Sign up for our newsletter

View our Privacy policy


Meet Mary Stansfeld from Dunninald Castle Gardens

February 24th 2017


Let’s enjoy our gardens more this year  

And there’s no better start to the season than the Snowdrop Festival                 

All new year’s resolutions aside, this year I have resolved to “just enjoy” my gardens more and not get bogged down by the endless jobs list, and I think you should do the same.

Dunninald Gardens are family gardens and we are a small but efficient team – Gordon (the gardener), Barry (the sort that can turn his hand to anything) and me. When I came here 20 years ago, I imagined Dunninald would be a lovely place to live. And it is. However, I didn’t realise quite how much input is required to keep it lovely.

For the past 13 years I have been working for the Estate, looking after the cottages, and in the past 8 years, managing the gardens too. This has been a steep learning curve as I had little to no previous experience, which meant that I was dependent on my mother-in-law Rosalinde and our previous gardener Kevin Whyte to keep me on track. Since then, we have come quite far.

The gardens at Dunninald are divided between the Wild Garden or ‘Polices’, a network of paths through the woods with wonderful displays of spring bulbs, and the formal Walled Garden which is really lovely when in full flower during the summer.

Dating back to 1680 when the beech avenue was first planted, the Policies have gradually evolved during the years, with a bit of input from landscape architect Thomas White in 1790, and James Gillespie Graham in 1819. The present Dunninald Castle was completed in 1824, and has been handed down through the family since then. Each generation has taken on a different aspect of the garden to develop and enjoy.

For my mother-in-law it was the Walled Garden and with Kevin she introduced new borders and espalier fruit trees. I however, enjoy the woods and the wild garden. Spreading snowdrops in early spring and increasing and improving the white carpet gives me great satisfaction year on year. And after the snowdrops we get crocuses, daffodils and swathes of bluebells.

Preparing for this year’s snowdrop opening, we needed to remember to put out the signage, as our visitors do not necessarily know all the paths as well as we do. We checked all our snowdrop paths for dangerous low hanging branches, which tend to appear after a winter storm, and for easy walking and to hide rabbit damage we put down as much woodchip or bark on the paths as we can. And the woodland grounds look fabulous now.

In the walled garden, Gordon is aiming to finish all the winter pruning and hedge cutting soon, so that early visitors really only see the skeleton or structure of the garden. We hope that it will arouse our visitors’ curiosity and bring them back for another visit in the summer when the Walled Garden truly is at its best and the Wild Garden is truly wild..

Dunninald Castle Gardens open exclusively for the Snowdrop Festival on Sat & Sun 25/26 February, & Sat & Sun 4/5 March.