The Castle of Mey

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, first viewed the then Barrogil Castle in 1952 whilst mourning the death of her beloved husband, King George VI. She fell for its remote isolated charm and when she heard it was to be left abandoned she was inspired to save it and preserve part of Scotland’s heritage. She bought it from Captain Imbert-Terry and it was the only property that she ever owned.

Once the Queen Mother acquired the most northern castle on the Scottish mainland, she set about restoring and renovating the castle to its former glory. She changed the name back to the orginal Castle of Mey and created beautiful gardens you can visit today. For almost half a century she visited and stayed for many happy summers here and visited at other times of the year as well. She had great affection for Scotland and in particular for the warmth of the Caithness people.

The gardens consist of the Walled Garden and the East Garden with a woodland area. The overall design remains much as it was in The Queen Mother’s time. Growing plants in this northern region can be challenging at times but this didn’t stop the Queen Mother developing a beautiful and productive garden. A 15ft high ‘Great Wall of Mey’ protects the plants from fierce gales and sea spray that blows in off the Pentland Firth. The walled garden is 2 acres in size and since it opened to the public in 2002 there have been several new developments including a  refurbished greenhouse for sweet Duke of York peaches and a viewing turret positioned in the South-east corner. The Queen Mother came from a family with impressive gardens such as Glamis Castle in Scotland and St Paul’s Walden Bury in Hertfordshire. As Queen her horticultural enthusiasm and skills were responsible for the garden at Royal Lodge Windsor and creating Sandringham’s formal garden and many ornamental trees and shrubs planted at Buckingham Palace. Her green fingers and horticultural experience meant that the Gardens at the Castle of Mey also flourished.

The Queen Mother even managed to nurture her favourite rose, Albertine – a pale salmon pink rose which has a wonderfully rich and fruity fragrance. A rambling rose with a branching, bushy habit and small dark green leaves. The garden today now consist of mainly roses, herbaceous perennials and old favourites like pink carnations, sweet peas and vibrant clary sage. The highlight must be the shell garden where roses and nasturtiums create a wonderful summer display and a favourite place to sit and enjoy the garden. The kitchen garden area within the walled garden also provides produce for the café and castle. Many of the fruit and vegetable varieties have been selected for their robust resistance to wind and sea spray. The current head gardener Chris Parkinson is also developing a woodland walk and adding plants that will provide year round interest. Whether you’d like to take a tour of the castle, visit the animal centre or take a wander round the walled Garden, there’s certainly something for everyone at the Castle of Mey. To find out more information about the Castle of Mey please visit

Get back to your Roots

Bringing you closer to Scottish flowers and plants at home ROOTS is a celebration of Scotland’s flora, helping both your garden and The National Trust for Scotland’s gardens thrive and flourish. 

For £6 a month NTS will send you a ROOTS pack every six weeks, with gardening goodies, stories about Scotland’s plant life and tips from their expert Trust gardeners. 

ROOTS can be bought as a treat for yourself or as a gift for a loved one. 

Your subscription will include: 

  • A ROOTS pack sent to you every six weeks with gardening goodies to help your garden bloom – and six times a year the packs will also contain a packet of Scottish seeds for you to grow at home 
  • Planting guides written by our expert Trust gardeners so your seeds will flourish 
  • Stories and histories of the Scottish plants protected and cared for by the Trust 
  • Regular emails with top tips and ‘How To’ guides, gardening blogs and articles from our gardeners 
  • An invitation to two exclusive ROOTS events a year with our gardens team 
  • Gift subscriptions also include a gift certificate so your loved one will know who their special gift came from

Within the pack this month our two packets of seed one Heather (Calluna vulgaris) and the other Viola riviniana.   

Violet (Viola riviniana) 
 This dainty purple flower is a beautiful spring plant typically found in the wild throughout Scotland. It grows in a wide range of sites from woodlands & grasslands to heath and hedgerows. Where it grows it forms small low clumps with distinctive glossy dark green heart shaped leaves. It is known for being the food source for a number of butterflies including the Pearl-bordered Fritillary. When sowing the seed it is best to do this in trays or pots in moist compost and the ideal time to do this is in spring or autumn. Once the seeds germinate you will be able to transplant them to an open site in your garden. You can also scatter the seed directly onto a seed bed that has been finely raked – then firm down and water. Violets like light shade but will also tolerate sunny locations. They prefer soil conditions that are moist, well drained and rich in organic matter. They go well with our native Primula vulgaris, the common primrose, in spring. Violets also have a faintly sweet taste, slightly like a Parma Violet sweet. The young leaves can even be eaten as a green vegetable or in salads – however, do be aware that the roots and seeds are poisonous. 

Find out more here:

NTS Geilston Garden


Icelandic Poppies

3 folded notecards; Blank inside; Card size: 15cm x 15cm Printed in the UK on card from sustainable forests; Each card comes with a brown sustainable envelope; UK delivery included.


Foxglove Fantasy

3 folded notecards; Blank inside; Card size: 15cm x 15cm Printed in the UK on card from sustainable forests; Each card comes with a brown sustainable envelope; UK delivery included.


Summer Delight

3 folded notecards; Blank inside; Card size: 12.7cm x 12.7cm; Printed in the UK on card from sustainable forests; Each card comes with a brown sustainable envelope; UK delivery included.


Spring Medley

3 folded notecards; Blank inside; Card size: 12.7cm x 18cm Printed in the UK on card from sustainable forests; Each card comes with a brown sustainable envelope; UK delivery included.


Floating Hellebores

3 folded notecards; Blank inside; Card size: 12.7cm x 18cm Printed in the UK on card from sustainable forests; Each card comes with a brown sustainable envelope; UK delivery included.


Indoor – Smart Garden

Plants have been proven to help improve our health. Plants help to reduce stress, improve air quality, provide consumables and overall happiness. Everyone deserves the opportunity to grow wherever they live on earth.

Today 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. The Click and Grow Smart Garden allows you to grow plants indoors 365 days of the year. Even if you are a very busy household these growing systems take care of watering, light levels and nutrients while you enjoy the benefits.

With a Smart Garden you can grow your favourite herbs, salads, fruits, vegetables and flowers in any location in your home. It is a simple straightforward system to set up.  All you need to do is simply insert the pods, water and turn on the light.

This Smart Garden system has been designed similar to how coffee capsule pod machines operate. Instead of coffee pods they are composed of biodegradable plant pods containing seeds that you insert into the module.  These pods already contain the nutrients and minerals that your plants will need to grow into healthy adult plants. Once you have added the pods all you need to do is fill the system with water and turn the LED light on. This growing method has been designed so that it is as stress free as possible. The LED light which is inbuilt into the system has a timer with 16 hours on and 8 hours off. The light also acts as good additional light to any room in your home. The growing system also has a water float which lets you know when the plants need more water.

Watching your own seeds sprout into full grown plants is an unforgettable experience and is particularly fun for children to get involved. After all we all need a bit of nature in our lives to keep us happy and healthy.

To find out more about this Click and Grow product visit

Pink Delight

Early Summer Floral Design

Here is a Constance Spry inspired arrangement featuring early Summer plants grown in Scotland for you to try.




Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea (mixed hybrids)

 Foxgloves are incredible statuesque flowers at their best grown in a woodland setting. They put on a dazzling display in early summer each year and come in a range of colours from soft pinks, white and apricot shades.  They are a biennial plant meaning they put on a rosette of leaves in the first year, followed by flowers in the second. It is best to harvest the seed once ripe and sow in March each year and keep a succession of plants growing. Note the seed requires light to germinate so never cover the seed when sowing into a seed tray. Alternatively let them seed themselves around in areas of your garden. The flowers are loved by bumble bees and they they do best in humus- rich, moist well drained soil in shade or semi shade. The name Digitalis means finger or digit as the flowers are thimble like in appearance. It is also important to note that all parts of Foxgloves are actually poisonous both to us and animals. Despite this Foxgloves are used in modern medicine as a heart stimulant drug.




Rose – Rosa ‘Alan Titchmarsh’

What is summer without Roses in your floral creations. This soft pink Rose is just irresistible and desirable in your summer garden flowering in June. They like full sun in fertile humus-rich soil and it is best each Spring to feed them with well rotted manure and your own compost to keep them in peak condition. Dead heading Roses is an important process to encourage more flowers. Each flowering stem can be cut back as far as three sets of leaves. The amount you cut back controls, to some extent, the shape and size of your plant.




Cirsum rivulare “Atropurpureum’

 The plume thistle is a tall crimson, flowering herbaceous perennial of about 2 metres which looks handsome in the middle of a herbaceous or mixed border. It does best in full sun on moist well drained soil, however it can tolerate some dryness and partial shade. If you find the plant starting to self seed and become an issue you can cut back the seed head in the Autumn. It is also easy to collect the seed and grow from seed. I love it in a garden and so do the bees they are always all over it when it is flowering.




Hosta ‘Blue Jay’

There is nothing quite like the blue foliage of certain Hostas. The wonderful thing about blue Hostas is that slugs and snails tend to prefer the green forms to eat rather than the blue. This will mean fewer munched and hole ridden Hostas in your garden. Prized for their foliage they also have flowers that appear in lilac or white during July and some can even be scented. Place in a light- or semi-shaded position and  Hostas are very hardy so they’ll thrive even in a north-facing garden or frost pocket. They are ideal for a rain garden or pond area, and can also be grown successfully in containers.

Red Campion – Silene dioica

 This dainty native wildflower has pink flowers that are known for brightening our roadsides, hedgerows and woodland edges in early summer each year just after the bluebells have gone over. The flowers are also a good source of food for moths, bees and butterflies. They flower in May and June and do best in semi shade and are tolerant of most soils. You can sow the seed from March – October.

Geranium macrorrhizum

One of my favourite hardy Geraniums which has attractive delicate pink flowers. These flowers appear on long stems with protruding anthers and pistil. They grow well in full sun but can also thrive in shade. With a spreading habitat it is best to divide this herbaceous perennial every 3 – 5 years and feed with an organic mulch each Spring. Bees also love this plant and once it has finished flowering it is a good idea to dead head using your shears to encourage a second flush later in the summer.



Growing Pulsatilla

The genus Pulsatilla are a group of attractive perennial wildflowers native to the Northern hemisphere and distributed across a wide range of Europe and SW Asia. In our own gardens we can enjoy growing Pulsatilla for their magical early spring flowers. The flowers are soft and the foliage is covered in delicate grey-green hairy foliage. After flowering the attractive silky seed heads last for many months.


In the wild Pulsatilla grow in grasslands where the soils are alkaline and of limestone origin. They are herbaceous which means they die down in winter by losing their leaves and they also have deep tap roots.  In early spring the leaves re-emerge before they flower and tend to bloom for many weeks. Often called the Pasque flower as they bloom at Easter and make an ideal companion plant for many early spring flowering bulbs such as miniature daffodils, crocus and muscari. Like many of these, Pulsatilla are an invaluable source of early season nectar for pollinators such as bees.


Plant Pulsatilla in well-drained, alkaline soils with full to partial sun. In wetter climates, these herbaceous perennials are best situated on sloping beds, a rockery and in raised beds so their roots don’t sit in waterlogged soil over the winter season. They thrive in cold weather and look particularly beautiful with a dusting of morning frost on their silvery foliage. Each year it is a good idea to allow the plants to release their seeds before cutting off the old flowers stalks to allow them to gently re-seed themselves in your garden. Once young seedlings emerge they can be transplanted without too much difficulty to your desired location. Once established they produce those long, deep tap roots and do not like being moved so leave them in their situation.

Pulsatilla vulgaris (lilac form)


Chic Chicory

Add excitement to your winter vegetable patch by growing the glamorous vegetable chicory. This winter vegetable is a must as it is incredibly hardy and looks terrific on your plate. It is not grown enough in the UK yet it is the perfect winter vegetable for you to grow alongside kale. A member of the dandelion family, Chicory is a perennial herbaceous plant, mostly used for salads or cooked where it tends to lose its bitterness.

It grows best in fertile soil and can grow happily in full sun or part shade. It is best to direct sow the seed about 1cm deep in late May – July for harvesting in the winter months later that year. You can also sow the seed in cells for planting out or in some cases you can actually force this vegetable inside. Another clever way to cultivate this vegetable is by sowing the seed in a half gutter pipe which you can then easily slide out and transplant into your vegetable bed. This is such a versatile vegetable that it can even be grown in plant containers or window boxes. The key is to keep chicory moist to prevent the bitterness of the vegetable developing. The flowers on the plants are also edible.


Chicory Salad Recipe  

Ingredients: Pear, chicory and blue cheese. 

Wash the chicory and discard the outer leaves. Slice up the chicory and pear into thin slices. Add lemon juice to prevent discolouration and lightly toss in a bowl. Add parsley and walnut halves to the mix. Prepare a walnut and lemon juice dressing which is drizzled over the salad. Then gently crumble blue cheese over the top and serve immediately.



Clementine Wreath

Make this festive Christmas wreath which is contemporary in its regular appearance, yet bold in the use of materials and colours. The design is composed of a tightly grouped ring of clementines, cranberries and green leaves. There is nothing that says Christmas more than sweet clementines and cranberries! The wonderful thing about this wreath is it has a citrus smell, but can be made more aromatic by using bay leaves or other herbs instead of evergreens like ivy.



Florist wire


Florist ring soaked


Leaves; bay leaves, ivy, pine, skimmia

Step 1: Push florist wire through the base of each clementine from one side to the other, then face the ends down the way to create a hair pin shape. This can then be pushed and secured onto the florist foam. Remember to soak the foam ring in water prior to assembling the wreath.

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Step 2: Arrange the clementines in a tight circle on the top of the ring by pushing the wire ends into the foam.


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Step 3: Form an inner ring using short sections of florist wire or cocktail sticks to insert the red cranberries into the wreath.

Step 4: Evenly distribute the leaves around the wreath ensuring no foam is visible.


This wreath will look spectacular hung on a door or wall and can even be used as a table centre piece with the addition of candles. It is a heavy wreath so if you plan to hang it do ensure you fix it securely.

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Japanese Acers

Once you plant one Japanese Acer  in your garden you are likely to become addicted to Acers! Many gardeners can’t stop at just one. One reason for this is the staggering diversity of Acers available but it is hard to believe they have come from primarily three species; Acer japonicum, Acer shirasawanum and Acer palmatum.

In colour, size, shape and texture no other tree provides so many options. You will find dwarf, midsize and large forms. Some are vase shaped while others cascade or form a column. In some cases the leaves can be star shaped, deeply dissected or nearly round. The colour range in Japanese Acers is breathtaking ranging from purples, reds, oranges, yellows and greens. Often under appreciated are their sculptural trunks during the winter months.


Design wise they provide colour echoes as well as textural highlights when dispersed through your borders. Even a single specimen can create a stunning centrepiece in the garden. These trees are basically like a living sculpture and they are constantly changing throughout the season. Planting companions are Ginkgo biloba, Rhododendrons and Metasequoia glyptostroboides.

Even if you have a small garden you can still participate in Acer madness. They do particularly well in small containers and pots. Once in a pot your tree is then mobile and able to be moved around your garden to suit your preference.

When growing Acers make sure they are sheltered from strong winds and harsh bright sunlight to prevent the leaves becoming scorched.