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.


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.