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Crarae Woodland Garden is a truly magical place. Tucked away on a hillside in Argyll, it has a global collection of plants and offers a new delight around every corner. A sparkling burn rushes through the gorge at the centre, crossed by a series of wooden footbridges. Either side is woodland and garden spaces, crisscrossed by a path network that allows you to stroll at your leisure ‘around the world’!

This wild ravine was begun to be tamed in the early 19th century when the landowner at the time planted larches on the hillside. However, it was Grace, Lady Campbell, who started to develop the garden was know it today a century later, in 1912. She established a woodland area with shrub borders and groups of rhododendrons, an epitome of Edwardian fashion and taste. Lady Grace was the aunt of intrepid plant collector Reginald Farrer, who brought back trees and shrubs for her from China, Nepal and Tibet.

Her son Sir George Campbell further enhanced the garden. His passion for trees led to the planting of rare conifers and exotic trees that remain here today. Southern beech (Nothofagus) was a particular love, and the garden is now the proud home of a National Collection of that species. There are also 30 champion trees to be found around the garden – look out for their special tags or pick up a trail sheet from the visitor centre.

Sir George also added a eucalyptory in the north-east corner – admiring the bark on these trees is a real highlight of any visit, especially in winter when they bring striking colour to the season. In spring, the azaleas and rhdodendrons burst into life but don’t miss our Meconopsis river that winds its way through the lower garden. In autumn, the leaves of decorative hardwoods such as maples and tulip trees turn gold, yellow and red.

Rhododendrons

Crarae Garden is perhaps most famous for its rhododendrons. The name rhododendron comes from the Greek words for rose and tree. A mild, moist, maritime climate and acid soil overlying rock and boulder clay provide the ideal conditions to cultivate these flowering shrubs.

The garden now has over 600 different rhododendrons and azaleas. Although many species grow wild in the Himalayas, a special feature in the Crarae collection is the number of hybrids. Flowering starts before Christmas and continues well into July and August, with the peak time being May and June for the explosion of colour.

Sir George Campbell initially received packets of seeds in the 1920s, mainly from the Rothschild Collection in the New Forest, including R. cinnabarinum roylei, R. arboreum and R. rubiginosum. This collection was enhanced in the 1950s with the red-flowered Noble hybrids from Crarae’s neighbours Michael and John Noble. They include a ‘Secretary of State’ and ‘Shadow Secretary’, reflecting Michael’s political career.

Below are a few of our collection highlights: