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The garden and house at Achnacloich were laid out and built in the mid-19th century on a headland on the shores of Loch Etive. The estate comprises grazed parkland, formal terraces, a walled kitchen garden and a woodland garden with a series of artificial ponds. Plantings include species rhododendrons and shrubs suited to the Gulf Stream climate.

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

A mid-20th-century woodland garden specialising in Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Magnolias established within an existing 19th century frame of woodland and parkland laid out along the seashores of Loch Etive.

Location and Setting

Achnacloich is situated just half a mile (.5km) off the A85 about 8 miles (13km) north-east of Oban, 3 miles (5km) east of Connel, and 4 miles (6.5km) west of Taynuilt. The site lies on a headland overlooking Loch Etive and is bordered by the road and railway to the south. The garden is laid out on the slopes below the house and is protected from the prevailing winds by oak wood shelterbelts. Exposed granite outcrops give rise to an undulating landform and in the dips there is a build up of acid peat soil. The Gulf Stream and maritime conditions ensure that the climate is mild and wet with an annual rainfall of over 55" per year (1400mm). There are extensive views north from the house across Loch Etive to the Benderloch Hills; views extend east along the loch to Ben Cruachan 3,694' (1,126m), and west to the Isles of Lismore and Mull. The park and woodland can be seen from the north shore of Loch Etive, but the majority of the policies is hidden from view from the A85(T).

The house sits on the headland overlooking Loch Etive about 90' (30m) above sea level. It lies in the north of the policies. The railway curls round the property to the south and east and the policies are contained by the sea on the other two sides. Three designed viewpoints to the west of the house take advantage of the fine views westward along Loch Etive. The extent of the designed landscape has remained unaltered since the 1st edition OS plan of c.1860 and today extends to some 106 acres (43ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Achnacloich House, listed B, is a rambling Scottish Baronial mansion of two main storeys with a taller tower. It was built by John Starforth of Edinburgh on the site of an earlier building. The simple dry Stone Walls surrounding the kitchen garden were built before c.1860 as they are shown on the 1st edition OS. The Stables and Garage are situated adjacent to the minor road leading to the house.


Parkland stretches along the seashore below the hill to the west and east of the house. The open fields are grazed by the famous herd of Achnacloich Highland cattle and have been in cultivation for a long time. There are some individual parkland trees, mainly Scots pine and European larch, to the west of the house and a small clump on the headland. There are some fine oak trees in the parkland to the east of the house. The drive sweeps in from the minor road off the A85 at Stonefield and approaches the house in a steep curve up the hill.


The main woodland plantation lies to the south-east of the house. Part of it was felled during World War I and replanted with conifers. In other areas there are hardwood trees planted in the 1820s. During the 1950s, further blocks were replanted, again using conifers.

Woodland Garden

Apart from small areas near the house planted in 1910, and the groups of shrubs planted before the World War II the Woodland Garden was created by Mr and Mrs Nelson who continuously developed and planted the garden from the 1950s. A wide range of species Rhododendrons have been planted here, as much for their beauty and shape as for their rarity. The banks of Rhododendrons and Azaleas have been planted to present delightful colour combinations in season. Each plant is carefully selected for the site and quite large shrubs have been successfully moved to other locations in the garden when their original position was found to be unsatisfactory. Some tender shrubs grow well protected by the canopy; these include several of the Maddenii series and a group of Embothrium coccineum. Water was piped to form a series of ponds in the water garden. These are surrounded by a mass of primulas and other water-margin plants which have naturalised themselves. The gardens are filled with many rare and unusual plants. The plants are cherished and grow very fast under the beneficial influence of the climate.

A group of Magnolias are very striking including the large-flowered M. mollicomata and the later flowering M. wilsonii with its pendulous flowers. The large also hangs its white bell-like flowers. An extension was planted up in 1960 under the Scots pine and larch in the south-west area of woodland. Here there are many more special Rhododendrons as well as some interesting Snakebark maples. The path to this new area divides by a fine Sorbus kohneana which, with its narrow pinnate leaves and small white berries, provides an interesting focal point.

The Gardens

To the south of the house, two terraces extend along its length. These are planted up with attractive mixed shrub borders, using the walls to shelter some of the more unusual and tender shrubs such as tree paeonies and Cistus. Fine clipped yew hedges border the centre flight of steps. On the south-facing walls of the house, interesting climbers such as Rosa banksiana, several tender clematis and a Ceanothus grow well. A large multi-stemmed Douglas fir planted in the mid 19th century dominates the west end of the lawn.

Walled Garden

The kitchen garden lies just east of the house and is surrounded by a simple dry stone wall about 1.5m high on three sides and about 2.5m high along the fourth side adjacent to the woodland. The kitchen garden is approached from the west side through the outer rose garden. The main garden is divided into four compartments with a central west to east herbaceous border. Two compartments are still used for growing vegetables while the east half of the garden has been laid down to grass. There is a small modern greenhouse and it is used mainly for propagating.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The site is open daily from 10-6 between March and October under Scotland's Garden Scheme.


Achnacloich is three miles east of Connel on the A85.


Mrs T E Nelson


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

The notable gardens at Achnacloich host an attractive collection of Rhododendrons and other trees and shrubs. The wider 19th century designed landscape comprises parkland, woodland and architectural features.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Early/mid-19th-century, with 20 century additions (1920s-30s, 1950s-60s)

Site History

The present designed landscape was laid out in the early/mid-19th century; the Woodland Garden was planted in the 20th century.

Little is known about Achnacloich before the present house was built in the mid 19th century. Various Campbells owned the property for some time and it is thought that there are papers concerning their house in the Argyll archives held at Inveraray but these have not been seen in the course of this study. The Nelson family bought the estate in the late 19th century. Mr T.E. Nelson inherited the estate in 1917. His mother was the sister of F.R.S. Balfour of Dawyck who created the renowned woodland gardens which now are an annexe of the Royal Botanic Garden. F.R.S. Balfour inspired his nephew with the love of gardening and collecting plants and he began planting in the 1920s and 30s. Since Mr Nelson's death, Mrs Nelson continues to care for their gardens.


Victorian (1837-1901)

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland

Key Information


Country Estate



Principal Building



Victorian (1837-1901)





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland