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The designed landscape at Earlshall comprises 18th-century parkland with later planting and a walled garden that was originally constructed in the 17th century but renovated and redesigned in the early-20th century. The walled garden is divided into compartments, one of which contains topiary chessmen and other figures. The design was admired by Gertrude Jekyll and inspired other 20th-century gardens such as Sissinghurst and Crathes Castle.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Location and Setting

Earlshall is situated about 1 mile (1.5km) off the A919 on the outskirts of Leuchars village some 9 miles (14km) south of Dundee. It lies on the flat coastal plain about 2 miles (3km) west of the Tentsmuir Sands. The lane from Leuchars to Camerton Farm borders the site to the north, and woodland lying between Earlshall and RAF Leuchars defines the eastern and southern boundaries. The soil is sandy and alkaline. Earlshall is protected by woodland particularly from the cold easterly winds sweeping across the North Sea. The garden is enclosed by stone walls.

To the north, the extensive conifer plantations of the Tentsmuir Forest stretch across the sand dunes to the Firth of Tay. To the south, the large RAF airfield lies between Earlshall and the sandy estuary of the River Eden. There are no views out from Earlshall itself but from the edge of the woodland there is a long view south, across the airfield, to the higher ground just west of St Andrews. The woodlands around Earlshall protect the houses in Leuchars from some of the noise and disturbance of the airfield. They contribute greatly to the surrounding flat scenery, particularly from the parking area and picnic site on the A91.

Earlshall stands in the north-east corner of the policies which are shaped like an elongated triangle with its apex at the village. The policies could have been more extensive in the 18th century but the Castle and gardens have remained the same size since the 17th century. The designed landscape now extends to some 82 acres (33ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Earlshall, listed category A, was built for Sir William Bruce in 1546. The ornate ceilings were painted between 1617 - 20 for his grandson. The Castle was restored by Lorimer in 1891. It is an L-shaped, three-storey tower with an attic and a round turret attached to the north-east corner. A separate cottage, called Dummy Daws, forms the south side of the courtyard and is connected to the Castle on the west side by a high wall. Earlshall Lodge, listed category B, was built by Lorimer around 1900. The building contains an arched entrance doorway and is attached to the garden walls. The Doocot, listed category A, has a stone with the date 1599 built into it. The Garden Walls, listed category B, were originally built in the 16th & 17th centuries and extensively restored by Lorimer and Mackenzie. The Sundial and other Artefacts are listed category B for the group. The sundial is a late 19th century copy of a 17th century one. Throughout the garden and grounds, many of the artefacts such as Gates, Fences, Garden Furniture and Seats were designed by Lorimer.


The 1883 OS Gazetteer noted that the park at Earlshall was planted with 'venerable trees' suggesting that they had been planted in the 17th or early 18th centuries. None of these trees remain but most of the mature trees in the park, including some beech, lime, and horse chestnut, could have been planted in the early 19th century. In the 1st edition OS plan, dated 1854, the policies are divided into four sections and the woodland shelterbelts along the southern boundaries can be clearly seen. In the two fields near the Castle, also enclosed by shelterbelts, there are several specimen trees. More trees were planted at the turn of this century and are now mature, but few have been planted since then. The fields are grazed and have probably been under pasture since the 18th century.


In the 16th century, the forests around Earlshall were famous for their sport, which was much enjoyed by Mary, Queen of Scots, and later by her son, James VI(I), who both flew their falcons there. The southern section of the forest near the airfield was re-planted with trees probably around 1900 and some of these were replaced in the 1950s with conifers. The shelterbelts are mixed hardwood trees, mainly beech, ash, and sycamore; within these shelterbelts, beech have been planted along the footpath leading to the village. An avenue of pleached limes, planted in about 1890, led from the Doocot near the entrance drive to the edge of the wood overlooking the airfield. As the limes are no longer pleached, the formal effect has grown out and, at the southern end, the limes have been absorbed into the wood.

Walled Garden

The outer wall of the Castle lies in the centre of the western wall of the garden, and the remaining three walls form a perfect rectangle. Before Robert Lorimer redesigned the garden between 1891 - 1900, it had been used for grazing livestock. Only part of the walls was standing. Using meticulous care, the garden was re-created in a style appropriate to the 17th century Castle and an enclosed Scottish garden of that period. Lorimer designed the garden in five areas. The terrace to the east of the Castle which ran the whole length of the garden was divided into three parts and the centre one was the same width as the Castle. There were two other compartments, one to the south and the other to the north of the Tower. Although these fives areas can be seen clearly on plan, when viewed on site, the differences between them appears greater and more varied. Lorimer's design was greatly admired by his contemporaries and Gertrude Jekyll included a picture of the yew walk in her book on 'Garden Ornament'. After visiting Earlshall, Nathaniel Lloyd is said to have asked Edwin Lutyens to include topiary and other details that he had seen at Earlshall in his garden at Great Dixter. This style of gardening influenced many of the great 20th century gardens including those at Crathes, Sissinghurst and Hidcote.

The northern section was divided into a square and a rectangle in line with the Castle walls where fruit, vegetables and flowers were grown. The square area was further sub-divided into four square borders edged by grass paths. Fruit trees were trained around each square on a trellis and vegetables grew inside the framework. Flowers and herbaceous plants grew in borders along the paths. The rectangular section contained the orchard and fruit cage and, at its north- west corner, attached to the outside walls, was an enchanting two storey apple store like a 'banqueting house'. Fruit trees and climbers grew all along the outside walls. The potting shed and other ancillary buildings were hidden behind the north wall.

In the centre section, called the 'Pleasaunce', ornate topiary still stands in the lawn. The corkscrew chessman made from clipped yew were all transplanted, already shaped, from a neglected garden in Edinburgh between 1894 and 1896. Contemporary photographs and, particularly those illustrating an article in Country Life in 1905, show the garden and the yews shortly after they were laid out by Lorimer and Mackenzie. In the centre of the lawn sits the sundial. The courtyard between the tower and its cottage was carefully set out with curving lines of cobbles and large paving slabs marking out the paths. The well head is still covered with a cast-iron wheel to draw up water and there are several stone troughs.

Separating the 'Pleasaunce' from the Croquet Lawn is the double herbaceous border backed with a high yew hedge supported by large new buttresses also made from yew. The central gravel path still leads to a curved seat in an arbor now covered with a rampant Clematis montana. Between the buttresses individual beds, filled with many unusual herbaceous plants and roses, were cleverly planted so that the border appeared to be seen at one glance but as each section came into view a different selection of plants was seen. The Croquet Lawn was sunk lower than the surrounding bank which was made into a rockery. The orchard on the western side, just to the south of the Castle, was separated from the rose garden by a yew hedge. Between the orchard and the Castle Cottage was a small herb garden.

Until the 1970s the garden was kept up but recently it has deteriorated. The garden in the northern section is still maintained, both fruit and vegetables being grown. The topiary and yew hedges are still being clipped although (at the time of the survey) not all of them had been clipped. All the plants in most of the borders, the rockery, herb garden and orchard are overgrown or covered with tangled undergrowth. The overhanging trees, especially along the north, east and south walls, overshadow the garden and the plants underneath are suffering. Nevertheless the proportions and scale of the separate gardens can still be clearly seen. (Since the survey the condition has improved).

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

Open occasionally under Scotland's Garden Scheme. For details see:


Paul and Joseen Veenhuijzen


The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

One of the most important gardens of the 20th century, Robert Lorimer's compartmentalised design ' inspired by the enclosed Scottish castle gardens of the 17th century ' was admired by Gertrude Jekyll and influenced the design of Sissinghurst, Crathes Castle and Hidcote.

Site History

The walled garden was probably laid out in the early 17th century and the policies were added in the 18th century. The grounds were restored by Lorimer between 1891 - 1900 and were well kept until the 1970s when they gradually deteriorated. (Since the survey much of the garden has been renovated).

Earlshall was formerly part of the estate of the Earls of Fife. The building of the Castle was begun in 1546 by Sir William Bruce and completed by his grandson of the same name in 1620. (The family was not closely connected with the Sir William Bruce who was Charles II's surveyor) The property stayed in the Bruce family until it was sold in the 19th century. After a period of dereliction, the Castle was bought in 1891 by Mr R.W.R. Mackenzie who, as a family friend, gave Lorimer his first commission. Between 1891 - 1900, Sir Robert restored the Castle, re-created gardens and built the entrance lodge. Mr Mackenzie was interested in the Arts & Crafts movement and, with his great friend William Burrell, encouraged Lorimer. Amongst other talents, Mackenzie was a great expert on restoring antique tapestries. (In 1982 the owner, Mrs Purvis, died and the Castle and grounds have since been bought by Major and Mrs D. R. Baxter).


Early 20th Century (1901-1932)

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland

  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Earlshall Lodge
  • Grade: B


  • Dovecote
  • Description: A dovecote with a stone in it marked 1599.
  • Topiary
  • Description: A lawn with topiary of yew chessmen, which Sir Robert Lorimer transplanted from an Edinburgh garden between 1894 and 1896.
  • Castle (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Herbaceous Border
  • Description: Double herbaceous borders backed by buttressed yew hedges.
  • Sundial
  • Description: A late 19th-century copy of a 17th-century sundial.
  • Garden Wall
  • Description: The original 16th- and 17th-century walls, rebuilt by Sir Robert Lorimer.
  • Well Head
  • Terrace
  • Description: Rose terrace
  • Orchard
  • Kitchen Garden
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Early 20th Century (1901-1932)





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland