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By Annika Michelsen

Nobody knows exactly how old Kiltsi Castle Garden is. Archeological excavations bring us back to the end of 14th century. Kiltsi Castle is located at the shore of Põltsamaa river, surrounded by numerous amount of springs. The waterwheel is one of the oldest sources of power known to man and served as the main source of power in medieval Europe. Water mills were used already at least at the beginning of 13th century in Estonia. Kiltsi water mill is first mentiond in a document at 1586. Castles were often built to defend water mills. There are stories telling about monks and two local geographical names, "Road of Monks" (Mungatee) and "Monks Hey Filed" (Mungade heinamaa) supporting that there may have been monks in Kiltsi Castle.


Picture 1: The drawing is done in the start of 19th century by Tilesius. The fruit garden is located behind the wall to the left. 

Gardening was important in the monasteries for supplying the livelihood. Plants had multiple uses: there were edible plants for the household, plants for technical use such as coloring or fighting pests, plants for medicinal use and ornamental plants for pleasure. Hop was an important plant in producing beer and tax was paid to the Swedish King druing the 17th centry in hop.

In 1716 the Kiltsi castle gardener was Daniel Rein (36 years old). Daniel was married to Lisbeth 'Liso' and they had seven children. Daniel was mentioned as free man and gardener in 1716, 1726 and 1732. Daniel was born as a son of german parents. He lived in the castle pasture and later on in Järvepere village, next to the castle. Later on there was made a correction by a comission in the personnel revision acts that he was not a free man. Gardener Daniel died in 1751. In 1750 and 1757-58 his son Christopher (born ca.1711-?) is mentioned as a gardener. The castle was reconstructed in 1790-ies and during this time the half circular galleries were constructed in connection to the castle. 


Hupel (1777) writes that there was grown cabbage, swedes, hemp and beans in the vegetable gardens and on fields also turnip.


Picture 2: Kiltsi English style park

English Style Park in 19th century

In the beginning of 19th century the castle got a new owner that had plenty of international connections, escpecially to Germany. Therefore we can assume that many plants popular in Central Europe also were to be found in Kiltsi garden. The new owner circumnavigated the world in 1803-1806 and a small island in the water mill dam was named Nukahiva. The water mill is seen in the upper corner to the left at picture 2. The miller was living with his family in the mill. They had an own vegetable garden next to the mill. 


In 1827 the kitchen vegetable garden was in the west of the castle (area marked with numerouse trees on picture 2). The fruit garden was in the east part of the castle (marked with darker green filed plots). The fruit garde was proteced with a stone wall, that can be seen on both old drawings and later also on photos. We can assume that there was growing apples trees, sourcherries, small local sorts of pears, livonian yellow and blue plums as well as damson plums. The 19th century was also the favourite period for gooseberries. There had been breeded hundereds of varieties goosberries from seed in England. Already earlier black and red currents were grown in gardens. At the beginning of the 19th century musk strawberries were the most common garden strawberry. In addition wild strawberries and raspberries were most likely picked in the forest. Schlegel (1820) writes that it was grown cabbage, peas, lentils, turnip and broad beans in vegetable gardens.  

In 1870-ies there was a flowerbed in the middle in front of the castle. 


There is a drawing from 1820 from the inner yard and there are no ornamental plants, only some large stones and a few small bushes. An other painting shows a two floored garden pavillion with outdoor stairs and a small wooden balcony in the east corner of the fruit garden.

Picture 3. Kiltsi Castle drawed by Grabby, 1890. Põlva talurahvamuuseum.

At the second half of 19th century farmers started to buy own lands and build farms. There are three old villages close to Kiltsi castle - Järvepere, Liivaküla and Sootaguse villages. In all villages lived farmers and craftsmen who were obligated to work for the castle. In the 1870-ies before the decree that obligated castle owners to sell land to farmers the castle owner decided to move the whole Järvepere village away from its location (ca. 1876). The farmers were given land in Sootaguse village. At the same time farmers in Liivaküla farmers started to buy own land from the castle and they established independent farms. The landlord died in 1881 and hiw wife in 1887. After this there was only an estate manager at the castle as the new owner lived abroad. This resulted most likely in less production in the castle garden as there only had to be produced food for workers. 

Picture 4: Kiltsi Castle fruit garden in 1917. Photo: EAA f. 1314, Fotis.

Kitchen Garden in the first half of 20th century  

The castle was sold in 1911 and the new owner carried out renovations in the castle. At that time the castle got central heating. There are some photos frim this time from the fruit garden which shows well managed pathways with trees and flowers. The workers of the castle still carried out care of the fruit garden as well as planted vegetables for castle use in the vegetable garden, see picture 4. In 1912 the inner yard had several trees close up to the galleries of the castle.

Imperial Russia collapsed in 1917 and in 1918 Estonia got independent. Kiltsi castle was transfered into ownership of the new Estonian state. In 1921 the local school started to work in the castle. Children who had a long road to the school lived in the school during the week and went home only in the weekend (especially during winter time). The trees close to the main entrance were removed. During the 1920ies and 1930ties there were large national campaigans on how to make the farm yard more beautuiful. Some of the features were also taken from estates gardens. Many plants  found in farm gardens do also origin from castles and estate gardens. The school garden was established in the castle park in 1935 when Voldemar Toom was director (1927-1939) in the school. In the middle of 1930-ies indian cress (Tropaeolum majus) can be seen climing the walls on both side of the main intrance as well as on the western wing. At this time also the inner yard gets flowerbeds in front of the main entrance as well as in front of the entrance to the fruit garden. However, it seems like the fruit garden during this time became overgrown. During the war the castle was used by german soldiers and in 1944 the main building windows were broaken and central heating did not anymore function. There is a photo from 1940-ies where paths are not visuable anymore at the entrance to the fruit garden.

School Garden in the second half of 20th century

In 1950 there was a fire in the school and during the 50-ies chool directors were changed four times. First in 1961 when Voldemar Nagel became director the garden started to develop. Voldemar Nagel's wife Veera Nagel did together with teacher Arno Kasemaa develop the garden. In the start of 1960-ies the learnings of sort breeder Ivan Mitšurin (1855 – 1935) and ukrainan agricultural researcher Trofim Lõssenko (1898-1976) were promoted in Soviet Union school study programs. Due to this teachers carried out different research and experiments in school gardens together with students. In the 1960-ies the park and school garden got several new plants and trees, also rare plants. Voldemar Nagel did also promote school children to develop their own home gardens. In 1965 the small Kiltsi Castle school and research garden got special attention, III diplom, at the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy in Moscow. Several school children and also the learning-research garden leader Veera Nagel won prizes. From 1967 to 1972 the director was August Saaremägi and the care for the park and for nature protection continued during this time.


During the 1970-is to 1990 Kiltsi school teacher Arno Kasemaa (1915-1999) breeded gladiols and roses in the castle garden. The large gladiolus collection had gladiolus in 54 different colours. 


Picture 5. Arno Kasemaas breeded gladiolus. Photo. Kaja Kasemas collection

During this time the garden was filled with differnet plants, both ornamental plants but also exotic plants that were grown in the established greenhouse, see picture 6. 


Picture 6. Arno Kasemaas breeded gladiolus. Photo. Kaja Kasemas collection


Picture 7. Butterbur inspires to take funny pictures as in 1964 (photo Benita Labi)  and in 2008 (photo Annika Michelson).

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) makes up several growing area close to the castle among others an area behind the castle on the shore of the mill lake. Butterbur is known in traditional medicine for treatment of infections, fever, flu, colds, hay-fever, and allergies. In the 1960-ies the Roman snail (Helix pomatia) was brought from Saaremaa island to Kiltsi castle garden. This snail is earing the leafs of butterbur. During rainy days it is possible to see it climing up along tree trunks in the park, during dry weather it is hiding under the large leaves of butterbur. 


Picture 8. Students participated in the care of the school garden, Teet Võhandu in 1982. Photo: T.Koha. EFA.385.0.112218

School children took actively part in the care of the castle garden in the lattern part of 20th century and still do. This was a part of the study program during Soviet Union time. Later there was also different competitions concerning garden theams which highly motivated children to work with garden work. There was also carried out student test growing plots of 1m² areas for each child to take care of in the garden. This inspired the children. Plants in the garden were planted due to plant morphology and systematics. There were also established a herb garden. All children have summer time to do three days garden work under the supervision of the school teachers. In this way all children have own memories of working in the garden with planting, weeding and watering. 

Arno Kasemaa, Kaja Kasemaa and Mall Võhandu continued the work with the garden, teaching biology and nature protection. Many students won prizes in regional and national natural science related competitions. Many plants were pre-cultivated in the school and later on planted into the garden by the gardener. During the 2000-ies Maie Tammoja carried out garden works in the castle garden. 


Picture 9. The flower and herb garden covered a large area next to the area were the green house used to be located (photo to left). The 'Lucky Well' to the right Photo. Annika Michelson, 2002.

A central water element in the garden is the 'Lucky well'. Many photos are taken of it. At the end of 1990-ies there was a need for improving it as it had fallen apart. The 9th grade students renovated it in 1998. In 1995 the roof of the galleries were renovated and large renovation works were also carried out in 2008-2010. At the same time archeological excavations were carried out in the castle.

Picture 10. A large Sakhalin knotweed (Reynoutria sachalinensis) stock was distroyed during the renovation of the park as it is highly invasive. Extracts of this plant can be used as plant protectants for certain fungal and bacterial diseases. Photo. Annika Michelson 2002

Another important landscape element has been two large oaks in front of the castle. During the tromb in 2010 the oak to the west broak apart and had to be removed. Several other trees were also damaged during the tromb storm. Counting of growing rings showed that it had been planted in the beginning of 18th century. 


Picture 11. Devastations during the large tromb storm- Photo. Annika Michelson 15.8.2010.


Picture 12. arden plan from 18th century to the left and the park to the right. Photo. Annika Michelson

There was established a new circular flower bed in front of the castle balcony as well as a short roadsided flower bed to the left of the path passing the balcony. 

Picture 13: The berry garden to the left (28.6.2010), after the renovation 

Some thoughts about futher developing of the castle park

There is not paid attention to historical authenticity of plants in the garden nor are heritage plants used.  


Despite that the cultivated diversity tremendously decreased during the 21st ceuntry there are still some old plants left in Kiltsi castle garden. There is a goosberry (Ribes uva-crispa) alley which most likely was established in the beginning of 20th century but hidden surrounded by lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) we find a very vital hairy goosberry that is of far older origin. There are at least three different lilacs, lila, white and reddish colored. 





Eesti Rahvusarvhiiv. Vakuraamatud 1716-1750

Hein, Ants (2011): Kiltsi mõis

Krull, Alar: Kiltsi kooli ajaloost 30.9.2010 Maaleht
Leemets, Hans. Interview xx.05.2022
Leemets, Merje.  Interview xx.05.2022
Michelson, Madis.  Interview June 2022
Niiberg, Toivo: Katkujuur aitab allergikuid 29.5.2019. MaaElu.

Võhandu, Mall.  Interview 29.06.2022

Wikipedia. Butterbur 25.5.2022

Wikipedia. Sakhalin knotweed 30.6.2022

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