Achamore House 31

Ardminish, Scotland

Pgds 20080501 101524 Achnamore House 2

Brief Description

The designed landscape at Achamore House is known for its mid- to late-20th-century woodland garden which is divided into many separate areas with distinct characters. These gardens house renowned collections of rhododendrons, azaleas and other ornamental trees and shrubs, many of them from sub-tropical regions. There is also a walled garden.


The original designed landscape at Achamore House dates from the late-19th century but the woodland gardens themselves were developed by Sir James Horlick between 1944 and 1971 with assistance from Kitty Lloyd Jones. He bought the property to house his expanding collections of plants, especially rhododendrons, including what came to be known as the Horlick Hybrids. After Horlick's death in 1972 many of the plants were propagated by the National Trust for Scotland. The gardens are now owned and managed by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, following the buy-out of the island by the community. Achamore House is run as a bed and breakfast.

Visitor Facilities

The gardens at Achamore House are open all year. For details see:

Detailed Description

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Type of Site

Woodland planting, established in the early 1880s, shelters a woodland garden, initiated in 1944, in a series of distinct named compartments such as the Pond Garden, the Hospital Garden and the George Taylor Garden. The woodland garden provides ideal growing conditons for a wide variety of species including Rhododendron, Pieris, Enkianthus and Magnolia.

Location and Setting

Achamore House lies on the eastern side of the Island of Gigha, some 4 miles (6.5km) off the west coast of the Mull of Kintyre. Gigha itself is 6 miles (9.5km) long and, at its widest point, some 1.5 miles (2.5km) in breadth. A central core of hills runs down the island, its highest point rising to some 328' (100m) at Creag Bhan.

On approaching the island by sea from the east, the Paps of Jura form a dominating backdrop to the view of the island. The trees of Achamore House are significant from the sea crossing as they form virtually the only woodland area on the island. The setting of the site is very important, more for climatic rather than scenic reasons, and the impact of both has been tempered by the planting of trees for shelter. From within the garden, views can be gained only from the highest point of the site out to the surrounding islands and sounds of Gigha and Jura and to the Atlantic Ocean. The island has an average rainfall of c.45" per annum and the North Atlantic Drift moderates the temperature to provide a mean summer temperature of 56 (o) F with a minimum temperature of 10 (o) F frost in winter. Ph levels are low, at below 4.5 on average.

Achamore House lies on the south-east side of the island in the lee of Gigha's central hill-range. The designed landscape extends west of the island's road to the lower slopes of these hills. The northern boundary is marked by the woodland which extends east to the roadside. The southern boundary is also woodland, on either side of the south drive now only open between the South Lodge and the junction with the farm access road. The south drive was formerly the main access to the house from the south pier before the new east jetty was constructed. Within the garden, the south drive is now grass and access to the house is by the north drive, both laid out originally at the end of the 19th century. Reference to the 1st edition OS map of c.1860 shows only two drives from the east from the island's only access road. The approximate lines of these drives, now grass, remain within the garden as Green Drive and Green Walk. The designed landscape extends over some 65 acres (26.3ha) today.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Achamore House, listed B, was built in the early 1880s to the designs of John Honeyman. It is a two-storey building which was remodelled in 1900 following a fire, and since 1944 has been subdivided into flats. The Gate Lodge, listed B, stands at the south entrance and is dated 1895. The architect again is thought to be Honeyman. The gateway on the East Drive, listed B, has four square ashlar gatepiers with moulded caps and bosses connected by curved walls and two other piers of the same form. The gates and railings are cast iron with arrow-heads. The farmhouse and steading, listed B, lie to the south-west of the garden.


The main woodland areas lie to the north and south of the house and were largely planted by Captain William Scarlett following the completion of the house, to provide shelter and cover for game. Species include a core of sycamore, beech, ash, horse chestnut, elm, alder and some ornamental conifers which have grown despite adverse weather conditions, in particular, south- westerly gales and salt spray. Some older trees remain in the area between the Green Walk and the North Drive. Reference to the 1st edition OS map confirms that this area was a woodland before 1860, as was the now coniferous strip on the roadside edge to the north of the site. Sir James extended the woodland largely with Sitka spruce and Pinus radiata to the west of the house up and over the brow of the hill. The woodlands were used by Sir James Horlick to shelter the collection and thinning was, and still is, a practice used to allow more light into the plant collection.

New woodland shelterbelts are being established on the site, comprising mainly mixed deciduous trees with some Sitka spruce. A coniferous shelterbelt to the north of the nursery garden is now mature.

Woodland Garden

The garden lies mainly to the east and south of the house and was established by Sir James Horlick. Sir James developed the garden incrementally, adding at least one new compartment every year. Each compartment has been named, eg the Pond Garden, the Theatre, the Hospital Garden, the George Taylor Garden and the Malcolm Allen Garden (named after the Head Gardener for 52 years until 1970.) Mid-May is regarded as the best time to see the garden when the beauty of Sir James' planting for colour and texture can most be appreciated. The plant material thus dates mainly from 1944 with the exception of a few older specimens of plants such as the Cordylines and the Desfontainea behind the house. Rhododendron ponticum was cleared from the north drive and clearings were made in the woodland by removal of dead wood, to form over 50 separate named compartments. Shelter to individual compartments is provided largely by Griselinia littoralis spp. and, amongst others, Rhododendron ponticum, Olearia, Senecio, Eleagnus and bamboos.

Achamore is renowned for its collection of plants, far too numerous to be detailed in this report; however, they have been catalogued and are well documented. The plant collection includes an excellent range of the Maddenii, Lacteum, Triflorum, Irroratum series, as well as both the larger leaf and dwarf Rhododendrons. The Horlick Hybrids are those bred by Sir James both at Titness Park and at Achamore, the former name featuring often in the resulting hybrids. R. 'Titness Park', a cross between R. 'Shilsonii' and R. edlophytum , received an RHS Award in 1954, as have many others over the years.

Azaleas are planted through the Rhododendron collection and particularly on the drive and provide a brilliant display of colour in May and June. Many other plants, in particular Pieris and Enkianthus, thrive here, as do Drimys, Magnolia and Hydrangea, alongside many Chilean and Australasian plants. A collection of Sorbus spp. was also established, among them S. megalocarpa. Since being gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1962, the collection has been widely propagated.

Walled Garden

The garden was built by the Scarlett family in a clearing in the woodland to the north- west of the house. The walled garden is divided into two areas. In the north walled garden, a collection of specimen conifers is grown in grass including Abies kakawamii and A. nordmanniana. The greenhouses stand in this area and house tender plants and fruit. The south walled garden is totally cultivated with vegetables and cut flowers. An excellent view of the garden is gained from above on the Spring Bank. Climbers were established on the third of a mile of plantable interior wall surface of the garden, among them jasmines, honeysuckles and climbing roses; the effect is stunning.

  • Path
  • Description: Zig zag path.
  • Planting
  • Description: The Malcolm Allan Garden.
  • Walk
  • Description: Camellia Walk
  • Planting
  • Description: The Fulvum Gardens
  • Planting
  • Description: Pond Garden
  • Planting
  • Description: Macbeanum Wood
  • Garden Building
  • Description: The Pump House
  • Planting
  • Description: The Malcolm McNeill Garden.
Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

The gardens at Achamore House are open all year. For details see:


Detailed History

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

A late 19th century designed landscape hosting a remarkable 20th-century garden and renowned plant collection.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Early 1880s, with additions in the 1940s and improvements and replanting in the 1980s to the present.

Site History

The woodland structure of the designed landscape dates from the late 19th century, although the gardens themselves were developed by Sir James Horlick from 1944.

Historically, Gigha and its neighbouring island, Cara, belonged to the Clan Macdonald, even before David II formally granted the lands to them in 1344. For many centuries, a power struggle raged between them and the MacNeill Clan who finally became the undisputed lairds in 1590 but sold the lands at the end of the 18th century. William Scarlett, 3rd Lord Abinger, purchased the estate at the end of the 19th century and built the present house. He sold it to Lt Colonel Sir James Horlick, OBE MC VMH, in 1944. Sir James had developed skills as a plantsman at his previous home at Titness Park, Berkshire, and bought Gigha in order to extend the plant collection which he had begun to amass there. Not only did he develop the garden, but as laird of the island he introduced a series of improvements which earned him the respect and affection of the island's population. On his death, in the 1970s, the estate was sold to Mr D.W.N. Landale with the exception of the plant collection which was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland to be propagated for the future.

Associated People