The Best Gardens in Scotland.
Scots are and have been great gardeners and plant hunters. It is no surprise then that Scotland has hundreds of attractive gardens worth visiting for leisure, beauty and horticultural excellence. There is nothing I know which beats walking in beautiful gardens for peace and relaxation.
The majority of the following thumb nail sketches of gardens were published, edited, in the Scotsman Newspaper. The list is not complete and there many gardens to add. For example the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, St Andrews Botanic Garden and Dundee Botanic Garden. I shall add further gardens as time goes by!
You can visit many of the gardens all the year round. Walking in gardens is a peaceful activity which stimulates mind and body.
Most gardens have some aspect worthy of a visit at any time of the year. Quite a number are spectaular at specific times e.g. Cambo House near St Andrews has masses of snowdrops in early spring and Falkland Palace has fine herbaceous borders in August September. This should not stop you visiting at any other time as there is always something to see.
I lead groups of people on garden and landscape walks in Scotland as part of the Walking Programme run by Culture and Sport Glasgow. If you would like a copy of the extensive walking programme or more information contact Jane Damer 0141 287 3611.
Snowdrops at Balbirnie Park, Markinch, Fife.
I also organise days away expeditions for groups to visit different landscapes in Scotland and explore many interesting places and gardens.
Leith Hall, Huntly, Aberdeen and Grampian 0844 493 2175
The garden at Leithhall is the National Trust for Scotlands hidden gem. Set well away from the house it sits on the side of a south facing hill. It deserves a lot more support in terms of numbers visiting.
There are all sorts of features worth seeing. The large moon gate is outstanding and is a fairly uncommon feature in Scottish Gardens. A moon gate is usually constructed from stone encircling the shape of the moon and you step through it at its lowest point which is at ground level. It is an excellent construction for framing a view or making an entrance to another part of a garden.
When I first saw you through the moon gate, you were my dream, is the first line of a poem I wrote inspired by the physical beauty of the gate.
The wonderful moongate at Leith Hall, Aberdeenshire. This design is based on the Chinese landscape tradition of garden design. It is reputed to be the finest moongate in the UK.
When I first saw you so beautiful,
through the moongate, you were my dream.
Now I have stepped through the gate, in love,
all is not as it seemed.
You are distant and I have lost my dream.
The catmint border makes a striking contrast with the herbaceous border.
The herbacous and mixed borders are colourful from June into the autumn. The organic vegetable garden protected from aphids and other beasties by French marigolds is a joy to watch over a season. First class produce is grown ensuring healthy eating for those fortunate enough to receive or purchase a share of the bounty. www.nts.org.uk
Achamore Gardens, Isle of Gigha 01583 505 275
The large mature Camelias are spectacular in April. On a recent visit I drove down Kintyre towards my destination and observed frosted Camelias in gardens all the way down. I was dreading arriving at Achamore garden to find the Camelias in the same state.
A twenty minute ferry crossing from Tayinloan (Caledonian MacBrayne) takes you over the sea to "God's Isle" and low and behold all the Camelias were in perfect condition. My party was impressed. What a relief.
Beautiful Gigha - great for a paddle.
The garden has a large collection of Rhododendrens and many other plants worth seeing. The proud Peacocks put up a good display for visitors. Gigha Hotel is nearby for refreshments and accomodation if required.
The garden and the Hotel are owned by the Gigha Heritage Trust which has been a great success for local people. The Trust is in the process of raising £391,000 for the first phase of improvements to the gardens. With support from the National Trust for Scotland, The Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage it is on the way to achieving this. £150,000 will have to be raised over the next three years to complete the funding package. www.gigha.org.uk/gardens/
There is something magic about Ardmaddy Castle. Perhaps it's the fairy tale tower and the fact that it is on a hill looking out to sea and master of all that's spread before it – land and sea.
The gardens both formal and informal surprise you. When you venture out into the outer gardens the pond is alive with frog spawn and surrounded by well spaced out trees and interesting plants.
The young and fascinating leaves and flowers of Gunneri manicata emerging like ominous triffids at this time of year will reach out and grab you at any minute! Watch them develop into huge umbrellas that you can actually shelter under if you avoid the big sharp spines which guard the stems and leaves.
Then there is the solitary clump of what I believe to be Ligularia 'Desdemona' with beautiful dark purple stems and the undersides of the leaves which stand out against the grass space. Primula denticulata the drumstick primula with flowers in three shades white pink and mauve reflect on the still water of the pool. This is an informal almost wild garden which is charming and natural. The setting is peaceful and it is relaxing and calming. A path leads up the hill past rocky outcrops and hooks round near the road taking you down to the pond again. This is part of the lovely walking to be enjoyed in the garden.
The garden does benefit from the North Atlantic drift, as all west coast gardens do, which arises in the Gulf Stream. The mature Camellias on the banking close to the Castle were just losing some of the wonderful flowers following frost damage.
It is best to plant Camellias where they are sheltered from direct sunshine until say eleven in the morning. This gives the flowers time to thaw out slowly following the inevitable spring frosts. Thus damage will be avoided as fast thaw has a disastrous effect - brown damaged flowers which don't recover. These can put you off growing Camellias altogether. However in some years you can be fortunate and avoid frost damage.
There is a lot to see at Ardmaddy. If you are around in the summer you can buy fresh vegetables. Children will love weighing produce on old fashioned scales and working out how much should be put in the trust box. Even grown ups like me have fun with this.
Ardmaddy Castle by Oban Argyll is a place you can visit over and over again and still enjoy the atmosphere and the gardens through the seasons.
Brian Sutherland visited with twelve enthusiasts all of whom loved this place.
April 5th. 2012.
Logan Botanic Garden, Port Logan, Galloway 01852 300 237
This is a garden which is much loved by its public. It benefits from the Gulf Stream which becomes the North Atlantic Drift when it passes our shores. Many west coast gardens benefit from this warmer water which provides warm moist air in the winds off the sea. There is no gaurantee that it will prevent winter frosts however it does limit them and therefore limits frost damage to plants. Arum lillies flower really well out of doors on the edge of the pool which is home to magnificent fish. Groves of Dicksonia antartica, the New Zealand tree fern, thrive outside. They do receive tender loving care and protection
in the winter.
Eccremocarpus on a wall at Logan Botanic Garden.
On the east coast in Edinburgh the tree ferns have to be under glass at the Royal Botanic Garden. Take time to examine the cross section of the tree fern trunk. You will see that the roots of this wonderful plant are on the outside of the trunk structure. Watering is achieved by wetting the trunk.
The restruant serves very good food and it is worth timing your visit for lunch if you can. Logan is part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Trust as are Dawyck and Benmore gardens.
The plants in all of the Botanic Gardens are clearly labelled so remember to take notebook and pencil with you . You are bound to see something you would like in your own garden. It is just possible that it will be available at the plant sales point in the garden.
When you visit Logan try and go further south to visit the Mull of Galloway where you can see, on a clear day, England, Ireland and Isle of Man. You will be at the most southernly point of Scotland.
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Portrack House near Dumfries
A visit to this garden will turn all your ideas of garden design on their heads. This garden is unique. It is a landscape of curls sweeps and spirals with expanses of water which create tranquility. Your mind is challanged by many of the structures you see.
Also there is traditional gardening woven into the fabric of the design. The Paradise Garden is a good example of a traditional garden within the overall design. Prepare to be blown away by the geometery and the synergy.
This is a private garden. It is open once a year as part of the Scotlands Gardens Scheme to raise money for Maggies Cancer Caring Centres. Groups which would like to visit may apply in writing to Mr. Charles A Jencks, Portrack House, Holywood, Dumfries, DG2 0RW. www.gardensofscotland.org
An Cala (The Haven), Isle of Seil near Oban 01852 300 237
Cross the "Bridge over the Atlantic" south of Oban and you are on the way to visit a most interesting garden. An Cala was originally a line of single storey of quarrymen's cottages with a small whisky distillery at the burn end. The distillery was shut down like many similar small ones by Customs and Excise many years ago.
A fine looking two storey house was created and the garden was developed in the 1930s. Top soil was in short supply on site however it was arriving at the nearby harbour as ballast onboard the boats picking up slate from the local quarry. The then owner of An Cala engaged men and horses to run loads of top soil to make the garden.
The garden has an expansive feel about it even although it occupies a fairly small area. There is plenty to see including a fine Lirodendron tulipifera, the tulip tree, expansive borders of herbaceous plants, shrubs and small trees. The summer house is a must for children who can see cones and seed organised in symetrical designs.
Nearby the Oyster Bar serves good food daily and their own beer. A cup of tea and a tasty piece of shortbread may be enjoyed at the Highland Art Studio in the village.
This is a private garden which opens under Scotlands Gardens Scheme. However visitors are welcome at other times by arrangement. www.gardens-of-argyll.co.uk
Glendoick Garden, Glencarse, Perthshire.
The Cox family have collected, bred and grown Rhododendrons here for three generations. In the tradition of the great plant hunters they collected species, many new to cultivation, in China and the Himalayas. It will not be a surprise to learn that the garden, nursery and woodland garden are spectacular at this time of year(April May and early June). The stunning Himalayan poppy, Meconopsis grandis, was spectacular on a recent visit.
In fact the display of Rhododendrons is as spectacular as anything I have seen and has the WOW factor!
There is also an excellent garden centre and restaurant. Access to the garden is normally via the Garden Centre.
For more information go to www.glendoick.com or contact Jane Cox 01738 860640
Castle of Mey, Caithness.
Almost as far north as you can travel on the mainland sits the Castle of Mey which was the home of the late HRH the Queen Mother. It is hard to garden so far north and a great deal of shelter is required to reduce salt spray from the Pentland Firth and wind damage. The fifteen foot high great wall of Mey helps as does the substantial shelter belts of two hundred and fifty year old sycamore sculpted by the fearsome gales of the north. Despite the limitations the garden is quite a triumph and a credit to the Queen Mother and the gardeners at Mey.
Food fit for a Prince.
Within the walled garden traditional Caithness field markers, which are slabs of Caithness stone standing on edge in the ground, combine with hedges of flowering currant, Berberis, copper beech and some elderberry further protect the plants including fruit and vegetables.
Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, is the President of the Castle of Mey Trust and like his grandmother before him, takes a personal interest in the care and development of the garden.
Having travelled this far a visit to the castle as well as the gardens is recommended. You will be delighted.
For information telephone 01847 851 473. Web site www.castleofmey.org.uk
Earlshall, Leuchars, Fife.
This is a much loved fortified house and garden with outstanding topiary features of Yew and well established gardens. Much of the Yew, Taxus baccatta, originated in Edinburgh and was carted to Earlshall to create the outstanding topiary which is now a dominant feature of the garden. There is an abundance of fruit and fine ornamental features often contained in spaces bordered by boxwood hedging.
Carved stone monkeys on the summer house (potting shed) give away the input of Robert Lorrimer in 1891. He was involved in the restoration of the castle and garden. He designed a number of Scottish gardens including Kellie Castle also in Fife.
This delightful garden is owned privately and is open under the Scotland's Gardens Scheme. For more information contact www.gardensofscotland.org
To enquire about a visit to Earlshall contact Paul Veehuijzen at this email address email@example.com www.gardensofscotland.org
Torosay Castle Mull.
This is a fine Scottish baronial style castle with beautiful gardens including a substantial water garden with masses of candelabra Primulas and dramatic plantings of Gunnera manicata sometimes called giant rhubarb which it is not.
An avenue of statues in the Italian style illustrating country pursuits such as hunting, carrying fish and collecting flowers adds additional grace to the garden. The plants which grow here are fairly exotic and are able to survive and thrive because of the North Atlantic drift, also called the Gulf Stream because of its origins in the Gulf of Mexico. This keeps the temperatures higher than is normal at this latitude. Gardens inland and on the east coast do not enjoy as much benefit from the warmer seas and therefore are limited when it comes to growing tender plants. These climatic benefits are what makes visiting west coast gardens such a treat. They are exotic and substantially different from east coast gardens.
You can reach Mull by ferry from Oban to Craignure. You can also travel on the Isle of Mull Railway from Craignure right into the castle grounds enjoying glimpses of Duart Castle across the bay.
I recommend this. If you are lucky enough to be pulled by a steam engine enjoy the nostalgic glory. Children of all ages will love the narrow gauge railway, diesel and steam.
If you have travelled by car take the opportunity to visit the island of Iona as a foot passenger. It would be a pity to come this far and not see this peaceful place before you leave Mull.
For information about Torosay Castle and gardens see www.torosay.com or telephone 01680 812421.
For information about the Isle of Mull Railway see www.mullrail.co.uk or telephone 01680 812494.
For ferry information contact Calmac 0800 0665 000 www.calmac.co.uk
Check with Torosay Castle before you go. It may not be open to the public at this time.
Pitmedden garden near Ellon in Aberdeenshire.
This is a great or grand garden and is both expansive and spectacular. During the summer months the parterre is a mass of colour and in the winter the boxwood hedges are still worth seeing.
The late George Barron of Beechgrove Garden fame had a big influence on the restoration of the garden and the National Trust for Scotland acknowledge his contribution in the garden.
An agricultural museum also resides at Pitmedden and here you can reminiscence about times gone by when farming was a major employer in the countryside. National Trust for Scotland. (NTS).
Telephone no. 0844 4932177. Web address for all NTS properties is www.nts.org.uk
Castle Kennedy near Stranraer, Galloway.
This garden is wonderful to see when Rhododendrons and Azaleas are in flower. Your senses are overwhelmed by the colour and scents in the air about you.
The Glasgow Garden Walks group with Embothrium coccineum in the background.
Good walking is to be enjoyed as you progress from Castle Kennedy through the estate towards Lochinch Castle. This is a private residence however the access to the garden takes you within an apples throw of the front door.
Web address - www.castlekennedygardens.co.uk
Cambo House near St. Andrews, Fife.
The walled garden is the jewel in the crown here. strong displays of herbaceous plants summer long and the most spectacular displays of snowdrops in the spring make this a garden worth visiting.
As is the case with so many gardens there is always something of interest all the year round. The plant sales are worth looking at as you might find just the plant you have been looking and couldn't source at a garden centre.
Telephone 01333 450054. Web address www.camboestate.com
Greenbank Garden Clarkston Glasgow.
The garden is compact and mainly contained within a walled garden. It can be reached by 44A bus from Glasgow and Newton Mearns. A ten minute walk completes the journey.
Sedum spectabile attracts bees and butterflies.
There is always something to see and regular visits bring their own rewards. The garden is one of rooms and the grass paths and planting take you from room to room. All are different.
The raised pond in the area devoted to raised beds is a unique feature which allows both walkers and people confined to wheel chairs to get up close to the water to see water lilies and pond skaters for example. (NTS) www.nts.org.uk
Brodick Castle Isle of Arran.
A Fuchsia hedge is a remarkable feature at Brodick Castle.
The hour long ferry journey from Ardrossan in Ayrshire to Brodick on Arran is a great way to start your visit to Brodick Castle. By the time you reach Arran you feel as if you have left the rat race behind. And so you have.
The walled garden is one of the strong points of this garden. The North Atlantic drift fed by the Gulf stream warms the waters passing Arran and the gardens have an exotic feel to them Rhododendrons from China, the Himalayas are superb. Many plants on display cannot be grown on the mainland.
Echium pininana, the tree echium, has spikes of flowers as tall as four metres. They put on a great show with their blue flowers in mid summer. These are loved by bumble bees which forage about them vigourously. (NTS) www.nts.org.uk
Inwood, Carberry near Musselburgh
Lindsay Morrison with the help of her husband, Irvine has carved out a beautiful garden from spruce woodland adjacent to their home. They have set such a high standard that it would be difficult to find a leaf out of place.
A hot July day at Inwood.
They have also been adventurous, growing a Banana out of doors in the cooler east coast. They do wrap it up well for winter! They have an excellent plant collection including the Wedding Cake Stand tree also known as the Pagoda tree, Cornus alternifolia 'Argentia' which is a star. This a garden worth visiting for the colourful island beds, the plant collection and the welcome extended by the Morrisons to visitors.
Web address – www.inwoodgarden.com
Glenwhan Water Gardens, Dunragit near Stranraer
“Water water everywhere” and what a great setting for a hillside garden. The garden is thirty years old this year (2010) and it is amazing what can be achieved in this short time-scale. From a rough moorland hillside to a beautiful garden! Walk the well signposted moorland just beyond the garden and compare the two.
The large expanses of water create a special dimension which reflects the sky and the plantings in and around. This works to great effect here. The views to Luce Bay and the Mull of Galloway creates the illusion of bringing more bright shiny water into the garden . Lovely!
Whilst I visited I was impressed by the water lilies in the lochans and by the Spanish broom ,Spartium junceum, which has bright yellow flowers with a sweet lingering scent. It flowers just after our broom and gives continuity of colour.
Telephone 01581 400 222. www.glenwhangardens.co.uk
Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherland
Dunrobin Castle and garden - a fairy tale castle and a great garden.
The grand entrance of great trees indicates that generations of people have cared for this highland seat of the Sutherlands. The castle is imposing and the garden design is spectacular, set out between castle and sea. It has a timeless feel to it. Parterre and pleached hedges feature in this well sheltered garden. Strong colours are used to great effect in the flower beds.
All in all it a satisfying garden in which you can spend quality time taking in the displays and noting the names of plants which take your fancy.
It is claimed that the gulf streams influence is still felt at this east coast garden and the plants which survive and grow successfully here provide evidence of this.
Regular dramatic displays by birds of prey are given and this is enjoyed by visitors.
Telephone 01408 633 177. www.dunrobincastle.co.uk
Inverewe, Polewe, Ross-shire
Travel north west to this wonderful almost impossible garden on Loch Ewe. Osgood MacKenzie had tons of peat and soil transported to this previously barren rocky site to create a garden. It is now one of the nations favourites. People travel from all over Britain and beyond to marvel at the plants which grow here.
Rhododendrons, Bamboos, Magnolias and many tender plants thrive in the shelter provided by the belts of trees planted at the beginning. The linear walled garden is worth exploring too. Shelter and the influence of the Gulf Stream made the garden possible. If you have an exposed garden planting shelter belts should be your first priority. Then you can get down to growing more exotic plants.
Telephone 0844 493 2225. www.nts.org.uk
Linn Botanic Garden, Cove, Helensburgh.
This is a lovely surprise on the Clyde coast. It is a compact garden with very narrow paths which criss cross the hillside location with views over the Firth of Clyde and Loch Long. Packed into the space are thousands of plants from all over the world. One of the most interesting collections are the native sundews and similar insectiverous plants. All waiting for an unfortunate midge to drop bye. Fascinating.
Magnolia campbelli (is it campbelli?) from an elevated path in the garden.
Dr Jamie Taggart, the Curator, points out that Botanic gardens are important as they help conserve the gene pool of plants some of which are rare in the wild and might even face extinction as global warming advances. If you have a group or school class ask Jamie for a guided tour as he is a talented communicator.
Telephone 01436 842 084 www.linnbotanicgardens.org.uk