Royal Gardeners

The Making of the Gardens at Balmoral

By Historic Houses

Balmoral Castle from Queen Mary's Garden (2020-07) by BalmoralHistoric Houses

Royal Holiday home in Scotland

Balmoral is the Scottish country home of the British Royal family, who take a holiday here every summer. The gardens link the house, built in Scottish Baronial style, with the wild Highland landscape of Deeside. 

Balmoral Castle, from S.W. Balmoral Castle, from S.W. (about 1865) by George Washington WilsonThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Balmoral in the 1860s

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert adored their holidays in Scotland and built a new house in 1856.  It was surrounded by formal gardens and newly planted trees all planned by Prince Albert; one of three key members of the family in the story of the garden.

Looking South East from the Sunken Garden (2020-07) by BalmoralHistoric Houses

The West Garden

The formal garden has changed little. Today, rose beds are edged with annuals while flowering alpines fill the nooks in sheltering walls. We know that Queen Victoria favoured similar planting, pelargoniums, dwarf rhododendrons, roses and juniper in this, the West Garden. 
 

Prince Albert: study for 'Evening at Balmoral' by Carl Haag (1820-1915)Royal Collection Trust, UK

Prince Albert (1819-1861)

Prince Albert planned the first gardens. "Albert is very busy supervising the plantations and laying out the grounds, which no one understands as well as he does", reported Queen Victoria in her diary. He planted trees and five miles of walks for his wife to enjoy at Balmoral

Purple hues in the gardens at Balmoral (2020-08) by BalmoralHistoric Houses

Specimen trees

The Scottish landscape reminded Albert of his homeland in Germany and he started new plantations in the  1850s. Along the Broad Walk, he planted exotic conifers newly imported from the Americas, including Wellingtonias, Douglas Firs and a fine Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Lutea.
 

The Garden Cottage at Balmoral (2020-07) by BalmoralHistoric Houses

The Garden Cottage


Albert’s sudden death in 1861 was a severe blow to Queen Victoria. In deep mourning, she spent up to four months a year at Balmoral. The Garden Cottage provided a secluded retreat where she often breakfasted, read her papers and wrote her diaries.

Por Mary Queen Wife Of Geo VLIFE Photo Collection

Queen Mary (1867-1953)

Queen Mary was the next to take an interest in the gardens. She and King George V were regular visitors at Balmoral after the First World War. They enjoyed simple outdoor pleasures, walking and picnics, while Queen Mary reportedly loved Highland dancing.

Queen Mary's Garden, Balmoral Castle (2020-07) by BalmoralHistoric Houses

Queen Mary's Garden

In 1923, Queen Mary added the formal gardens to the South of Balmoral Castle. They are reached through gates with the sovereigns’ initials, made by the local blacksmith . These lead to a sunken flower garden around a fountain bubbling from an Aberdeen ship's capstan.

HM The Queen, HRH Prince Charles and HRH Princess Anne play together at Balmoral Castle, 28th September 1952. [Album 2585006]. by Studio LisaRoyal Collection Trust, UK

HM Queen Elizabeth II

The Queen came to Balmoral often with her parents and her grandmother, Queen Mary, and has visited for her summer holidays with Prince Philip and her family every year of her long reign.  Here she is playing with Prince Charles and Princess Anne just before becoming Queen.

Prince Philip of England planting a tree in honor of his mother Princess Alice of Greece, 31 October 1994Yad Vashem

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (1921- 2021)

Prince Philip was a major innovator in the gardens at Balmoral, planting many trees and shrubs, adding herbaceous borders; scented plants on the Terrace to the North of the castle; a water garden near the Garden Cottage; and above all, creating a large productive kitchen garden

Morning in the gardens at Balmoral (2020-07) by BalmoralHistoric Houses

The Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden was planned by HRH Prince Philip within the South Gardens added by the Queen’s grandmother, Queen Mary. It provides vegetables, fruits and flowers for the house including a recent innovation,  blueberries in the glasshouse.

The South Garden at Balmoral (2020-07) by BalmoralHistoric Houses

The Jubilee Conservatory

The Conservatory in the South Garden at Balmoral was built in 2002 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. An inscription reads "One is nearer God's heart in a garden, Than anywhere else on Earth", a quotation from English poet Dorothy Gurney.

Bees in the Lily border at Balmoral (2020-07) by BalmoralHistoric Houses

Organic gardening

The gardens at Balmoral are run on strictly organic lines. As a result, the gardens are a haven for wildlife of all sorts. Both the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles are vocal supporters of organic gardening.

The Prince of Wales at Balmoral with Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, 1971 by Patrick Lichfield (1939-2005)Royal Collection Trust, UK

HRH Prince Charles with Lady Sarah Armstrong Jones in 1971

Balmoral has always been a special place for the British Royal family. From Queen Victoria in the 1850s through seven generations to the children of Prince William in the 2020s, the gardens are a welcome retreat from duty.

Balmoral: Gardens and Parkland trees (2020-07) by BalmoralHistoric Houses

Visitors to Balmoral

The gardens attract thousands of visitors each year when the family are away. They have Prince Albert, Queen Mary and the Duke of Edinburgh to thank most for the beauty of the flower gardens, organic kitchen garden and riverside walks. Balmoral is a very personal Royal garden.

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