Dunvegan Castle gardens opened up to RHS members

The gardens at the 900-year-old Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye have joined the RHS Partner Gardens scheme. Annunciata Elwes reports.

Dunvegan Castle & Gardens — home to the Chief of Clan MacLeod on the Isle of Skye for the past 800 years and winner of the 2019 Historic Houses Restoration Award — now has further cause for acclaim, having been accepted into the RHS Partner Gardens scheme.

Extensive re-landscaping and restoration to the remote five-acre garden has been going on since the 1970s, including work to a memorial gazebo, Victorian-style glasshouse, Garden Museum, children’s woodland play area featuring a Bugvegan Insect Hotel and 2¾-ton rotating Carrera-marble sculpture, the Dunvegan Pebble.

‘As any gardener would know, a garden does not stand still and our future plans include improved accessibility, new paths and planting schemes, an annual sculpture exhibition, more interactive educational experiences for children, a wildflower meadow and enhanced visitor interpretation,’ adds estate director Hugh MacLeod.

‘We are proud to have proved the mother of the 23rd Chief wrong when she told Dr Samuel Johnson in 1773 that “there was not and never could be a good garden at Dunvegan”.’

Dunvegan Castle is an intriguing building: dating to around the turn of the 13th century, it bears the mark of work done in at least 10 different architectural periods. That said, the face it presents to the world today would never give that away at first glance; the man to thank is the 25th Chief of Clan MacLeod, aka Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, who (as the website explains) had the key works carried out, bringing in a ‘unified design with Victorian dummy pepper-pots and defensive battlements running the whole length of the roof line.’ This restoration was carried out between 1840 and 1850, using to plans drawn up by Robert Brown of Edinburgh, at a total cost of £8,000.

RHS members can now enjoy free access to the gardens during the season, which opens April 1 — see more details at www.dunvegancastle.com. And if it’s too far for an easy visit, help is at hand: an architectural feature on the castle will run later this year in the Scottish special issue of Country Life, out on August 24.