Creating Glenwhan Gardens

How It All Began – From Scratch!

Tessa Knott re-editted (1)

Tessa Knott: Explains the Work Involved In Creating Glenwhan Gardens, Arboretum & Tearoom

I let nature be my guide when I was creating  Glenwhan Gardens, Arboretum & Tearoom, from the untamed land surrounding our Scottish farmhouse!

We bought 103 acres of land described as ‘fit for afforestation’, 2 ruins and a three bedroomed cottage over the telephone (site unseen!) We could’nt wait to see what we had bought, and as soon as possible we came up from Herefordshire where we were farming,

 There cannot be many gardeners quite as lucky as I am, for when I step out to do a spot of weeding two lochs,  the breathtaking view of the Mull of Galloway, and the Isle of Man greet me. Our visitors describe our situation variously as “stunning”, “beautiful”, and “idyllic”, and “peaceful”, and  I would agree with them !

Starting The Work

But in the late seventies, when we moved up to Galloway with our young family, all we could think of was how lucky we were, for we found a ruin,  with a herd of cattle and a flock of pigeons occupying our farmhouse, and the land a beautiful and untamed wilderness of rock, bracken and golden gorse. In fact the land was so wild there was no garden at all, and only a farm track leading up to the house.

While my husband was occupied with farming the land, the house had to be rebuilt. The task of making a garden was not my first priority. But after an inspiring visit to nearby Logan Botanic Gardens and a subsequent visit to Tresco on the Isles of Scilly, I felt inspired to begin. After all, I had the Gulf Stream, with its attendant mild climate, and a naturally beautiful site to begin with.


The first task in creating Glenwhan Gardens was to fence 12 acres round the perimeter of the house and to plant a shelter belt of mixed conifers and deciduous trees. We are 300 ft above sea level and the winds blow from all quarters.

Following on from this, we decided to make two small lakes, (lochs in Scotland).   We already had the water seeping  through from the top of the garden, from what was once the Georgian water supply for the Big house and Estate, below us.

P1010022I had the greatest fun digging out small ponds leading down to the loch (made with a JCB) to make a water garden. We stocked the two lochs with Brown Trout, later adding some Koi Carp, which may be seen still cruising the waters today.

Planting Begins

I was now free to consider all the positive aspects of the ground and with a PH of 4.5 the acid loving plants would do well, so we bought a 100 hardy hybrid rhododendrons and deciduous azaleas and grew these on in a small peat bed until they were ready for planting out into final positions.  But first we had to clear the ground of the perennial weeds, no minor task!

Ornamental willow cuttings were planted in groups, being a cheap and quick method of clothing the garden. We had to remove rock out of each hole before we could do any planting, and generous portions of farmyard manure and slow release fertiliser were added.

The ground is shallow and poor, and the water runs away quickly in spite of 40” of rainfall a year. I retained much of the gorse as the planting proceeded and used it as a nanny to form shelter for the plants; as they grew, so the nannies were banished!

image: Glenwhan Gardens looking up towards the Obelisk.

Creating Glenwhan Gardens, looking up towards the Peace Pinnacle

The Gardens Today

 Glenwhan Gardens & Arboretum has it’s own microclimate, with the shelter belt trees which have grown up, and partially due to the close proximity of the Gulf Stream allowing a  great many tender  plants from all over the southern hemisphere flourish. You will see the Chilean fire bush embothrium coccineum and Olearias from New Zealand, Eucalyptus, and many Rhododendrons, both the species and the hybrids, now flourishing. The trees have grown amazingly tall, and all the Rhododendrons & azaleas are a blaze of colour and truly making a statement.  I did not really believe I would live to see the garden so mature.  I am very happy to see my acers growing and giving marvellous colour and shape to the garden.

Many different bulbs such as the  woodland trilliums, erythroniums, and dodeocatheon,  together with the giant Cardiocrinums, the Himalayan lily, love the moist woodland conditions.  Round the lakes grow the marginal plants, Iris, Primulas, and many more.

Our Visitors are so appreciative and  seem to love Glenwhan, many returning time and again to see how the work is progressing, and I am so grateful for the lovely remarks left in our visitor’s book.

 I hope Robert Service will forgive me if I adapt some of his verses from “The Spell of the Yukon” thus:

“I wanted a garden,  I got it;

I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.

T’was it rheumatics, lumbago, I fought it!

– Hurled my youth into the grave…”.


Glenwhan Gardens, Arboretum & Tearoom, Dunragit, nr Stranraer, Wigtownshire, (DG9 8PH) are open from Easter until September 30th, daily, 10.00am – 17.00pm. Visitors are most welcome, but large parties are advised to book well in advance! (Tel: 01581 400222)

Our  Tearoom (free entry) is open and ready to serve you a delicious range of hot and cold meals, snacks, drinks – , and seasonal produce. We hope you gain as much enjoyment from visiting Glenwhan Gardens as we had creating them! See you soon and haste ye back!

Publications By/Or Featuring Tessa Knott

Tessa Knott has been featured, along with the gardens, in: ‘The Scottish Rhododendron Yearbook 2004′ – Bhutan (April 2004) – The RHS ‘The Garden’ (August Issue, 2004, Profile of Tessa Knott) ‘The Scottish Garden’ (Summer 2003), ‘The Scottish Field’ (June 2002), ‘The English Garden’ (June 200), ‘Homes & Antiques’ (June 1996), ‘Practical Gardening’ (December 1991), ‘The Scots Magazine’ (July 1991) and ‘The People’s Friend’ (August 1991). Glenwhan Gardens have featured on Border Television and twice on ‘The Beechgrove Garden’ (1992 & 2002). German Television will feature Glenwhan during the summer of 2003. Tessa Knott is a member of: The International Dendrology Society, Past Chairman and member of Plant Heritage (N.C.C.P.G), Ex Scottish branch Chairman and member of R.H.S. Rhododendron, Magnolia and Camellia Group, the Royal Horticultural Society, The Scottish Rhododendron Society (Scottish Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society) and presently Tours Co-ordinator, Dumfries & Galloway National Trust (Committee Member), The Hardy Plant Society and The Lily Group. She has been published in the following publications: International Dendrology Society Yearbook (1995), The World of the Rhododendrons Yearbook No.1 (1998), The World of the Rhododendrons Yearbook No.3 (photograph on dustcover), The World of the Rhododendrons Autumn Newsletter No.50 (2000 – The Garden at Glenwhan, 20 years on.),  The World of the Rhododendrons Yearbook No.5 (2002), The World of the Rhododendrons Yearbook No.6 (2003 – Pencarrow, SRS Spring Tour 2002) and St. Andrew’s Botanic Garden Newsletter (2002 – ‘A Walk On The Wild Side’ – edited by Bob Mitchell).

~  Tessa