Green Fingers in the Highlands

16 May 2017


Photo: Inverewe Gardens

There are many reasons why people visit gardens on holiday. Maybe you are looking for some inspiration for when you get back home, an educational day out for the children; maybe a quest for a moment of quiet contemplation or just an opportunity to load up on plants and seeds. Many people assume that, because of the changeable weather, the Highlands of Scotland is not the most natural place to find an abundance of gardens open to the public, but the reality is completely different. The recent crowning of Inverewe Garden as the Garden of the Year in the prestigious annual BBC Countryfile Magazine awards highlights just what you can achieve in quiet corners of the Highlands with a little expertise and some persistence.

Inverewe Gardens is truly a majestic day out for anyone even slightly green fingered. Species which simply shouldn’t grow here are thriving, aided by the Gulf Stream, resulting in a riot of colour and scents throughout the year. From pre-historic trees such as Wollemi Pines to rhododendrons from China, Nepal and India, Himalayan poppies and Tasmanian eucalyptus there is something to discover and delight in every corner of this massive site

For children there is a wildlife hide that provides the perfect vantage point over Loch Ewe where coastal birds, seals and otters can be seen and there is a global garden trail to follow. The Savage Garden, a display of insect eating plants can be found by the pond and curious children can even have a go at feeding them. With the ranger service hosting events all summer, a network of paths and walking trails and two cafés with Taste of Scotland awards, there is enough to occupy families on multiple visits.

Shore House is just a few miles away at Big Sand and as the name suggests it sits right on the coast. So close to the sea in fact that at high tide the water actually becomes your garden. As unique and atmospheric a place as you will find anywhere on the west coast

When people think of the Slate Islands, automatically what springs to mind is grey not green. Nothing could be further from the truth however. The island of Seil is home to the fabulous An Cala. Situated In the conservation village of Ellenabeich by the edge of the Atlantic but sheltered by a horse-shoe of surrounding cliffs, this intimate 5 acre garden includes a stream, waterfall, ponds and herbaceous plants as well as azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese cherry trees. Designed in the 1930s and blasted out of solid rock, this stunning labour of love is a serendipitous oasis of calm and one of the area’s best kept secrets.

Ardlarach Lodge sits on the Isle of Luing, the most southerly of the Slate Islands and just a short ferry hop away. This green and lush island is home to the famous Luing cattle and is a haven for wildlife lovers as well as being easily accessible from the central belt.

The family owned Abriachan Nursery and woodland garden is located in a stunning location on the banks of Loch Ness. In an era where retail park supermarket style garden centres seem to have killed the smaller independent nurseries it is comforting to know that an institution like Abriachan still thrives. It’s just a short drive from Inverness then you can walk the winding woodland paths edged by mossy stone walls leading up the hillside to stunning views over the loch.

The fantastic mix of native and exotic plantings will give you creative inspiration as well as offering a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. There are qualified gardeners on site to give individually tailored advice and the nursery, which has been featured on The Beechgrove Garden, sells a wide selection of hardy and unusual plants. There is also an exceptional range of shrubs, perennials and alpines and the auricula collection in particular is regarded as one of the best in the country.

Once you have loaded up your boot with plant gems, it’s a short and scenic drive to House by the Loch, a large and luxurious home for large family groups to get together. After a hard day plant shopping then relax in the hot tub or the dedicated cinema room.

Attadale Gardens offer spectacular views of Skye from the hill paths that meander through 20 acres of conifers and rhododendrons. Started by Baron Schroder in the late 19th century and totally transformed after storm damage in the 1980s, this is an artists garden designed to frame the magnificent vistas and the surrounding hills. Ancient paths wind past rare trees, over bridges and through impressive water-gardens with beautiful and exotic plantings. Giant gunnera, Himalayan primula and Meconopsis are some of the highlights, as well as a restored sunken garden, a herb garden, and a Japanese garden. There is a geodesic dome imaginatively planted with ferns and a major sculpture collection scattered throughout the garden that children will enjoy seeking out.

The Mill House at Nostie also has spectacular views over this part of Wester Ross, a traditional west coast cottage with a recent refurbishment it is a brilliant base for the outdoors enthusiast with birdwatching and hiking opportunities just out the front door.