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Meet Des Cotton from Glamis Castle

October 7th 2020

I do truly consider myself lucky to have a job in gardening. When I see how so many people choose to do gardening on their precious days off, or use it as a therapy to feel better and relieve stress, it reminds myself how fortunate I am.

Ok! Before you career gardeners roll your eyes at my words, I know it’s not the same as a few hours in the back garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon and I know being a gardener, especially a head gardener, can have its stresses, disappointments and aches and pains. But for me, I can work with nature on a daily basis, stretch my creativity, keep active in both mind and body and probably, best of all, enjoy myself.
I am now in my fifth year as head gardener here at Glamis Castle. I consider it a privilege to be keeper of this historical garden and landscape, if only for a relatively short time in its 300-year history.
I have made a bit of a career in historic gardens. Starting at a young age of 17 with the National Trust at the House of Dun near Montrose on a YTS apprenticeship, which some of you over a certain age may remember. The idea was to get a few years of horticulture training before moving into landscape design. Indeed, I did then venture into landscape design, but it only took a few months of sitting at a desk to realise I needed to be hands-on.
After a few years, in my early twenties at Edinburgh Botanics enjoying the Edinburgh life I moved into my first head gardener role just outside London. Tasked with rebuilding this tired seven-acre garden, including terraces, ponds, woodland gardens and a kitchen garden. I’ll be honest with you, this was a quick learning curve, but knowledge learned there has stood me in good stead, especially here at Glamis Castle garden.
To visitors, I describe Glamis garden as a combination of a restoration and development project with a good bit of maintenance thrown in. Our mile long, oak-lined avenue alone needs a considerable amount of weekly maintenance.
The gardens and grounds are a fantastic mix of plant areas, from rose gardens to a formal Italian garden, a towering pinetum and a four-acre walled garden. And, of course, all set with the stunning backdrop of the fairy tale Glamis Castle.

The garden, I feel, is just waking up from a century of sleep, by opening up old overgrown paths, introducing new plant, developing the walled garden and generally highlighting the garden as a place to visit. Despite lots more to do, it’s a fantastic day out. Let’s just hope 2021 will see us all get out and back to visiting special places like Glamis.