When I told my friend that I’d toured 3 castles during my first 3 days in Scotland, her thought was, “If you’ve seen one castle, haven’t you seen them all?” However, having visited several of Scotland’s castles this month, I can safely say that no two are alike! No one can accuse Scotland of lacking castles. I’d be interested to know what the ratio is per square mile. Some castles are mere ruins; others have been occupied by families and/or clan leaders longer than America’s existed as a country. Urquhart Castle (pronounced Er-keht), which looks out over Loch Ness, was purposefully blown up by its owners to keep Jacobite forces from taking control. Many castles are simple fortresses to claim or protect territory. Others were built as protective walls, with a village of people or armies living inside. Some were built for glory, (then torn down and rebuilt even larger) to declare the owner’s wealth. Each is famous in its own right. But a few are famous for their gardens. When a family has lived in one place for generations, they have time to cultivate trees, flower-beds, walled gardens, waterfalls, in some areas of Scotland even tropical plants. Think of it as “Let’s plant a bush for Mom for Mother’s Day”…then times that by several hundred Mother’s Days.
One garden especially well-known on the Isle of Skye is Dunvegan Castle garden. When you walk down Dunvegan paths, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a scene from The Secret Garden. Natural waterfalls tumble into streams, with foot-bridges crossing them. A fence constructed of sawn branches lines walkways, blending in naturally with its surroundings. The Walled Garden houses more protected plants, including a lily pond with deep pink waterlilies gracing the tranquil surface. Meanwhile, the Round Garden has sections of open lawn and monkey puzzle trees stretching up to the sky. Everywhere color explodes around you in flowers of all kinds, each labeled with name and Latin classification for those who care to know what they’re seeing.
Of course, these gardens don’t take care of themselves. Acres of manicured beds, trimmed hedges, and weed-free paths require work. So, today’s portrait is dedicated to the many gardeners working behind the scenes to maintain a castle garden’s majesty. This particular portrait is a woman who works part-time at Dunvegan. In the few minutes I spoke with her, it was evident that gardening is both an enjoyment and a labor of love. She seemed a quiet individual; perhaps shy, but happy to talk about the plants in her care. Each gardener is given a particular section of the grounds to maintain. Her segment includes Rhododendron hedges (Scotland’s famous weed), spotted with pale pink blossoms. It also includes several beds with springy green heather tucked amongst the flowers. As I photographed her, she was trimming the heather. When I asked when the heather blooms, she told me that this is a garden-variety heather that blooms in spring. The wild heather which transforms Scotland’s hills to gorgeous purple will bloom later this summer or early autumn. An old wheel barrow with tools and extra flowers stood nearby. And as we finished our conversation, she paused to put on “midgie gear,” a net-like head covering to protect her from midge bites. For those who don’t know, the midge is the national bird of Scotland. Just kidding! However, they are like tiny gnats that swarm and leave you itching. In a garden that looks like paradise, midges remind you you’re definitely on earth. With her midge protection in place, the Dunvegan gardener continued quietly and happily, content in her work.