Achamore Garden, Isle of Gigha, PA41 7AA

The island of Gigha lies three miles from the western coast of the Mull of Kintyre and amongst its fertile fields, many edged by white, sandy beaches that are washed by the Gulf Stream, sits one of Scotland’s most fascinating gardens. Achamore was begun in the 1940s by Colonel Sir James Horlick who recognised that the island’s mild climate would allow exotic plants to flourish.

Over the years he built up renowned collections of rare rhododendrons and camellias as well as plants from Chile, New Zealand and Madeira, which flourished at Achamore for decades in the care of head gardener Malcolm Allan, who worked at the garden for 52 years.

In 2001 ownership of Gigha passed to the islanders under a community buyout and for the next two decades the garden lay mostly untouched while Gigha Heritage Trust turned its efforts to improving the island’s infrastructure. Now however the garden is being energetically restored under the care of new head gardener, Bryony White and a small team, including several gardeners who have completed their apprenticeship at Achamore.

Initial work involved clearing away great thickets of brambles that were threatening to take over the planting as well as pruning back plants that had long outgrown their positions. Many of these are of significant horticultural importance and include Rhododendron protistum var. giganteum, collected by Frank Kingdon Ward, and Rhododendron arboreum ssp. albotomentosum from Mount Victoria in Myanmar.

Some of Achamore’s rhododendrons are already in flower, including Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ and many specimens of Rhododendron grande, while the garden’s famous Camellia Avenue is currently putting on a dramatic show.

Other plants that are now performing include scented Sarcococcas and Daphnes, the scents of which are captured by the protective surroundings of the walled garden.

Because of the climate, many of the plants at Achamore achieve huge dimensions and amongst the largest are the Echiums, which throw up giant blue flower spikes that can reach more than six metres in height.

The gardens cover 52 acres and there is an accessible route around them, as well as other gravel and grass paths.

Gigha itself is just seven miles long by a mile and a half wide and it has recently been encircled by a new 22 kilometre walking route that starts in the village of Ardminish and connects not just with Achamore, but with many of the island’s most important historical and scenic sights.

Signs of the Past Achamore Gardens only exist because of the dense shelterbelt that protects them from Atlantic winds. This was planted at the start of the 20th century as cover for pheasants, rabbits and other game. Now the trees that grow here are reaching maturity and work is ongoing to care for them and replant for the future.

Ash Dieback disease arrived in Ghiga in 2020 and since then has reclaimed a number of trees at Achamore, however where affected trees can safely be retained they are being allowed to stand in the hope that some show resistance to infection. These will then be used in breeding programmes to produce a new generation of disease-free ash trees.

Because of Achamore’s horticultural importance, some of its plant material is also being shared with other gardens in order to aid conservation and a new propagation house that is at the planning stage will aid with further conservation efforts.

Just beyond the garden is a high ridge from where there are views towards Islay and Jura. This vantage point over the surrounding seaways and its fertility meant that the island became known to Viking invaders as ‘Gudey’, meaning ‘God’s Island.) Gigha is dotted with standing stones and other antiquities which tell of its long history of human habitation.

Details Achamore is open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year.

Tickets: £7.50/ £5.00 for children under 16 /£20.00 for a family of four.

Entry is paid via cash or contactless card honesty boxes at the visitor entrance.

www:// Gigha is connected to the mainland by ferry from Tayinloan, which is a three hour drive from Glasgow.

Achamore sits at the southern end of the island, 20 minutes on foot from Ardminish, the island’s only village.

In association with Discover Scottish Gardens