WELCOME TO ACHAMORE GARDENS
The story of Achamore Gardens
The Clan McNeill became the undisputed Lairds in 1590 after a fierce power struggle between the MacDonalds and the McNeills. At the end of the 19th century Captain William Scarlett, the 3rd Lord Abinger purchased the estate and built the listed B Achamore House in 1884 to the design of John Honeyman. The main areas of woodland to the north and south of the house were planted by William Scarlett to provide shelter from the strong winds and salt spray and game cover. When Sir James Horlick acquired the estate in 1944 he wished to establish a garden to grow his more tender Rhododendrons. He managed this by cutting small clearings in the Rhododendron ponticum and trees and by 1970 the garden was full and looked magnificent. On his death he left some of his collection to the National Trust for Scotland so that rare species could be propagated and shared with other great gardens.
On the 15th March 2002 the Island was purchased in a Historic buy-out by the inhabitants of Gigha. It is now owned and managed by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust.
The Garden story is continued by Head Gardener Micky Little (April 2011)
The gardens are situated within the Community-owned Isle of Gigha lying 3 miles from the western peninsula of Kintyre. It is some 7 miles long and 1 mile wide with Ireland 30 miles south, Islay 10 miles west and Jura 10 miles north-west. The views are stunning with the Paps of Jura, Ben More 50 miles away on Mull, Goat Fell on Arran 20 miles away to the east.
However, this garden is Oceanic, Atlantic and is influenced by the Gulf Stream. Frosts are rare and snow even rarer. Rainfall is reputed to be only 100cm in comparison to the mainland which can be double. The gardens lay between 10 metres to 100 metres above sea-level.
Fertile acid sandy loam with some clay and gravel subsoil. ideal growing conditions for a wide variety of plants from around the world including lower-order Bryophytes and Ferns.
The Horlick Years
" I purchased the Island at the end of the war (1939-1945) and started to make a garden in 1945. I had no experience of sea-side gardening and was blissfully ignorant of Atlantic gales and the damage they can do......" Col. James Horlick, along with professional horticultural assisstant Kitty Lloyd Jones (who worked with him at Sunninghill) started the layout for the present 54 acres (22 hectares) of woodland compartments. With help from Jim Russell of Sunningdale Nurseries, Sir Eric Saville and hosts of other notorious horticulturists such as George Taylor, Horlick was able to establish a garden that boasted a great array of plants. The garden soon developed as a home for the Horlick Rhododendron Collection, where he bred and registered over 30 cultivars. Rhododendron 'Mrs. James Horlick' has proved a favourite with visitors when in flower. Before Kitty Lloyd jones left Gigha, she collaborated with Horlick in devising a plan which gave a detailed overview of the garden layout and some of the key plantings. The period between 1945 and the death of Horlick in 1971 are probably regarded as not only the gardens, but the Island's "Glory Years".
Post Horlick Achamore
After Malcolm Allan (Gardener 1918 - 1970) the Head Gardener mantle fell to Peter Clough (who sadly passed away December 2008). A plantsman who continued developing the plant collection before moving on to Inverewe Garden about 1974. Malcolm McNeill continued the work and gardened at Achamore from 1958 until his retirement in 2006. Peter Clough in 1973 had written a wonderful plant inventory and this was backed up by a series of hand-drawn plans of every plant in each of the compartments completed by David Wagg in 1977.
These two recordings are the last vestiges of any plant records or any garden records until I was appointed in October 2006. The gardens now are "building" a woody plant catalogue, a database of all plants as an ongoing record and utilising management "tools" such as a SWOT analysis before any restoration work starts. digital photography is very helpful in recording work. Therefore, I try to plan for the conservation, restoration, future maintenance and the financial sustainability.
With this information and the opportunity to tap into local folk who remember key moments regarding the gardens, the gardeners and its plants, the gardens are now at the beginning of a new era.
After imbibing the Spirit of the Place, and trying to decipher the ethos of the gardens my conclusion is that they are a Mid 20th Century, Atlantic Coastal, Gulf-Streamed Influenced, Woodland Compartmental Garden. They are linked throughout with Rhododendrons and meandering pathways which culminate in a 2 acre walled garden that houses plants that exploit its microclimate.
It was a private garden that was built by a wealthy businessman who was quoted as saying in March 1964 at an RHS lecture " I can only tell you that creating a garden out of this mess has given me the most enjoyable twenty years of my life, and the certainly the busiest....."
As the Islanders own Achamore Gardens, they all have a Sense of Ownership. They are happy to see the gardens undergoing serious structural changes, new plantings and a revival of a horticultural passion.
How is this happening?
Before any plants are cut back or removed they are recorded with an assessment of their condition and their plant association. In many cases, especially with specific Rhododendrons, propagation material is collected and only after successful root initiation, will plants be cut back or removed. We have started a programme of micropropagation working in conjunction with The Duchy College down in Cornwall. (This programme was initiated by Peter Clough after he had retired from gardening), and started a programme of "in-house" propagation.
A central composting site has been developed and all new plants and restored beds reap the benefit from this operation. New plants have been sourced from many reputable nurseries, other gardens including the Botanic Gardens such as RBG Edinburgh. For example, Andrew Ensoll from RBGE kindly donated a selection of ferns such as Thyrsopteris elegans a Chilean treefern, Cyathea dregii a S. African treefern and Osmunda banksiifolia, usually only grown under glass.
With staffing and accomodation as well as financial resources as an issue, I have to assess whether the whole 54 acre site can receive a complete renovation. With 2 of us full-time and a part-time propagator gardener, the answer is simply no, therefore, only key areas or compartments have been selected not only for their horticultural, architectural, topographical importance, but also with the view of the visitor in mind. These key areas are where the resources will be directed.
The unique microclimate has allowed for some more of the unusual plants to flourish well. To have a fully mature Metrosideros umbellata, Anopteris glandulosa and Atherosperma moschata, growing within the walled gardens and to have Pinus montezumae and Pinus patula growing next door all underplanted with sef-sown seedlings of Echium pininiana is just so exciting. The Clianthus puniceus rambling nicely near a Lomatia ferruguinea with Lapergeria rosea and Puya alpestris flowering annually just belies what there is here.
What a chance there is to play planting and experiment with zones of hardiness and discover what will grow and develop is thrilling. Horlick planted Metasequoia glyptostroboides as soon as they became available in the UK back in the late 1940's and it is this ethos of Horlick that I wish to continue as I was able to plant out the newly found conifer, Wollemia nobilis.
The Horlick era of Rhododendron collecting and breeding, exotic and half-hardy planting and specimen tree planting are the theories I will develop for the future of Achamore Gardens.
Micky Little May 2011
Please use the arrow below to start the tour of the gardens.........thank you.