We are honoured to have this introduction to Glenwhan Gardens written for us by Bob MItchell MBE, former emeritus curator at St Andrews Botanic Garden, and a good friend of Glenwhan Gardens.

Visiting gardens is always an education and we should always come away having increased our knowledge in some way.  This is certainly the case after visits to Glenwhan for this is very much a garden of comparisons.  Comparisons of a garden created out of moorland and certainly comparing the development of different habitats – one boggy ground, the other dry rocky knolls.  The transformation is quite amazing.


Picture then a landscape of bracken and gorse mixed through with large rocky knolls and low lying boggy areas where bog cotton, sundews, sphagnum and heath spotted orchids grow in the deep peaty soil with a pH of 4.5.  It was hardly encouraging for farming, far less the development of a garden.  Yet, at 300′, sloping to the south and with 40″ of rain but little frost and snow, the uncompromising site has been transformed.  From a bleak hillside, an oasis of peace and tranquility; a garden of great beauty, variety and complexity, with stunning colour throughout the year, has been made in just 20 years.  It is complemented with lovely views over Luce Bay to the Mull of Galloway and the Isle of Man, from the various rocky vantage points.


Like so many of us, having holidayed here for many years, Tessa and Bill Knott had fallen in love which this peaceful part of Scotland. In 1974 they bought a delapidated farmhouse and 103 acres of open hillside without seeing the property. Once the farmhouse was tenable in 1979, twelve acres were fenced off and secured  against cattle, rabbits and deer, and the perimeter planting of pine, larch, rowan and oak commenced to provide shelter, especially from the east wind.  These trees are now being thinned to provide shady planting areas.


The inspiration to develop the garden came initially from visits to Logan Botanic Garden some 15 miles to the southwest where a vast range of southern hemisphere plants thrive.   This provided the challenge which Tessa Knott needed.  Without any formal training in horticulture and starting as a complete amateur, support came in the form of hollies from Lady Ann Palmer; from Hugh McAllister with a large collection of Sorbus species; from the International Dendrology Society with Tasmanian seed and with the supply of eucalypts from Dick Law who holds the Eucalyptus collection for the NCCPG nearby.  Willows, which grow so quickly, thus providing almost immediate shelter, came from Long Ashton Research Station.  


The Wet Areas

Willows are a feature round the two lochans which were made by excavating and damming the boggy area. The lochans, replenished from a moorland stream are now planted with water lilies providing the focal point for the centre of the garden and reflecting the views from the house. The margin of the pond is clothed with plants to flower throughout the season.  Skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) provide early flower colour and is followed by its bold architectural leaves to dominate the area in the summer months.  Even larger are the leaves of Gunnera manicata from Brazil, planted as a massive group where one can walk beneath the canopy, as at Logan Botanic Garden, and  where shelter and refuge can be sought when it rains.


Hostas, irises, Phormium, Persicaria (Polygonum) campanulata and ferns provide a stunning display of leaf structure and flower from the pond edge. But higher up the bank broad plantings of Geranium pratense, G. macrorrhizum, Kniphofia uvaria cultivars, Cortaderia selloana and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ give dramatic flower colour in due season, while the rim is softened by the lime green colour of Alchemilla mollis, here growing in gay abandon, as it is wont to do, and its refections certainly lightens the still peaty waters. Nor are the native plants dismissed for the white water lily produces a considerable impact in one lochan and the native Iris pseudacorus, Typha, and rushes break up the pond edge and grow into the shallow water.  Sea Buckthorn and Sallow grow on the causeway and produce their interesting grey leaf effect.  The lovely mixture of native and exotic plants provide a very happy combination.


The link to the moorland beyond, desolate, bracken covered and the source of water, has been developed into a most attractive stream and bog garden. Here in June the Asiatic primulas vie with native heath orchids to produce a lovely tapestry of colour.  Primula pulverulenta and P. florindae seek the wet banks of the stream while P. beesiana, P bulleyana P.sikkimensis and their plethora of hybrids give a stunning display.  Add to this the leaf displays from the large, blue-green leaves of Hostasieboldii, the palmate red tinged foliage of Rodgersia, the scalloped edge on the round leaves of Darmera (Peltophyllum) peltata, the dwarf variegated bamboo, Sasa veitchii, the architectural Veratrum and such ferns as Struthiopterus and Onocleasensibilis, the scene takes on much more interest.


Then to enhance the floral display add the white flowered Libertia grandiflora, a white flowered form of Iris kaempferi and the dark purple black flowers of Iris chrysographes ‘Black Knight’ here planted in the water in association with the yellow Mimulusguttatus.  The graceful Carex pendula mimicked in its shape by Dierama adds to the texture and interest, while foxgloves seed about while the scent from the white meadow sweet wafts in the breeze in hugh summer.  The Fishtail Camellia (C. japonica ‘Kingyo Tsubaki’) adds an evergreen permanancy to the top end of this valley.


Another pond has been excavated and here native plants inhabit its waters – Potamogeton, the marsh cinquefoil Potentilla anserina and Typha are conspicuous.  The wet margin is planted with Persicaria (Polygonum) campanulata, striking reds and pink plumes of Astilbe, the dense yellow spikes of Lysimachia punctata, Osmunda regalis, variegated hostas to lighten the view and a host of primulas including the claret-coloured P. poissonii and the rose-carmine candelabra P. beesiana. Adjacent to this area is a relatively new development, again utilising another damp depression.  Here in a shady glade with large leaved species rhododendrons to give impact, candelabra primulas have been given free range and hybridise freely to produce a hauntingly beautiful scene in June displaying as  wide a range of colours as you will see.


The Dry Areas.

Rhododendrons were grown from the earliest times in a bed near to the house and when the drier areas were prepared they were mixed with slow growing conifers in vibrant forms and, together with pittosporums, olearias and hollies, gave the first shape to the garden.  Today, rhododendrons play a large part in Tessa’s interest in  gardening for she is a member of the RHS Rhododendron and Magnolia Group and a Committee member of the Scottish Rhododendron Society.  Her enthusiasm is infectious, (she admits to being a plantaholic)  and she is  increasing the range of species to compliment the wide array of cultivars which give so much pleasure from early spring to late June.  It is amazing to see the large leaved species such as Rhododendron macabeanum, sino-grande and hodgsonii growing so well.  But it is equally exciting to see the dwarf species also growing so happily here.  The fine plum coloured   form of R. campylogynum flowers profusely each year and the grey foliage of R. lepidostylum is valuable throughout the year but does present its yellow flowers in June.


The trees which dominate the skyline are eucalypts from the early planting.  Eucalyptus pauciflora and E. niphophylla with their snowy barks; E. dalrympliana with its patchy bark and E. coccifera from Tasmania and with attractive bluish coloured leaves. Many trees were planted for their hardiness but also for their fast rate of growth.  The evergreen Nothofagus dombeyi from Chile is also a fast growing tree giving shelter to the understory of mixed shubs. Fourteen rowans were planted at the outset and have done well.  The Scottish endemic – Sorbus arranensis with its grey foliage grows above the stream in a similar situation to its native habitat on Arran.  But of the thirty and more rowans which Tessa enjoys most are S. ‘Ethel’s Gold’ with its yellow berries and named after Harold Hillier’s mother; S. vilmorinii for its abundance of beries becing silvery with age; S. insignis whose berries last until the spring and the dwarf  species S. reducta in its two forms for its stunning autumn colour and abundance of silvery red berries.


But wherever you walk there are fine plants at every turn.  The unusual golden form of Cedrus deodara is a rare plant growing prominently beside the path near to Pinus radiata, the tallest tree in the garden at 15m; the spectacular Ilex perado subsp platyphylla with 12cm long oval leaves and flourishing here as in its native Canary Islands; nearby grows the spectacular Embothrium coccineum, a dominant tree of 10m growing beside the waterfall with Rhododendron cinnabarinum blandfordianum – an interesting combination –  but it was the rare pendulous form of E. coccineum which stopped me in my tracks in July, its fiery red flowers festooning the branches.  


In early July the brilliant white explosion of flowers on Hoheria ‘Glory of Amlych’ is a delight and, because it flowers so well, it has been propagated and planted in various parts of the garden to great effect.  The added joy of this garden is to explore the tiny paths and secluded areas near the house.  Suddenly a splendid form of Abies koreana with almost a thousand cones comes into view, and then walking further on to find Brewer’s weeping spruce and the hardy Chusan Palm – Trachycarpus fortunei both about 4m tall. It is a garden full of surprises.




Whatever the season there is a great variety of rare and first class plants.


March and April is a perfect time for the early rhododendrons setting off the daffodils, and the erythroniums and trilliums in the new woodland garden.  Skunk cabbage and Caltha grow close to the waters edge while Magnolia stellata is the first of several species which will flourish till July.


May and June is the time for the blue Meconopsis and the asiatic primulas and the stunning display of Olearia x scilloniensis and O. cheesemanii.  June brings the many forms of Cistus, x Halimiocistus, Abutilon vitifolium and irises in great diversity and including the dwarf I. innominata and I. setosa in various colour forms.


July is the month for the profusion of roses; Crinodendron hookerianum and the unusual white flowered C. patagua, both from Chile; Beauty Bush – Kolkwitzia amabilis and a host of clematis growing through various shrubs.  I was particularly taken by a large white-flowered Clematis growing through Magnolia stellata giving an extension of white flowers well into the summer.  Hoheria is best during this month as is Escallonia iveyi and beloved of a host of butterflies.


August is the month for hydrangeas which came from Michael Haworth Booth and do produce a stunning display when the rhododendrons have finished.  The tall H. sargentiana with its large almost leathery leaves and purple flowers grows to 3m high while the shorter H. quercifolia with its white flower heads set amid oak like-leaves is equally impressive.


During the following month H. aspera Villosa Group comes into its own as does H. paniculata ‘White Moth’ and ‘Burgandy Lace’ with burgandy coloured stems and more compact panicles of white flowers to offer colour variations.  But in August H. macrophylla ‘Madame Emile Mouillere’, a striking white cultivar, contrasts well with the very dark blue of H. macrophylla‘Marechal Foch’ in the acid soil.  This is also the time for Crocosmia to produce its display and the blue agapanthus, to be followed in September by the white flowers of several species of Eucryphia; the vanilla-scented Clethra barbinervis; the honey scent from a host of colourful cultivars of Buddleia davidii,  the hybrid B. x weyeriana attracting a great fluttering of peacock butterflies; and the toad lilies -Tricyrtis especially T. formosana.


October brings the Nerine bowdenii, carpets of Polygonum vacciniifolium, autumn colours and berries to attract the winter migrants and the lovely reflections on the ponds on these crisp sunny days we experience in Galloway.

This is certainly a garden for all seasons with an incredible diversity of plants.  It has taken 20 years hard work by Tessa and Bill to produce this garden of outstanding character and it is a joy to visit.  Perhaps the statue of the Florentine Medici Boar – it is a symbol of fertility – in the centre of the garden has helped. The landscape has certainly been transformed; just look over the boundary fence to see what they have achieved!

~ Bob Mitchell MBE


Glenwhan Gardens, Dunragit, By Stranraer, Wigtonshire DG9 8PH.