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24 Feb 2023

The PLANTS project: celebrating Crathes Castle Garden

Written by Philippa Holdsworth, PLANTS Inventory Team Manager
Crathes Castle and its distinctive Walled Garden
In August 2022, the PLANTS project north team tackled Crathes walled garden. We had three weeks to catalogue the planting in the 4-acre historic garden, which is packed with interest.

Crathes Castle Garden has existed for at least 400 years, in the hands of many generations of the Burnetts of Leys and latterly the National Trust for Scotland. For much of its life it was a productive space, providing the community of the castle with a steady supply of fruit and vegetables.

The design of the garden as we see it today is largely the work of General Sir James Burnett (1880–1953) and his wife Sybil. They created a garden of themed compartments with pools, fountains, roses, and colour borders, framed by the famous and ancient yew topiary dating from 1702.

In the course of our work cataloguing the planting in this intriguing collection of distinct spaces, we were greatly helped by the team of gardeners and volunteers, who were very helpful with information on the plants they knew and keen to get our ideas on the ones they didn’t. It is always really helpful when we are surveying to gain insight through gardeners who have longevity in the garden in question.

As we gradually developed our understanding of how ancient and special some of the planting at Crathes is, we also got to know a number of champion trees. These are trees which are logged in the Tree Register of Britain and Ireland (TROBI) because they stand out in their county, their country, or in the whole of Britain and Ireland for reasons of their height or their girth. A favourite example would be the Phellodendron amurense, situated between the Double Shrub Border and the Red Garden. This splendid tree is a county champion of Aberdeenshire, for its 13m height and its 2m girth.

Having surveyed the Crathes garden in late August we now look forward to a spring revisit, and a different perspective. We will be looking for seasonal plants which were not showing in August and attempting to answer some of the outstanding questions that are currently unresolved. In the autumn, our mystery vine above the gardeners’ entrance took on a warm red hue in its distinctively shaped leaves. We are still considering Ampelopsis glandulosa var. brevipedunculata, but are open to suggestions.

After that we have a full agenda for the growing season, so over the spring and summer you may spot us crawling through the bushes of Leith Hall, Inverewe, Balmacara, House of Dun and Castle Fraser. Say hello if you spot us!

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