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Kildrummy Castle Gardens: like Chelsea without the crowds by Maggie O'Sullivan

Posted in DESTINATIONS By Maggie O' Sullivan

Much as I love the Chelsea Flower Show, it’s not a great place to ‘simply be’ – as anyone who has ever spent half an hour queuing for a jug of Pimm’s knows. So instead of joining the crowds in SW3 this year, I went to Aberdeenshire and had this glorious glen garden all to myself. Kildrummy Castle Gardens were created around 100 years ago by an Aberdonian soap manufacturer called Colonel James Ogstone. The Kildrummy estate, which included the gardens, the ruins of a 13th-century castle, and a Scottish Baronial pile, was bought by James and Hylda Smith in the 1950s, and as well as turning the house into a hotel, the Smiths set up a charitable trust to maintain the gardens. You can find out more in the ‘museum’ which doubles as a refuge when it’s raining – which, this being Aberdeenshire, it often is.Guests at Kildrummy Castle Hotel – where I was staying – are allowed to explore the gardens after hours, so on Tuesday evening, I made my way down through the dripping trees, to emerge by an immaculate lawn the colour of emeralds. To the left, a quarry garden of delicately planted alpines, herbaceous plants and shrubs against a backdrop of pink sandstone. To the right, a water garden, scattered with bright yellow lysichiton and fed by a crystal-clear burn. Spanning it all, a replica of the famous Brig o’ Balgownie in Aberdeen. The only sounds were birdsong and the gentle tap of raindrops on water.With the smudged outline of the castle ruins above, no made-for-Chelsea garden was ever this romantic, though Kildrummy does look as though every last plant has been carefully selected and painstakingly placed. Which, of course, it has. But unlike Chelsea, when you’re done with the gardens, you can either visit the castle – once the seat of the mighty Earls of Mar – or take the woodland path up to the hotel for tea on the lawn, and gaze at those ruins over a homemade scone.As for the Kildrummy Castle Hotel itself – the food is excellent and the 16 rooms cosy and comfortable, though this type of historic property needs an engaging host to create a convivial atmosphere and when I visited there didn’t seem to be anyone fulfilling that role. Still, its location would be hard to beat, and on a wet Tuesday evening in May, the hotel was full.

Kildrummy Castle Hotel, from £125 per night. Entrance to Kildrummy Castle Gardens, open April-October, £4.50.

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