Scotland’s rain may not please everyone but it’s a boon for gardeners: plenty of natural water keeps gardens green and flourishing. The country’s climate is uneven from east to west, so you can find near-tropical gardens on one coast and near-arctic ones on the other. Whatever your gardening tastes, Scotland has something for you at almost any time of year.
Here are our top 10 Scottish gardens – just a tiny slice of what’s waiting for you. Our recommendations are all on the mainland, so you won’t have to take your motorhome on any ferries.
Gardens on the West Coast of Scotland
Inverewe Garden (post-code IV22 2LG), in Wester Ross in the North West, is arguably Scotland’s most famous garden. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the garden’s micro-climate allows sub-tropical plants to flourish despite its northerly position. But this is not the place to look for heather! Instead, there are 50 acres of exotica from New Zealand, China, South Africa, Chile and the Himalayas, growing alongside roses and vegetables.The walled terrace garden is best visited in summer, when the herbaceous plants are in full swing; the rhododendrons are on display from May onwards and there are exhibitions on quite frequently – there really is something to see all year round. You could even stay longer by renting the on-site accomodation, Garden Lodge. There is a car park nearby (N 57.77459, W 5.59622, IV22 2LG) which accommodates motorhomes, but it has a maximum capacity of 15. Please note, the car park closes at 9pm and overnight parking is not allowed.
Inverewe is run by the National Trust for Scotland, as are several other fine gardens. It’s definitely worth it taking out a NTS membership from around £4.20 a month for 1 adult if you plan to visit more than a couple of Scottish gardens, even if you’re only here for a short time.
For lovers of rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias there are three other gardens on the South West coast worth a visit: Arduaine, near Oban (PA34 4XQ); Crarae, near Inveraray (PA32 8AY); and Ardkinglass Woodland Gardens (PA26 8BH), which is also home to some of Britain’s champion tall trees.
Gardens in the South-west of Scotland
Benmore Botanic Garden (PA23 8QU), around 6 hours South of Inverewe, near Dunoon, has 120 acres of plants, including over 300 species of rhododendrons which fill the late spring with colour. Eucryphias take over in summer and the autumn foliage colours are worth a visit on their own.You enter the Gardens along a spectacular avenue of giant redwoods. There’s a pond, a fernery, and plants from China and Bhutan that make the most of their mountain location. Benmore means “big hill”, and the site lives up to its name, but the Benmore Explorer is there to help if you’re not up to the climb. There are guided tours on foot and on board the Explorer, which can be booked in advance. When you’re ready for a break, Benmore café can be found at the entrance to the Gardens and has an extensive menu of hot and cold food. You’ll also find the Courtyard Gallery here, which runs exhibitions all year round. We recommend allowing at least a full morning to explore the gardens.
Dumfries House estate (KA18 2NJ), around 2.5 hours drive south, was saved from collapse through the intervention of Prince Charles. It is home to the 5 acre Queen Elizabeth Walled Gardens linked by an elegant 18th century bridge to a recently-restored arboretum. The latter has over 500 specimens of trees and shrubs and is bright with woodland flowers in spring. In the middle there’s a shelter, which is worth a visit on its own account. Two lochans (small lochs or large ponds) have been created to attract wildlife.The five-acre Queen Elizabeth Walled Garden is one of the biggest walled gardens in Scotland, and has a steep drop from one end to the other. It has also recently been transformed with new terraces, greenhouses and an educational area. The 19th century house, designed by Robert Adam and filled with fine furniture, is also available to the public, with guided tours scheduled daily throughout the summer season. Free parking is available on the property and access is via the A70, so there’s no need to navigate any country roads in your motorhome.
Gardens in the North-East of Scotland
Cawdor Castle (IV12 5RD), between Inverness and Nairn in the North has not one but three gardens: Walled, Flower and Wild. The walled garden, originally the castle’s kitchen garden, dates from around 1600, while the formal flower garden, dating from the 1700s, was created for the enjoyment of the owners. It provides colour from early spring to late autumn.The wild garden is the “baby” of the estate, dating from the 1960s. It runs steeply down from the castle to the river, the Cawdor Burn. The rhododendrons, azaleas, willows, bamboos and other trees have been cleverly planted to look natural; in spring daffodils and primroses add a touch of colour.
Pitmuies Gardens (DD8 2SN), around 3 hours south of Cawdor Castle on the east coast, are the creation of a keen plant-collector. There are eight areas to visit, including the woodland, kitchen, formal and Vinny gardens. The Alpine meadow is full of naturalised snowdrops and crocuses in spring, while the hornbeam walk is a mass of vibrant yellow daffodils and narcissi.Around the Black Loch, rowans and maples, grown from seeds collected in Oregon and Japan, provide wonderful autumn colours, while Mesopotamia is a woodland walk between the Vinny Water and the Turbie Burn, with a 17th century doocot (pigeon-house) as an extra point of interest.
There are several motorhome campsites nearby; The Red Lion Caravan Park on the coast, Foresterseat Caravan Park to the west, and Forfar Lochside Caravan & Motorhome Club Site a little further west, so you can settle in and explore the surrounding area.
Gardens in Central Scotland
One of the finest formal gardens in Europe can be found at Drummond Castle (PH7 4HN) near Crieff in central Scotland. The plants for it are grown in the castle’s greenhouses, which can also be visited. You approach the castle and gardens along a beech avenue, which gives no indication of the glories of topiary and colour in the parterre garden below the castle.
The gardens, which date back to the 17th century, have featured in films such as Rob Roy and the recent Outlander series. The kitchen garden is also open and provides an interesting contrast to the formality of the parterres.
North towards Aberfeldy, the gardens of Cluny House (PH15 2JT) date from the 1950s. The owners have created a woodland garden full of North American and Himalayan trees and shrubs. Two 150-year-old Wellingtonias predate the rest of the garden; one of them is 11 metres round the trunk, making it Britain’s widest conifer.Many of the plants, including some now large trees, were grown from seed by the owners, who were keen plant-collectors. They include Tibetan cherry, meconopsis (blue poppies), and lilies, some of which grow to over 4 metres tall.
Gardens in the South of Scotland
On the western outskirts of Edinburgh, on the banks of the Water of Leith, sits the very unusual Redhall Walled Garden (97 Lanark Road, EH14 2LZ), which is run by SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health). It’s an organic community garden, managed cooperatively by a group of 50 people for whom gardening provides therapy for mental health problems.Redhall is run as a training garden. Originally dating from the 18th century, it now includes a bog garden, a sunken garden, ponds and even an Iron Age roundhouse. It’s open Monday – Friday 9am – 4pm, and closed at weekends. Facilities include toilets, shop, picnic area, and a car park.
Another unusual garden is Priorwood in Melrose (TD6 9PX): all the plants in this small garden are grown for drying – though there’s also an orchard with historic varieties of apples. They hold courses on flower-drying and dried-flower arranging. Priarwood is a good place for a picnic in the middle of a visit to Melrose – Melrose Abbey and the Harmony Garden are both within easy walking distance.Our final recommendation is Manderston House (TD11 3PP), an Edwardian country house near Duns in Berwickshire, south-east of Edinburgh. The gardens run to 56 acres of formal and informal planting. The formal gardens are still planted in Edwardian style. Roses and hostas adorn the terrace and banks of rhododendrons lead you down to the lake, complete with boathouse, Chinese bridge and 18th century picturesque landscaping. This combination of formal and picturesque gardens is unique in Scotland. There’s also a woodland garden, home to rare species of rhododendron and azalea, as well as a tennis lawn, croquet lawn and cricket ground, complete with pavilion. Also in the grounds are the stables, the marble dairy and tower, and the Head Gardener’s cottage, with its own garden featuring a dolphin fountain and a sundial.
It’s a fitting final choice for our top 10 Scottish gardens. There are hundreds more to visit and enjoy, some open for just one day or weekend a year, but these 10 all have something special that makes them truly outstanding.
We hope you enjoy visiting them on your Scottish motorhome holiday!