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Keillour Castle


The designed landscape at Keillour Castle is renowned for its woodland garden, created under a canopy of trees planted in the late-19th century on the banks of two gorges cutting through the estate. The planting has a Himalayan character and comprises a botanically-rich collection of ornamental trees, shrubs and ground cover perennials built up since the mid-20th century. There is also grazed parkland, a rock garden, a water garden and a kitchen garden.

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:

Location and Setting

Keillour Castle is situated on the north side of the broad valley of Strathearn approximately 9.5 miles (15km) west of Perth. The A85, Perth to Crieff road, lies 0.5 miles (1km) to the south of the Castle and a minor road linking it with Glenalmond, which is situated some 2.5 miles (4km) to the north, forms the eastern boundary of the site. The average rainfall is 35" per annum and around 12o of frost is commonly recorded in winter. Keillour stands at a height of 500' (152m). The Keillour Burn and the Horn Burn flow through the site forming gorges of 80' in depth. They converge south of the Castle and continue for some 2.5 miles (4km) as the Keillour Burn, before joining the Pow Water which flows into the River Earn approximately 6 miles (10km) south-West of Keillour. The gorges and rocky slopes simulate the natural Alpine and Himalayan conditions for the plants in the garden. The surrounding landscape to the south across Strathearn is agricultural, beyond which lie the Ochil Hills. The Keillour and Garthy Forests to the north of the Castle are significant in the landscape. The garden at Keillour is situated on the banks of the gorges and on the ridge between them. Views into the garden from the surrounding area are restricted by the nature of the landform and by the dense tree and shrub planting within the garden.

Keillour Castle is situated on the ridge between the gorges, facing south-east. The designed landscape extends north to Green of Keillour Farm, south to Wester Keillour, west to the woodland beyond the Horn Burn, and east to the road. Documentary map evidence is confined to an estate map of the lands of Keillour dated 1848, the 1st edition OS map of 1866 and the 2nd edition OS map of 1901. Comparison of these shows that the extent of the designed landscape has remained consistent with that laid out after construction of the Castle in 1877, and contains some 33 acres (14ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Keillour Castle, listed category C, was built in c.1877 to the design of Andrew Heiton. A stone bridge spans the Keillour Burn to the east of the Castle. The Knox Finlays brought up several pieces of stonework from the Houses of Parliament (by ship to Dundee) which are incorporated throughout the garden, one of which, a Tudor Rose is incorporated in a retaining wall near to the pathway down to the 'Snib'. A sundial stands on the lawn to the south of the house.


The park lies along the eastern boundary of the site on either side of the east drive. Parkland trees date from c.1880 and c.1940 and species include oak and lime.

Woodland Garden

The woodland garden was laid out beneath an established canopy of beech and of ornamental conifers which had been planted c.1880. The woodland canopy is important for the shelter which it provides from the prevailing wind. Clearance of timber in 1947 exposed fine specimens of Douglas fir, Norway maple and Wellingtonia which remain today. Many other conifers planted in the late Victorian period were measured by Alan Mitchell in 1962. The main south drive, lined with Japanese maples and shrubs, passes along the east side of the woodland garden en route to the Castle. A footpath off this drive leads to a lookout point where a fine view of the Keillour Burn waterfall and bridge can be gained. The south drive joins the east drive and turns west across the bridge and up to the Castle. Climbing shrubs have been established on the walls of the Castle, including Parrotia and Wisteria. Daphne blagayana and other groundcover shrubs, many of them tender, clothe a bed along the east wall. Lawns extend from the house to the east and south. The south lawn extends to a cotoneaster hedge, beyond which are shrub borders centred around a huge Wellingtonia. To the west of the house, a pathway leads north down into the gorge of the Horn Burn into 'the Den' where giant Rhododendrons, Magnolias, Sorbus and maples are grown beneath the woodland canopy, while a variety of Erythroniums and other groundcovers have become established. This area appears natural, and Sir George Taylor recorded that it is strongly reminiscent of the gorge country of South-East Tibet, an impression entirely created by the imaginative planting carried out by the Knox Finlays. The area has extended into the 'Nursery' marked on the 2nd edition OS map of 1901. From the lawn on the east side of the house, a pathway leads down to 'the Snib', where the banks are so steep that ropes had to be tied around the waists of gardeners when the Rhododendrons, Azaleas and other species were planted. Primulas and other waterside plants are naturalised on either side of the burn. Good views of this area are obtained looking south from the bridge. Looking north from the bridge, the gorge area is known as 'Hell'. Here, on peat terraces on either side of the burn, various unusual Primulas have been established including P. griffithii, P. edgeworthii, P. gracilipes and P. sonchifolia. The fast flowing water of the burn is utilized to divert water by means of a hydraulic ram put in by Major Knox Finlay to pump the water up to the water garden south of the bridge at the upper level of the garden next to the drive. Here Magnolias, willows, Eucryphia, Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Deutzias, surround a large pond, at the edge of which grow irises including I. delavayi, I. sibirica and I. laevigata, Lysichitums, Meconopsis, Hostas, Rodgersias, and candelabra Primulas, among others. Between the water garden and the bridge, overshadowed by trees and shrubs, Gentians, Trilliums, and Cassiope are among the many plants which have been established as groundcover. Even Oiphanidesia gaultheriodes is nurtured here under glass. North of the house, beyond the drive, is the rock and scree garden which has been extended on to the former tennis court. Here, numerous botanical treasures are grown including Lilium henrickii, the rarest lily in cultivation, and Lilium lankangense, a favourite of Mrs Knox Finlay, as well as many Meconopsis. Keillour is nationally renowned for its collection of plants from the Lillaceous genera, particularly Nomocharis, Notholirion, Cardiocrinum and Primula, especially those from the petiolaris section. The plants within each area were documented in a list prepared by the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. The Knox Finlays received seed from original collections by Ludlow & Sherriff, and have over the years propagated and distributed it to other plant collections and gardens.

Walled Garden

The kitchen garden is situated to the north of the Castle between the old tennis court and Green of Keillour. Access to the kitchen garden is by way of a flight of stone steps which were originally the front door steps of Balgowan House which was demolished in 1948. The garden is walled on two sides, open to the east where it dips steeply downwards to the shelter planting above the Keillour Burn, and bounded on the south by a well trimmed, 17' high, yew hedge. Part of the garden has been laid down to grass due to a reduction in produce requirement from the house but most of the area is still well stocked with fruit and vegetables grown in compartments which are separated by trellises trained with Clematis orientalis and by herbaceous borders.

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

A predominantly woodland garden landscape, dominated by the steep gorge-side setting, and containing an important plant collection.

Site History

Earliest records of Keillour go back to the 13th century when the lands were owned by the 4th Earl of Strathearn. Sir James Douglas, Lord of Dalkeith acquired the estate from the 10th and last Earl between 1357-70. Little is known of the intervening history but it is known that during the 17th century the original castle was burnt down. The estate was owned in the late 18th century by Thomas Graham of Balgowan who married Mary Cathcart a daughter of the 9th Lord Cathcart, in 1774. Sir Thomas Graham was a famous soldier, hero of Barossa, and second in command to Wellington; he was later created Lord Lynedoch, a peerage which became extinct at his death in 1845.

Reference to the 1st edition OS map of 1866 shows woodland established along either side of the gorges. Many of the trees in the woodland which remains today date from thus period. Later in the 19th century, the estate of Balgowan was purchased by William Thomsson and, soon after, he acquired the lands of Keillour and a new castle was built in 1877 on the site of the previous one. His son, John Maitland Thomson inherited in 1879 and sold the estates to the Black family. Ian Campbell Hannah, a nephew, subsequently inherited and Major and Mrs George Knox Finlay purchased the estate from his family in 1938. The established trees in the grounds attracted Major and Mrs Knox Finlay to Keillour, although the garden as a whole was in a state of neglect. Clearing the garden was their first priority, initially an area of 25 acres which was fenced against rabbit invasion. The advent of World War II interrupted progress but by 1947 work had recommenced. The result was a garden of unique character and infinite botanical interest. Major and Mrs Knox Finlay received many awards for their botanical expertise; both were awarded the Veitch Medal for their contributions to Horticulture and Mrs Knox Finlay has received the Victoria Medal of Honour, an award which has been given to only one other woman in Scotland, Her Majesty the Queen Mother.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: Keillour Castle, listed category C, was built in c.1877 to the design of Andrew Heiton.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Planting
  • Description: Rock garden.
  • Planting
  • Description: Water garden.
  • Kitchen Garden
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential








  • Historic Scotland