The Best Gardens to Explore While Visiting The Highlands

With the sun making a more regular appearance and Chelsea Flower Show on the horizon, we thought now was a great time to boast about the stunning gardens found in the Highlands of Scotland. With arguably a more challenging climate than Chelsea, the north of Scotland’s gardens show great creativity and careful planning to create beautiful and original spaces that bring joy throughout the spring/summer season.

So whether you are seeking inspiration for your garden or an enthusiast looking for somewhere to relax and unwind on your Highland holiday, these gardens should be at the top of your list.

The Dunrobin Castle gardens were laid out in 1850 by the architect Sir Charles Barry, who was responsible for the Victorian extension of the Castle and who designed the Houses of Parliament.

Inspiration came from the Palace of Versailles in Paris, and there has been little change in the 150 years since they were planted, although new plants are constantly being introduced. Despite its northern location, the sheltered gardens can support a surprising range of plants, including at the foot of the steps leading to the garden, a huge clump of Gunnera manicata, a native rhubarb of South America; that has eight-foot leaves!

Dunrobin Castle behind the fountain in the sunshine

The walled garden at Cawdor Castle is the oldest in Scotland and dates from c.1600. The Flower Garden was laid out 100 years later and was initially designed for enjoyment in late summer and autumn. However, this garden’s season has been extended to provide interest from early spring, with bulbs, bedding plants, herbaceous borders, ornamental trees and shrubs, roses and contemporary sculptures.

The Wild Garden was planted in the 1960s and lies between the Castle and the stream of the Cawdor Burn. It has rhododendrons, spring bulbs and splendid trees. Two further gardens, the Tibetan Garden and Traditional Scottish Vegetable Garden can be seen at Lady Cawdor’s summer home Auchindoune House, half an hour’s walk away through Cawdor Big Wood.

At the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother oversaw the development of two gardens. The two-acre walled garden to the west of the Castle is a garden of many different “rooms”. These include flower gardens such as the “Shell Garden” in the shelter of the northern wall, home to many roses. Other parts of the garden provide the Castle with fruit and vegetables and cut flowers.

The second garden lies to the east of the Castle and has a much more enclosed and secret feel, hemmed between the wall to the north and the trees to the south. One path extends to a door in a wall, and you then turn to be presented with a superb view of the east end of the Castle.

Waterfalls, Monet bridges, Meconopsis, bamboo and candelabra primulas are reflected in dark pools, and sculptures lurk in unexpected places scattered through the garden at Attadale. Major Meconopsis and fern collections of more than 2,000 trees have been planted over 20 years, and the water gardens stretch out along the drive, highlighted by spectacular plantings of GunneraMeconopsis and Himalayan primrose.

A wide variety of rhododendrons are scattered throughout, some more than 100 years old – the rhododendron dell is a must-see. Visitors will also find a Japanese garden with raked gravel, cloud-pruned hedges, dwarf conifers and Japanese maples.

The garden at Ardtornish has been sculpted out of a rocky hillside, and every part boasts extensive views southwest along Loch Aline to the hills of the Isle of Mull.

Much of the garden is covered by native birch, alongside extensive planting of exotic species, under mature groups of larch, firs and pine, whose strong form and colour complement the pink sandstone towers and gables of Ardtornish House.

We cannot suggest our holiday cottages have gardens to rival these incredible spaces, but all of our holiday lets provide outdoor space to relax and enjoy. To find out about our availability, visit our cottages.