Not every castle has a garden, but many gardens have a castle.
Luck was with me as we arrived in Scotland to explore gardens. Late August gardens provide the fireworks of Dahlias, colorful puffs of hydrangeas, and the first shades of fall colors in this climate, and I was eager to see it all. We had three weeks to explore, and by the time we turned in our rental car, Rich had driven 852 miles, and we had visited 32 gardens, the big and the small.
Scotland’s days began with temperatures in the mid-50s and occasionally hit 80 by the end of the day. We escaped the heat dome plaguing many places worldwide, including my garden in Arizona. Scotland is famous for its mist and rain, and it behaved perfectly, giving us misty mornings, light sprinkles, rainbows over the water and yet delivering sunshine when we arrive at the garden of the day.
Our first visit was to Fyvie Castle Gardens. A primary feature is the extensive walled kitchen garden. Here, I found one of the most memorable plant combinations I would see on the entire adventure. The gardener designed a mass planting of spiky onions, red-edged orange marigolds, and frilly chartreuse-topped carrots planted in rows. Vegetables can go ugly in the garden, but each element was in peak form for a moment. It was companion planting at its finest, and the shapes and colors thrilled me.
Against the old stone walls, apples, pears, and plums were espaliered and heavy with ripening fruit. Large cutting flower garden beds were filled with colorful annuals, destined to keep fresh flower bouquets in the castle all summer.
Herbs and vegetables provide supplies for the kitchen, and berries of all kinds were ripening on the prickly bushes. The gardener listed the best berries and offered some for sale in the bothy (garden shed).
I tour very few castles and great houses because the collections of armory, weapons, and stiff furniture rarely appeal to me. The stories of the inhabitants can be extremely violent. In Fyvie Castle, I walked up a grand, wide circular staircase where the Gordon family men raced horses up the steps on a bet to see who won, and many a horse was lost to broken legs. They were a brutal family in many ways, with one Laird (Lord) starving his wife to death because she gave birth to five daughters, failing to produce a male heir.
The gardens fascinate me: walking about in a beautiful garden and looking up to see a grand house adds to the fun. Fyvie Castle, located along the Fyvie Loch (lake in Gaelic), dates back to the 13th century, and the garden has undergone restorations and is awakened anew each spring. Today, it is surrounded by mature trees of Scots pine, willow, and birch, and a walk in the gardens reinforces the beauty of Scotland.