Why Argyll’s glorious gardens are well worth a visit in winter
Argyll and the Isles is home to over 20 glorious gardens, many set amidst spectacular coastal landscapes or majestic mountain scenery. There’s a huge variety of gardens, from the woodland to the walled varieties. During the spring and summer, the gardens are, unsurprisingly, a riot of colour as the plants are in full bloom. But the winter months have much to offer too and many of the gardens stay open all year round. Here are five Argyll gardens that you should visit this winter.
Ardkinglas Woodland Gardens
Sitting on the shore at the head of Loch Fyne, Ardkinglas Woodland Garden is a brilliant place for a winter walk and is open all year round. Set against a spectacular background of mountains and forest, it’s famous for the mature champion trees (including the "mightiest conifer in Europe"). A woodland lochan, an ancient mill, a scriptorium and a thriving population of red squirrels add to the attraction of the garden. There’s also the Gruffalo Trail and Fairy Trail to keep children entertained. Just along the road you’ll find The Treeshop, which has a wonderful café serving coffee, cake and lunches.
Image: The Gruffalo Trail
Benmore Botanic Garden
Benmore Botanic Garden is officially closed to visitors from 1st November to 1st March, but you can still walk in gardens and there’s much to see and enjoy. The mountainside setting is spectacular in the winter months, particularly if there is snow on the hills. Look out for the startling white of Himalayan birch and the profusion of mosses, lichens and liverworts covering the ground with green, pink and rusty brown. You’ll also see red, pink and white berries on rowans and whitebeams that often last well into December. During the winter months, staff have a busy programme of work getting the garden ready for the new season. This can include path and step repairs and tree removal. Please respect any warning signs. After you’ve enjoyed a winter stroll in the garden, pop into the Benmore Café to warm up with coffee and cake.
The wonderful coastal garden of Arduaine, located 20 miles south of Oban, is open all year round. Warmed by the North Atlantic Drift, Arduaine nurtures plants from all over the world – from East Asia to South America. During winter, visitors are asked to stay off the lawns and some of the most sensitive soft paths are closed, but otherwise you’re free to explore. Even in February you’ll find plants in flower, including some camellias blooming, a number of rhododendrons out and the first snow drops peeping through. And on a bright winter’s day, if you walk to the high viewpoint you might be rewarded with views of the snow-covered mountains of Mull. The garden is next to the Loch Melfort Hotel, which is a great place to enjoy lunch after your stroll.
You’ll find Crarae Gardens 10 miles south of Inveraray close to the banks of Loch Fyne. It’s an incredible Himalayan-style woodland garden that’s open all year. The garden features a gorge, a tumbling burn, waterfalls and cliffs all in a magnificent hillside setting. The combination of the naturalistic planting of carefully selected trees, shrubs and other plants together with the conifers towering above and the natural drama of the setting creates the feeling of a Himalayan valley. In the winter months look out for the winter flowering shrubs. You might even spot natural icy sculptures in and around the Crarae burn and there are usually some early rhododendrons in flower too. When you’ve finished your winter Himalayan adventure, head to Inveraray refuel in one of the town’s lovely cafés.
Hop on the ferry to the beautiful island of Gigha to visit Achamore Gardens. Created by Colonel Sir James Horlick in 1944, the 54-acre garden is open all year round and makes for a lovely winter walk. As well as rare plants, the gardens are home to several champion trees. Follow the woodland walks to see a wonderful array of trees and shrubs. Walk to the garden viewpoint for views over to the islands of Islay and Jura. For post-walk refreshments, pop along to the welcoming Gigha Hotel.
Find out more about Argyll’s Glorious Gardens.