The Tibetan Garden found its inspiration - and its original plant and floral specimens - deep in Tibet's dramatic and beautiful Tsangpo Gorges, still one of the world's most inaccessible places. Here, in the early 1920s, the great explorer and collector Frank Kingdon Ward and his collaborator and co-author Jack Cawdor, the young 5th Earl, sought the great, but never glimpsed Tsangpo waterfall. In the end, it eluded them and their 1926 book The Riddle of The Tsangpo Gorges led the Royal Geographical Society to conclude that the falls were 'a religious myth... a romance of geography'.
Their efforts remained inspirational to later explorers, including one who did reach out to touch the reality of the fabled waterfall when he discovered it on his eighth journey into the hidden-land of Pemako. Ian Baker, an American born academic, explorer and author on Tibet and Buddhism, has now brought the Kingdon Ward/Cawdor story up to the present day. Having collaborated with Kenneth Cox and Kenneth Storm, Jr. on a 1998 Antique Collectors' Club edition of the 1926 publication, Ian Baker's long-awaited memoir of his journeys was published by Penguin in 2004. The Heart of the World recounts one of the most captivating stories of exploration and discovery in recent memory; an extraordinary journey into one of the wildest and most inaccessible places on earth. It is at the same time a meditation on our place in nature and a pilgrimage to the heart of the Buddhist faith.
It was, however, over eighty years ago that Lord Cawdor brought a collection of rare Tibetan plants back from these secret places to his Highland home. In what were then his uncle Ian Campbell's Auchindoune gardens, his Tibetan treasury of the rarest shrubs and flowers were planted. While the slopes of the Cawdor burn couldn't replicate the wild magnificence of the Tsangpo Gorges, where he had literally risked his life, he triumphantly recaptured part of Tibet's wild and magical floral kingdom.
Today, the Tibetan Garden offers itself in a restored beauty and serenity to Cawdor's visitors. Herself a traveller and lover of Tibet, Angelika, the Dowager Countess Cawdor continues to bring specialist knowledge to this sensitive restoration - one undertaken from the mid-1980s onwards with her late husband Hugh, Jack Cawdor's son, the 6th Earl and 24th Thane of Cawdor. Over the years, the same plants have been diligently sought and introduced, such as the superb Primula varieties along the banks of the burn. Many varieties of Meconopsis, Ariseamas, Lilies, Rhododendrons and Xanthoxylum also grow in abundance.
'All is One', an inscription found on a natural stone seat by the burn, seems a fitting motto for this Tibetan garden. Colours, smells, bird song and the sound of flowing water all contribute to the serenity found on these slopes alongside trees, shrubs and flowers.
Laid out in a traditional design by Arabella Lennox-Boyd, Auchindoune's vegetable garden is especially interesting for its, then pioneering, commitment to organic principles and practice. Behind its old stone walls grow a number of heritage vegetables, among them Schorzonera, Chinese, Globe and Jerusalem Artichokes, Ancient Broad Beans, Kohl Rabi White and Purple Vienna. Some directly link this garden to the great kitchen gardens of the past.
This is the quintessential kitchen garden, rich in vegetable varieties, traditionally laid out in beds symmetrically edged by beautifully clipped box hedging. Its orchard has numbers of classic apple, plum, pear and soft fruit varieties.
Cut flowers are also grown here, including antique varieties of Sweet Pea such as Cupanis, dating back to 1669, and Painted Lady of the 18th century.
Planted to mark the Millennium, the specimen trees in Auchindoune's Arboretum include several species from Tibet. Acer, Sorbus Alnus, Salix, Betula, Nothofagus and Malus are just some maturing here. The Arboretum's system of traditional hedgerows includes native species naturally attractive to wild life.
The Auchindoune Garden is open with an honesty box with a recommendation of £3 per person. It is open Tuesdays and Thursdays in May, June, July and August from 10am - 4.30pm and at other times by appointment by telephoning Cawdor Castle 01667 404401.
Guided tours can also be arranged by appointment
Limited car and coach parking is signposted on arrival at Auchindoune.