Crarae - one of the best woodland gardens
A day out in Argyll and Bute in the autumn, with the mists rising over the lochs, the patchwork hills emerging behind and the gardens soaked with rain, is one you'll never forget. There's something about these deserted properties that sticks in your mind and even though we have magnificent autumn gardens in other parts of the UK, it is the Scottish gardens that I love at this time of year - and there are so many of them!!
Start with Crarae, former home of Lady Campbell, whose nephew, Reginald Farrar was a famous traveller and plant collector, which explains some of the rare trees and exotic plants you find here. Now under the umbrella of National Trust for Scotland, Crarae is a must for a misty autumn day - this is a Himalayan ravine transplanted to the edge of Loch Fyne and as you wander up through the steamy forest, alongside the spring, you will wonder just which country you are in! It's a magnificent garden, filled with acer, cornus and hamamelis, which give it such wonderful autumn colour, but it also boasts more than 400 species of rhododendron, and I've definitely put it on my list for a spring visit in 2010.
If you can tear yourself away, move on to Benmore - and you will be amazed by a different vista. This is the regional outpost of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and is home to some of the most spectacular conifers that you will ever see, including Britain's finest avenue of giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron gigantum). More than six million trees were planted here between 1870 and 1885 and you will spend most of your visit craning your neck to look at the incredible green canopy above. But here too, it is the acers that give the autumn colour, and once you've wandered through the redwood avenue (above) you can move on to see more of the 120 acres of spectacular plants and autumn colour.
This is another garden that is spectacular in springtime with its 300 species of rhododendron and magnolia. Other features include the pond garden with its wonderful backdrop of acers (below), a Chilean rainforest and a Bhutanese glade and there are also the views over the Holy Loch to the Firth of Clyde.
And definitely not to be missed if you're this far north are the gardens at Linn - also on the Firth of Clyde - but extending to just three acres, and filled with the most extraordinary collection of bamboos, temperate ferns and exotic plants. This is a must!! The gardens hide the house and you wander along a signposted path through all parts of the garden, discovering new plants at every turn. You won't recognise them all, but rest assured, you won't be disappointed - this is one of the best "secret" gardens I've visited yet.
If you're planning a visit to this area, the most useful (and beautifully presented) source of information is Glorious Gardens of Argyll and Bute, which lists all the properties in the area. Well worth checking out for all the facts and figures you need on one site!