Cawdor Castle Cawdor Nairn IV12 5RD

When it comes to history and romance, Cawdor Castle has both in abundance and its ancient walls, drawbridge and links to Macbeth have ensured a stream of visitors over the centuries. Dr Samuel Johnson stopped off here on his tour of the islands and Robert Burns also stayed under its roof.

Originally built as a fortress in the 14th century, the castle today is filled with artworks, tapestries and sculptures but some of its greatest treasures are to be found in the natural world that surrounds it.

The Big Wood of Cawdor, which at the moment is carpeted with bluebells, is a remnant of the great Caledonian Forest that once covered much of Scotland while clustered around the castle are a series of beautiful gardens filled with flowers and produce.

From the formality of the walled garden to the productive kitchen garden which is operated on biodynamic principles, with planting and cultivating carried out in accordance with the phases of the moon, the gardens are cleverly designed to provide interest over a long period.

Meanwhile the more relaxed areas of the gardens are home to an important collection of Tibetan plants, which were brought back to Cawdor more than 80 years ago by the 5th Earl following a plant-hunting expedition to the Himalayas.

Amongst the rare rhododendrons and scented azaleas which are currently flowering along the Cawdor Burn, is a host of brilliantly-coloured Meconopsis. These blue poppies were, for many years, considered to only exist in myth after reports of sightings began to filter to Europe.

Eventually, a hundred years ago the first blue poppies arrived in Britain and when they flowered they caused a huge stir and gardeners clamoured to grow them. Yet there was a problem. Across much of the UK these sky-blue blooms needed moist, acidic soil and cloudy skies in order to flourish.

Fortunately Scotland could provide exactly what was needed and as a result many of the great gardens here became the first places to cultivate them successfully.

Those at Cawdor are just opening now and they will be in flower until early June when the first of the castle’s many roses will also be starting to bloom.

Currently there is no entry to the huge holly maze, but the statue of a minotaur which stands on a plinth at its centre is clearly visible and is one of many exciting artworks that are set throughout the grounds. From clipped yews, grown wonky with age, smooth lawns and tall hedges, Cawdor provides exciting contrasts between classical features and frothy planting, all set against a green backdrop of some of Scotland’s finest trees.

Out of the Blue

It is easy to see why Victorian horticulturists dismissed early reports of a poppy as blue as the ocean. The only poppies they knew were red, pink or yellow and the idea of one with flowers plucked from the opposite side of the colour wheel seemed as likely as a black rose.

When it finally arrived here the blue poppy caused a sensation and it still provokes wonder amongst those who see it today. Fortunately there are many places in Scotland where blue poppies can be enjoyed at the moment, including at Dawyck Garden near Peebles and Saline House in Fife.

The Herald: Branklyn Garden in PerthBranklyn Garden in Perth (Image: free)

Some of the best can be found at Branklyn Garden in Perth, where founders Dorothy and John Renton’s established links to some of Scotland’s most intrepid plant hunters, meant that they were amongst the first to grow it when they began to make their garden in the 1920s.

Blue poppies grow in abundance at Crarae on Loch Fyne, which have recently reopened after suffering storm damage earlier in the year.

Here they flourish along the banks of a tumbling burn that rushes off the hillside, surrounded by other Himalayan plants, providing a naturalistic setting for these natives of Bhutan and Tibet.

Details: Cawdor Castle Gardens are open daily, 10am - 5pm Garden tickets: ££9/£7/ free (5 and under) Tel: 01667 404401 Cawdor Castle is off the B9090, six miles south of Nairn.

In association with Discover Scottish Gardens. See