The old pond –
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.
Part of the magic of Scotland comes from its wonderful gardens & parks and we’ve already discovered a number of them, from magnificent parks surrounding old castles and palaces to more intimate gardens once belonging to writers, artists or other famous people. As we’ve just come back from our last trip there with many new pictures and unforgettable memories of these enchanting places we’ve decided to share them with you in a new series devoted to Scottish gardens and parks. But there was not much blue sky to give a lovely background to the gorgeous colours of the rhododendrons and azaleas and vegetation seemed to be rather late this year after a persistent bad weather in May.
Here’s the list of the gardens we’ve visited or revisited in May and June 2015:
- The Biblical Garden in Elgin
- Blair Castle Gardens
- Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park
- Brodie Castle
- Broughton House
- Castle Fraser Garden & Estate
- Craigievar Castle
- Culross Palace and Garden
- Drum Castle
- Drummond Castle Gardens
- Fyvie Castle Garden & Estate
- Castle Kennedy Gardens
- Holyrood Palace
- Leith Hall
- Mount Stuart
- Scone Palace Gardens
- Threave Gardens
“Kenneth Cox is a renowned plant-hunter and writer and he has led many expeditions to Tibet and India, discovering and introducing new rhododendron species. He also owns and runs the Cox family garden centre and nursery at Glendoick in Perthshire where he has created many popular rhododendron and azalea hybrids.
Ray Cox is a professional garden and plant photographer. His work has been published in a wide range of magazines, newspapers, books, websites, calendars and greeting cards in the UK, Europe, US and Asia.”
(Scotland for Gardeners – Kenneth Cox – Birlinn 2009)
My old edition of Scotland for Gardeners is open on my desk as it is always the case when I want to learn more about Scottish Gardens. Following in the steps of his father and grandfather, Kenneth Cox is a worthy descendant of generations of Scottish botanists and plant hunters.
Kennedy Castle Gardens is a wonderful place and one of our favourite Scottish gardens. That is why we’ve chosen it to begin our new series about the magnificent gardens of Scotland. Situated in the South West of Scotland, three miles of Stranraer, Castle Kennedy Gardens look like a garden of Eden, especially when the rhododendrons are in full bloom. We would have like to stay there from dawn to dusk. No wonder if, in 2004, we got locked inside after closing time! Last June, when we visited the gardens, the weather was not bad but the sky remained desperately white with sometimes a few clouds…
What a pity we’ve missed a guided visit with John MacArthur, Head Gardener in Castle Kennedy Gardens. We didn’t know there was one! Next time we’ll join the visit for, to be sure, there will be a “next time”;-) Anyway, I’ve subscribed to the Gardens mailing list ;-). At least it will give me an idea of the passing of the seasons in these wonderful gardens.
The map one can see on a panel at the entrance of Castle Kennedy Gardens is very helpful to understand what makes them quite unique. These 75 acres gardens lie on a narrow strip of land between two natural lochs, the White Loch and the Black Loch linked by a long canal lined with exotic plants and rare species.
This enchanting place offers to its visitors no less than two castles, a lovely walled garden, an impressive lily pond, a grassy terraced garden, large avenues lined by a profusion of rare trees and colourful plants. We arrived at 10.00 am at the entrance gate and lingered quite a long time in the gardens, enjoying very much the beauty and peaceful atmosphere of the place…
This is a garden well worth visiting at any time: in spring for the rhododendrons, in summer for the walled garden and the enormous Eucryphia and at any time just to enjoy the scale of the landscape, the setting and the fine trees. You can easily wear out your children running around it all, though you may take a while to find them again in the undergrowth. It will surprise you to know that it is all looked after by only two super-human gardeners.
(Scotland for Gardeners – Kenneth Cox 2009)
If you visit Castle Kennedy Gardens try to localize all the land “sculptures” including spectacular mounds, terraces, symbolic shapes and even the family crest which is probably at the origin of the sadly famous “Curse of Scotland”, a nickname given to the Nine of Diamonds playing card. It is not difficult to find the Belvedere, from which you can see both lochs, the Round Pond, Castle Kennedy and Lochinch Castle but we didn’t see the Giant’s Grave, a 118 metres long mound under which a Giant is supposed to be buried, nor the nearby 10 metres high Mount Marlborough and neither the sunken gardens nor the family crest.
The romantic ruins of the old castle stands in the middle of the gardens, creating gloom and mystery. It is around it that the story of the gardens began.
Castle Kennedy dates back to the 14th century. It was built between the White and Black Lochs by John Kennedy, 5th Earl of Cassilis, whose previous stronghold was situated on an island in the White loch. Castle Kennedy first passed to the Hamiltons, then to the Dalrymples of Stair.
When the castle was destroyed by a fire in 1716 its owner, Field Marshall Dalrymple, the 2nd Earl of Stairs, who had been appointed ambassador to the French Court, was living in Paris (1714-1720). Much influenced by the formal gardens he had admired in Versailles he decided to create a sumptuous garden around the ruins of his medieval castle, turning his soldiers into gardeners to help him in this huge task. He also used their horses. A number of features of the gardens are reminiscent of the Earl’s military background: Mount Marlborough, Gun Emplacement, Field Marshall Terraces…
To create the garden of his dreams the Earl consulted William Adam, one of the most famous Scottish architects of his time and it took him twenty years to achieve it with the help of his chief gardener, Thomas McCalla.
After the Earl’s death, in 1747, the garden was maintained for some time before being left abandoned for decades.
Towards the middle of the 19th century, the 8th Earl of Stair (1771-1853) fell upon a copy of the original plan designed by William Adam and works of restoration soon began under the supervision of John Claudius Loudon, an eminent Scottish botanist and designer (1783-1843).
Later, the 10th Earl of Stair (1819-1903), John Hamilton Dalrymple, who built Lochinch Castle at the other end of the estate, much contributed to the improvement of the gardens. Then, it was a great time for plant hunting expeditions and indeed many of the 19th plant hunters were Scottish. As the Stair family were generous patrons, Castle Kennedy Gardens greatly benefited from the fruit of these expeditions. The favourable climate which characterizes the south west of Scotland (mild winters and influence of the Gulf Stream) offered good conditions for the growing of exotic plants and many new species were sent there. One of the best examples is illustrated by the omnipresence of wonderful rhododendrons in Castle Kennedy Gardens. Many of them were first introduced there by Sir Joseph Hooker one of the most famous English botanists (1817-1911).
The first designers of Castle Kennedy Gardens would certainly be surprised to see how beautiful the gardens are today with the big trees and rhododendrons arboreums, a forest of rhododendrons…
They would probably recognize a number of the original features for the present Lord Stair and his family, under the supervision of Joseph McArthur, their long-time and very talented chief-gardener, have never cease to to preserve and improve the gardens, always trying to restore them to their 19th century splendor.
On the above picture taken by Jean-Claude with his drone you can recognize the White Loch, in the west, with Lochinch Castle in the background and the Black loch in the east, also the two acres circular lily pond surrounded by magnificent rhododendrons, wooded grounds and terraced garden…
On this picture you can see the walled garden behind the castle and the tea-shop on the left.
Here’s the canal on the side leading to the Black Loch…
11 years separate the above two pictures…
On the other side of the bridge the little canal leads to the White loch…
Rhododendrons in full bloom everywhere…
The splendour of the Rhododendrons is marvellous: there are 10 kinds on this hill, scarlet, white, lilac, yellow, pink, maroon [sic]… the cliffs actually bloom with them
I staid [sic] at 13000ft* very much on purpose to collect there seeds of the Rhododendrons & with cold fingers it is not very easy… Botanizing, during the march is difficult. Sometimes the jungle is so dense that you have enough to do to keep hat & spectacles in compagny, or it is precipitous… certainly one often progresses spread-eagle fashion against the cliff, for some distance, & crosses narrow planks over profound Abysses, with no hand-hold whatever.
*13 000 feet = 3 962.4 meters
I’ve found these extracts of Joseph Hooker’s letters together very interesting information about him and the rhododendrons he collected on a page of Kew Gardens website.
The Indian state of Sikkim in the Himalayas is famous for its fabulous spring flora, and tourists flock there, in particular, to see the vast tracts of rioutously coloured rhododendrons.
In 1848, Joseph Hooker was one of the first European visitors to set foot in Sikkim. A plant hunter and and son of Kew’s first Director (William Jackson Hooker), he was there to hunt for treasure – plant treasure – to send back to his father at Kew.
The originally planted herbaceous borders of the Walled Garden in their best in July and August but, as you can see on our pictures, it is well worth the visit in June. We took several videos in this lovely and peaceful”Secret Garden”…
Nobody there at this early hour…
Well-tended lawns with patches of vivid colours…
No blue sky but lovely blue flowers to compensate 😉
And before going out of the Walled Garden a view of the romantic ivy-covered ruined castle…
Edinburgh, November 3, 1716
Upon Saturday last the house of Castle Kennedy was burnt, of which I have no account of the way it was done, but only that the maid put out a fire in the drawing room for airing the room, and went to bed after she had put out the fire. However, in the middle of the night it broke out and burnt all, so they had difficulty to make their own escape, and could save nothing except my son’s own picture and two more. I know he will be concerned, because Castle Kennedy was the favourite house he had in this country; but we must all submit to the providence of God and acknowledge His Justice that orders all things well. And I desire you may transmit this letter to him and observe his orders.”
The Countess-dowager announcing the burning of the castle to Lord Stair’s Agent in London
We lingered a long time in the gardens under the watchful eye of a friendly oyster-catcher. He seemed to be a friend of the place for we met him several times here and there. We already took a picture of one of these lovely birds in 2004 (one of our favourite ones with puffins). As oyster-catchers are long-lived birds (some of them can reach 30+ years of age), maybe it was the same bird we met there in 2004.
It’s time to close the door of Castle Kennedy Gardens. Maybe I will add more pictures soon but in the meantime Janice will open you the gates of Threave Gardens… another wonderful garden.
We’ll follow the guide around his territory ;-)… so stay tuned!