Search for the name, locality, period or a feature of a locality. You'll then be taken to a map showing results.

Belhaven House


The garden at Belhaven has been associated with a succession of people interested in plants since the 19th century. The present garden dates from 1970 onwards and is a botanically rich collection of rare and unusual plants, many brought back by the owner from plant-collecting expeditions. There are borders, garden terraces and troughs, a walled garden and a spinney with many trees dating from the early-20th century.

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 botanist's garden developed since 1970 incorporating surviving elements of an interesting plant collection introduced by the early 1900s.

Location and Setting

Belhaven House is situated in West Barns approximately 1 mile (1.5km) west of the town of Dunbar, and within 0.5km south of the East Lothian coastline. The A1087 runs along the southern boundary of the site en route to Dunbar from the A1(T). The region is particularly fertile and, although not particularly mild, plants grown in the garden are those which are often thought to be more suited to warmer climates. There are few views from within the garden to the surrounding 19th and early 20th century private housing. Views out to the Bass Rock can be gained from high points. The tree canopy, boundary wall, lodge and arch across the entrance gates are of some scenic significance from the A1087.

Belhaven House stands at the south end of the garden which extends over approximately 5 acres (2ha). The plant collection, amassed by Sir George Taylor, is dispersed throughout the garden which includes areas of spinney, shrubbery, rose garden, troughs and walled kitchen garden.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Belhaven House, listed category C, is an early 20th century classical house. The architect is unknown. The Gatelodge, listed category C, was designed by Robert Lorimer in the early 20th century. Lorimer also designed the sandstone arched gateway in the wall to the north of the house on which is incorporated a sejant lion and two urns of 18th century origin.

The Gardens

Access to the garden is through the archway in the south boundary wall. The driveway sweeps past the lodge beside which an interesting collection of rock plants has been arranged on a raised bank. Opposite the lodge is a spring garden, where various specimen hollies are underplanted with groundcover and spring bulbs. The drive then extends between this garden and a tall Escallonia macrantha hedge into the forecourt of Belhaven House which is dominated by a fine specimen of Arbutus unedo.

A display of plants has been arranged in two beds in the front of the house. At its east end lies a separate shrub bed with Eucryphia, Cassiope, Pratia angulosa and Rhododendron araiophyllum 'George Taylor'. At the west end of the front border, in a recess in the elevation of the house, a seat and various stone troughs stand in a paved area. The troughs contain rare and interesting plants including Aquilegia alpina. A sunken garden is situated across the forecourt opposite the front of the house. Hybrid tea roses line the inner face of the wall, whilst specimens of Choisya and Hebe stand in a shady border. Clematis spooneri climbs through the crown of Prunus 'Kanzan'.

To the west of the house stands a line of ash, beech and horse chestnut trees c.70 years old which once overhung a shrubbery converted to lawn by Sir George. In a sunken area along the west boundary, a variety of species Rhododendrons, Hellebores and Meconopsis are grown with other interesting trees and shrubs including Sciadopitys verticillata, Daphne bohlua and Salix japonica.

North of this area is the series of three terraces, constructed prior to 1970, to accommodate the changes in the ground level of the garden which rises considerably from west to east. Before 1970 the lowest, west terrace was packed with hawthorn and holly and these have partly been removed to accommodate flowering shrubs including Viburnums, Cotoneasters and a particularly fine Paeonia lutea 'Ludlowii'. This low terrace is separated from the middle terrace by a Wisteria hedge.

The main, middle terrace has been put to lawn, and a path with several rose-covered trellis arches leads up to the kitchen garden in the north-west corner of the site. The east, raised terrace contains hybrid tea roses, edged with 17th century Dianthus species. Ceanothus and other climbing shrubs including Clematis armandii, several species of Lonicera and Rosa 'Helen Knight' line the north/south wall which separates the terraces from the informal garden to the east. The gateway surmounted by urns and a lion leads through to the house.

On the east side of the dividing wall, Geranium magnificum has been interplanted with Alchemilla mollis. A large area of lawn sweeps down to the house and is overlooked by a summerhouse at the top of the rise. To the east of the walled garden a small raised shrub bed has been planted with numerous botanical treasures, among them Rhododendron megeratum, Daphne blgayana, Daphne genkwa and Daphne striata, Salix reticulata was collected by Sir George from Ben Lawers in 1926 and many of the other plants here were brought back from Tibet after his visit there in 1938. There are specimens of Salix boydii, collected by William Brack Boyd once on Lochnagar and not again since. A bank of trees and shrubs, Syringas, Potentillas, Sorbus etc. lines the northern boundary, all planted by Sir George with the exception of Davidia involucrata. Of particular note here are Hypericum sinensis, Hebe 'Boughton Dome', Gensita aetnensis and Metasequoia glyptostroboides.

The Spinney, in the higher north-east corner of the garden, has deciduous trees of mixed age underplanted with a profusion of spring bulbs. Exotic trees have been planted within the existing canopy by Sir George, alongside the Eucryphia nymanensis which predated his arrival.

A tennis court lies along the east boundary of the garden and, although presently disused, the banking which surrounds it has been stocked with heathers and dwarf conifers.

A pathway leads from the tennis court past various plantings of interesting species. Plants grow everywhere even in the most unlikely places: Clematis tangutica is continually being cut back from spreading across the garage roof. The path leads to the troughery which stands within the walls of a ruined stone cottage on the retained bank behind the lodge. Here in stone troughs collected by Sir George over the years, and transported from his previous home at Kew, are some of the most interesting plants of the collection: including Globularia incanescens, Primula 'Henry Hall', Primula bileckii, Asperula gussonii, Saxifraga scardica, Gentiana saxosa, Daphne arbuscula and Calceolaria 'Walter Shrimpton'. A few troughs containing more of Sir George's special favourites stand on the paved area to the north of the house. Of particular note here is Nomocharis mairesii. In all, it is a fascinating garden, containing a treasure trove of plants from all over the world.

Walled Garden

The Kitchen Garden is situated at the north-west corner of the garden and is enclosed by walls. There are two entrances at the south-east corner of the garden on either side of a small roofed shelter or summerhouse. A herbaceous border edges the inner north-facing wall which is lined with fruit. Box compartments of different sizes enclose large areas of vegetables, fruit and flowers. One compartment has recently been replanted with specimen trees and shrubs. The glasshouses, at the north end of the garden, have recently been restored by Sir George. They are well stocked with a variety of different plants. In one, Leptospermum, Bougainvillea and Rhodochiton volubile, a favourite of Sir George, line the walls. Other greenhouses are devoted to orchids, Camellias, carnations and fruit.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

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

An attractive garden of special botanical interest, containing a rare and interesting plant collection amassed by Sir George Taylor, the former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid-19th century with improvements in the early 20th century and a new garden created since 1970.

Site History

A garden was probably in existence at Belhaven from the mid-19th century following the construction of the house. The early 20th century appears to have been a significant period in the development of the garden; many of the trees in the spinney, at the north-east boundary, date from this period. The gate lodge was added and the wall which runs north/south dividing the garden to the north of the house may have been built at this time. The plant collection of this period had been lost by 1970. The present garden is a botanist's garden and has been created since 1970 by Sir George Taylor.

The 19th century history of Belhaven House is uncertain and the first known owner was one of the Maitland family in the early 1900s. He amassed an interesting plant collection in the garden which is documented in 'A list of Trees and Shrubs at Belhaven', thought to have been written in the 1930s. In 1936, the property was acquired by Mr Harold G. Younger who in 1928 had donated his family home at Benmore, Argyll, (now known as the Younger Botanic Garden) to the nation.

The Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust acquired the property in 1970 from Sir Thomas Waterlow, at which time the garden was classified as a 'small-holding'. By then, the majority of interesting plants, documented c.40 years earlier had gone, with the exception of a fine strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata), Eucryphia nymanensis, Eucryphia cordifolia (now gone), and Drimys winteri which has been badly damaged by severe weather. It was the presence of these trees which encouraged Sir George Taylor to move to Belhaven in 1970.

Since 1926, Sir George has travelled internationally on plant collecting expeditions. He was Deputy Keeper of Botany at the British Museum (Natural History) from 1945- 50 and Keeper of Botany for the following six years until 1956 when he was appointed Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Many of his plant introductions are to be found in the garden at Belhaven, his botanical expertise being reflected in the plants that flourish there.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Summerhouse
  • Border
  • Garden Terrace
  • Spinney
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Dunbar/West Barns




  • Historic Scotland