Posted by: christinelaennec | July 9, 2013

Crathes Castle Gardens: the June Borders

Summer is here!  We have had scorching temperatures – as high as 24C / 75F!  Aberdonians are complaining about not being able to tolerate the heat.  I know this will make some of my North American and Australian readers smile.

I’m going to take you back to last month, when I had a wonderful morning’s jaunt with my friend and neighbour Betty, to Crathes Castle Gardens.  It was such a lovely day, and although spring was very cold and late this year, the June borders seemed to have more or less caught up with themselves.  I thought I’d show you them first, and then in another post, other parts of the garden.

The castle itself looked “affa bonny” the morning we visited:

Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire, June 2013.

Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire, June 2013.

Below is a view of the front of the castle.  The large windows that you see on this side of the castle were put in once it ceased to have a defensive function.  You can see the slits on the wall from earlier days, from where you could shoot your crossbow at mauraders.  There are also holes in the overhanging top story for pouring boiling oil on attackers.

I’m not sure when the wing to the right of the main part of the castle was built.  I think part of it is a self-catering flat you can rent if you’re a National Trust member.  Imagine that!

Crathes Castle, seen from the pleached lime walk, June 2013.

Crathes Castle, seen from the pleached lime walk, June 2013.

Here’s Betty, under the shade of the lime trees:

Betty standing in the pleached lime walk, Crathes Castle, June 2013.

Betty standing in the pleached lime walk, Crathes Castle, June 2013.

And here we are inside the garden, now looking back towards the entrance gate, with the pleached lime walk beyond the wall.  I believe that a large part of the garden as it now exists was designed in the 1920s, although parts of it are far older.  I’ve often wondered if this “white walk” was inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s white garden at Sissinghurst.

White border, looking back towards the entrance to the garden.  Crathes Castle Gardens, June 2013.

White border, looking back towards the entrance to the garden. Crathes Castle Gardens, June 2013.

Betty pointed out to me how pleasing the flagstones are, something I hadn’t really noticed.

This path leading down towards the doocot (doves’ house) is always stunning at this time of year:

The June borders, looking down towards the doocot.  Crathes Castle Gardens, June 2013.

The June borders, looking down towards the doocot. Crathes Castle Gardens, June 2013.

Lupins and oriental poppies in the June Borders, Crathes Castle Gardens, June 2013.

Lupins and oriental poppies in the June borders, Crathes Castle Gardens, June 2013.

Betty admiring the June borders - picking up a drooping flower.

Betty admiring the June borders: picking up a drooping flower.

This part of the garden reminds me of Monet’s garden at Giverny, although without the long wait to get in and without the hundreds of other people milling about.

Iris in the June Borders, Crathes Castle Gardens, June 2013.

Iris in the June Borders, Crathes Castle Gardens, June 2013.

While we were in the garden, there was a French couple visiting as well.  The man was blind, and his wife was describing the garden to him:  “Il y a des milliers de fleurs,” she said:  there are thousands of flowers.  My first reaction was to feel very sorry that the man couldn’t see the beauty around him.  But I quickly realised that the experience of being in the garden isn’t just visual.  The birds were singing, the bees were buzzing, and there was a soft breeze carrying the scent of the lilacs and other blossoms.

In the next installment, I’ll show you some of the rest of the garden.  What a beautiful day we had for it!



  1. Crathes is such a great day out, isn’t it? It’s got so much to offer and those borders are beautiful (lovely photos). I like what you wrote at the end of this post, it’s good to be reminded that gardens can be enjoyed by more than just sight; I’m looking forward to the next instalment!

  2. What a lovely post…and those gardens… beautiful!! I think however that Aberdonians should embrace the summer temperatures as we all know it won’t last long. What would the British talk about if it wasn’t the weather I wonder? 😉 xx

  3. I’ve been to Crathes in April last year, and the garden were pretty but not as pretty as you are showing here. 🙂 I must go again in summer. Thanks for the lovely memories. Happy sunny afternoon to you!

  4. Like the fact the borders each have a colour, almost made me rethink my riotous beds!

  5. I used to be a summer tour guide at Crathes when I was 17-18 years old. From what I remember, the “Queen Anne”wing was built on the castle in the late 1600s to accommodate a laird and his wife who had about 20 children in as many years. They needed the extra bedrooms. This laird was also the chap that laid out the formal gardens (thus, the joke you made during the tour was that he probably spent a lot of time in the garden to get away from the family). However, as there was a fire in the 1960s, this part of the castle was basically destroyed and rebuilt, and thus was not then included in the castle tour – the National Trust manager used to live there, but, from the sounds of things, they don’t get that as a benefit anymore if it is now a holiday rental. I used to eat lunch (during a half hour break between tours, which was taken in turn) in a tiny room that had a painted ceiling that was waiting on renovation (they called that the Stair Chamber). I believe that’s open to the public now.
    The summer of 1982, when we switched over to rooms instead of guided tours at the height of the season, all the guides worked on an embroidery whenever it was their turn to monitor the Great Hall, even the two lads had to learn to do French knots. Last time I went to Crathes, this had become a cushion in the Great Hall.

  6. What a lovely day you both had. I hope you make just as nice friends in Glasgow.

  7. OK, Christine, you’re going to have to educate me (I warn you though, good people have tried & failed).

    “pleached lime walk”? I looked up pleaching in Wikipedia. It told me “Pleaching or plashing is a technique of interweaving living and dead branches through a hedge for stock control. Trees are planted in lines, the branches are woven together to strengthen and fill any weak spots“. But in your picture I can’t see the living and dead branches woven together. Is it just not apparent in the picture, or is there a slightly different meaning in Aberdeenshire?

    Despite my general lack of education, I can see that this was a great experience! Beautifully planned and maintained gardens…Scots really know how to look after their treasures. I’m sure there was a great tea room nearby, too 🙂

  8. Love the photos at the castle, especially the gardens!
    I almost laughed out loud at your ’75F’ being ‘scorching’!!!
    I live in NW Georgia and today it was a cool 91F!!
    Enjoy your weather….!

  9. What a beautiful day to enjoy the gardens and the castle, Christine. I really miss seeing those – as you know, we just don’t have castles in the USA. 😉

  10. Thank you all for these fab comments!

    Lorna – thanks! I was hoping not to seem patronising, writing about a blind person visiting a garden.

    Heike and Denise – yes, I know it seems ludicrous to those who are used to much higher temperatures. But as it rarely gets much above the mid-70s here, people do really feel it as hot. Older people especially find higher temperatures hard. The irony, in my mind, is that many Scots go abroad to Spain, Turkey, and Florida, where it is far hotter than 75F in the summer. So clearly some people do crave the heat.

    belleab31 – what an amazing experience, to have been a tour guide at Crathes. Thanks so much for filling us in. I adore the idea that all tour guides were required to do needlework! I haven’t been inside the castle for a few years, so I will look out for the Painted Chamber, and will remember the laird with his 20 children. My daughter is very blasé about Crathes, having been there many times with school trips. But she loves the room where the Green Lady supposedly appears from time to time!

    Marjorie – thanks for your good wishes. There are lovely people everywhere you go, so I’m sure I will find friends in Glasgow. They are very friendly people, generally.

    oldblack – well now, you have got me to thinking. Betty and I thought that pleached meant that the lower branches were cut off so that all the trees’ lower branches are relatively high up, and the bottoms of the lowest branches are at the same level. But I see that pleaching technically involves this weaving that you mention. I’ve seen trees trained to grow around frames, forming a kind of hedge on trunks. Clearly this isn’t what they are doing (yet?) at Crathes. So I don’t know! If you Google images of “pleached lime walk” you do see some where the trees aren’t trained, but simply trimmed at the bottom.

    And yes, in my next post we will come to the tea room!

    Stacy – I know, but there are so many beautiful historic places in the States. I find a pioneer cabin from the 1850s just as wondrous as a castle from the 1700s, because of how much life has changed in the interval.

  11. That garden inspires me to baby my ailing Zinnias and to persevere in my battle with the neighbor’s cat who finds my flower beds more inviting than his litter box. In short, just keep trying. Beautiful! And 75? Also beautiful.

    • Ah, the cat contribution to gardening. I do hope the zinnias can flourish – and as you say, the most important thing is to just keep trying!

  12. This wonderful castle was recommended to us by a relative who lived near. We have now visited this castle twice and both times have been great even though it rained! The castle was fascinating and full of history. The gardens are wonderful and very well cared for and a pleasure to wander round.

  13. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing this.

  14. Ohhh, so pretty!

    I don’t think I’ve ever been to Crathes Castle despite it’s reasonable proximity. Might have to rectify that sometime!

  15. What a beautiful place to visit. The gardens and buildings are amazing!

  16. It looks as if you had a beautiful day the gardens are spectacular especially the lupins and I love your new hedder!

  17. I’m playing catch-up with my blogging friends. I moved just a short 11 months ago and am still trying to get all the walls re-painted and boxes unpacked. I will be making a trip to Scotland before the year is over. I can see from your photos, I will be so delighted with my visit.

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