24 October 2019
Gordon Castle Walled Garden
My very first gardening experiences were in a kitchen garden. I followed my grandfather as he tended to his vegetable beds and fruit frames, enjoying the feeling of being helpful. Kitchen gardens have always been an important feature in my garden designs. They link the house and the garden beautifully, giving the ornamental areas a productive, beating heart. Perhaps what I like most about kitchen gardens though is that they require skill and patience in equal measure and above all, they need to be actively gardened.
It was with some excitement then that I agreed to meet Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox back in 2010 to discuss their ambitious plans to restore the eight-acre walled garden at Gordon Castle in Moray, North East Scotland. The garden had once supplied all the fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house and we immediately starting talking about ideas for how we could plan a garden to provide year-round fresh seasonal produce for an on-site restaurant, farm shop and a range of Gordon Castle products. First plans were drafted in 2011 and we signed off the masterplan five years ago in 2014.
As with all my clients, we worked collaboratively with Angus and Zara on the plans for the garden, incorporating their ideas and ensuring that each area worked individually and as part of the whole. The site was a blank canvas except for the incredible collection of original espaliered fruit trees lining the walls, and the original glass houses, potting sheds and boiler houses. All the fruit trees have been lovingly tended throughout the garden's life so these of course remain a key feature. The buildings were incorporated into the new design but everything else has been designed and built from scratch.
Rather than recreate the garden as it would have originally laid out, we wanted to bring it all up to date, using the space to draw people around, giving them ideas for their own gardens and providing lots of year-round interest and produce. We agreed that patternation was really important for bringing the different parts of the garden together and so we started with a list of essential elements, such as the cut flower borders and the lavender ribbons, and worked on repeating patterns throughout the design. The main thing we've done to bring this garden up to date and give it a much more contemporary feel is to move away from the traditional four bed scheme and create lots of smaller sections with specific roles within the whole design. We kept the border dimensions that run from Garden Cottage but have completely re-designed the rest of the space. The patterns give it a cohesive feel and bring it all together but each sub-garden works well in its own right.
This garden is the centrepiece of a long-term plan to breathe new life into Gordon Castle. Angus and Zara have worked incredibly hard to sympathetically restore the castle and were committed to doing the same for the garden from the outset. The masterplan was always intended to be a guide for Angus and Zara to use to build the garden gradually, naturally over time. They were keen to involve the local community in its restoration and local volunteers have always been key members of the garden team there.
What I loved about this project was that the design was completely dependent on plants. Apart from the paths and the plant and tree supports, there is very little hard landscaping. Instead we have used fun planted structures, including a mown maze and raised wildflower pollinator ribbons, to draw people around the garden and ensure there is interest across the whole site.
What has been truly special about this project is that from the very beginning both Angus and Zara have been completely committed to it, physically involved in double digging, removing rubble and stones, planting, weeding, harvesting. They have been incredibly hands on, working hard to create a beautiful garden they can be very proud of. We're enjoying seeing our design slowly emerge and it's wonderful to be able to view it from above to see how the vision is becoming a reality.
Words: Arne Maynard
Photographs: Courtesy of Gordon Castle Walled Garden
For information about Gordon Castle's exclusive range of products, visit the Gordon Castle Scotland website here.