When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother bought the Castle of Mey in 1952, the gardens had been neglected for some years and the head gardener James Sinclair and after him Sandy Webster did much to bring them back to their former glory. In 2000 Grant Napier became head gardener and gradually and successfully adapted the gardens so that there is more for the visitors to enjoy during the season when the gardens are open to the public. Gardening Consultant Day Howden has been giving input to help with extending the season.
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 Mothers time. However, a good deal of thought, experience and trial and error have been put into the selection of many more varieties of plants to cater for visitors over the extended season. The Walled Garden is separated into sections by mixed hedges both to work as windbreaks and to create surprises around each corner. The hedges have been there for many years and are made up of a variety of hardy shrubs. The fruit, vegetables and flowers grown in the garden and greenhouse are used by HRH The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay when he is staying in the castle. HRH takes a great interest in the development of His Grandmothers garden and in the effects of the Caithness climate. The produce is also used by the tearoom and any surplus is sold at the plant-stall outside the greenhouse together with an assortment of home-grown plants. The fruit trees have been in the garden for very many years.
The Queen Mother's experienced green fingers ensured that the garden at The Castle of Mey has prospered. She even managed to nurture her favourite old rose, Albertine, into scented abundance behind the Great Wall of Mey. The garden is full of marigolds, pansies, dahlias, primulas and nasturtiums, while old-fashioned shrub roses and climbers form the highlights of the Shell Garden, where The Queen Mother used to sit with her corgis in the afternoons. It is as it was in Her day, and the same Albertine rose still grows on the wall, as does the London Pride surrounding each rose bed. A new addition is a Sensory Border which contains plants of interesting textures, smells, taste and colours..
Although The Queen Mother contributed greatly to many royal gardens, it is perhaps the Castle of Mey's that are more hers than any other. It is no coincidence that her grandson, Prince Charles, is today one of our most celebrated royal gardeners. He is helping the Trustees with their plans to extend the growing season for the benefit of our early season visitors, which is no easy task this far north. He greatly enjoys the gardens during his annual visits, just as his grandmother did before him.
This romantic and unique garden is a reminder that, however daunting the weather, it is often possible with a little vision and energy to create and maintain a garden in the most unlikely of locations.
The East Garden is on the other side of the castle. This too is dissected by Fuschia hedges for shelter. The different sections are planted with woodland plants such as Primulla, Meconopsis, Astilbes, Hellebores, Hostas, Ferns and Foxgloves. Visitors are very welcome to follow the paths through the woods.
The Gardens of Mey are open during the season and on three days each year proceeds are donated to
Scotland's Gardens Scheme.