Take the high road

Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world. It has a bounty of beautiful gardens and many that are of great historical, conservation and botanical importance. Whilst you can visit any time of year, Springtime is an exciting time to visit Scotland so if you have time this year, venture far and wide, taking in the wilderness of the mountainous regions, the Gulf stream-warmed gardens in the southern peninsula and of course its fabulous cities. 

The Botanics

No visit north of the border would be complete without going to Edinburgh and its Royal Botanic Garden. I worked at this beautiful garden 76-79, when I was a student on the prestigious DHE course – in fact, I was the first female student to proudly receive this accolade.

This 70 acre landscaped garden is home to one of the richest collections of living plants with more than 13,500 species built up over centuries of global exploration.

The garden is famous in spring for its collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, magnolias, Himalayan poppies or mecanopsis, which are an awesome sight when planted en masse

The famous Rock Garden is home to over 5000 alpine plants from Chile, China, Europe, Japan, North America, and South Africa. The Scottish Heath Garden is planted with native species which were, and still are, used by Scots. Not all of them are still used today, but some of the plants being grown are used to produce popular foods, drinks, and other products. The rock garden is home to plants.

The Chinese Hillside highlights RBGE’s well-established links with China and is perhaps one of the largest collections of Chinese plants being cultivated outside China. The plants from China and also the travels and enthusiasm of plantsman Roy Lancaster, sparked my interest in this part of the world, which I was lucky enough to visit in 1992.

Formally opened in 1997, the Chinese hillside recreates for visitors the experience of climbing a hillside in southwest China and features around 1,600 plants collected from this area of China, many of which are rare and endangered in their native habitat.

Even when the weather is wet, you will enjoy exploring the glasshouses with 10 different climate zones featuring everything from amazing orchids, tree ferns, and plants from the dessert regions of the world.

Have your camera ready to photograph the iconic Victorian Temperate Palm House, which is the tallest of its kind in Britain. When I was a student we used to have to climb over the outside of the glass roof to read the weather report from the station which was then pitched on the upper story – these days the weather station is on safer ground – on the lawn outside of the  Front Range glasshouses. 

Whilst entry to the garden is FREE, these days there is an admission charge to view the greenhouses (Adult £7.00 with concessions) Don’t miss out for the sake of a few £s, as they house plants from temperate, arid and tropical regions of the world. In the summer one of my highlights is the giant water lilies in the Plants and People house which are at their best in July. These giant leaves will hold the weight of a child, but in my experience, if the weight is distributed by sitting the child on a plank of wood!

Autumn is also a good time to visit the glasshouses. This is when bananas tower above and Cacao or cocoa pods are developing on the woody trunks of the Theobroma cacao. The fragrance of the strawberry guava fruit also fills the air in the Rainforest Riches glasshouse, which appeals to all your senses.

Back outside, at a commanding height of 8m, there is a Beech Hedge, which runs along the full length of the 165m-long Herbaceous Border. The hedge was originally planted in 1906 with 200 beech trees (Fagus sylvatica). Today there are a total of 158 individual trees in the hedge and it takes approximately two weeks for two of the gardening staff to cut the hedge.

The Herbaceous Border was created in 1902. Over the last 10 years, both the eastern and western sections have been replanted to provide mid to late summer colour. The planting scheme is fashionably graded, starting and finishing with purples and blues and going through shades of yellows and reds…very Gertrude Jekyll!

Weeding and staking this mammoth border was one of my first jobs at the garden and as always attracting the interest of visitors who would stop to ask questions and share their enthusiasm for all things horticultural. One such visitor in 1976, was Sir Elton John, who is a passionate gardener.

The Royal Botanic Garden is located just one mile from the city centre so can be visited as part of a short city break. Visiting the Botanics though will no doubt spur your enthusiasm to visit all of its satellite gardens. These are located at Logan in the mild climate of the south-western tip of Scotland. Dawyck, which is in the Scottish border town of Stobo, near Peebles and is one of the world’s finest arboretum and Benmore, which sits in its majestic mountainside setting on the Cowal peninsula, Argyll. Take plenty of mosquito repellent if you plan to visit Benmore in August!

ogether these botanic gardens collectively hold the largest collections of Chinese plants and the second largest collection of plants in the world.

The southerly location and the warming effect of the Gulf Stream mean that Logan Botanic Garden enjoys an exceptionally mild climate with, usually, the reliable absence of air frost between mid April and the end of November. 

Check each gardens websites for opening hours and entrance fees. The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh entry is free with a charge for Glasshouses. Each garden has a visitor centre, café and shop.






This is one of my favourite gardens in the world and the journey to Inverewe is spectacular, as you drive through stunning highland scenery to reach this woodland and walled botanical garden, which is one of the best known and most visited gardens of Scotland. 

Inverewe Garden has a superb position, set in the rugged landscape of Wester Ross on the slopes – mostly south-facing – of a peninsula jutting out into Loch Ewe. 

The garden, which in all covers 20 acres, features sub-tropical plants from around the world including Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand as well as China, Japan and the Himalayas and the temperate regions of South America and North America. 

In the formal area there is a walled garden with recent plantings of 10 cultivars of woody peonies in colours ranging from white through pink to red-black, and with single to fully double flowers in spring.

The magnificent herbaceous borders are a riot of colour starting from April through to late autumn. In spring, Inverewe is especially celebrated for its collection of Himalayan rhododendrons and at this time of year, I can assure you, that you will be wowed by the alpine collections in a rockery set against lush lawns. There are also wild areas where you can survey butterflies and wildflowers. 

The mosaic of landscape habitats in the spectacular surrounding 2000 acre estate is home to Scotland’s most iconic wildlife, including red deer, eagles, pine martens, otters, and red squirrels. The estate is framed by mountains and two lochs, where the light and colours are forever changing.

The gardens and the surrounding estate were acquired by the National Trust for Scotland in the 1950s, so as you’d expect there is a visitor centre, shop, and café.

It is advisable to check opening times before you visit. Garden entrance fee is £11 for adults with concessions for families.


Crathes Castle, Garden and Estate

The enchanting 16thcentury Crathes castle with turrets and towers and a remarkably preserved interior is surrounded by ancient sculpted yew trees and set in over 500 acres of formal gardens, woodland walks and
rolling Scottish countryside. 

Located at Banchory, just 15 miles west of Aberdeen, Crathes, with its Tarzon swings and fun high rope bridge crossings is a great day out for the whole family. Of most interest to gardeners, however, is the 20thcentury Arts & Crafts garden.

Here you will discover an arboretum with trees of special interest, ponds and lakes and a much-admired Plantsman’s garden. The 4-acre Walled Garden, which started out as a kitchen garden but before the First World War, it was developed as a flower garden, has burgeoning herbaceous borders, which are creatively planted so that there is colour and something of interest all year round. There are specimen plants that are labeled with taxonomic descriptions too, so have your notebook and camera handy. 

Crashes is often likened to Sissinghurst, because there are yew topiary hedges that divide the garden into eight themed areas, each with its own character.

The themed gardens are an inspiration with plenty of takeaway ideas and include a white border, a yellow enclosure known as the Golden Garden, a misty-blue garden, and a dreamy high summer garden planted with pastel shades that looks stunning in the evening. 

There is sculptured topiary too and a grass croquet lawn on a high terrace within the walled garden plus a traditional glasshouse to explore. Snowdrops and daffodils are of special interest in early spring and in summer, roses are a key attraction. 

The garden is open all year and there is a visitor centre and teashop on site.

Entrance fee £13 for adults with concessions.



Internationally admired for its rhododendron species collection, Arduaine also features magnolias, camellias and plenty of other wonderful trees and shrubs, many of which are tender and rarely seen elsewhere.

Arduaine is a Mecca for gardeners the world over throughout, April, May, and June. 

Located behind a shelterbelt on the coast near Oban, this 20-acre temperate formal and woodland garden was created over 100 years ago and supports a great variety of plants. 

Arduaine Garden is full of colour and fragrance, evoking glamorous destinations. This is no coincidence as the garden was begun in 1898 at a time when curiosity about foreign travel and an appetite for the exotic were all the rage.

As well as an abundance of flowering trees and shrubs, there are bamboos, ferns (including tree ferns) and a large collection of unusual herbaceous perennials that come from all over the world and in particular from East Asia and South America. 

Notable plants are the deliciously fragrant, tender rhododendrons, beautiful blue Mecanopsis or Tibetan poppies, giant Himalayan lilies, and Chatham Island forget-me-nots.

There are two marked garden trails that will take you along paths with spectacular views and past huge ornamental trees. Along the routes, there are numerous small ponds and watercourses where there are water lilies, primulas, and other marginal plants growing.

The garden also attracts an abundance of wildlife including red squirrels and there are lots of information points dotted around the garden offering excellent photographic opportunities.

Owned by the National Trust for Scotland since 1992, Arduaine is open all year from 9.30am until sunset. There is a small shop at the entrance but after your visit, you need to go to the adjacent Loch Melford hotel for a reviving pot of tea and scones.

Entrance Fee is £7.50 for adults with concessions.

check www.nts.org.uk for opening times, which vary throughout the year.

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