Scottish Inspiration 2: Kellie Castle Garden


It’s been a long, difficult winter – and a very long time since I blogged. Hopefully the winter’s treated you well?

Today I’m looking back at what now seems like a kind of golden era last summer, and remembering how much I love Scottish gardens.

Those who read my blog regularly (when I post!) may remember that last year I took a look at a garden in Fife called  Cambo that had developed a prairie-style planting within an old walled garden. Today I’m featuring a very different garden visited on the same day, just a little bit further around the coastline from Cambo.

Who could say, looking at Kellie, that borders of nepeta, roses and delphiniums are hackneyed? They are rightly popular because they are so easy on the eye, especially in this soft summer light.


The garden at Kellie Castle is much more traditional than Cambo, the kind I remember visiting with so much enthusiasm when my gardening ambitions were only in bud. A garden that almost typifies the Scottish style.


Cool climate, lots of rain, an incredible jungle of lush growth during those wonderful June and July days when the countryside pulls out the stops and shows you what it can do.

Nowhere (that I’ve ever visited) can do herbaceous borders – perennial delphiniums and phlox, biennials like sweet william, annuals like sweet peas – better than Scotland can. Fortunately I don’t despair, although I garden in what is (by comparison) incredible heat.


Kellie Castle has been a National Trust for Scotland garden since 1970. You can read all about it here.  The earliest records of a castle on the site date back to 1150 and the Siward family, who owned the lands in the thirteenth century, have been linked to Malcolm Canmore, the Scottish king who overthrew Macbeth.


James VI of Scotland and I of England stayed here in 1617 during his only visit to Scotland after the Union of the Crowns on 24 March 1603. It was he who appointed Sir Thomas Erskine (the then owner) Earl of Kellie, in gratitude for the fact that Erskine had saved his life during an earlier conspiracy against the king.

Of quirky interest is that the fifth Earl of Kellie is reputed to have hidden in a burnt-out tree stump in the castle grounds for the entire summer following the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

The most highly cultivated part of the garden is  seventeenth century with late Victorian additions. There are several features that I particularly love.

The geometric lines of a walled garden always seem to beg for long walks that lead to definining focal points. The paths are narrow at Kellie, but their drama is not diminished by the proportion.


And – as in the best gardens – plenty of areas to sit and enjoy.


Some of the walks are in shade at the base of the main walls. Ferns and Aruncus sylvestris are really something to brag about. All that lovely soft rain.


The climate is not kind to box, in our blight-afflicted era. But Scottish gardeners seem to battle on undeterred. Is there a lesson there for us all? The long, double (and very narrow) herbaceous borders are a case in point. I don’t really notice the box damage with the exuberance behind to draw the eye. But what will the damage be like in a few years’ time?


The seedheads of the angelica really sing out against the billowing shapes behind it – and where would the form and sense of the planting be without the sharp lines of the box? Will they replace the box in years to come with something that will better tolerate close proximity to very tall border companions?

There are many plants in this border grouping that I think of as a bit thuggish on my own plot. Kellie Castle makes me think again. Goldenrod, Lysimachia punctata … Oh, and something to which I’m very partial: the pale yellow, fluffy flowers of Thalictrum speciossisum, rarely seen in such quantity.



A double form of Geranium himalayense (at a guess) is a bit more special.


The soil below is, as in all the best herbaceous borders, invisible. And here’s the secret of that incredibly tall – yet upright – growth in such a narrow space. A network of nylon webbing through which the plants grow in spring.


I was going to try the same in my own delphium borders, which are backed by michaelmas daisies. And then I realised it would be impossible, since I want to get in to cut the delphiniums.

Sometimes the dividing line between herbaceous border and lawn has been created by roses grown as swags on metal supports. A pretty solution for boundaries in a formal garden.



The organic vegetable plot doesn’t lack a decorative appeal either – and again, the path dressed with a rose-tumbled arch helps to pull the whole together.



There’s the odd little accent I’d kill for in my own garden – we don’t often see these forcers in this part of France. But the Kellie collection of rhubarb varieties is pretty spectacular and deserves the ornament.


And some quirky little trained fruit trees in an open area at the bottom of the garden.


Tropaeolum speciosum is not something I’m ever going to be trying at home. It loves acid soil and a cooler climate – it is hardy to -10 or -15 degrees centigrade. I’ve seen the best specimens climbing through yew hedges in Scottish gardens – not for nothing is the common name Scottish flame flower – although it actually comes from Chile. Kellie Castle’s sample is one of the nicest.



Finally, leave the walled garden for a breath of air on the beautiful Fife coastline.


I’ll be back with news from my own garden soon. Until then, have a good weekend!

Tree Following March 005





18 thoughts on “Scottish Inspiration 2: Kellie Castle Garden

  1. bittster

    Beautiful, and hard to imagine gardening on this scale and to this level. All that plus a layer of history deeper than anything on this side of the Atlantic and well it’s a little intimidating!

    1. Cathy Post author

      What we have to tell ourselves is that no one does it alone! There’s a little team there. At home its up to us. Lovely to hear from you, as always. Thinking of you the other day when I pondered more snowdrops!

  2. Eliza Waters

    Nice to hear from you again, Cathy. Love the gardens you’ve shared and looking forward to equal glory in the coming season. I wondered how they got all those delphiniums to stay upright – nylon webbing, ingenious!

    1. Cathy Post author

      It’s a good question, Eliza, especially given the rain. I didn’t notice any webbing in the delphinium border. I’ll have to go back and have another look this summer!

      1. Eliza Waters

        We get windy thunderstorms in summer that always knock down anything that isn’t staked, so I tend to avoid delphiniums, as much as I love their color.

  3. Sam

    Gosh, these borders are sumptuous visual feasts. I love the nepeta walkway and all the clever focal points. Nice to see a post from you, Cathy. Hope you’re well.

  4. Christina

    Really good to hear from you Cathy, I was thinking of you the other day and wondering how you were. I just can’t imagine gardening now in an area with so much rain. The choice of plants is almost limitless in comparison to here. Look forward to hearing more about your garden.

    1. Cathy Post author

      When I think of the reverse of Scottish gardens, I think of yours and all those wonderful billowing shapes and your glorious (early for me!) spring colour. I couldn’t choose between the two really! We should enjoy what we are able to do in our our gardens, right?

  5. Cathy

    Oh I am so pleased to read a post from you after all this time – I checked on your blog several times since the end of October to make sure I hadn’t missed a post. I do hope things are OK despite the long and difficult winter. What a wonderful garden to highlight on your first post back – and I am wondering why we didn’t visit Kelly Castle when we visited several other Fife gardens. Will need to remedy that sometime!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks for visiting, Cathy! Yes, it’s been a long time but you are sweet to have checked to see what I’ve been up to. I shall ‘tune in’ to vase on Monday today, although I may not contribute!

      1. Cathy

        But we do notice when one of our blogging community hasn’t been posting or commenting, so I am sure I won’t have been the only one to have been a little concerned…

  6. smallsunnygarden

    So wonderful to see your post – I too have been checking, and a bit concerned! What a gorgeous garden to tour; thanks for taking us along 🙂 I always love to have pictures of “the real thing” to inspire even though the plants must be totally different here! That Thalictrum is magnificent… all of it is! I hope you are having a lovely springtime now in your own beautiful garden!


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