As National Gardening Week came to a close, we’re gearing up to get green-fingered again.
And where better to seek inspiration than in Scotland’s gorgeous outdoor spaces? From castles with historic walled gardens to botanic idylls with their own microclimate and even contemporary sculpture parks, you might be surprised by the diversity found across the country.
Whether you want to admire the rhododendrons in bloom at this time of year or you really miss the sight of palm trees, you’ll find no shortage of options to sate your inner botanist.
Drummond Castle Gardens, Crieff
£10 entry (£4 kids 5-16)
If a garden can masquerade in Outlander as one belonging to the Palace of Versailles, you know it’s something special.
Drummond Castle was likely selected as a shoot location in part because its formal Italianate garden was designed by Lewis Kennedy, who had worked for the Empress Joséphine at Malmaison in France.
The striking parterres are distinctly Scottish, however, denoting the Drummond family coat of arms with traversing paths that centre on a stone obelisk sundial.
Statues, urns and fountains add to its grand, palatial feel, neatly separated by ancient yew hedges. The castle isn’t open to the public, but you’ll be too bewitched by its grounds to care.
Cambo Gardens, Kingsbarns
£6.50 entry (free for carers and kids under 6)
The 2.5-acre (one hectare)Victorian walled garden at Cambo Estate in Fife flowers with lilacs, rambling roses, elegant willows and naturalistic plantings that lend it a wild and romantic feel despite being carefully cultivated.
Right now it is carpeted with tulips, and a visit later in summer will reward you with peonies. Cambo Burn runs through the garden – you can stop to admire it from the wrought-iron bridge – and there’s even a burbling waterfall.
Within the wider estate lies a winter garden and North American style prairie with tall grasses.
Recent investment means the newly reopened Cambo Garden shop is now double the size with a wide variety of cut flowers, plants and gifts for sale.
The Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh
Husband and wife Hamish and Libs Martin were inspired by the novel The Secret Garden to create a sprawling green space on the outskirts of Edinburgh where people could absorb the beauty of nature.
And so The Secret Herb Garden was born.
The garden incorporates a herb nursery with more than 600 varieties; the Secret Garden Distillery (where gin is created using the garden’s botanicals); and the Root to Market shop which sells garden-grown produce and items from local makers.
Seasonal food is served in Fhior Garden Café, located in a plant-filled glasshouse. Distillery and gin garden tours will recommence on 22nd May.
Culzean Castle, Maybole
£13 entry (£9.50 concession; £7.50 kids)
With its dramatic cliff-top location, Culzean Castle cuts an impressive figure.
It’s easy to be swept up in the majesty of the historic building, but don’t skip the opportunity to explore its magnificent grounds.
There’s an 18th-century walled garden where fruit and vegetables grow, a Victorian orangery brimming with fragrant citrus trees, and 120 hectares (nearly 300 acres) of mixed woodland with a conifer plantation and swan pond.
You may struggle to tear wee ones away from the Adventure Cove and Wild Woodland play parks – there are treehouses and zip slides – but when they get hungry there’s the Home Farm Kitchen, currently takeaway-only.
Benmore Botanic Garden, Dunoon
£7.50 entry (£6.75 concession; free for kids)
Those missing foreign travel can get a taste of it via the plants and trees of Benmore, a satellite outpost of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
The garden, which benefits from a humid climate thanks to the Gulf Stream, is divided into geographical regions allowing visitors to get up close with monkey puzzle trees in the Chilean Rainforest, Huon pines in the Tasmanian Ridge and Japanese cedars in the Japanese Valley.
Benmore is perhaps best known for its rhododendrons – there are more than 3,000 of them, and this is the best time of year to see them in full, colourful bloom.
There’s also a Victorian fernery nestled in the hillside and home to many exotic species of feathery foliage.
Fingask Castle, Rait
Honesty box donation
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d happened upon a Mad Hatter’s tea party when visiting Fingask.
Surrealist topiary in irregular shapes and bold swirls cascade down the castle lawn, intermingled with stone globes, marble balls and a statue of Alice in Wonderland herself.
The castle is private and can be hired for weddings and events, but visitors are welcome to wander the grounds in exchange for a donation to the honesty box in the corner of the car park.
From there, follow the sign to St Peter’s Well. Positioned in a jungle-like area of the garden, this historic point of interest was once a 12th-century stop-off point for medieval pilgrims.
Gordon Castle Estate, Moray
£7 entry (£5 concessions; free for under-16s)
At more than 200 years old and spanning eight acres, the walled garden at Gordon Castle is one of Britain’s oldest and largest kitchen gardens.
Its aesthetic is modern though; owners Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox commissioned designer Anne Maynard to reimagine the space with her trademark bold, linear architecture.
Six ornamental herbaceous borders frame the garden and inside there’s a maze, a perfume garden, medicinal herbs, fruit trees, vegetable beds and a dipping pond surrounded by lavender.
The garden’s bounty is plated up in the café and utilised in many of the products for sale in the castle shop, from Gordon Castle gin, cider and ale to skincare, essential oils and candles.
Honesty box donation
While it would be a bit of a stretch to describe this public oasis in the heart of Glasgow’s Southside as a ‘secret’, there is still an element of surprise when entering the Hidden Gardens. Tucked away behind the post-industrial Tramway arts venue, the gardens offer tranquil escapism from the hustle and bustle of the city. Picnic under the Ginkgo tree, gather culinary inspiration from the herb and mint borders or read in idyllic solitude in the Xylotheque, a library of wooden books detailing different kinds of trees native to Scotland. Artwork is peppered throughout, including the newly launched Fly Away Home exhibition, on until the end of May.
£9 entry (£8 concession; £5 kids aged 3-16)
This award-winning sculpture garden on the 80-acre (32-hectare) Bonnington House estate near Wilkieston blends a lush landscape with contemporary, often whimsical, installations and exhibitions. Curated and run by Robert and Nicky Wilson, it’s like an open-air art gallery with the Pentlands as its backdrop. Next weekend will see the unveiling of an installation by Scottish artist Rachel Maclean, taking the form of an abandoned high-street shop amid the woodland. Other permanent works include Joana Vasconcelos’ Gateway, a pool garden crafted from more than 11,000 hand-painted Portuguese tiles, and Anthony Gormley’s Firmament, a steel sculpture crouched in a field.
Achamore Gardens, Gigha
The warm microclimate of the Hebridean isle of Gigha allows sub-tropical species from Australia, New Zealand and Madeira to flourish in Achamore Gardens, created by Colonel James Horlick, a keen botanist, in the 1940s. Its 54 acres (22 hectares) are overseen by an all-female team currently tasked with revitalising the once world-famous garden, but even in its present condition there’s plenty to admire. Jolly rhododendrons, delicate magnolia trees and fiery pink azaleas are all enlivening the grounds right now and an adventure through the bamboo maze will have you feeling like an intrepid explorer. Keep an ear out for the New Zealand Christmas Tree in the walled garden – its nectar brings all the bees to the yard.
Backhouse Rossie Estate, Fife
£5.50 entry (£4.50 concession; £3.50 kids aged 5-15)
The garden at Backhouse Rossie Estate is themed around art and science, reflecting the owners’ backgrounds – one an artist, the other an engineer – and the fact their co-joined initials, CG and AT, are the same as the base pairs of DNA molecules. Two cobble-edged pathways shaped like a double helix run from either side to meet at a centrophere-shaped sculpture in the middle. Not science minded? Don’t worry: the garden is a joy from a purely aesthetic vantage, with a long archway festooned with white rambling roses, an orchard planted with apple and plum trees and a celestial-inspired grass labyrinth.
Priorwood Garden, Melrose
£7 entry (£5 concession)
You may have noticed dried floral arrangements have enjoyed a surge in popularity over the past year – sales have blossomed by 115% over the course of the pandemic. If it’s a trend you enjoy then perhaps you’ll be interested in visiting Priorwood Garden, which is set in Melrose Abbey and contains Scotland’s only dedicated dried flower garden. Apple lovers will find more than 90 varieties growing in the old orchard, an ideal place to plonk for a picnic. Once you’ve had your fill you’re in close proximity to both the abbey and Harmony Garden, a serene spot with scented borders, if you fancy extending your visit.
Johnston Gardens, Aberdeen
Aberdeen regularly receives accolades for its public parks and gardens, which bring welcome splashes of green to the Granite City. Among the prettiest and most award-winning are Johnston Gardens, a short drive from the heart of the city. At just 2.5 acres (a hectare) the space is easy to navigate and instils a sense of peace in all who stroll through it. Ducks glide on the iris-laced ponds and there are enough burns, waterfalls and rockeries to lull you into a false sense of countryside life. Make a stop on the rustic blue bridge for Instagram points.
Inverewe, Wester Ross
£10 in the honesty box
If it’s been a long time since you last set eyes on a palm tree, a trip to Wester Ross will reacquaint you with your best fronds. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the lush and tropical gardens of Inverewe jostle with an array of plants from across the globe. Giant Californian redwoods, Himalayan blue poppies and Tasmanian eucalyptus all thrive here and a network of walks throughout the garden ensure a biodiverse feast for the senses. Wildlife-spotting opportunities abound, too: red squirrels, red deer, otters, seals and golden eagles are often seen throughout the wider estate.
Crathes Castle and Gardens, Banchory
£14.50 entry (£11 concession)
The almost four-acre (1.6 hectares) walled garden at Crathes Castle is one of Scotland’s finest. Sitting directly below the castle, it was largely designed in the early 20th century by Sir James Burnett and his wife Sybil, who were heavily influenced by the soothing palettes and textures of the Arts and Crafts movement. The variety of plants and flowers on display is dizzying; there are eight garden rooms, each with its own distinct look and feel. A fountain, Portuguese laurels and sculpted topiary dating to the 1700s all add character, and there’s a greenhouse containing a collection of Malmaison carnations (the variety favoured by Oscar Wilde for his buttonhole, fact fans).
£5 entry (£2 kids)
For a family day out, look no further than Ardkinglas. Kids will love hitting the Gruffalo trail, which weaves a path through the woods dotted with familiar characters and boards displaying pages from the book. At the end, near a lochan, is a sculpture of the Gruffalo. For grown-up bookworms, there’s a scriptorium of tree-related poetry and prose from the likes of Voltaire and Spike Milligan in a timber gazebo in the woodland garden. Care more about seeing trees than reading about them? You’re in the right place: among the impressive specimens at Ardkinglas are the Patagonian cypress, European silver fir and mountain hemlock.
£11.70 entry (£10.70 concession; £5.10 kids)
The former home of Sir Walter Scott offers a rare example of a Regency garden, which the novelist designed in consultation with artist and architect friends. It is divided into three interconnecting outdoor rooms: the formal South Court, the sunken Morris garden and the walled garden, the latter of which is entered via a stone archway and contains fruit trees, herbaceous borders and a glass house. Many of the ingredients in its Ochiltree’s Café are picked from the walled garden. Spring blooms include narcissi, camassia and puschkinia, and planning is underway for a new mindfulness garden with a water feature as part of celebrations for Sir Walter Scott’s 250th anniversary year.
Glenwhan Gardens, Stranraer
It’s hard to believe when looking at Glenwhan’s verdant landscape that its grounds comprised little more than boggy wasteland a few decades ago. Often lauded as Scotland’s most beautiful man-made garden, it has been designed around two lochans and has an arboretum with a trail consisting of more than 160 tree species, a rock garden and a 17-acre (seven hectare) moorland walk through wildflowers, grasses and ferns. Head up to Tess’s Lookout for a viewpoint overlooking the gardens and beyond to the Isle of Man, Luce Bay and the Mull of Galloway. And if the setting’s too idyllic for you to leave, that’s fine: the Shepherd’s Hut in the garden sleeps two.
Attadale Gardens, Wester Ross
£10 entry (£8 concession, £1 children)
Painter Nicky Macpherson developed Attadale Gardens in the 1980s after storms brought down many of its old trees. It was a chance to hit reset and has been designed with an artist’s eye; think Monet-style bridges, sculptures, a giant sundial in the sunken garden and a geodesic dome housing one of Scotland’s largest fern collections. A glossy lily pond, man-made waterfall and beds of bog-loving plants can be found in the Water Garden, and the Japanese Garden is a zen space with cloud-pruned azaleas, bamboo and miniature conifers. Take a stroll along the rhododendron walk to reach a stone stairway that leads to a viewpoint with outstanding views of the Skye hills.
Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Dumfries
Price yet to be announced
Ordinarily this 30-acre (12 hectare) sculpture garden at Portrack House would be holding its annual open day this weekend, but this will now take place later in the year at a date yet to be announced. However, it would be remiss of us not to place it on your radar. An al-fresco work of art designed by the late landscape architect Charles Jencks and his wife Maggie Keswick Jencks, it encompasses 40 areas exploring wonders of the cosmos. Stand-out features include a water cascade of steps symbolising the evolution of the universe and a terrace made of Astroturf and aluminium designed to show the distortion of space and time caused by a black hole.