Garden of the Season – Ballindalloch CastleMay 2nd 2023
Five hundred years of Highland history
Set at the heart of Speyside, and close to some of Scotland’s most famous distilleries, Ballindalloch Castle has been occupied by the Macpherson-Grant family since it was completed in 1546.
With towers and turrets, Georgian improvements and Victrorian additions, it looks like something out of a children’s fairy story, but at its heart is a Z-plan castle, built at a time when the Highlands were in turmoil and defence took precedence over design.
Today Ballindalloch is famous for its gardens, which flourish despite the castle’s situation in one of the coldest parts of the country, close to the northern edge of the Cairngorm range.
The key to success here has been the decision to choose hardy plants that can cope with the conditions and then to use them in large numbers so that they have a powerful impact, while the lengthy daylight hours in summer help to produce rapid growth that more that makes up for the late start to the season.
The show gets underway in April with an extensive display of daffodils and next the huge rock garden that occupies a slope to one side of the castle starts to perform. Here the vivid tones of rhododendrons and azaleas create a contrast with the bluebells that grow amongst them.
In early summer a laburnum arch drips with yellow blossom and the water gardens come to life, with irises providing splashes of colour at the same time as the walled garden is beginning to fill with the scent of roses.
Roses are the main attraction in this 1.5 acre space, with climbers and ramblers sprawling over trellises and hanging in swags from ropes while shrub roses vye for space with perennials flowers in the borders. Roses also grow into a series of cherry trees and here clematis have been encouraged to weave their way through them. At the centre of the garden is a fountain and statuary of all kinds abounds.
Bounded on three sides by the castle walls is the formal Courtyard Garden, while the woodlands that surround the castle are filled with wildlife and the parkland’s many fine trees provide colour late in the season.
Just beyond the castle, the River Avon flows into the Spey and together these provide a natural border between the formal gardens and the wider estate.
How do you turn a large area of lawn into something distinctive? At Ballindalloch they’ve hit upon a clever idea. Every year they mow circular paths, transforming the area into a grass labyrinth. The labyrinth is a popular spot with children, who also enjoy a dedicated play area, complete with climbing frames, teeny tractors and mini diggers.
Some of the lawns at Ballindalloch are bordered by a ha-ha, an architectural device for keeping stock out of formal areas without the need for a wall or fence.
Ballindalloch’s long history has endowed it with some fine memorials to its past, including an18th century doo’cot and a stone archway that,once spanned the main entrance to the castle and into which the family coat of arms and motto - ‘Touch not the cat bot a glove’ - has been carved.
Meadows and woodland line the Spey and Avon and there are designated walks along the river banks as well as a section of the Speyside Way, the long distance route that runs for 65 miles from Aviemore to Buckie on the Moray Firth . Dogs on leads are welcome on these and in other defined parts of the estate.
Ballindalloch Castle is filled with treasures collected over the family’s long tenure. There is a shop and a renowned cafe selling home made soups, scones and cakes. The Laird’s mother, Clare Rusell has not only devoted herself to the gardens, but she is also a successful cookery writer and her books are available for sale from the shop.The estate is also home to Ballindalloch Distillery, makers of Scotland’s first ‘single estate’ whisky.
The gardens are open Sunday - Thursday 10am - 5pm
Tickets (gardens only): £8/£5/free (under 6’s)
Ballindalloch Castle lies off the A95, 21 miles south of Elgin.
Accessibility: Accessible parking and toilets and wheelchair access to the gardens.
Tel: 01807 500205
Courtesy of The Herald