Crathes Castle Rose Garden Reinvented

National Trust for Scotland gardeners in Aberdeenshire are celebrating the completion of a new Rose Garden at Crathes Castle, after over a decade of planning, reconstruction work, and planting. The redesigned garden, which looks both backwards and forwards in time for design inspiration, opens to the conservation charity’s supporters and the public from 23rd July.

In reinventing the centuries old Rose Garden at Crathes, the conservation charity’s garden team looked across five millennia for inspiration, including the area’s Neolithic past, the history of Crathes Castle and the area, the Arts & Crafts movement, and 21st century sustainability challenges. Visitors are describing it as a ‘renaissance’ of the Rose Garden, one of eight ‘rooms’ in the castle’s internationally known walled garden. 

James Hannaford, the National Trust for Scotland’s Head Gardener at Crathes Castle, explained, “While the Rose Garden was rejuvenated several times in the 20th century, the designs and plantings still looked back to a traditional, formal Victorian design, a format that was looking tired by the 2010s. So, while the earlier designs had been classics of their time, the team at Crathes set themselves the challenge to reimagine the design, bringing it alive for new generations while also referencing its history and retaining elements like the famous yew hedges which date back to 1702 or earlier.”

“Following several years of design and planning by our charity’s gardeners and other specialists, and then a year of reconstruction, ground preparation, and planting, the garden is now in full and glorious bloom for the first time this summer. We hope that people of all ages will love this garden, enjoy it, help us care for it, and share it.” 

The Theme of Time

The overall theme of the garden is time, and throughout the new garden are elements from the history of Crathes Castle, which was the home of the Burnett family for some 350 years. 

The time theme is reflected in many components of the garden including new plantings, retention of older features (Yew sentinels), and the central feature of a carved granite reproduction of a Neolithic stone ball, or Petrosphere. These balls, mainly found in the North East of Scotland, date back over 4500 years. 

The Design and Planting

The aerial aspect of the Crathes walled garden is very important, and the overall design from above takes the form of a stylised Burnett rose, with the tall, elegant arbours forming the petals and the Petrosphere forming the central flower or seed.

The outer four long beds take in some of the original rose garden design of hybrid-tee and floribunda roses fringed with lavender. The rose varieties in these beds are R. ‘Valentine heart’, R. ’Ice Cream’ and R. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, all of them modern type roses with repeat flowering and strong scents.

The lavender is L. ‘Richard Gray’, a smaller wider variety than English lavender, with a strong scent and strong silver colour to the leaves. Planted in between the groups of roses are four varieties of Agapanthus, to extend the flowering period of the beds through to late summer. All these plants will have fairly low watering requirements once established.

The inner beds are less formal, and are reflective of that element in the wider garden at Crathes. All are filled largely with a mix of herbaceous perennials, with a few signature architectural grasses. The planting scheme is designed on a mixture of flower type and colour, and also on the architectural qualities of stems and foliage which will combine to give colour and effect from late spring through to late summer. New varieties/cultivars of plants include Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’, and Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’. These beds also provide a partial floral screen for the central area, with the idea of enticing visitors towards the Petrosphere and seating area. 

The four large inner arbours are crafted in steel and are painted dark grey to match the colour of the Petrosphere when the water in running over it. Each has two climbing roses on it, selected to match the 2.5m height of the arbours. The varieties on the arbours are R. ‘Danse du Feu’, R. ‘The Pilgrim’, R. ‘Strawberry Hill’, and R. ‘Claire Austin’.

Planning for the Future

The use of wildlife-friendly planting and the choice of new plant varieties with good drought, pest, and disease resistance support the National Trust for Scotland’s 10-year gardens strategy, launched earlier this year. The strategy sets out the conservation charity’s aims to: conserve and celebrate the heritage of the 38 gardens it owns, and the 100,000 garden plants it looks after within them; make its gardens more resilient and environmentally friendly; increase and widen their appeal; and expand the provision of specialist gardening skills, training, and learning.

Chris Wardle, the National Trust for Scotland’s Gardens & Designed Landscapes Manager for the North East, added, “Our new National Trust for Scotland gardens strategy, with its vision of Connecting People, Plants, and Places, recognises that our beautiful gardens and designed landscapes are very much about people: the people who created them, work and volunteer in them, and experience them.

“The new Rose Garden at Crathes encapsulates that – it results from the creativity, planning, expertise, and generosity of a wide cast of people who love this place, and who understand the power of gardens, designed landscapes, and plants to inspire and create wellbeing. It’s taken many years of ideas and planning – and huge generosity from donors – to bring this garden to fruition, and all of us involved are proud to finally share it with our supporters and the public.”

The Legacy of The Youngs

The work to reinvent the Crathes Rose Garden was made possible by the late Professor Ian Young and his wife Sylvia who enjoyed a long association with Aberdeenshire and its gardens, and funded many National Trust for Scotland projects across the North East. These included the new parterre garden at Pitmedden, opened in 2022, and the garden entrance at Crathes, as well as projects at Craigievar Castle and Drum Castle. 

The Rose Garden is the third and final major project to be completed from the Youngs’ donation to the conservation charity, and represents the largest-ever single investment in the Crathes heritage garden in its history. Ian and Sylvia, who shared a love of gardens and roses in particular, were involved in the project from its earliest stages, encouraging the Trust to go ahead with the project, contributing ideas to the design process, and fully funding the project. Members of the Young family will be present at the opening of the garden in July.

Philip Long OBE, Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland, welcomed the presence of the Young family at the opening of the new Rose Garden, “The Young family’s generosity to the National Trust for Scotland has created and conserved some magnificent gardens across the North East, and provided powerful support to our charity’s vision to provide access and enjoyment for everyone.”

“Nature, gardens, and designed landscapes have never been more important as places where people can relax, learn, meet, and create memories, and we are grateful for everyone who makes it possible – through their donations, membership, volunteering or visits – for the Trust to conserve and share our own gardens and landscapes. Without them, we simply could not deliver our work to protect and share Scotland’s wonderful nature, beauty, and heritage.”

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