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Threave Gardens


Threave Gardens has a late-19th-century designed landscape. Most of the associated parkland has been converted into gardens, although some specimen trees remain and there are woodland walks through the estate. The garden areas have been developed as demonstration gardens since the mid-20th century and include a rock garden, water gardens, a heather garden and a fine late-19th-century walled garden with herbaceous borders, fruit and vegetables.

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

Threave Gardens are situated 2 miles (3km) south-west of Castle Douglas off the A75, overlooking the valley of the River Dee. The gardens are surrounded by agricultural land beyond which, to the north and west, rise the hills of the Laurieston Forests. To the south-east are the hills of Screel and Bengairn. The gardens lie on the west-facing slope of the local landmark called Kelton Hill and, although there are natural outcrops of rock, the soil is heavy with high silt content. Long views north and south along the valley of the River Dee can be gained from within the gardens. The mature tree canopy of the woodland gives Threave Gardens some significance in the surrounding landscape.

Threave House stands within some 104 acres (42ha) of designed landscape which lies on the western shoulder of Kelton Hill. The Old Military Road between Kirkland and Kelton Hill Farm forms the north-western boundary of the site. Documentary evidence of the development of the designed landscape is provided by the 2nd edition OS map of c.1900 and the modern edition. Reference to the former indicates that the designed landscape extended from its present boundary in the north-west to the Church and mausoleum on the minor road which runs almost due north/south between Threave and the village of Gelston. The acreage which can be considered as the designed landscape today is somewhat smaller than this, extending only as far south as Keltonhill Wood and east from it to the minor road linking Threave with Gelston.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Threave House, listed category C, was designed by Peddie and Kinnear in 1872 and now houses the National Trust for Scotland's school of gardening. The Walled Garden and stable-block were probably built at the same time as the house. Several cottages were built in the 1960s for the school's staff. The Visitor Centre was built in 1975. The Japanese lantern came originally from Inveresk House.


The majority of the parkland has been converted into part of the garden but there is a small section to the south of the entrance drive shelterbelt which contains two clumps of trees, mainly hardwoods of about 100 years old.


Kelton Wood is made up of an outer ring of hardwoods planted in c.1870 of mainly beech, oak and ash; the central core is predominantly softwood, larch and spruce, planted in 1973.

The Gardens

The gardens were created on the south-west facing parkland and there are still one or two large clumps of beech providing structure for the new planting. There are fourteen different areas described in the guidebook and the majority have been planted up since 1960 as demonstration borders for the students. They include a rose garden, woodland garden, patio nursery, peat garden, rock garden, vegetable garden, walled garden and greenhouses, pond and water garden, dwarf conifers, secret garden, herbaceous borders, arboretum, heather garden, orchard, crab-apple and cherry collection and bog garden. The Gordons naturalised many thousands of daffodils and many of the older varieties still flower in the open lawns.

The designs of the gardens have evolved from the semi-natural woodland garden style to the more sinuous open glades made from lawns in which the plants are grouped together in irregular and flowing shaped beds. This style of gardening is typical of the 1960-70s. In every section of the garden the widest range of plants has been used and Threave contains the National Collection of Penstemons as well as a particularly fine collection of alders and Narcissus. When Alan Mitchell measured the trees in 1984 he included over 165 different specimens. The gardens are well described in the guidebook and in two articles in Country Life. Plants for sale at the Visitor Centre and at other NTS properties are raised in both the walled garden and the forestry nursery.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


01483 211465

Access contact details

The estate is open daily throughout the year. The gardens are open between February and December. Opening days and times vary seasonally.


Threave is one mile west of Castle Douglas and can be reached by bus and by foot from the town. National Cycle Route 7 goes past the gardens. For details see:


The National Trust for Scotland


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 which is now a horticultural training facility for the National Trust for Scotland, as well as providing the setting for some notable architectural features.

Site History

The designed landscape was laid out by William Gordon in the 1880s and the majority of the garden has been created since 1960. There are no known landscape designers.

In 1872 William Gordon, a successful businessman from Liverpool, built Threave House, taking the name from a 12th century castle situated on a island in the River Dee within the bounds of the estate. His grandson, Major Alan Gordon, approached the National Trust for Scotland in 1948 and the whole estate was finally transferred to the Trust on the death of Major Alan Gordon in 1957. In 1960 the Threave School of Gardening was set up to train amenity gardeners, providing a two year residential course. Eight students are accepted each year and all the accommodation and classrooms are provided in the house. Much of the garden has been created since 1960 under the guidance of the principal of the school, Mr W. Hean, and has been constructed by the students.

Features & Designations


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


  • College (featured building)
  • Description: Threave House is home to the National Trust for Scotland's Horticultural Training Centre.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Herbaceous Border
  • Kitchen Garden
Key Information





Principal Building






Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland