Crarae Garden: in love with azaleas

428While the rain pounds down on France and the paintings are evacuated from the Louvre, I’m feeling an intense need to get away to a sunny June memory of a Scottish garden.

Yesterday  I started looking back on pictures of Crarae Gardens, just south of Inveraray, on the north shore of Loch Fyne in Scotland. At the beginning of June 2014 my mum and I were on our way to spend an enchanted few days on her favourite island, the isle of Arran.

Oh, I wish I was back there today!


Even the car park at Crarae looks good …


And who wouldn’t want to end up here?

Crarae is known for its 50 acres of woodland garden and fabulous views out of the garden to the surrounding, unsurpassed, beauty. That’s the perfect garden, in my eyes … beautiful plantings in an amazing situation.

It was planted as an experimental garden back in the 1930s. The Gulf Stream (whose effects, I imagine, they were experimenting with) has quite a profound effect on the west coast of Scotland – particularly further south on the Rhins and Machars of Galloway that protrude into the Atlantic.

The estate had been owned by the Campbell family since 1825 and the Lodge (below) was rebuilt by the widow of Sir George Campbell, 4th Baronet, in 1898.

288362It was the wife of the 5th Baronet who began to make the garden – and she just happened to be the aunt of our famous alpine plant explorer, Reginald Farrer. Her son, Sir George (the 6th Baronet), was given the estate in 1925 and lived there until 1967. It was he who created the extensive woodland plantings.

The aim was (as in many gardens of the period) to mimic a Himalayan glade, using the rushing stream and waterfalls of the Crarae Burn as it plunges down to Loch Fyne, as the focal point. The garden includes many original introductions from that period, including some beautiful large-leaved species and hybrid rhododendrons.


With apologies for the poor quality of the picture … and lack of species ID. But I hope you feel the atmosphere.


The National Trust for Scotland acquired the house in the twentieth century and the gardens themselves in 2001. The Trust remade many of the paths and bridges within the garden.


276Crarae holds a National Collection of the genus Nothofagus, but there are exciting specimens of tree fern (Dicksonia antartica) – apparently the garden has one of the largest fern populations in the UK – and the kind of Chilean flame trees (Embothrium coccineum) that I associate with Irish gardens.

Wandering on your own in a garden like this on the very best of Scottish summer days is the ultimate joy. I defy anyone to say they don’t like azaleas and rhododendrons after seeing them flowering here, in what is the next best thing to their natural habitat.


332337321306305And yes, you will also find candelabra primulas (and the now illegal skunk cabbage) …

293298And gunnera aplenty …

345Not to mention that only Scotland (and their natural habitat) can produce a display of mecanopsis like this …270

Although there is some wheelchair access, you should be prepared to ascend and descend again by steep woodland paths. There’s nothing quite like a Scottish garden on the perfect June day. Enough words …

This is where we ended up, on the Isle of Arran. More later …


18 thoughts on “Crarae Garden: in love with azaleas

  1. Tina

    Truly lush and gorgeous!! I was in Oregon in early May–another place that showcases lovely azaleas and rhododendrons. Your photos are stunning! It seems ironic: gloomy France and sunny Scotland?

  2. Amy Myers

    Splendid – and your pictures are a wonderful relief from over-much sun too 😉 I’ve been wondering how you were doing with the rain?!
    My family fell in love with rhododendrons while traveling in Canada; we’ve mostly lived where summers were too warm for them to thrive – but what magnificent plants! And the meconopsis… sigh…!

  3. Chloris

    What magical places you have conjured up. I love west coast Scottish gardens and this one is a beauty. That first yellow Rhoddy looks like R. falconeri. I can’t grow them but I have often drooled over them in Cornish and Irish gardens.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks for the ID Chloris – I think you are right! I wrote down the name a long time ago – and lost my scrap of paper.

  4. pbmgarden

    What a wonderful way to enjoy azaleas. I was able to grow them at my former garden, but have the wrong conditions now and really miss them. Wishing you sunshine!

  5. Frogend_dweller

    How lovely to see a hillside of meconopsis. That would definitely stop me in my tracks (I could use that lovely seat). The predicted sun hasn’t arrived here yet either, so thanks for this beautiful post.

  6. karen

    What a beautiful place! We can certainly feel the atmosphere. That garden would be just the place for Mum and I to visit next spring. Looking up train timetables as we speak…. Thanks, as ever, for the inspiration.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Glad you enjoyed – I would thoroughly recommend the garden (and there are others in the area that I may post about in future). Although I couldn’t guarantee the weather!

  7. Jim

    Ahaa, its fastidious conversation concerning this piece of writing here at this website, I have read all that, so now me also commenting at this place.


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