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Meet Chris Harrison – Kelburn Castle

December 5th 2019

Meet Chris Harrison, Head Gardener at Kelburn Castle. Chris has been a Gardener for 15 years and the Head Gardener at Kelburn since 2014. He previously worked as an Engineer, but his love of gardening, instilled in him from an early age, helping his mother in the garden, led him to change careers. Chris loves being outdoors and has always had the desire to be outdoors- he even recalls being in primary school where the teacher would tell him off for staring out the window, looking at the trees.

Chris is a creative person at heart and has a passion for gardening. In his words, ‘gardening is artistry.’

Chris decided to change careers at age 30 where he studied Horticulture, then Arboriculture at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and has worked at Logan Botanic Garden, Culzean Castle and Fazlane Naval Base. At Kelburn Castle, he works across all the grounds. His main projects are Plaisance (Walled Garden) looking after the herbaceous borders, specimen trees, and a small copse. He also manages the ground’s Woodlandand the Wildflower Meadow. Chris’ favourite place is the Wildflower Meadow as it attracts wildlife and is organic, as nature intended: it isn’t organised. Chris also looks after the The Old Tennis Courts area where a weeping larch sits. There are several heritage trees at Kelburn and Chris looks after them all.

You might wonder what goes on throughout the seasons at the Castle and across the grounds. In winter, they work cutting things back, such as the hedges, felling trees, clearing areas, managing fencing, machinery maintenance, raking leaves, potting on cuttings, weeding pots. The team and Chris try to spend more time in the greenhouse, protected from the elements…especially if its lashing with rain! They also work in preparing planters for spring and what they like to call Rhododendron bashing.

In the spring work begins on getting the grounds and castle ready for the busy season. Strimming, grass cutting, twin scaling, propagating bulbs, planting annuals, keep the team busy, but weeding is a huge part of the job in spring. In late spring they replant the children’s garden with lovely blue mobellia.

Summertime sees more strimming, weeding, maintaining the gardens in bloom, and take cuttings. It’s a beautiful time to visit the gardens and grounds and take in all the amazing, blooming colour.

Autumn means time to divide perennials and replant in the herbaceous borders or potting, and plant trees. It also means they can dig out herbaceous borders and redesign if wanted – a chance to get artistic!

Chris said, “Gardening is working three months in advance of what the gardens need – so, for example, we are currently preparing for Spring, planting daffodils, putting primulas out, etc.” His hope for the future at Kelburn is to encourage planting and growth of more Scottish native flowers and plants. He is also keen for more wildlife, native species, to be a part of the system and process on the Estate: letting nature take control (woodland and wildflowers) and using less weed killer. With the location of Kelburn, they benefit from the Gulf Stream ‘climate’. As a result, Chris would love to see more Chilean species, like those at Logan Botanic Garden, as they are interesting and really a colourful spectacle. They also happen to be one of Chris’ favourites! Speaking of favourites, his favourite tree is the Scot Pine- Scottish native. Glen Affric, near Inverness has many Scot Pines creating a truly ‘untouched Scotland’. Sadly, given the geography, few Scot Pines remain around Kelburn as so many were cut down for the ship building industry.

Chris is passionate about gardening and seeing to the growth and success of Kelburn Castles gardens and grounds. He most enjoys propagation, taking cuttings of plants and sowing seeds, creating new plants. If Chris could do anything at Kelburn, he’d add an ‘Australian area’ to the Estate as well as a wind break of trees to protect the grounds from the harsh coastal winds.

Chris’ piece of advice: There’s so much living in the soil. Don’t forget to look after it!