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2 Sept 2022

The PLANTS project: inventory at Culzean

Written by Jennifer Hollywood, PLANTS West Team Manager
Looking towards Culzean Castle, with the Fountain Court garden in the foreground.
Culzean Castle and Fountain Court
The scale of the 260-hectare estate at Culzean Castle was a daunting prospect, as the PLANTS project West team set out in July to start our plant inventory.

Surrounding the impressive 18th-century house designed by Robert Adam is the large Culzean estate that includes mixed woodland, a deer park, cliffs, beaches, an adventure park, a lake, a large walled garden, formal terraces, a camellia house, glasshouses, and specimen trees. With such a rich and diverse plant collection, we had to prioritise which areas we would survey in the allocated three weeks. We decided to start with the Walled Garden and the terraces of Fountain Court.

The Walled Garden was built in the 1780s and was extended in the 1830s to its current size of 3 hectares. The garden is split into two halves – north and south. The south half was redesigned and replanted as part of a millennium project in 2000, keeping mature specimen trees such as the Trachycarpus fortunei and Cryptomeria japonica. Interestingly, there are two trees currently recorded as Cedrus libani (cedar of Lebanon – however, the younger tree looks like Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’. The inventory will record and try to resolve such anomalies.

A cedar of Lebanon in the Walled Garden at Culzean

The north half has been extensively renovated in recent years with a beautiful double herbaceous border as the central focus. We were grateful to the Culzean head gardener for providing us with lists of the newly planted perennials; these were an essential reference tool as we made our way through the myriad of herbaceous perennials. The north half also contains vegetable beds, cut flowers and a wide selection of fruit bushes and trees. One plant of note was the almond tree, Prunus dulcis, that had produced nuts – an unusual sight in the north of Britain.

A bright and blooming herbaceous border at Culzean

More unusual plants were to be found in Fountain Court, an area of formal terraces built below the castle, where tender plants can grow in the mild maritime climate sheltered from the wind. Visitors were particularly taken by the 3-metre-tall spikes of Echium pininana, a tender biennial that self-seeds throughout these protected beds. It is endemic to the Canary Islands where it has become endangered due to habitat loss.

Another interesting shrub was the Eriobotrya japonica, which had produced fruit this year for the first time. The gardeners had previously been able to propagate this from cuttings but will now try to germinate the seeds collected from the sweet loquat fruit.

Lastly, a plant that had the three members of the inventory team stumped! It was a low growing perennial with grey/green finely divided leaves. There were no flowers present to help us identify it. We had it narrowed down to a few possible genera, but it was the gardeners that came to our rescue with the name: Senecio seminiveus.

Senecio seminiveus

Plant Listing At the National Trust for Scotland (PLANTS) is a Trust-wide garden inventory project. It will result in an accurate database that records plant collections in our 39 major gardens and designed landscapes. Three regionally based project teams, with central-based support, will inventory the plants over the next three years.

PLANTS project: find out more

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