This is a lovely garden in Morvern set in a stunning setting with magnificent views over Loch Aline and The Sound of Mull.
The hill garden stretches over 25 acres and is a mixture of formal and informal plantings that bear testament to a family tradition in gardening and an ‘enthusiasm for the exotic’ of a bygone era. Formal areas range from manicured lawns, interspersed with exuberant plantings for colour, shape and texture, and include a variety of herbs, shrubs and trees from Europe, Asia, America and Australasia. Informal areas are mainly native oak-birch woodland, with herbaceous and heath understoreys. Non-native and native trees are a prominent feature of the garden and include species of Acer, Betula, Sorbus and Northofagus, together with coniferous plantings of Larix, Pinus and Abies. Other notable specimens include cultivars of Magnolia, the white-flowered Davidia involucrate (handkerchief tree), Hoheria lyallii, and the stunning Camellia x williamsii "Donation". There are also some fine specimens of Eucryptia glutinosa near the house and in the Eucryphia garden, which provide autumnal blooms.
The gardens were established in the 19th century by Valetine Smith and his family, and developed in the mid twentieth century by Owen and Emmeline Hugh Smith, and later by their daughter, Faith, and her husband John Raven. The plantings were designed to showcase the colour, form and architecture of a range of exotic species in a manner that complimented the natural features and flora of the coastal and hill terrain.
The garden is divided into sections, including wooded areas, meadows, formal lawn, rockery, walled herbaceous and themed sections. The River Rannoch runs through southern edge of the garden. There is also an amphitheatre, a lovely pond and Mandy’s pool, all accessible via a network of winding paths weaving through the garden. The garden supports a particularly fine collection of rhododendrons that can be found in the Rhododendron Glen and Cinnabarinum Glen, together with yellow and orange azalaeas, the latter of which are part of the original nineteenth century planting.
In Spring and Summer, the gardens of are riot of colour, heralded in by the yellows of primroses, daffodils and celandines, as well as the striking inflorescence of the marginal aquatic, Lysichiton americanus (skunk cabbage), and punctuated by purples of Crocus tommasinianus. These are soon succeeded by the whites, blues and pinks of lilies, daisies, spireas, hellebores, bluebells, primulas (including P. denticulate and P. japonica), crocosmias, hostas, poppies and frillaries, to mention but a few, as the season progresses. The herbaceous flora is supplemented early on by the lovely white flowers of wild cherries (Prunus avium ) and guelder rose (Viburnum opulus). Other notables include Embothrium coccineum (the Chilean firebush, with its vibrant scarlet tubular flowers), Escallonia (with its masses of white, pink or crimson flowers) and climbing and rambling, sweet scented blossoms of roses (including Rosa rugosa, R. setipoda and R. pimpinellifolia) and clematis.
May and early June are excellent months to explore the Rhododendron Glen, studded with the purples, pinks, reds, white, yellow and orange flowers of these stunning and hardy exotics.
A procession of red, yellows and oranges heralds the approach of Autumn in the garden, with species of Enkianthus, Cotoneaster, Aronia, Cercidiphyllum and Oxydendrum providing spectacular autumn foliage and fruit colour; whilst Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis' and Eucryphia provide floral interest. This is a lovely time to visit the garden, burning bright in the autumnal sun.
This is a lovely garden for strolling around and taking in the tranquillity and beauty of gardens within a garden, in a stunning location dominated by loch and hills. The history of planting, composition and design trace an intimacy, enthusiasm and passion for plants (both native and exotic) of its past and present owners.
Ardtornish Garden is well worth a visit if staying in Morvern, Moidart or The Ardnamurchan. Lose yourself in the colour and magic of this wonderful place.
The garden is open seasonally and there is a small admission charge payable at the Estate Office.
Further information about the history of the garden, including garden map and virtual tour can be found on Ardtornish Estate website. Faith Raven has also produced a book, Artornish Gardens, that provides a short history and celebration of the garden.
We visited the garden in May 2013.