The Walled Garden at Gordon Castle, is being lovingly restored to its former glory. The estate has a café serving home cooked food fresh from the Walled Garden, and a shop that sells luxury Scottish gifts and traditional food and drink.
What are the origins of the garden and when did you get involved?
The Walled Garden was built for the Castle in its present form in the early 1800s and was complete by 1808. I picked raspberries there as a child – my grandmother grew up to 60 tons of them! Unfortunately, it later fell into disrepair.
My wife Zara and I formally took over the estate in 2008 and resolved, amongst other things, to set about restoring and modernising the garden.
Tell me a little about the goals and ethos of the company/walled garden and how you are setting about achieving them?
Our vision is to make Gordon Castle Scotland a quality global brand, which is multi layered and innovative, using our historical assets to tell the story of what is a magical place. We are achieving this by creating a range of products that all emanate and contain something from the garden, and by having the Walled Garden and its beautiful café, where people can see our ethos of Plant.Pick.Plate happen on a daily basis.
Have you found that more and more people are engaging with their outside spaces?
Yes, especially if they have a “story” to tell and particularly kitchen gardens as people care more about the provenance of their food and healthy eating.
Do you have any major projects coming up in the walled garden?
We are in the middle of a very major project overall. The Walled Garden is currently in the middle of a five-year renovation project, following a design by Arne Maynard. So we’ll be carrying on with that and looking forward to seeing the finished product. Aside from that, we will hopefully have an outdoor theatre production happening and some concerts planned for the summer in our outdoor theatre space.
How do you make the business and garden part of the local community?
We try to engage with and listen to as many people as possible and also invite people along to visit the Walled Garden and Castle. We do this through various methods, such as: our friends of the Walled Garden scheme; by encouraging school visits and gardening clubs; by holding competitions, such as a recent art competition for children at Christmas; by hosting events, such as the local Moray Tourism awards lunch; and by welcoming volunteers. We also hold a very successful Highland games and country fair in the grounds, attracting some 10,000 visitors, and this helps showcase our business and Walled Garden.
With many gardening celebrities having high media profiles, do you think this is one way in which younger generations will be encouraged to get involved and is this something Gordon Castle tries to encompass?
Absolutely. We try to encourage schools to visit as much as possible. We’ve also had students doing their Duke of Edinburgh award scheme help out and the local horticultural college has also visited. However, we think schools and careers advisors could do more to promote it as a worthwhile career.
Tell me about your product range and its relationship with the garden- how this has expanded since your involvement?
Our varied product range has a key relationship to the garden. It ranges from our award winning gin, which uses botanicals from the garden, to bath and beauty products that are naturally fragranced with essential oils distilled on site again from garden produce, and our apple and pear cider, which contains fruit from the 257 Walled Garden espaliered fruit trees, and finally bags made using our estate tweed.
Was Gordon Castle quick to expand into merchandise, food and drink or did this follow some time after establishing the garden and house?
The food and drink offering and products were established right at the beginning of the project. We built the café alongside the first phase of the restoration of the Walled Garden and then the shop opened 3months later selling products we were already serving in the café
What has been your best-selling product over the past 12 months? And what products are you excited about for the next 12 months?
Our award winning botanical gin is our best seller and we are excited about the launch of our ‘Antler’ China range in partnership with Halcyon Days in Fortnum & Mason, London, next month.
Has the past year been kind to the garden and Gordon Castle at large?
Yes, we think we are going from strength to strength but opening to the public for the first time in its history has been challenging. We are very excited about how our first year has gone and look forward to building on our success both onsite and further afield and we hope for a long, hot and dry summer!
Do you try to reflect the seasonal nature of the walled garden in the products and food you offer?
Of course, it is very important for the café to have a seasonal menu. In the summer we were self sufficient in salad leaves and have been using all of our root vegetables through the festive period.
Are there any further topics or issues you believe should be highlighted?
More help for entrepreneurs starting up, less red-tape and box ticking.