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Scottish Garden of the Season – Crathes Castle Gardens

September 1st 2017

The Walled Garden dates from the 17th century when the kitchen garden it protected would have been essential to provide for the needs of the Castle household. The oldest yew topiaries in the garden date from the early 1700’s with additional yew and holly hedge plantings during the 19th century. At this time the kitchen garden production was focused on the lower level while the upper garden terraces were laid out with formal ornamental displays. Sir James and Lady Sybil Burnett continued the development of the gardens from 1926. Sir James had a specialist interest in ornamental plants especially rare trees and shrubs, while Lady Sybil implemented her skills in design and colour coordination to create themed herbaceous borders and garden compartments. It was their great ability to develop and enhance the already mature framework of the gardens which has left such a notable legacy for the future. The Castle and Gardens came into the care of the National Trust for Scotland in 1952 and development has continued since that time, including the addition of the Golden Garden in 1973 and the Red Garden in 1978.

There are eight individual gardens contained within the 1.52 hectares (3.75 acres) of the walled garden at Crathes. The garden and inner policies are managed by a permanent staff of a Head gardener plus four full time staff. Seasonal staff and a large team of volunteers make up the rest of the contingent.

The current focus of the gardens is the preservation of the ethos and style of the garden, as well as developing the plant collections. We work closely with Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh and other Botanic gardens as an ex-situ plant collection of difficult to grow plants. Conservation is a key directive of the whole estate – and this includes the extensive tree collections held within the many arboreta on then estate. Crathes is developing its collections to encompass 3 major National Collections such as Sorbus, Abies and Viburnum.

A Garden Tour.

Starting from the entrance, a typical tour would view the Upper White Borders and the ancient “Portugal Laurel” Prunus lusitanica which is the focal point at the centre of the lower garden. The tour would pass along the Blue and Pink Border to the Aviary Terrace, then up steps on to the Croquet Lawn where the famous “Egg and Egg Cup” topiaries which date from the early 18th century can be viewed. On to the top level into the Upper Pool Garden, then down to the middle terrace and in to the Fountain Garden and Rose Garden. These gardens are framed by the expansive yew hedges dating from the early 19th century, some of which have been cut back to encourage regeneration as part of a long term restoration project. Back into the lower garden and down by the Four Squares, along the front of the glasshouses which were originally sited here in 1896. In passing, to the south the Camel Garden, Double Herbaceous Borders and Trough Garden can be viewed. The tour would continue along the Doocot Border, once again viewing the Lower White Borders to the focal point of the Doocot (Dovecot) within the Doocote Enclosure, which was moved to this site in 1937. Here there is a stunning view up the axis of the June Borders to the Castle. Then on past the Red Garden, Double Shrub Border and in to the Golden Garden as a dramatic finale.

Many of the themed “garden rooms” work along the same principals of the famous southern gardens such as Hidcote and Sissinghurst using the structure and palette of the plants to express the Arts and Crafts style of planting so loved of William Robinson.

Crathes has been described as the Sissinghurst of the North. Recent archive work has shown strong links between the Burnett’s and some of the great gardening families such as the Messell’s of Nymans.

It is the work of the garden team to maintain and develop these principals to keep the spirit of place alive in to the future.

We look forward to welcoming you to Crathes.