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Walled Garden, Phesdo House

A Category C Listed Building in Fordoun, Aberdeenshire

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Latitude: 56.8725 / 56°52'21"N

Longitude: -2.5378 / 2°32'16"W

OS Eastings: 367316

OS Northings: 775808

OS Grid: NO673758

Mapcode National: GBR X2.5MDM

Mapcode Global: WH8QQ.ZJP9

Entry Name: Walled Garden, Phesdo House

Listing Date: 8 March 2017

Category: C

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 406623

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52415

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Fordoun

County: Aberdeenshire

Local Authority Ward: Mearns

Parish: Fordoun

Traditional County: Kincardineshire

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An oval plan walled garden dating to around 1815, attributed to John Smith, and situated to the northwest of Phesdo House. The walls are tall, built of coursed squared granite rubble with ladder pinnings and straight copes to the wallhead. They are lined with brick internally.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: 20th century additions to interior.

The walled garden stands almost complete with the exception of some loss of fabric to the southwest. The walls gradually reduce in height to the south. There are entrances through the south, north and east walls, with that to the south enlarged in the 20th century to provide vehicular access. The openings to the north and east have timber doors, with a metal gate to the south entrance. The north wall contains a brick chimney stack. The walled garden measures 95m east / west by 73m.

Statement of Interest

The walled garden at Phesdo House is a distinctive example of an early 19th century kitchen garden because of its unusual oval shape. It forms part of the wider policies at Phesdo and makes a significant contribution to the surviving group of buildings. The garden is located near the home farm some distance from the house, which is typical for early 19th century walled gardens.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: 20th century additions to interior.

Age and Rarity

The walled garden was built around 1815 and is attributed to John Smith, the architect of Phesdo House (listed at category A, LB9646).

It is first depicted on an 1824 estate survey map (National Archives Scotland, RHP49997). The New Statistical Account (NSA) for the parish of Fordoun, written in 1837, mentions Dr Crombie of Phesdo as the current landowner. It states that the estate, along with that of Pitnamoon, was purchased 30 years earlier by his cousin, Alexander Crombie, Advocate in Aberdeen. Alexander Crombie bought the estate with a ruinous mansion and spent 30 years rebuilding it and improving his land. The NSA concludes that Phesdo is 'one of the most elegant houses, but the grounds are among the most ornamented and best sheltered in the county' (p87).

The estate and its various buildings, including the walled garden, are depicted in more detail on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1863. On this map a former range of buildings abutting the north wall of the garden is marked as roofed. This range probably housed a furnace so that the wall could be heated which would have helped with growing fruit; furnaces were usually to the north side of a south facing garden wall, often behind the glasshouses.

Walled gardens are important yet common features of high status country houses or smaller houses with substantial landholdings. Surviving examples range in date from the 16th to the 20th centuries. They are particularly important in Scotland where the climate is often harsh and growing conditions unfavourable. The produce would provide for the family and estate staff, with hardy crops generally grown in the open areas of the garden, fruit trees trained up the walls, and heated glasshouses to grow more delicate and exotic produce. Walled gardens declined after the Second World War as fresh produce was becoming more accessible through imports.

Walled gardens typically comprise a high square or rectangular walled enclosure located separately from the main house. While not early in date, Phesdo Walled Garden is unusual for its design. It is among a small number of oval-shaped walled gardens. In other respects, it is typical for a walled garden of its period and is relatively plain, without the architectural embellishments that may be found in 16th and 17th century walled gardens (such as bee boles, or finials of dressed stone).

Architectural or Historic Interest

Plan form

The plan form of the walled garden is oval, and this is unusual. Square or rectangular walled gardens were the norm and curved walls were often thought to cause the wind to eddy, potentially hindering the ripening of fruit. However, as early as 1682, Worlidge had suggested in his Art of Gardening that a circular garden was in fact 'very good for fruit, the Wind being not so severe against a Round, as against a streight Wall . Some landowners agreed and there are a few other designated examples of walled gardens with curved walls in Scotland, of varied date and form.

Listed walled gardens at Mavisbank House in Midlothian (LB44166) and Netherbyers House in Scottish Borders (LB46462) are earlier than Phesdo, dating from the 1730s. The Mavisbank example is very large, measuring some 155m by 112m, and has an irregular horseshoe shape. The garden at Netherbyres is a mathematically laid-out elliptical shape, with relatively pointed ends to the northwest and southeast. It is more elongated than Phesdo, but of similar size. Another oval walled garden at Carolside, also in the Scottish Borders, is part of a site included on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes (GDL00088). It is smaller than Phesdo, measuring 70m by 50m, but its oval shape is comparable and it may be of similar date – we know it was built after about 1780 and before 1826. Walled gardens with curved walls are a diverse group, in terms of plan form and date, and this increases the interest of each example. At Phesdo, the unusual shape may have been intended to mirror the interior of the house. The Buildings of Scotland notes that the garden's unusual oval plan form 'is a fine echo of the curved geometry inside the main house' (p698).

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

The enclosure functioned as a kitchen garden, the high walls creating a microclimate, protecting plants from wind and frost. The south facing aspect of the garden allows plenty of sunshine. The high walls also support trained fruit trees. There is evidence for an ancillary building and fireplace on the north side of the garden wall, and this part of the wall may have been heated, perhaps with glasshouses adjoining the south side close to the chimney stack.

The inner walls are constructed of brick which has dry and heat retaining properties and would have provided optimal growing conditions. The brick was laid in the common bond style, with one course of headers after every three stretcher courses. The exterior walls are constructed of squared and coursed stone which was more durable and cost efficient than brick. The garden walls are simple in their detailing.

John Smith was born in 1781 and was the son of an architect and builder. He developed his architectural practice in Aberdeen and became the city architect in 1824 following several successful improvement schemes, such as laying out new streets in the city and producing the first accurate survey of Aberdeen by 1810. He was an important proponent of neoclassical architecture in Northeast Scotland, whose designs included Dunecht House (LB3133) and The North Church in Aberdeen (LB19946).


The walled garden at Phesdo is situated in a sheltered area to the northwest of Phesdo House at the base of Strathfinella Hill, and is surrounded by woodland. The walled garden is part of the wider policies at Phesdo House and is an important ancillary component of the estate. The garden is sited some distance from the house, which is typical for early 19th century walled gardens. The garden is located close to the home farm, which would have provided a good source of fertilizer for the garden.

Regional variations

On the outside, the walls are built of granite laid in Aberdeen bond, a pattern of building where large blocks alternate with smaller stones set vertically in threes. The use of granite and Aberdeen bond are characteristic of Northeast Scotland.

Close Historical Associations

None known at present.

Other nearby listed buildings

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