Olga – our gardening adviser

Olga at Castle of Mey

Olga at Castle of Mey

I was Head Gardener for 2 years at Castle of Mey. When growing in Caithness it is not so much frost that’s the problem as the cold blast of wind from the coast. It was a real challenge of growing in a colder climate.

The garden is created with flowers and shrubs, vegetables and fruit. The first defence against the wind in the walled garden is a tapestry hedge which divides the garden into rooms and gives vital protection from the wind.  I also managed to outwit the wind by growing only plants  that proved themselves. Like pale yellow scented primula florinadae,  the blue and sliver flower-  heads  of eryngium, geranium johnson and geranium psilostemon.  There is a story from the  previous head gardener Sandy Webster in which he notes the wind being so bad one day that it blew the cabbages over the walls, I didn’t quite believe the tale could be true until one November when there was a wind of 104mph.

The cooler climate in Caithness puts you much as a month behind everyone else in terms of growing and during tough years even up to  two months behind. Therefore I used to bring on all vegetables under cover before they went outside even onions and brassicas.  This method usually works fairly well although it didn’t help when we got frost in June!

I really liked the challenge of growing in colder climates and it was a great feeling when I was able to supply the visitors in the tea room with fresh produce despite the conditions.  I used to grow most of the traditional vegetables like carrots, parsnips, cabbages, cauliflowers, etc.
Overall I find heritage vegetable varieties do better in this parts of the UK than modern cultivars, as they tend to show superior resistance to the cold. One year I decided to cultivate Shetland black potatoes as we were so far north and they did really well. I think that by exploring varieties that are specific to your location you can expand the choice of the crops you can grow, even in most challenging climates.  It might be hard work gardening in demanding locations like Caithness but the reward of harvesting beautiful and tasty home growing produce in spite of the conditions make all the effort worthwhile.
Now I work for Mr and Mrs Stancioff at Dunlugas Estate, Aberdeenshire which is a new challenge, and pass  my 20 years of knowledge on to other people by teaching workshops.