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Glenapp Castle ~ Press Reviews

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The Reckless Gardener
Gardening News
(May 2007)

The Gardens of Glenapp Castle

If you love spring and the bursts of colour which you find in banks of rhododendrons and azaleas then Glenapp Castle will not disappoint.

The mature and beautifully maintained gardens at Glenapp, near Ballantrae, Ayrshire, offer a special place for rhododendron enthusiasts, with their remarkable number of rare and unusual specimen plants in its 36 acres of secluded grounds.

The castle, formerly the home of the Earls of Inchcape, has been lovingly restored by current owners Graham and Fay Cowan, who now operate it as a five star luxury hotel. It boasts an Azalea Pond, a small lake surrounded by bursts of colour, from which the view up to the castle is especially rewarding.

Graham recalls a visit to the castle by a party from the American Rhododendron Society, who wanted to stay in pleasant surroundings while they concentrated their attentions on Logan Botanical Gardens, a plantsman's paradise south of Stranraer.

The impulse to explore the gardens at Glenapp, however, is difficult to resist and the members of the society had hardly ventured out before Graham saw them animatedly referring to their books and conducting their tour ever more vigorously.

It transpired, on their return, that Glenapp's acres were home to varieties of the plants which had never been catalogued anywhere in the world before. The party's excitement was palpable - so much so that they cancelled one of their day trips to world-famous Logan to concentrate their attentions on Glenapp.

The Cowans have a full-time gardening team of three, led by head gardener Bobby Cunningham, and have transformed the extensive grounds, which had reverted to wilderness when they took over the reins in 1994.

Glenapp Castle Gardens & Grounds
Glenapp Castle Gardens & Grounds Victorian glasshouse Glenapp Castle Gardens & Grounds

The magnificient walled garden has been restored - it contains a 150 foot Victorian glasshouse which is divided into rooms and nourishes ancient vines, peach trees and a solitary tamarillo, or tree tomato. The walled garden is perhaps a little unusual in that a sparkling burn runs through it.

Glenapp prides itself on the remarkable measure of peace and privacy it can offer and the gardens complement this with hidden nooks and corners and strategically-placed seating.

Although spring, summer and early autumn are best for Glenapp's rhododendrons - they vary in colour from whites, through to reds, yellows, blues, pink and violet - their foliage lasts all year and their leaves vary in shades from blue and green to silver, with some new growths a stunning coppery red.

From the Azalea Pond, the gardens meander back up to the formal Italianate terraces which front the house. Here herbs grow between the sun warmed flagstones and sundials stonily observe the passing of the seasons.

The Cowan's favourite spot is by the pond, looking up towards the Scottish baronial opulence of the main castle building.

"There are times when the castle is so busy that it seems we don’t get out for weeks on end, but when we get the chance, we both love to take a walk and sometimes sit on a bench for a while."

On the teak bench by the pond, the words of Dorothy Frances Gurney are engraved.

"The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth."

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