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27 Jun 2022

Hidden secrets in our gardens

The interior of a summerhouse, with a ceiling decorated in an intricate pattern with pine cones.
Inside the Bavarian summerhouse at Brodick Castle, Garden & Estate
Ancient time-telling devices and bespoke sculptures lie nestled among the fantastic flora of the National Trust for Scotland’s gardens, which are also places of learning for new generations of gardeners.

An assembly of sundials

Pitmedden Garden

Pitmedden Garden is home to several sundials, the most prominent of which lies centrally in the garden’s Tempus fugit (‘time flies’) parterre. Believed to have been made around 1675, it features 24 facets and is also thought to be a moon dial, capable of telling the time on strong moonlit nights as well as on sunny days.

Elsewhere at Pitmedden, the Thunderhouse Pavilion has three vertical dials carved directly on to the building; the herb garden also has a simplistic sundial, under which thyme has been planted. However, a favourite with visitors is the upper garden’s human sundial. On a sunny day, stand with your feet lined up to the month on the large central stone. The shadow cast by your head will land on one of the numbers along the periphery, giving you the present time to a surprisingly accurate degree!

A tall stone sundial casts a shadow onto the surrounding gravel path.
Sundial at Pitmedden Garden

A long-surviving summerhouse

Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park

The unusual summerhouse at Brodick Castle is the sole survivor from a group of four similar buildings that were built across the estate. More than 175 years old, it was constructed in 1845 as a wedding present for Princess Marie of Baden, who married the 11th Duke of Hamilton and lived at Brodick Castle.

The Bavarian-style summerhouse is built into a sandstone rock face looking over Brodick Bay, where Princess Marie could have stopped to enjoy the view during a walk from the castle. The interior is elaborately decorated and retains its original ceiling decorated with pinecones and other natural materials. The outside is patterned with intertwined rhododendron stems.

A wooden summerhouse building, with 10 sides, is perched at the edge of a rocky crag, with woodland behind. It has a conical roof. A wooden fenced path leads up to the door. The walls are intricately carved to depict vines and other creeping plants.
The Bavarian summerhouse | Photo: Colin Wren

A willow wonderland

Falkland Palace & Garden

Trust archives show that the orchard at Falkland Palace dates to at least 1779. Old apple, pear and cherry trees all grow here, with wildflowers flourishing beneath them.

Situated at the centre of the orchard, overlooked by Falkland Palace and the East Lomond hill, stands the elegant Willow Queen. Created by the renowned willow sculptor and artist Trevor Leat in 2012, the sculpture depicts Mary, Queen of Scots and her hawk, which she took on hunting trips during her visits to the palace.

Close to the Willow Queen is a living willow labyrinth, based on a labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. Willow is also grown in the orchard and harvested each year to make wreaths, plant supports, hurdles and baskets, for use by the local community.

A tall willow sculpture of a woman with braided hair holding a hawk on one hand stands in the grass at the centre of an orchard. Past the trees of the orchard, the stone tower and walls of Falkland Palace rise up.
The Willow Queen at Falkland Palace

The passage of people and time

Crathes Castle, Garden & Estate

Hidden features in the Crathes Estate show that this land has been a hub of activity for many thousands of years, not just in the era of the Burnett family who ‘only’ lived at Crathes Castle for over 350 years.

At the foot of the estate under the modern road bridge, three bridges that once served Crathes – the old railway, packhorse and old road bridge – can be seen together, although they often go unnoticed by visitors. A little further along the drive is Warren Field, which holds the remains of a Mesolithic monument originally excavated by the National Trust for Scotland in 2004.

Archaeologists believe it could be the world’s oldest type of calendar, dating back to about 8,000 BC. The 10,000-year-old monument consists of a group of 12 pits, arranged in a long arc from where people may have been able to view celestial events.

An aerial view of the lawn, walled garden and surrounding woodland at Crathes Castle. The topiary yew hedges stand out beside the lawn.
The estate surrounding Crathes Castle is rich in history.

Training tomorrow’s gardeners

Threave Garden

Central to Threave Garden since 1960, the School of Heritage Gardening has helped generations of horticulturalists to hone their skills and learn their trade. What many people don’t realise is that the school runs in tandem with the garden’s operational needs.

Not only do trainees work in a live setting, but over the course of a year they’re also rigorously assessed on the practical skills and theoretical knowledge required for working life in the industry. Upon successful completion of their course, trainees attain the Threave Certificate in Practical Heritage Gardening – a unique qualification.

The way that the Threave team balance the needs of a fully working public garden with an educational remit is testament to their commitment to producing knowledgeable and enthusiastic future generations of horticulturalists.

A pool in a garden is surrounded by slate slabs and has a large slate urn in the middle, with water cascading over it. Behind the pool is a slate cone-shaped sculpture beside a garden bench. Tall shrubs and trees can be seen behind that.
Threave Garden

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