Sunday, 9 August 2015

Scottish Castle Gardens I - Dunrobin

Dunrobin Castle - former home to the Duke of Sutherland - and now a major tourist attraction
Scotland has some of the best castles in Europe, which rival those built by the French in the the Loire valley, but sadly the weather there is not as clement and, if you are going to visit, you need to go prepared with wet weather gear and wellington boots. Dunrobin in the Highlands, near Inverness is a fairy-tale castle of monumental proportions with an impressive formal garden, best seen from the windows above to appreciate the scale of the grounds below. 
The main parterre at Dunrobin - viewed through the windows of the castle
The castle was remodelled in the 19th century for the Duke of Sutherland by Sir Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament with Pugin. It is certainly one of the largest homes in northern Scotland and the dukedom once covered well over a million acres, but there is not a happy history here, because it was the Duke who was the instigator of the Highland Clearances - a major event in Scottish history - when more than 15,000 crofters were cleared from his land alone.
The secondary parterre divided into sections, with a pyramid garden at the centre
Dunrobin is perched high on a hill overlooking the sea and the gardens sit below a series of steep terraces, surrounded by walls. The garden is divided into a main parterre and a secondary parterre divided into two sections by a pyramid garden where you will see diverse plants climbing the wooden structures, ranging from roses to raspberries. In the central section, there is a grove of mature trees and a croquet lawn. Between the castle and the parterres there are terraces with borders.
View of the secondary parterre as you descend the terraces from Dunrobin Castle
The castle is certainly impressive and well worth taking a tour around, especially the library, drawing room and nursery (you cannot photograph inside, but are allowed to point your camera out of the windows into the garden below), even though you see only a fraction of the 189 rooms. There is a set entry price (£10.50 for adults) so you might as well enjoy the interior, because there is no discount for seeing only the gardens. The curatorial staff on duty are delightful and knowledgeable and will answer all your questions.
Standing on the terraces above the secondary parterre, across the pyramid garden
The gardens are very green, in the sense that there is relatively little colour at this time of year, except on the terraces, and whilst impressive from the windows of the castle, you will soon realise when you reach sea level that the box partitions are suffering badly from blight, and that the planting is a little discordant. But there is no disputing the fact that the views of the castle make up for any disappointment in the garden.
View across the secondary parterre, towards the pyramid garden
The garden is planted to reflect the seasons and is, I'm told, magnificent in springtime, when there is a spectacular display of tulips. This late in the season there is a profusion of geraniums, nepeta and other assorted perennials, but the overall impression of the parterre planting remains somewhat chaotic, given the grandeur of the design. But perhaps this will improve the box blight problem is solved.
Border on the terrace below Dunrobin en route to the parterre
It was clear from the parked cars that this is a major tourist attraction for overseas visitors, who come from all over Europe to see our landmarks. Dunrobin will delight in terms of a Scottish castle with astounding views over the garden below and the sea beyond and a collection of paintings and antiques to rival any other great ancestral home. But garden lovers may well be disappointed when they look closely at the verdant landscape below. 
In June, July and August Dunrobin Castle is open daily from 10.00 to 5.00. (last entry half an hour before closing). But check website for other times of year. If you are a member of Historic Houses Association, admission is free.
For more garden visit ideas, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Love the place. It's 40 mins south for us but we go a couple of times a year. The house is always so intersting to look through and the bird of prey display is excellent.
    The castle of mey is actually closer for us to visit but tbh Dunrobin is far far better.
    Lovely post.