Scottish welcome at the Castle door. On the first day of your private use castle stay on Loch Ness over Christmas, you may simply want to stand back and take it all in. So, don’t hesitate. The Castle is your own for a weekend or longer. So once our attentive team has shown your exclusive party to their rooms, make yourself at home in your private luxury group accommodation.private use castle stay

Each bedroom has individual charm and character, beautiful décor and either a private bathroom or en suite. If your first desire is a glass of champagne and a steaming hot bubble bath, we’ll bring up our finest bottle. Alternatively, if you prefer a guided tour of the Castle artefacts and an introduction to every public room, we can arrange that as well.

Explore your surroundings: day 2

After a day of luxury and a good night’s sleep you may wish to see the Castle grounds. This is a treat for senses during a private use castle stay over Christmas. The wintry frost-topped trees, crisp woodland floors and festive pine scents will make you believe you’re walking in a winter wonderland. Your starting point is the welly room; grab yourself a pair to fit and head out through the back door. Start with the Castle garden and then up through the arboretum to the walled garden and beyond. There’s so much to delight at Aldourie out of doors with plenty of trails, walks and cycle routes to conquer and explore.

Feast on the delights of festive Scottish cuisine: day 3

Aldourie Estate has recently undergone some renovations including a revised walled garden and rebuild of the old glasshouses. We now offer a ‘farm to table’ experience for all exclusive use parties of guests. During your exclusive use castle stay take your pick from the fresh produce growing in the walled garden from ripe festive fruits to winter herbs. Then take them to Aldourie’s private chef who will rustle up a festive lunch or snack for your Scottish castle house party.private use castle stay

Now that you’ve settled in, make day 3 the day you sit down and truly devour some traditional Scottish food. Enjoy a full Scottish breakfast, a delicious lunch and an indulgent four courses at dinner time.

Appreciate a spectacular setting of Loch Ness: day 4

Continue your Scotland cuisine experience the following day with a helping of Aldourie’s Afternoon Tea out on the castle garden terrace. Winter berries from the walled garden make delicious cakes to enjoy during your private use castle stay over the Christmas holidays. Wrap up warm in a blanket and gloves and gather your party around you. Then sit listening to the gentle Loch Ness tide and smell the fresh Highlands breeze over a warming mug of hot chocolate. Opt for the chaise longues in the Drawing Room if outside is too chilly. The views of the Loch and hills are just a spectacular from there and the fire keeps everyone toasty.

Discover Scottish Highlands’ wildlife: day 5

Not every animal hibernates during the winter months. Take inspiration from Wildlife bathroom then go find these gems in your own private 500 acre garden. If you’re lucky you may spot roe deer, hares, foxes and red squirrels. Not to mention all the birds: waxwing, robins, snow bunting, osprey and other swooping birds of prey.private use castle stay

Have a warm and cosy day of play: day 6

Stay inside today and check out all the activities and games you can plays indoors during a private use castle stay. Cocoon yourselves in the Billiards Room for a few games looking out of the window over a frosted parkland. Afterwards, why not let the children play some board games whilst the adults go into the library for an afternoon drink and a game of chess or solitaire.

Set your New Year’s resolutions: day 7

Curl up on the sofa in the Drawing Room or take a long bath. Wander around the gardens or Loch Ness shoreline for time to yourself and inspiration. Think about what it is you’d like to change or work on for 2018 and let the resolutions simply come to you in a happy, peaceful place.

Celebrate Hogmanay during a private use castle stay: day 8

It’s New Year’s Eve, so make the most of staying in a Scottish castle such as Aldourie, with its tradition and character. We can lay out a Hogmanay feast for you and your clan in the Main Hall and you can play at first footer at the Castle door.

Exercise in the parkland: day 9

It’s New Year’s Day so what better start to the year than to get out in the great outdoors and let the fresh Scottish air into your lungs and your soul. You’ll feel better for it we promise you – especially if you had a few glasses of sherry too many the night before. The hospitality team can arrange any type of group exercise activity from luxury bootcamps or yoga on the lawn to cycling all around the parkland.private use castle stay

Experience Loch Ness: day 10

If you haven’t already ventured out onto the Loch, then now is the time. You’ve only a few days left and it would be great to say back home that you spent your January out on the most famous loch in the world appreciating the views of the majestic Scottish Highlands. We can arrange boat trips to see historic castle ruins on the shoreline, canoe lessons, zorbing fun for all ages, or a spot of fishing for those wanting to continue the peace and quiet that the initial New Year brings.

Make the most of your 500 acre parkland for all the family: day 11

The Aldourie Estate is full of secret paths, winter trees and spectacular viewpoints, all wonderful to witness during a private use castle stay in Scotland. Find the hidden treehouse in the arboretum or the family graveyard for a spot of Hide and Seek. Family fun and group activities are endless, from falconry, archery and clay pigeon shooting to Segway trips and 4×4 rides along the Loch Ness shoreline.

Whisky tasting day before your last sleep in a castle: day 12

It’s likely you’ve already had the odd sample during your stay with us, especially as all our local whisky just happens to be world renowned. But for a more formal lesson in this Scottish delicacy, we can arrange a private whisky tasting here in Aldourie Castle. You may prefer to take a drive to any of the local whisky distilleries, which we would highly recommend, but in addition we can offer an exclusive experience in any of our public rooms at any time of day. Something for the memory book.private use castle stay

A traditional Scottish Castle holiday can bring so much joy for you and a house party of close friends and family over Christmas. And you will have realised that in only 12 days you can sample a little bit of everything that the Scottish Highlands is best known for. All this in one grand Castle Estate on the banks of famous Loch Ness. Let one of your New Year’s resolutions be to book your 12 days of Christmas 2018 at Aldourie Castle. And start looking forward to your private use castle stay in Scotland.