Scotland is one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. Many Scots regard both their country and themselves as quite distinct from neighbouring England and the English to the south, and relish Scottish “traditions” (some actually invented during the 19th century!) such as clan tartans, whiskey, bagpipes and Hogmanay (New Year). Like England, however, Scotland has a long tradition of gardening.
Gardens to see and visit in Scotland include the famous Edinburgh Botanic Garden, significant gardens surrounding large rural estates, as also the unusual 20th century gardens of Little Sparta and the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. Scottish Gardens opens many private residential gardens from spring to autumn. In August-September, many hillsides throughout the Scottish Highlands turn purple when the heather blooms.
Garden Travel Guide to Scotland
Getting to and around Scotland
E dinburgh and Glasgow are Scotland’s two largest cities. International flights are available to and from many European countries and some long-haul destinations but many international visitors arrive via short (around 1 hour) domestic flights from larger hubs in England, particularly London and Manchester. There are good rail links from London to both Glasgow and Edinburgh (journey times 4-5 hours or by overnight sleeper). The best way to visit the more remote parts of Scotland is by car or coach tour. However, driving times can be long as many rural roads are winding and narrow, particularly in the highlands. Islands can be reached by car ferry or by air.
Scotland’s seasons are spring (March – May), summer (June – August), autumn (September – November) and winter (December – February). Scotland is the coldest region of the UK, with maximum daytime temperatures ranging from around 15-18ｺC in summer to 5-6ｺC in winter. Temperatures are higher in lowland and coastal regions than in the mountains. Due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, winters tend to be mildest in western coastal areas, with temperatures rarely falling below freezing, while the mountainous highlands and more eastern areas are more likely to experience winter frosts. Snow or sleet showers and strong winds are frequent during winter months, especially in the mountains. Western areas, with annual rainfall of 2000-3000mm, are markedly wetter than eastern regions (700-1000mm).
Topography and natural vegetation of Scotland
Scotland’s two major topographical regions are the highlands and islands to the north and west, and the lowlands and southern uplands in the south and east. The mountainous highlands are slashed by numerous steep-sided lochs (lakes), remnants of ancient glaciers. To the west and north-west of the mainland are the island groups of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, while the Orkney and Shetland Isles lie to the north. Soils range from moderately acid in the lowland east and south to more strongly acid soils, often highly waterlogged, in the mountains and western coastal areas.
Around 5,000 years ago much of Scotland was wooded but, as a result of man’s activities, native mixed woodland of birch, hazel, pine and oak has dwindled today to only about 1% of Scotland’s land area. Mountain regions are characterised by open, windswept moorland covered with heather, bracken, gorse, rough grasses and peat bog, while many of the lower hills are dominated by plantations of largely coniferous commercial forestry which now cover around 15% of Scotland’s land area.
Throughout lowland Scotland there are large areas of improved and semi-natural grassland, with arable land confined to the eastern coastal fringes. Built-up areas and domestic gardens account for only a tiny percentage of land, mainly in the “central belt” of the lowlands (which includes Glasgow and Edinburgh), and in Dundee and Aberdeen on the east coast.
Scotland Garden Styles
D espite the loss of almost all native woodland, the predominant style of most large Scottish gardens in western and highland regions is the woodland garden, often heavily dominated by a huge and gloriously colourful variety of (non-native) rhododendrons and azaleas, which thrive on the damp, acid soils. These gardens, which may also feature areas of naturalised spring bulbs (mainly snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells), and sometimes also pond and bog gardens with swathes of hostas, primulas, Astilbe and Gunnera, are at their peak in the spring and early summer.
Gardens in lowland and urban areas, and formal gardens close to stately homes and castles, often include formal beds of herbaceous perennials, or mixed perennials and shrubs, together with a wider variety of garden trees, and have a longer season of interest throughout the spring and summer and into the autumn. Some gardens in sheltered areas of the west coast are noted for their collections of tender species from warm temperate or even subtropical regions of the world.
Scotland regularly open gardens FREE entry
oyal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh – one of the world’s oldest (est. 1670) and most important botanic gardens, with more than 70 landscaped acres including rock and stream gardens, a Chinese hillside, a long herbaceous border, a woodland garden and azalea lawn, together with systematic beds and a large glasshouse complex showcasing plants from around the world.
• Glasgow Botanic Gardens – a 19th century garden, rather overshadowed by Edinburgh’s more famous Botanic Gardens but still worth a visit
Gardens to see and visit in Scotland that are regularly with PAID entry
Many gardens that are open to the public are listed on the websites of the National Trust for Scotland, Scotland’s Gardens and the Royal Horticultural Society. There are so many glorious gardens to visit that only a few highlights can be listed here:
(Argyll, Inner Hebrides and Arran):
Arduaine Garden, Benmore Botanic Garden, Crarae Garden, Torosay Castle Garden, Inveraray Castle Garden, Achamore Garden (Island of Gigha), Mount Stuart Garden (Island of Bute), Broddick Castle Garden (Isle of Arran)
Central and Northern Highlands and Islands
(Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, Caithness and Sutherland, Skye and Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland Isles):
Inverewe Garden, Lochalsh Woodland Garden, Ardtornnish Garden, Highland Garden and Lea Garden (Shetland), Castle of Mey Gardens,
North-East and Central Scotland
(Aberdeenshire, Morayshire, Perth and Kinross, Stirlingshire, Angus):
Crathes Castle Garden, Fyvie Castle Garden, Glamis Castle Gardens, Drummond Castle Garden, Branklyn Garden, Blair Castle Gardens
The Clyde and Forth estuaries
(Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife):
Linn Botanic Garden, Geilston Garden, Falkland Palace Garden, St Andrews Botanic Garden, Cambo Gardens, Kellie Castle Garden, Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Malleny Garden, Dirleton Castle Garden
(Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Dumfriess and Galloway):
Little Sparta, Culzean Castle Garden, Logan Botanic Garden, The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Threave Garden, Drumlanrig Castle Garden, Cally Gardens
South-east Scotland and The Borders:
Dawyck Botanic Garden, Floors Castle Garden, Abbotsford House, Monteviot House, Mertoun Gardens
Garden Festivals and Events in Scotland
S cotland’s biggest garden festival is Gardening Scotland, held in early June at the Royal Highland Centre near Edinburgh Airport.
How to find private gardens (not regularly open to the public) open in Scotland
Scottish Gardens is the sister organisation to England’s famous “yellow book” National Gardens Scheme. Its website lists gardens that open regularly, those open on specific dates, and those that open by appointment.
Best time to visit gardens/garden festivals in Scotland
Spring and early Summer (April to June). Many gardens are closed from late autumn (end of October) to early spring (March or early April).
Alternatives to garden visits in Scotland
Both Glasgow and Edinburgh are packed with visitor attractions. Visit Edinburgh’s famous Castle, catch up with Scottish art both old and new at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh or Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. If you’re visiting in August, Edinburgh’s International Festival is a must, including the Edinburgh Tattoo at the Castle. Away from the cities, the Highlands and Islands offer spectacular hiking and climbing (but be prepared for all weathers, and for the infamous west highland midge in summer!). Whiskey buffs will have a ball at distilleries in the Spey Valley and on the Island of Islay, while Scotland’s many castles offer a treat for history lovers.
Fun Facts about Scotland
Some in Scotland would like to reintroduce the lynx wild cat to control increasing deer populations but sheep farmers may disagree!
Popular mythology has it that the haggis is a kind of sheep with 2 legs on one side shorter than the other making it easy for it to manage steep hillsides. How to catch your haggis? Chase it to the top of the hill where it will fall over!
Tartans are not as ancient as you think with many dating from Victorian times (19th century) and new ones being invented on a regular basis