VISIT Drummond Castle for the best example of formal terraced gardens in Scotland – despite its gory history
There is a bloodthirsty side to the history of the Drummond family, but there is a romantic side too,” says Peter Randlo, standing beside the early 17th-century sundial at the heart of Drummond Castle Gardens in Perthshire. Carved from sandstone, the multiplex sundial, inset with sharp metal spikes and softer, rounded heart and circle shapes, suggests a rich and complex history.
Head gardener at Drummond Castle Gardens since 1999, Peter, whose guided tours are packed with thrilling historical snippets, revels in both sides of the family character. But at issue today are the romantic traits, revealed in the formal Renaissance-style garden laid out between 1830 and 1850, and now widely recognised as one of the finest in Europe.
It is easy to understand why. Reached down a mile-long avenue winding inbetween a line of beech trees, the castle and garden sit with humility in their rural landscape. The last section of drive takes you along the edge of the steep ravine above the Drummond Burn before turning under an arch, through the medieval keep to an inner courtyard.
From here it is just a short walk to the raised Italianate-style terrace, which offers a showstopping bird’s-eye view of the 12-acre site, over the immediate landscape to the Glendevon hills. Laid out with box-edged beds in the shape of a St Andrews Cross, the classical design is punctuated with topiary yew, cypress and laurel. Autumn colour comes from the scarlet and yellow acer foliage, now scattered in fiery carpets below the trees, with subtle purple hues emanating from the rounded, purple foliage of clipped Prunus “Pissardii”.
As a pair of visitors stand, cameras in hand, just exclaiming “wow”, Peter explains that there are essentially two gardens. “The first part you see from above and the second part from below. Once you are in the garden it is quite different down there.”
This year, the colours remain especially bright. The antirrhinums in the triangular-shaped beds that mark the start of the central axis still display the red and yellow Drummond colours. Peter attributes the continuing bloom of the red and yellow roses in their fan-shaped corner beds to the late spring. White, the last of the family colours, features in the containers packed with marguerites.
With just the sound of the team of three gardeners methodically raking leaves and birdsong coming from all around, this feels like a scene unchanged for almost 200 years.
Peter, who trained with the National Trust following an earlier career in timber, agrees. Yet he points out that the peace is shattered at the end of October when the garden is closed to the public. This is when the work to keep this garden immaculate starts in earnest, with the input and keen eye of current chatelaine Lady Jane Willoughby, whose family have owned Drummond for 500 years.
Although not obvious to visitors, the garden suffered during two harsh winters, with temperatures falling below minus 18 degrees, followed by a wet year. These conditions, plus a gale, caused the loss of one of a pair of beech trees planted by Queen Victoria during her visit in 1842. Its replacement is waiting not for a Royal visit, but for the current debate surrounding fungus affecting trees to be clarified.
This year work will start with a mini-digger bought in to install new drains in some of the gravel paths, sometimes uncovering fragments of the original terracotta drains. The statues and urns that furnish the garden will be cleaned and polished and 50 tons of manure brought in as mulch. The generous lawns at the foot of the slope will be aerated using machinery from the local golf club.
The cold weather caused damage to the box-hedging, Buxus semperviviens, parts of which might be replaced with a wider branched variety currently being trialled in cold frames at the top of the old vegetable garden. Here, too, are young, replacement supplies of lavender waiting to line the box-edged beds that flank the central vertical axis with Saltire blue.
Further along, below the raspberry cage, are hundreds of tiny, grey felted Stachys lantana plants, replacements for their older relatives at the side of the main horizontal path. Below the newly restored and brilliantly planted glasshouse, the preserve of Peter’s skilled wife Dawn, is a nursery bed of joyfully coloured dahlias. Further across is a second nursery bed of small trees, which will be planted up as needed.
The beds of Fuchsia “Riccartonii’ that flank the baroque steps are also being reworked, with red Fuchsia magellanica being planted instead.
“Magellanica is a less woody, profusely flowering shrub,” Peter says.
Despite the weather, even including blizzards, Peter relishes the winter, when the garden takes on a new meaning and weeding and grass-cutting are no longer pressing priorities. Projects are clear and concise, progress is measurable and the effects are lasting.
Recording daily changes in his diary, he says, the wonders of this garden, the jewel in the crown of Scottish gardening, remain endlessly enchanting. “I never get used to it. Two days are never the same. There will be subtle differences in the colours or different combinations.”
And, during the long winter evenings he delights in furthering his research into the history of the bloodthirsty element of the family saga: to learn more about that, book a place on his guided tour next year.
Drummond Castle Gardens, Muthill, Crieff PH7 4HZ, www.drummond castlegardens.co.uk
Gardens are open annually from May to October, adults £5, children £2.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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