History of the Gardens
Just how long there has been a Castle Garden in Ellon is difficult to tell. However we are fairly sure that there was a castle in this area dating back to the 1400s and that ties in with the age of some of the oldest yew trees which are reckoned to be about 800 years old. We have evidence that Kennedy of Kermuck bought land at the Hill of Ardgith in 1413 and built his castle “The Fortalice of Ardgith” there. Some of the yew trees were possibly already there when the castle was built but almost certainly there was no formal garden at that time. A drawing by the artist James Giles dated 1841 shows the castle with the terrace and little else by way of garden. The castle had been extensively remodelled in the 1780s but by 1850 it was in a poor state and it was decided to build a new castle.
In 1918, the estate was sold by the last Gordon laird to Sir Frederick Becker who pulled most of it down and converted the 18th century offices of the older castle into a more manageable home. In 1929 the property was bought by Sir Edward Reid, son of Sir James Reid – Queen Victoria’s physician. The Reids remained in the castle until the 1970s when it was sold to a property developer – Ian McDonald. He sold to Albert & Elizabeth Tawse who after several years sold it to Drs James & Patricia Donaldson.
Like most Scottish castles, Ellon Castle has had a bloody past. In 1652, Kennedy became entangled in a dispute over the building of a mill lade with his neighbour – Forbes of Waterton. Things came to head and Forbes was mortally wounded by Kennedy. The Kennedys were outlawed and fled to Caithness. One of the subsequent owners of the Castle – Baillie Gordon, also experienced great misfortune since his two elder sons were murdered by their tutor. There is also a story suggesting that there is a tunnel from the castle under the Ythan to the episcopal rectory of St Mary–on-the–Rock. It may be a relic of the Jacobite era since the Gordons were Jacobites as were the Episcopalians.
It is almost certain that the garden was set out by Baillie James Gordon and completed in 1715. He it was who built the terrace and the high retaining walls. The yew trees nearest the terrace do not flourish as well as those further back suggesting that they were planted on ground hollowed out of the hillside and therefore not of as good quality soil. This ties the age of these yews to the building of the terrace. Thus the younger yews would be 300 years old.
The original garden was smaller and the wonderful Schedule A sundial was the centrepiece. Subsequently the garden was extended by some thirty yards about 1850 when the new castle was being constructed by some thirty yards. By 1845, the garden was in a sadly neglected state but Alexander Gordon known as the old laird set about restoring it to how it had been in his youth. His youngest daughter Eleanor in particular loved the garden and its tranquillity – a characteristic which the garden still retains.
George Gibson was the gardener from 1903 until 1947. Sometimes, single handedly, he tended the garden with dedication and love. His particular favourite flowers were veratrum nigrum and the double lilac primrose.