Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Scotland’s south-west corner is distinctly warmer than you might expect. Its plethora of gardens are linked by a network of quiet lanes – a treat for walkers, cyclists and drivers alike.
Rhododendrons are a common feature of Scotland’s Garden Route, putting on superb displays in spring and summer. But it’s the exotics – Southern Hemisphere plants that thrive in this mild microclimate – that really catch the eye. A number of the gardens have cafes, and if the heady bouquet threatens to overwhelm, you can always escape to the clifftop lighthouse and café at the Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s most southerly point.
1. Dunskey Gardens
Dunskey Gardens ©Billy-McCrorie
Head to the pretty harbourside village of Portpatrick and to Dunskey Gardens (open by appointment), which holds collections of exotic flowering shrubs such as Clianthus and Sutherlandia. Snowdrops emerge in spring and scented roses in summer, while year-round interest – much to the delight of the kids – is provided by the Dunskey Hedge Maze. The labyrinth, planted in 2003 with New Zealand broadleaf, was based on the famous maze at Hampton Court in London.
2. Logan House
Logan House ©Geograph
The Victorian woodland garden at Logan House is the place to go for all things arboreal. Come spring, ‘40 shades of green’ flourish in trees from around the world, including seven UK and 14 Scottish champions. Popular all year is the majestic Monkey Puzzle Avenue.
3. Logan Botanic Gardens
Logan Botanic Gardens ©Alamy
Some 400 swaying cabbage palms line the approach to Logan Botanic Gardens, setting the tone for a plantsman’s paradise, burgeoning with botanical treasures from the Americas, Australasia and Southern Africa (and also known as the location of Lord Summerisle’s garden in cult film The Wickerman). Pass the white-painted Galloway cottage to reach the UK’s first ‘all green’ public conservatory, in which conditions are ideal for plants rarely seen in UK collections, such as proteas and banksias.
Outside, wander around the walled garden – complete with a pond bursting with Koi carp – or take a stroll through the Australasian woodland.
Logan’s wealth of exotic trees and shrubs, including over 50 species of eucalyptus, ensures that there is something of interest all year round, with a particular exuberance from June to August: agapanthus, Australian bottlebrush and daisies from the Canary Islands are all here.
4. Castle Kennedy Gardens
Castle Kennedy Gardens ©Alamy
Castle Kennedy Gardens were originally laid out in 1730, spread over 75 stunning acres around a dreamy ruined castle on an isthmus between two natural lochs. Champion trees, a vast lily pond and one of the best Victorian woodland gardens in Britain are all here, but the real treat is one of the finest rhododendron collections in the UK, at its best in May and June.
5. Glenwhan Gardens
Glenwhan Gardens ©Alamy
Established just 40 years ago, Glenwhan Gardens are an unexpected gem, created from a bracken-clad hillside 300 feet above sea level with stunning views out over Luce Bay. Azaleas, primulas and camellias all flourish, as do magnolias in spring and a profusion of buddleia in autumn, attracting a mass
of peacock butterflies.
There are also 17 acres of moorland with over 120 species of wildflowers and grasses – best explored on foot – not to mention the potager and herb garden that supply the tea room with fresh produce.
6. Aldouran Wetland Garden
Aldouran Wetland Garnde ©Rose-and-Trev-Clough
Towards the north of the Rhins, volunteer-led Aldouran Wetland Garden is another good spot for the kids, with a sensory garden, wildlife ponds and woodland walk adorned with fairy doors at the base of the trees. There’s also a well-sited hide from which red squirrels and even the occasional hoopoe might be spotted.
Map of Scotland’s Garden Route
For opening times and seasonal events, go to Scotland’s Garden Route.
Main image ©Getty