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15 May 2024

Caring for Scotland’s daffodil heritage at Brodie Castle

Written by Sarah Burnett
Field of daffodils with construction work in the background
The work underway to conserve the historic Daffodil Shed at Brodie Castle
Thanks to the Trust’s conservation work, Brodie Castle’s historic Daffodil Shed has been returned to use.

People from across the world come to Brodie Castle annually to admire its beautiful daffodil display. However, this year’s guests may be surprised to learn that there is an extra special reason to celebrate the daffodils at Brodie in 2024.

Brodie, renowned for its daffodils, houses a National Daffodil Collection, a testament to the pioneering work of Major Ian Brodie, the 24th Laird of Brodie. At the core of his daffodil breeding operation was the Daffodil Shed. Despite its ordinary appearance, this unassuming structure housed specially crafted slatted drying racks and trays that played a crucial role in cultivating and preserving tens of thousands of daffodils, helping Brodie to gain global recognition as a top daffodil breeder.

A section of the 3-metre-tall boundary wall in the kitchen garden at Brodie supports the Daffodil Shed, but recent issues with the wall had prevented the gardeners from using it. However, a conservation project by the Trust is helping the historic building flourish again.

The problem was identified last year when we noted that the centuries-old wall was bulging in the area supporting the shed. Open joints had allowed the core of the wall to be washed away, and a survey by Narro Associates Structural Engineers recommended that the shed wall be taken down and rebuilt on a new foundation.

With the support of Historic Environment Scotland’s Partnership Fund Grant, the Trust enlisted the expertise of heritage specialists Highland Building and Conservation for the restoration project. The process began with the careful propping of the shed, allowing it to remain in place during the works. The wall was then meticulously dismantled, with each stone numbered for reinstatement in its original location. A new foundation was laid, and the wall was rebuilt using a lime mortar specification of 3 parts coarse sand and 1 part Otterbein NHL 5, suitable for the hard nature of the stone in this area.

With the Daffodil Shed’s wall meticulously rebuilt, the trays for the daffodils can be reinstated. This means that the shed can once again serve its purpose, drying hundreds of daffodils each year after they have been lifted from the beds and divided.

Interior of a gardening shed with multiple wooden shelves and trays
With the wall rebuilt, the Daffodil Shed’s slatted shelves and racks can once again be used for drying daffodils.

The heyday of the Brodie Daffodil Shed was between 1899 and 1942, when it was a hub for Brodie’s gardeners and a fundamental part of Ian Brodie’s process of hybridising and breeding daffodils. Each year, once the daffodils’ foliage had died down, the bulbs would be lifted from their beds and stored on the shed’s racks, with the design ensuring good airflow. Some of the dried bulbs might be sold or swapped, while others would be planted out in the estate.

Jonathan Barton, First Gardener at Brodie Castle, said: ‘With the works completed, we’ll be thrilled to be able to use the shed for drying daffodils again, as well as using it for other garden jobs such as potting up, storing harvested vegetables from the garden such as onions, carrot and parsnips, and for storing our apples in the autumn. We’re grateful for all the National Trust for Scotland members and supporters who make it possible to conserve and share Brodie Castle’s magnificent daffodil collections, in addition to the other collections and heritage here.’

Wooden boxes filled with apples
Gardeners at Brodie will also use the shed to store this year’s apple harvest.

Sarah MacKinnon, Head of Building Conservation at the Trust, added: ‘Buildings like the Daffodil Shed at Brodie Castle are not just historic and useful structures in their own right, they’re repositories of Scotland’s heritage and stories, and have so much that can teach and inspire us today. Through the support of our members and donors and with assistance from Historic Environment Scotland’s Partnership Fund Grant, we’re able to invest the care and expertise to keep these buildings alive, carrying out the vital work that keeps them in use for current and future generations.’

In 2023, the Trust was awarded a three-year grant, totalling £1,062,000 of funding support, from Historic Environment Scotland’s Partnership Fund to allow us to conduct vital conservation work across our built heritage properties while gaining a deeper understanding of the structures and their requirements. We will undertake a programme of conservation maintenance at numerous sites around the country, utilise technology to delve more deeply into our built structures, and invest in further training and skills development.

Find out more about the Historic Environment Scotland’s Partnership Fund

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