10 of Perthshire’s most fascinating and mesmerising gardens
Perthshire in Scotland has a rich natural heritage that includes a huge variety of landscaped gardens, making it the perfect destination for a tranquil day trip or relaxing short break
With more than 200,000 acres of spectacular woodlands, which include more champion trees than anywhere else in the UK, Perthshire is unsurprisingly known as ‘Big Tree Country’. This is, in part, due to the great plant collector David Douglas, who was born in Scone and then travelled the world in the 1800s, finding new tree species to introduce to Scotland, including his namesake, the Douglas fir – a magnificent tree that can be found in The Hermitage, an atmospheric forest in Dunkeld, amongst many other places in the region.
Naturally, Perthshire is one of the best places to do a spot of ‘leaf peeping’ in the autumn and a walk along Pine Cone Point Trail or the Pass of Killiecrankie will more than reward your efforts. But there’s so much more to the region than trees – from the beautiful Kinclaven Bluebell Wood, which comes alive with a carpet of blue flowers in the spring, to the new long-distance walking and cycling route, the River Tay Way, being developed by the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust in celebration of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters.
Indeed, the conservation charity, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary next year, works hard to help care for all of Perthshire’s incredible natural landscape made up of verdant forests and woodland, undulating countryside and idyllic glens, and majestic lochs and rivers. Unsurprisingly, with such a varied landscape, there are plenty of ways to connect with nature and many different experiences to immerse yourself in throughout the year, and this includes Perthshire’s many awe-inspiring gardens.
Read on to discover 10 of the region’s most wonderful gardens...
Inspired by nature
Whatever your interests when it comes to gardening, you’re sure to fall in love with at least one of these astonishing gardens.
1. Scone Palace, near Perth
Scone Palace is the ancient residence of Scotland’s monarchs, but the gardens and grounds date back to 1805. They include the intricate Murray Star Maze and a kitchen garden and are stunning throughout the year. Enjoy a private tour with Head Gardener Brian Cunningham to truly immerse yourself in their delights. Spring is heralded by the arrival of snowdrops (the Scottish Snowdrop Festival is even held here), drifts of daffodils, and primulas and bluebells bloom in the woodland areas. Come summer, the grounds explode with the vibrant colours of rhododendrons and azaleas, and Laburnum Walkway dazzles with its bright yellow flowers. While here, walk through the Pinetum with giant redwoods and noble firs towering over you, and you’ll come upon the David Douglas Pavilion built in honour of the great plant hunter who worked as a gardener here.
2. Drummond Castle Gardens, near Crieff
One of Scotland’s, indeed, Europe’s, most important and impressive formal gardens, the Drummond Castle Gardens date back to the 17th century but were redesigned and terraced in the 19th century. The formal gardens you see today were replanted in the 1950s but preserve many of the original features like the ancient yew hedges and the beech tree planted by Queen Victoria to commemorate her visit in 1842. The gardens have featured in many films and programmes, for instance, being used as a location for the TV series Outlander, posing as the Gardens of Versailles.
3. Tomnah’a Market Garden at Comrie Croft, near Crieff
Tomnah’a is a working market garden at Comrie Croft, and during the growing season it opens to the public, offering unique Pick Your Own experiences and tours, workshops and special events. Since 2015, the garden has been growing flowers, fruit, vegetables and herbs on the five-acre site, with the aim of creating a beautiful space that inspires creativity and provides for the local community through its Veg Share scheme. The team, which includes lots of volunteers, believes everyone should know where their food comes from and be able to see it growing, and it works in partnership with nature, using wildlife-friendly growing methods to increase biodiversity and resilient long-term productivity. Comrie Croft has accommodation, including eco camping, plus a lovely café called The Tea Garden, where you can try the garden’s delicious fresh produce.
4. Cluny House, near Aberfeldy
You’ll find two breath-taking specimens of Sequoiadendron giganteum, also known as Wellingtonia or Big Tree, growing at Cluny. One of these is a champion tree standing at more than 33m with an enormous girth of 11m – the widest conifer in the UK. Cluny is famous for its fascinating plants, thanks to its creators Bobby and Betty Masterton, who arrived in the 1950s and grew many Himalayan species, which thrive in the conditions found here. These include the Tibetan cherry tree and exotic perennials such as lilies. At this time of year, Cluny House is a great place to spot native red squirrels.
5. Bolfracks Garden, near Aberfeldy
A haven of peace and colour, the ornamental gardens at the privately owned Bolfracks Estate are known for their collections of rare and unusual plants, which provide inspiration from spring all the way through to autumn. There are superb selections of rhododendrons, azaleas, acers, old fashioned roses and an array of herbaceous perennials, while the garden also offers fabulous panoramic views over the Tay valley.
6. Beatrix Potter Garden, near Dunkeld
The Beatrix Potter Garden is set in the village of Birnam near Dunkeld. Potter’s family spent several summers in the area when she was a child, and it is thought to have been the inspiration for some of her later stories, including The tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. The small garden is a nicely landscaped oasis with a pavilion at its heart, and as you walk around, you’ll come across some of Potter’s most famous characters, including Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Mr Tod the Fox, Mr Jeremy Fisher and Peter Rabbit and his friends.
7. Blair Castle, near Blair Atholl
Blair Castle is at the heart of a historic landscape, which was laid out in the 18th century and features the nine-acre Hercules Garden, which has been restored to its original Georgian design and features landscaped ponds, the tranquil Diana’s Grove, an extended wooded area featuring the country’s finest and tallest trees, the ruins of a kirk, a Gothic folly and a red deer park. Highland cattle also graze in the fields nearby, red squirrels can often be spotted and peacocks roam freely. In the autumn you can look forward to Scottish Tree Festival events taking place here.
8. Branklyn Garden, Perth
A short walk from Perth city centre, gardeners and botanists come from across the globe to admire Branklyn’s outstanding collection, especially its rhododendrons, alpines and peat garden plants. It also holds several National Plant Collections, including Meconopsis and Cassiope. In the autumn, you can smell the incredible aroma of the katsura tree – it produces a delicious burnt sugar scent when its leaves begin to turn.
9. River Tay Public Art Trail, Perth
While in Perth, enjoy a walk along the River Tay, and stroll across the pedestrian walkway over the river. Take a moment to admire pretty Moncreiffe Island, home to the King James VI Golf Course since 1897, then continue over to the other side. Follow the footpath all the way to Bellwood Park, and you’ll come across a total of 20 sculptures, which draw inspiration from the unique history, nature and artistic heritage of Perth. Amongst them you’ll find David Wilson’s much-loved 1998 Outwith Within, Seed, Leaf and Bud three-way marker sculptures.
10. Norie Miller Park and Rodney Gardens, Perth
These beautiful public grounds, also close to the River Tay, are open year-round and free to enjoy. The National Heather Collection can be found here, lining the banks of a small stream. If you follow this wonderful collection along, not only will you enjoy the largest and most comprehensive heather collection in Scotland (it hosts some 950 species), but you’ll also walk through some of Perth’s most stunning parklands.
While in Perthshire...
You’ll also want to seek out the ancient Birnam Oak, the sole survivor of Birnam Wood, which features in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This gnarly tree, whose lower branches now rest wearily on crutches, can be found in the city of Perth on the Birnam Riverside Path on the banks the River Tay. You won’t want to miss Meikleour Beech Hedge either. Four miles south of Blairgowrie near the lovely Meikleour Inn, it’s the longest hedge in Britain and the highest of its kind in the world!
Meanwhile, in the village churchyard of Fortingall, eight miles west of Aberfeldy, you’ll discover the Fortingall Yew. Sitting at the geographical heart of Scotland, the tree is thought to be between 3,000 and 9,000 years old and is believed to be one of the oldest living things in Europe.
Looking for somewhere to stay?
A secluded haven, Guardswell Farm sits between Abernyte and Kinnaird and is the perfect place to take a deep breath of fresh air, eat tasty homegrown food and enjoy beautiful panoramic views. There’s a range of accommodation to choose from, including the farmhouse itself and an off-the-grid hut that’s ideal for stargazing, and the farm also hosts regular events and courses, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the idyllic location.
Scotland is calling.