Larach Mor is a woodland garden of outstanding horticultural interest planted by John Augustus Holms (1866-1938), with a premier collection of species Rhododendron, in the early-mid 20th century horticultural tradition. One of the 'West coast gardens' influenced by the Gulf Stream, with many tender and exotic specimens.
Type of Site
Woodland garden containing exotic trees and shrubs developed within semi-natural woodland.
Location and Setting
Làrach Mòr is situated 1km (1.5 miles) east of Arisaig, on the south side of the A830. The garden occupies both banks of the Allt na Làrach Mòr, which flows into Loch nan Eala. The valley slopes face south and west, and the A830 forms the site boundary to the north and east. Principal views from the site are to the south-west over Loch nan Eala and its surrounding fields and woods.
11ha (28 acres) comprising the area originally leased by Holms in 1927 from the Arisaig Estate.
The unfinished house left incomplete c 1938 still stands in ruins. It was a remodelling of an existing cottage, built with the input of Robert Lorimer. It displays basic features similar to his other work at Gatehead,Formakin. There is also a timber shed and garage. The timber-framed bothy with rubble base is of vernacular interest.
Drives and Approaches
The one vehicular access into the site leads eastwards off the A830, 200m east of Arisaig village. A gateway through a rubble-wall field boundary leads to an unsurfaced single-lane track. This leads eastwards past the incomplete house and across the Allt na Làrach Mòr on a narrow timber bridge. The track then divides with the northern arm leading to Brennan's bothy, still in use by work-parties from the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh. This is the area of the former Estate garden where a mature, overgrown beech hedge and box hedges survive.
The southern track leads to the south of the gardens and divides into a network of narrow footpaths leading through the site.
The tree canopy predates the shrub collection and creates the valuable and necessary micro-climate within which the Rhododendron species thrive. It comprises mainly birch, lime, elm, beech, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut.
Holms laid the site out into four major areas, distributing the plants according to their requirements. There are few hybrids, although R. x loderi is planted throughout the garden. Many of the prime species Rhododendron were planted in the area of the Burn, giving this area the character of a natural rhododendron habitat among tall deciduous trees. Principal specimens surviving are R. sinogrande, R. eximium, R. calophytum and R. habrotrichum. On higher ground in this area are four Abies alba, probably at least a hundred years old. The flat garden offers a contrast. It is bordered on two sides by a beech hedge and sheltered on its east by the hill. This area has a southern aspect and is planted densely with Rhododendrons, and a stand of Hemlock fir at its southern end. The concentration of plants means that there is scarcely a month of the year when one is not flowering. At the centre of this area is a fine specimen Eucryphia x nymanensis. The west facing hill-slopes are clothed with an overstorey of oak and beech, chestnut and birch scrub. They have been planted in part with close-planted Rhododendrons, which now tower above like natural Rhododendron forest. In other areas plants have been allowed more room to provide fine individual specimens, like R. coriaceum., R.macabeanum and R..fictolacteum. There is a rocky knoll fringed to the south and east by large beech and ringed within by a dense bamboo circle. This forms an effective wind shelter where Holms planted many of his choicest plants, like R. basilicum and R. sutchuense var. geraldii.
- 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 woodland garden of outstanding horticultural interest planted by John Augustus Holms (1866-1938), with a premier collection of species Rhododendron, in the early-mid 20th century horticultural tradition. One of the 'West coast gardens' influenced by the Gulf Stream, with many tender and exotic specimens.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
Early-mid 19th century nursery, woodland garden 1927-38, regeneration of woodland garden and specialist collection started in the mid 20th century and ongoing.
Prior to 1927, a kitchen garden and nursery associated with Clanranald's house in the Glen (part of which survives as Glen House) lay on the site of Làrach Mòr. These were laid out probably in the mid 19th century. It was set out regularly, in a grid of six compartments by paths and surrounded by further regular plots (1873, OS 6"; 1899, OS 6"). The valley sides were covered with semi-natural woodland, including a few planted hardwoods and conifers.
John Augustus Holms (d.1938), a Glasgow businessman, created the woodland garden at Làrach Mòr. An art connoisseur, collector and authority on the fine arts, porcelain, silver and carpets, his great love was gardening. He commissioned Sir Robert Lorimer to design his house, gardens and park at Formakin, near Bishopton, Renfrewshire where, in the early 1920s, he developed an extensive collection of Rhododendron (q.v. Inventory, Volume 2, pp.254-9). He was a founder member of the Rhododendron Society and his enthusiasm and promotion of the genus led to his commemoration by the naming of Rhododendron arboretum cultivar 'John Holms', which received an Award of Merit in 1957.
During his years at Formakin his interest in the genus Rhododendron grew. Eventually his collection outgrew the garden so he searched for a site on which to develop his collection further. The west coast offered optimum conditions, with its milder climate. In 1927, he acquired the lease of 28 acres of the Arisaig Estate. This comprised a woodland which included some large broadleaf trees, a stream and varied topography with the potential for exploiting the natural setting which offered the necessary protection and habitat for Rhododendron.
He moved a large number of specimens from Formakin to Làrach Mòr and added continually to his collection from elsewhere. He set out to obtain every available species from nurseries and private collectors throughout Britain. Plants were delivered by rail to Arisaig and sent onwards to the garden by road. Each specimen was catalogued with its species name, collector's number, provenance and price. Holms planned the garden and experimented with different methods of shelter necessary to protect young plants from the cold and wind, until they became established. Western hemlock fir (Tsuga heterophylla) was planted to give shelter from the west winds and form glades for specimen Rhododendron. Bamboo and hornbeam hedges were used elsewhere.
The garden took priority. Although Holms started to build a house, it was never finished. Despite the difficulties of travel, accommodation and labour, Holmes assembled one of the largest and finest collections of Rhododendron in an incredibly short time ' less than ten years. The catalogue of plants offered for sale from the gardens on his death list 200 species (Catalogue, 1939). He also planted many other species known to thrive in west coast conditions such as Embothrium, Gevuina, Weinmannia, Tricuspidaria, Lomatia, Cunninghamia and Magnolia A prime coup was the first flowering, in April 1933, of Rhododendron sinogrande ' one of its first outdoor flowerings in Scotland.
A year after Holms' death, immediately before the outbreak of war, a sale of plants from the garden took place. The carefully-compiled catalogue of 15 closely-printed pages itemised the species Rhododendron and other specimen shrubs. Due to the sale, and thereafter, many of the rhododendrons left Làrach Mòr and found their way to gardens throughout Britain. However, many specimens were left, due either to the wartime conditions or the physical difficulty in removing prime specimen plants.
Holms was assisted by a team of gardeners, a major figure being John Brennan, who remained at Làrach Mòr until his death in 1959. He lived in the gardens, in a small wooden bothy devoid of modern conveniences, and became a well-known character to locals and visitors alike.
Following Brennan's death, the new tenants became aware of the need to manage the regenerating and over-mature woodland, and the decaying drainage system that was threatening the collection's survival by changing the ground conditions. In some areas of the garden the Rhododendrons were becoming engulfed and obscured by scrub. Since the 1960s, a programme of renewal and management has secured the future of this prime collection. A number of specimen trees and shrubs can be directly identified due to the survival of their original lead labels, which relate to Holms' accession books. Most of the labels relating to the Rhododendron, however, have been lost.
The garden continues in the ownership of the Arisaig Estate.
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Woodland Garden
- House (featured building)
- Description: The unfinished house left incomplete c 1938 still stands in ruins.
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- Key Information
Open to the public