Benmore Botanic Gardens
Argyll PA23 8QU

Rising To Great Heights In Argyll
A damp climate and clean air are just two of the ingredients that makes Argyll one of the lushest parts of Scotland. Washed by the Atlantic and riven by sea lochs, the hillsides in this region are covered in trees while the understory of the native temperate rainforest drips with moss and lichen.
It is here at Benmore, just north of Dunoon, that the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh grows a significant part of its living collection and thanks to the moist atmosphere and stable temperatures, many of its rare and exotic trees reach spectacular heights.
The effect starts just beyond the entrance gates, where visitors encounter an avenue of Giant Redwoods. These towering behemoths are 150 years old and they are just some of the mighty conifers that thrive in this 120-acre mountainside garden that’s filled with plants from the Americas, the Orient and the Himalayas.
Across the garden, leaves are beginning to change colour and over the coming weeks these will smother Benmore’s steep hillsides in a blanket of dramatic tones.
Lose yourself amongst the canopy by climbing the 137 metres to the viewpoint at the very top of the garden from where there are spectacular views south towards the Holy Loch, or take a break at the Bhutanese pavilion and enjoy the plants from one of the world’s least-explored kingdoms.
Benmore holds an important collection of rhododendrons and even without their flowers these are a significant presence, especially those that have grown to the size of trees, have shiny bark or produce leaves that are coated with velvet-like indumentum. Close up, it is possible to appreciate the variety displayed in this very large group of plants and to breathe in the aromatic smell that they add to damp woodland.
At this time of year many shrubs are covered in glossy berries. Trees to look out for include the Katsura, which smells of candyfloss; the Persian ironwood with its purple and gold leaves; and the largest Sorbus alnifolia in Britain.
Autumn is one of the best times to spot the garden’s population or red squirrels and at times, Golden eagles fly overhead. 
A wildlife hide provides a quiet spot to glimpse some of the garden’s residents and another popular place to encounter creatures is around the tranquil pond, which is at its best when it reflects the golds and reds that are displayed in the trees. This is gardening on a grand scale but there are many moderately-sized plants including acers.
Regular guided walks give visitors the opportunity to hear from experienced  staff about the special plants that grow here.

Ferny Delights
Climb the steps on a rocky cliff face at Benmore and you are rewarded by a glimpse into the Victorian era. The fernery is a reminder of the passion for ferns that gripped many plant lovers around 150 years ago, when the railways started to make the countryside accessible and fern hunting became a popular pastime.
Inside is a collection of beautiful ferns which cascade down the walls, emerge fountain-like from flower beds or spread tiny leaves over the rocks. The fernery is built into the rock and its semi-submerged form is covered by a curving glass roof that lets in light but protects tender ferns from the cold. This unusual building is one of the few ferneries still in existence and before it was restored to its original condition it was a tumbledown ruin.
Today it once again attracts pteridologists (fern enthusiasts), and facilitates ongoing study into this very special group of plants. A number of attractive garden structures, both ancient and modern, can be found scattered across Benmore. A Chilean pavilion is surrounded by some of the plants this unique South American habitat has given to the world.

Open daily 10am-5pm until October 31.
Tickets: £8/£7/free (under-16s and carers)
Accessibility: much of the garden is very steep, but there is an easy access route around the lower level. 
Tel: 01369 706251

Benmore is A815, six miles north of the ferry slip at Hunter’s Quay.