An Cala, Isle of Seil, Argyll

Why We Should Visit

There can’t be any more romantic journey to a garden than one that involves taking a tiny bridge across the Atlantic. In the space of just a few metres you leave behind mainland Argyll and find yourself on one of the many small islands that bob like yachts at anchor tantalisingly close to shore.

A single track road takes visitors past bays with white washed cottages and over stretches of moorland until you reach your destination on Seil’s most westerly point.

An Cala is tucked away behind dense shrubbery and dry stone walls, but a set of stone columns and a wooden gate mark the entrance to the garden, which is protected on two sides by tall trees.

Story of the Garden

Like all those famous gardens that have been carved from Argyll’s rocky ground, it took hard graft, pick axes, and many tonnes of imported soil to establish a series of terraces where plants could thrive on the island.

Work at An Cala began in the 1930s, directed by one of that era’s most famous landscape designers, Thomas Mawson, on behalf of Colonel Arthur Murray and his wife, the actress Faith Celli, who had been the choice of J M Barrie for many of his plays.

The garden has changed hands on very few occasions since it was created, but eventually it become rundown and overgrown, then in the 1980s An Cala was bought by Thomas and Sheila Downie, under whose care it has been completely restored until now it is one of the most renowned gardens on the west coast.


The garden is spread out across five acres and because of its elevated position there are wonderful views out to the Atlantic from its higher slopes, while the Gulf Stream allows many semi-tender plants to flourish, untroubled by winter snow or harsh frost.

Planting includes cherry trees, dwarf rhododendrons, summer perennials and a large number of roses.

A summerhouse and statuary provide focal points while a waterfall and stream beds allow damp-loving species, including Himalayan blue poppies and primulas to flourish. The ground here is acidic and the combination of An Cala’s mild climate and high rainfall levels leads to lush and extravagant growth.

The garden has retained its Arts and Crafts appeal and the whitewashed house, with its blue shutters, give An Cala great charm.

Don’t Miss

An Cala’s combination of densely planted borders are offset by areas of smooth lawn and the pond is a place for tranquil reflection. These classic design features are a large part of An Cala’s appeal and are amongst the reasons why the garden is so popular with visitors. Another is the choice of plants that are suitable for the conditions.

Wire sheep, gathered in a herd, add a humorous note and tie the garden to the wider landscape, where sheep graze the hillsides, and it is worth taking time to enjoy the views out west.

Anything Else To Look Out For

There are lots of clever planting ideas to take away, from the use of small shrubs to create undulating forms to the slate paths and the clever ways with water. While parts of some ponds have plants spilling over into them, other areas have been left clear to create an attractive contrast.

Best Time To Visit

The planting at An Cala is carefully considered and so the garden is always interesting, but in summer the roses take centre stage while later in the year the shrubs and trees provide vivid colour. Late spring, when the primulas and blue poppies are in bloom, is another of the highlights and on sunny days the sparkling light from the sea makes for a memorable visit. However even on wet and misty days An Cala has a special atmosphere.

Any Recommendations in the Area

From the little harbour that lies just a few hundred meters from An Cala you can catch the boat to Easdale Island, the smallest inhabited island in the Inner Hebrides. Once the centre of the UK’s slate mining industry, this is now a car-free haven, with a pub, a slate museum and many resident and migratory birds who are attracted by the flooded quarries. The island is also home to the annual World Stone Skimming Championships.


From Oban take the A816 south. Turn right at the Easdale sign and continue for eight miles.


The gardens are open from 1 April until 31 October, 10am until 6pm.

If your idea of heaven is to wake up in a magical garden, then the Loch Melfort Hotel is the perfect destination. Not only does it have 17 acres of gardens and a beach, but it stands at the entrance gates to Arduaine, one of the great gardens of Scotland’s west coast.

The hotel has spectacular views over the Sound of Jura and its many islands and after dinner of freshly-caught prawns, lobster and other local produce, guests can sit on their own balconies or around the fire pit on the terrace and watch as the sun sinks below the horizon in a blaze of colour.

The hotel is perfectly placed for visiting some of the most fascinating sites in Argyll, including the Crinan Canal and Kilmartin Glen, home to the more Neolithic and Bronze Age remains than anywhere else in Scotland.

At Knapdale visitors can see the damns created by Scotland’s population of wild beavers and from Ardrfern there are boat trips through water teeming with seals, porpoise and otters, to the Gulf of Corryvrecken and one of the largest whirlpools in the world.

However one of the greatest attractions of the region lies right on the doorstep of the hotel. Arduaine Garden, which is under the care of the National Trust for Scotland, is a haven for all kinds of exotic species. Here, giant Himalayan lilies reach head height and Chatham Island Forget Me Nots achieve epic proportions.

Arduaine, which is famous for its collection of tender rhododendrons, was first developed more than 100 years ago by retired tea planted, James Campbell. It has huge trees, pond gardens, ferns from around the world and, in summer, dazzling perennials and from Loch Melfort Hotel it is just a short stroll down the path until you reach its gates.

Loch Melfort Hotel


By Oban

Argyll PA34 4X6

Tel: 01852 200 233


In association with Discover Scottish Gardens. See