Today is dry and sunny with a hint of a breeze as I turn into Gordon Castle. What a lovely surprise to glide up the newly tarred road to the gardens to meet up with Ed Bollom, the head-gardener during what is the busiest time in the gardening year.

The greenhouses are filled with trays of flowers, herbs and vegetable plants sown earlier, potted on and now ready to be planted out. Today is brassica and pea planting day for the gardeners and willing volunteers. As they work with the sun on their backs there is a hum of friendly banter as row upon row of leafy green appears in the rich earth.
Nearby, freshly planted hardy annual flowers for cutting such as salvias, aquilegia, calendula and cornflowers promise vibrant colour in a few weeks time.

Two new yew hedges encircle the blossoming cherry orchard and new topiary beech trees in the centre of the garden will soon be speckled with delicate green leaves as they shed their dowdy brown autumnal coat and dress once more in the bright green of spring.

Already tulips in tubs and beds fill the garden with early colour, soft pink, bright lemon, darker pink and fiery orange. Here I must say a big thank you those who braved the cold a few months ago to plant those bulbs: 2000 in total!! The striking new pergola and hops maypole stand erect facing one another across the soft fruits garden, and raspberry canes, peppered with delicate green, shelter the recent step over gooseberry bushes which stand out vividly green against the paler leaves above. Round each garden gateway and in front of the iconic ‘Gardeners cottage’ climbing roses like soft pink Rosa Albertine and creamy white Claire Austin promise a subtle frame of fragrant flowers in the months ahead. Other rose bushes such as Queen of Sweden are growing in the greenhouse to protect their blooms to add to the bouquets of freshly cut garden flowers for which Gordon Castle is renowned.

And all the time there is the weeding!!
Like painting the Forth Railway bridge; an endless task!!

The large collection of heritage and modern apples has been augmented with four more eating varieties planted as step over trees. One in particular originated in this very garden. Called Beauty of Moray it was propagated by John Webster who became head gardener in1850 living with his family in the Gardener’s Cottage. He died in 1890 after forty years in charge of the gardens and policies, with a brigade of 40 gardeners under his management!
The obituary to him in the Moray and Nairn Express reads – ‘As a gardener he excelled and was looked upon as an authority in horticulture; he was adept at the art of rearing new trees for seed and the excellent Beauty of Moray apple was his propagation.’ He was succeeded as head gardener by his son Charles. The fragrant blossom on the espalier fruit trees stands out brightly against the red sandstone background while the smaller step over trees are illuminated by a carpet of blue and white anemones beneath.

In between times wild flower seeds have been sown and a plot of heritage vegetables is taking shape planted and tended by gardener and heritage enthusiast Liz Allan. Nine varieties of salad are already growing in the garden little gem, bright red lollo rosso, fiery salad mix, mild mix and more besides. Those fresh leaves will soon be ready for the Cafe which re-opens on Wednesday 28th April from 11am till 4pm Wednesday to Sunday. A freshly prepared menu uses seasonal garden and local produce. The café will offer light lunches and afternoon teas. Please book to be served indoors in the café and outside lean to covered dining area where it will be table service only. Carry out home-bakes and coffees are available to enjoy at the patio tables and in the gardens for those who care to arrive on spec! Social distancing and masks are required. Families and special diets are all catered for by Roz and her friendly staff. The shop will also re-open and there is also a chance to buy to grow your own vegetables, herbs and flowers, pick up your seedlings at the Potting Shed on your way home.

To celebrate the opening I have created a cake reminiscent of the light flavours of spring and early summer.

Makes a 20cm (8in) square tin
200g (7oz) crème fraiche
3 eggs – beaten
Zest and juice of two medium oranges
325g (11oz) self raising flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
175g (6oz) soft butter
140g (5oz) caster sugar
45g (1 ½ oz) golden syrup or honey
2 tablespoons lemon curd
2 tablespoons orange juice
Mixed with 3 tablespoons icing sugar

Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan) 350F, Gas 4. Oil and line a square baking tin. Whisk together the crème fraiche, eggs, and 60mls (2floz) orange juice. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Beat the butter, sugar and syrup or honey in a bowl till light and fluffy, beat in two thirds of the orange zest. Gradually stir in the crème fraiche mixture along with the flour. Spread half the mix evenly over the base of the tin. Spread the lemon curd over this and then spread the remainder of the mix on top. Smooth the top with the palm of your hand dipped in a little warm water. This will help prevent the cake rising to a peak in the middle. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to 160C (140C fan) 325F, Gas 3 for a further 20 to 25 minutes till the cake is risen and firm and the point of a skewer inserted in the middle comes out cleanly. Cool in the tin. Mix the glaze ingredients and pour over the cake while it is warm. Cool completely in the tin. Serve cut into thick slices decorated with fresh orange zest.

Guest blog by Liz Ashworth – Thank you Liz


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