The charming gardens of League Castle on the banks of Loch Ness
TThere’s a lot to love about Alduri Castle, which was purchased in 2014 by Danish fashion billionaires Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen. With its 19th-century baronial conical towers, mashrabiya windows, ropework, terraced tower, and its location at the north-eastern end of Loch Ness, the building looks like something out of a fairytale. But it’s the league’s gardens and parks, designed by landscape designer Tom Stuart-Smith, that really capture the imagination.
When he first visited, in 2015, it was, he says, “50 acres of mowed grass and a custard-colored castle that was very nice.” For Holch Povlsens, Aldourie – set in 220,000 acres of upland – was the perfect next addition to their Scottish Wildland conservation project; The complete “To restore biodiversity, support birds, bees and butterflies, while honoring and preserving the history of the area,” says Anne.
Stuart Smith is known for his modern, naturalistic touch, which is evident not only in the tranquil formal garden that immediately surrounds the castle, but also in the Victorian-style walled garden and orchard. He added vast expanses of wildflower meadows and supported the future of the old nursery on the property by removing invasive rhododendrons and planting more than eight million trees. “Lots of oaks and pines, nothing too fancy,” he says.
Aiming to create “micro experiences” wherever you wander, Stuart Smith created deep, long, westward views of Loch Ness by thinning or raising tree canopies and laying paths to wind around centuries-old sycamores and cedar trees. Quiet corners have been created – including small cottages, quaint valleys, and the new Belvedere Pavilion – where visitors can fully immerse themselves in nature, whether they are sitting quietly reading a book, gazing at the sky, taking a stroll by the river or swimming in the lake.
Designer Tom Stuart Smith
Stuart Smith, who founded his company 25 years ago, has designed each area of the property to have character. Some parts feel “very rough and unruly, while other parts feel rich and nurturing,” he says. In the formal garden, which straddles a crisp green lawn that extends from the castle terrace to the pebbled lakeshore, the intersection of grassy borders offers what he calls “diagonal, not direct, views.” You’ll feel better about the garden when you’re in it, rather than at the end of it.”
In the late-blooming summer garden, shades of soft pink Japanese anemones, delicate go-bei grasses, purple asters and golden grasses echo the simple color palette Anne chose for her 19th-century interiors, which she planned in collaboration with antique jamb specialists . In winter, plant skeletons and flower heads are left untouched to add interest, while the beech top, cut to look like stocky people, turns a warm burgundy color that harmonizes with the castle’s terracotta facade.
The walled garden, once just one wall, a few blackberry bushes and a couple of greenhouses restored by the previous owner, Roger Tempest, is now a hive of wild productivity on 1.5 acres. A central vegetable patch filled with lettuce, onions, beets, leafy brassicas, fennel and cut flowers, plus heirloom apples and pears cascades up and over a wrought-iron tunnel, surrounded by a serpentine border flowing with dancing fountain grasses and pink echinacea. Fireweed, delicate yarrow, and violet hydrangea.
The estate owes much of its beauty to master gardener Elliot Forsyth and his team of seven. “For this place to thrive, it had to take on some of their personality as well as mine,” says Stuart Smith. “You can’t treat it like a frozen piece of music, because sooner or later it will die.”
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It’s the same attitude he uses in all his projects, which have included the gardens at Chatsworth House, Windsor Castle and others abroad, in locations from Berlin and Beijing to the Balearic Islands. “I’m reaching the ripe old age of 63, and part of the thrill is dealing with people who know the place and culture much better than I do, and drawing on their strengths and bringing out the best in them,” he says.
The same can be said about the league. “I wanted the garden to have a bit of spunk and panache without being campy, because that would belittle the castle, which punches above its weight with such great spirit,” says Stuart Smith. “I tried to strike a balance between grandeur and intimacy.”