Remembering Past Gardeners

November 15, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog 9 Comments

It seems as though Autumn will be a brief affair this year. After a few short but beautiful weeks, the first frosts have stripped many of our trees of their autumnal finery leaving their craggy skeletons exposed. The cold weather seems to bring flocks of hungry birds into the garden, working their way through our beds and borders. We always try to leave something for the birds, the apples on the highest branches just out of our reach, or the last few sunflower head studded with seeds provide a valuable food source for birds. If you want wildlife in your garden, try not to be too tidy or efficient in clearing away!

Our wonderful dahlias have been happily flowering away right up until the last moment but we can’t hold off any longer and the time has come to gently ease their swollen tubers from the soil and store them for the winter. Cut the stems down to a couple of inches and then lever them out of the ground, being careful not to damage the tubers. Shake off any excess soil but there’s no need to remove it all, I find it actually protects the tubers over the winter. We put ours upside down in the greenhouse for a few days to dry them off and then pack them away in a cool, dark, frost-free shed.  If you’re very brave you can leave them out in the garden over winter, cover them with a thick layer of leaf mould and fleece and cross your fingers! If they make it through you will be rewarded with larger plants and an earlier display of flowers.

It’s not too late to plant bulbs, you can often find bargains in garden centres during November and December as they sell off their stock. We just finished planting 23,000 crocus, muscari, tulips and daffodils throughout the garden, so the display next spring should be better that ever!

Leeks, cabbages, kale and chard are all regularly being taken into the kitchens at this time of year. The brussels sprouts are looking good but we try not to pick any until December to be sure we have plenty for Christmas. Surprisingly many salad leaves will stand up to the frost and they look lovely fringed with ice crystals sparkling in the morning sunshine, don’t crop them too quickly though as they’re very slow to regrow through the winter.

As soon as the leaves have fallen from our fruit trees, winter pruning starts in earnest. Although this can be done any time between November and March we have to start early because we have so many, well over 500 at the last count! It’s a repetitive and time-consuming job but I enjoy the gentle rhythm of cutting and tying in branches and there’s plenty of time to think as you prune. I often wonder how many generations of gardeners have tended to these trees over the last 200 years, snipping away, listening out for the chimes of Bellie church in Fochabers, heralding a well-earned cup of tea and break from the cold.

In its heyday 40 gardeners toiled away in and around the Walled Garden, today we have just 5 (plus a small but invaluable team of volunteers). In the latter half of the 19th century, under the supervision of Head Gardener John Webster, the walled garden was known as one of the finest in Britain. The Gardener’s Chronicle gave the following description of the garden: ‘Having long been famous for the abundance and high quality of the fruits they produce; and even in untoward seasons, when the majority of orchards and gardens display poor crops of fruit, Mr. Webster can show many varieties in abundance. The same fruitful feature may be observed in the vineries and other glass structures, which are fully stored with the fruits, flowers and plants in demand in the ducal establishment’.

John Webster’s son took over as head gardener in 1890, and his grandson was apprenticed in the garden but tragically was killed in action at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. Dozens of young men from the Gordon Castle estate lost their lives during the First World War, including Lord Bernard Gordon Lennox, leading to crippling death duties that eventually led to the sad decline of the estate and walled garden.

I like to think that the walls still hold the memories of those who built and cared for the garden through the years and perhaps one day the walled garden will regain its reputation for ‘the abundance and high quality’ of the fruits we produce.

Getting Ready For Winter

October 16, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog, Gardening advice No Comments

Garden Cottage Gordon Castle

One of the most common questions we get asked at this time of year is ‘what do you do in the winter?’ The seasoned gardeners amongst you will chuckle at this question because really winter is when the hard work begins in the garden. For the next month or so all our efforts will go into stripping out most of our plants and putting the garden to bed before the serious business of cultivation begins. Our borders and cut flower beds have turned a buff brown colour as the plants have exhausted themselves from the exertions of the summer months. Trailer after trailer of dead plant material will be taken out of the garden and piled onto steaming compost heaps ready to break down and form the ‘black gold’ that will feed the soil and nourish our garden next season.

We always take the opportunity in October to gather the last few flower stems and hang them up for drying. If you choose the right varieties you can have colourful flowers to brighten up your home (or potting shed) right through the winter. Roses, larkspur, sea holly, lavender and cornflower are all suitable flowers for drying but seed heads and thistles such as nigella, poppies and teasels can look great too. All you have to do cut them just as the flowers are opening and hang them in a cool well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight such as a garage or garden shed. Dried flowers can make fantastic and long-lasting autumnal wreaths, we like to add rose hips, crab apples and even chillies.

As the weather cools and the grass stops growing, our landscape gardeners, Davie and Mark, return to the arduous task of building the garden. Putting their skills to good use laying bricks, building paths, installing posts and rails for our fruit trees and making plant supports. Early on in the project we made the decision not to use contractors for the construction of the garden, we build everything ourselves, even down to the benches and planters. It’s a slow process, we’ve been going for over four years now and there’s at least another years’ work to do, but it means we know every inch of the garden and we can set very high standards. When they’ve finished Davie and Mark will have laid over 48,000 bricks and 2.4km of paths!

With Halloween approaching our crop of Pumpkins has started to appear as their foliage dies down, and its been the best crop we’ve ever had. We grow 11 different varieties from the tiny ‘Jack B Little’ through to the enormous ‘Atlantic Giant’, they make great soups and curries, not to mention pumpkin pie! We start to harvest the first of the winter vegetables during October, its been a great year for leeks and as soon as we’ve had a frost or two we’ll dig a few parsnips and cut a few sprouts. Its all about rationing for the next few months, we’ll not see any new shoots in the garden until next march when the purple sprouting broccoli comes back to life, so we have to pace ourselves if we’re to keep the café in fresh veg through the winter.

Now is the time to dig the last of the tatties. Choose a dry sunny day if you can, lift the tubers and leave them on the ground to dry and the skins to set for a day or so before packing them into paper bags and storing them somewhere cool and dark. Take your time to lift every tuber, being careful not to leave them any in the ground, the last thing you want it a potato plant pushing its way up through a neat row of carrots next season! Potatoes should last for months if stored properly and checked regularly and the longer they’re stored, the sweeter they become as their starches turn to sugars through the winter.

The first skeins of geese have stared to grace the skies over the garden, for me this is a sure sign that autumn it truly upon us. Our apricot trees have turned a beautiful buttery yellow, the beech trees surrounding the lake to the west of the walled garden will soon be a riot of gold and burnt orange and we’re hoping our cherry orchard will add a flash of red and scarlet to the show. Autumn is a great opportunity to take a well-deserved break from the cycle of sowing, weeding and harvesting, so get out into the garden and enjoy the crisp clear mornings before the light goes and the hard graft of the winter begins!

How to make dried flower wreaths

October 3, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog, Gardening advice No Comments

Dried Flower Wreath Tutorial

If you love the season – but don’t love the garish costumes, pumpkin pie and screaming children that tend to accompany it – then our dried flower wreaths are for you. Plus, it’s not October specific – we have ours on show all year round!

To make our dried flower wreath you will need:

  1. Secateurs or sharp scissors
  2. Jute string or florists wire
  3. A rattan wreath base (ours are 16 inch rattan bases from Hobbycraft)
  4. A selection of dried flowers

The method:

Making a wreath is much more simple than it looks. We use pre-made wreath bases to speed up the process but you can make your own from willow, birch or hazel branches twisted together and held with florist’s wire.

Choose a selection of dried flowers, often just 3 or 4 different types of flower and foliage look better than lots and lots. Always leave 2 – 3 inches of stem on the flowers and simply push them into the wreath, one type at a time, working your way round the wreath.

We find it is best to start off with foliage and larger flowers first and leave smaller flowers until the end.

Dried fruit can be really effective or even nuts and berries but beware the birds may help themselves if you hang the wreath outside!

Don’t feel you have to cover every inch of the Wreath with flowers, you need a surprising amount of flowers to do this and often just a few flowers can look just as effective. If you feel the flowers are not secure on the wreath you can tie them in using string or peg them with florists wire. One of the benefits of dried flower wreaths is that they will last many months inside or out!

Some of the dried flowers we use are:

  1. Craspedia globose
  2. Lagurus ovatus
  3. Salvia horminum
  4. Hordium jubatum
  5. Cornflower
  6. Larkspur
  7. Eryngium giganteum
  8. Nigella seed pods
  9. Daucus carota
  10. Ammi majus
  11. Cardoon and globe artichoke
  12. Orlaya grandiflora
  13. Teasel (don’t go near these with a fluffy jumper!)

To dry our cut flowers we try to cut them just before the flowers are fully open, they are much more likely to retain their colour and petals this way.

Cut them with the stems as long as possible to make them easier to hang.

Hang the flowers upside down in small bunches (only 6-8 stems) in a cool dry place with good airflow and out of direct sunlight. Bright light bleaches the colour out. We don’t recommend using a greenhouse, the flowers seem to be more prone to rotting in that environment. We string them up in the rafters of our greenhouse.

It often takes 2-4 weeks for flowers to fully dry out. It’s well worth experimenting with different species to see what works best.

We would LOVE to see how you get on so please tag us on our Facebook or Instagram page.

Fruitful September

September 21, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog No Comments

The weather has changed and it seems that the end of the growing season is almost upon us, and what a season its been, I can’t remember a hotter summer with highs of 28C! The garden has been its most beautiful to date, attracting visits from The English Garden Magazine, Gardens Illustrated and Scottish Field.

It’s also been our most productive year yet in the Walled Garden. We’ve had bumper crops of potatoes, beans, peas and carrots, not to mention the hundreds of pumpkins and squashes sprawling out of the beds and onto the paths around our pear arches. The fine weather has been a mixed blessing, we’ve had about enough of watering and moving sprinklers around the garden, higher temperatures have brought more pests and diseases into the garden and our leafy crops such as spinach and swiss chard have been more prone to bolting.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden Heritage Vegetables

Well, it all came to an end this week with driving rain and gales, bringing down our runner bean wigwams and flattening many of our poor sweet peas. By the end of September I always start itching to get on and clear the beds ready for winter cultivation, the damage caused by storm ‘Ali’ gives me an excuse to start early.

It’s been a good year for fruit as well as vegetables. Whilst our apricot crop was slightly down on last year, we had a bumper crop of plums and apples. Of the 600 kilos of plums we picked this year most went direct to garden visitors but we always save a couple of hundred kilos for our delicious plum gin, and a batch always goes off to Baxter’s for bottling. So far we’ve picked and stored about 1500kg of apples, the bulk of which go into our cider but look out for warming pies and crumbles in the café this winter.

There’s still plenty to see in the garden, most of our cut flowers, especially the dahlias will go on blooming until the first proper frosts and the vegetable beds are still very productive. Very soon the fruit trees will start to show some autumn colour, starting with the apricots on the south wall. We’re hoping the new cherry orchard will give us a great display of fiery red leaves and the huge old beech trees surrounding the garden always look golden and magnificent in the low autumn sun.

If you’ve not managed to get to the garden this summer it’ll be well worth coming to our Garden Market event on Saturday the 29th of September. With music, street food, market stalls and plenty of entertainment it should be a great day and a chance to see the Walled Garden for just £3 per person and it’s free from kids under 16.

Garden Market 2018

Flowers For The Future

August 10, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog 2 Comments

I walked into a florists the other day to show them an example bouquet that we had grown from our cut flower selection in the hope that they would consider using our Scottish cut flowers.

Greeted with a perplexed expression, I explained who I was, how we were local and the reason for my visit. The florist said she was aware of us and had used us occasionally before but our flowers weren’t perfect. She pointed at the bouquet in my hand and said “and, they can contain little beasties like that”, pointing at a tiny fly on the dahlia. She continued, explaining that all of their flowers were first grade from Holland. I could have droned on about the air miles, pesticide use and declining numbers of wildlife but I chose not to. This particular florist wasn’t interested in how they got to her shop – they just had to be perfect.

Sometimes I think we forget about the purpose of flowers. Their primary focus is to reproduce to make pollen which is eaten by insects and in turn by birds, small mammals and so on; the food chain begins. They are not – contrary to popular belief – solely there to make perfectly formed, insect free bridal bouquets. They are beautiful and unruly, just as nature intended.

This encounter left me feeling disheartened, did everyone feel this way? I did some research and found that a staggering 70% of cut flowers are imported from overseas. As the flowers are not ingested, overseas producers are not regulated to the same extent, impacting heavily on pollution, habitat loss and declining numbers of wildlife.

So what can we do? We can work together – whether you are a florist looking to buy local, a bride looking to do DIY arrangements or a flower grower looking to sell, join our Facebook group #flowersforthefuture. The group aims to connect Scottish growers and florists to benefit the future of the industry and the ecosystem. The project will begin on Facebook but hopes to grow into regular meetings and workshops. The notion that Scottish flowers aren’t as perfect as their artificially grown counterparts in Holland is a preconception that the initiative seeks to challenge. Let’s start a discussion and change perceptions.

And what’s growing at Gordon Castle Walled Garden just now? Download the full list or read the summary below.

August and September are colourful months in the walled garden, not least because our four huge cut flower beds are in full bloom. We grow over 50 varieties of cut flower from seed and this year we’ve added in a selection of roses and herbaceous perennials.

Each of the beds has a name and colour theme; ‘Golden Peat’ is a mixture of hot shades and contrasting darker colours, ‘Glowing Heather’ is predominantly soft pinks and purples, ‘Icy Glen’ is our white bed interspersed with greens, and ‘Scotch Thistle’ is based around cooler blues and purples.

The planting combinations are carefully designed around complimentary and contrasting shades and textures making them not only very productive but also beautiful right through the summer. Some of my favourite combinations are the wonderful Dahlia ‘Purple Haze’ with its subtly striped purple petals growing through larkspur ‘Fancy Purple Pictoee’, or the vibrant pin-cushion flowers of Scabious ‘Summer Fruits’ surrounded by Nicotiana mutabalis and the striking Dahlia ‘Vassio Meggos’.

Our beds are incredibly productive at this time of year, packed full of Cosmos, Cornflower, Nigella, Gladioli, Salvia, Delphinium, Didiscus, Ammi, Helianthus, Gypsophila and many more varieties providing us with thousands of flowers to decorate the castle and café. We grow about 50 metres of sweet peas each year, six varieties of all different colours, all scented and chosen for their quality as cut flowers. We also grow plants for their foliage such as the vibrant green Bupleurum rotundifolium and Moluccella laevis.

Four Years On

July 6, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog No Comments

It’s our fourth birthday this Saturday (7th July) and we cannot believe what has been achieved in such a short space of time. In just four years the eight-acre site has gone from a barren field to a beautiful, tranquil space for locals and visitors alike.

The 15th century plot has been painstakingly restored and we now have a cafe, a shop and a luxury brand. The cafe uses a Plant Pick Plate ethos which means that we create our dishes using garden-grown produce and strive to source all other ingredients locally. The £1.2 million restoration of the Walled Garden has resulted in the employment of 65 local staff, part time and full time, who have all taken the ongoing project into their hearts.

We’ve gone from this…

To this…. (click image to play video!) 

 

If you’re local pop by, we’re having a big party from 12-4 with food, games and gin (naturally). 🙌🍸 Party aside, we can’t quite believe how far we’ve come in such a short space of time. There are now over a million bricks in the walls, 30,000 in the paths and over 350 varieties (not plants, individual varieties!) of fruits, vegetables, cut flowers and herbs. We plant 15,000 new plants from seed every year.

Team work makes the dream work

This incredible eight-acre project has been managed by just five full time gardeners and our very valuable team of volunteers. If this is what we’ve achieved in four years we are SO excited to see what another four can do. There’s one other very important person we must thank for allowing the garden to be brought back to what it is today. Willie Robertson joined the team in 1948, aged fourteen and remained as head gardener until 2015. After spending 67 years working in the garden and tending to the soft fruit and espaliered trees, Willie is as much a part of the garden as the walls themselves. Willie tended to the trees when the garden was put into commercial hibernation prior to 2014 and, living locally, he still comes down to keeps a watchful eye over developments in a place that he has tended most of his adult life.

The biggest thank you goes to…

Last but by no means least, Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox (owners of Gordon Castle) took over the running of the estate from Angus’ parents in 2008 with a vision to transform, diversify and breathe life back into a traditional Scottish sporting estate. In this time the estate as a whole has gone from strength to strength on an almost entirely self-funded basis. No two have worked harder to make this project a roaring success and you will often find them both in the garden weeding, mowing and planting.

 

Heritage Vegetables

June 25, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog, Gardening advice 2 Comments

Today we have a blog written by our gardener Liz who joined the team last summer.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden Heritage Vegetables

At Gordon Castle Walled Garden we have decided to try growing a variety of heritage or heirloom vegetables.  The definition of heritage/heirloom is a plant that has been in cultivation for 50 years or more.  Some people insist that 100 years is the magic number.  Whichever is correct, modern agriculture really came into its own in 1945, following World War 2.  Nowadays, as well as the Walled Garden, there are many people who have allotments of their own and take great pleasure in growing their own vegetables.

So, some of the vegetables we have decided to grow are: brussel sprouts – Evesham Special, beetroot – Mr. Crosby’s Egyptian, cauliflower – Dwarf Efurt (sometimes known as snowball) celeriac – Giant Prague, Musselburgh leeks, and peas – Kelvedon Wonder.  There are lots more we are trying, the list could go on for ever.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden Heritage Vegetables

Today I sowed some of the beetroot and celeriac.  Sown into modules of 104, watered from the bottom, then put into the sunken greenhouse until they germinate.  Once hardened off, they will be planted and left to mature, tended to by our team of gardeners until harvest is ready.  There’s something so lovely about going to the garden to harvest fresh vegetables for your evening meal.  We take great pride in providing delicious Scottish produce for the café – and the chefs love it too!

Gordon Castle Walled Garden Heritage Vegetables

Once we’ve supplied the cafe with vegetables, we’ll sell any extra in the shop.  The shop is open seven days a week.

We grow tomatoes in our greenhouses.  Ailsa Craig – a very hardy Scottish variety, among many other varieties.  A variety of potatoes, also called Ailsa Craig……another heritage vegetable.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden Heritage Vegetables

The pleasure this gives me cannot be put into words.  I would not change my job for the world.

Liz

June Garden Update

June 14, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog, Gardening advice 2 Comments

What a glorious start to the growing season we’ve had this year! After what seemed like a never-ending winter, the current spell of fine weather has been a real blessing allowing us to get a head start in the garden. We’ve been flat out all month planting over 10,000 vegetable, flower and herb plants, our beds and borders are really starting to fill up. Its been the hottest and driest May on record and keeping the garden watered has been hard going, but we’re all set for a really good growing season.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden Salad

Our tulips have been magnificent this year, flowering right through May, the delicate pink ‘Angelique’ and frilly purple ‘Labrador’ were the favourites with visitors and flower arrangers. The cut flower beds are just coming into bloom with our summer flowering annuals and perennials, the calendula and cornflower are the first to show some colour but there are over 50 other species hot on their heels. We sell freshly cut flowers every day in our shop and we can also cut to order, so please get in touch for more information.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden

Our apples, plums and apricots gave a lovely but short-lived display of blossom and it looks as though we’re in for a good crop. The dry weather often makes them drop their fruit in June but with well over 350 trees there should still be plenty for our chefs and visitors to enjoy later in the season.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden

The asparagus was particularly good this year, we harvested almost 50kg of spears through April and May. Salad leaves, sugar-snaps, mange tout, beetroot and carrots are busily being cropped from the vegetable beds and whisked straight to the kitchens for our chefs to work their magic on. If you’d like a taste of the walled garden at home, we’re selling the best of our vegetables from the lean-to next to our potting through the summer, so drop in to try the freshest fruit and vegetables in Scotland!

Gordon Castle Walled Garden Asparagus

The building work continues in the walled garden with the development of the area around Garden Cottage at the centre of the south facing wall. We’ve taken out the box hedge and re-homed it next to the lovely iron gate in the east wall. We’re replacing it with elms posts and rails for trained step-over apples and there will be two small lawns and a patio to frame the cottage, giving our guests somewhere to enjoy the view of the garden and perhaps a G&T after a hard days fishing!

Gordon Castle Walled Garden

Many thanks to everyone who attended the Highland Games, especially those who visited our plant stall, it was a fantastic day. The games support the whole estate and all the money raised from selling plants will go straight back into the garden restoration project.

There’s so much going on in the garden at this time of year, our tomatoes and cucumbers are growing at a rate of knots, we’re growing lots more edible flowers and heritage vegetables out in the veg plots this year and we’ve got a large selection of chillies just starting to flower and fruit in our greenhouses. If you’re a keen gardener, a lover of good food or are just looking for peaceful walk in beautiful surroundings, please do come and visit the Walled Garden this summer, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed! Thanks, Ed.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden

Top Tips For Growing Sweet Peas

June 5, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog, Gardening advice No Comments

Every summer our sweet peas provide us with such a beautiful and fragrant display, never failing to impress right to the end of the season.

We’ve been working with The English Garden Magazine to deliver some top gardening tips throughout the season. Taken back in April, the garden looks worlds apart from what it does here but don’t worry you can still plant sweet peas in June. Enjoy!

Is there anything specific you would love to learn or any top gardening tips you would benefit from? Just pop your comments below.

Volunteer Week

April 11, 2018By Gordon CastleBlog, Uncategorized No Comments

This week we are celebrating all the help we get from our wonderful volunteers in our beautiful Walled Garden!

Throughout the years we’ve had many people volunteer time helping develop the garden to its full potential and we are ever so grateful of all who come to lend a hand. We are proud to support the WWOOF program where volunteers can experience a wide range of opportunities all across the world on organic farms. We have welcomed a number or volunteers throughout the years through this program and have seen a real positive effect to the garden because of them. Check out our short video below where we interviewed two volunteers from Brazil last winter.

As well as working with the WWOOF program, many of our volunteers come from the local area, keen to help us complete this historic project. One of our regulars, Margaret has been with us for over four years now.We managed to steal a second of Margaret’s precious time to ask about her volunteering experience.

“I started volunteering at the beginning of the restoration of the Walled Garden and just love seeing the progress that has been made. I’ve learnt so much about gardening from planting to growing apricots and step over apples. It’s a real team effort and we all work hard – it’s kept me fit during my retirement that’s for sure! My favourite part of the garden would have to be the amphitheatre. It’s such a unique addition, especially for this area, and it’s so lovely to see the families gather in summer when we have outdoor theatre performances. This year will see lots of progression in the garden and I can’t wait to be a part of that.”

We too are a fan of our outdoor performances and with over five lines up including Pride and Prejudice, Dr Dolittle and The Midnight Gang it will be a jammed packed schedule. Find out more details here.

Volunteers at Gordon Castle Walled Garden

We love to get our volunteers involved with as wide a range of jobs in the garden as possible. You can expect to do everything from weeding, seed sowing and planting out to harvesting, cutting, arranging and drying flowers and decorating the café and shop. We’re always happy to teach volunteers about what we are doing so no previous gardening experience is necessary. We take volunteers Monday to Friday from 10am-4pm and are very flexible as to when and how long you would want to work. We also offer a free friends of the Walled Garden membership, a bowl of soup for lunch and free garden produce depending on what is available to all our volunteers.

We truly appreciate all the help we get as it is invaluable to the garden and to our business. As a big thank you we are hosting our 4th birthday garden party on the 7th July to celebrate all our volunteers, staff and their families. There will be live music, a bbq and lots of craft cider to enjoy. You are all invited!

If you would like to volunteer in the garden, we would love to hear from you! Please send your CV and details to info@gordoncastlescotland.com.