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Garden of the Season – Attadale Gardens

August 6th 2020

Attadale Gardens were started sometime in the mid-18th century as the oldest part of the present house can be dated by the love stone above the central window saying 1755. The garden still benefits from a series of very old drainage ditches that spread out across much of the garden.

A member of the Schroder family rented Attadale from the late 19th century and it was Captain Schroder who was responsible for planting the many ancient rhododendrons that still flourish throughout the garden. In many cases, where older plants have died back, new growth ensures that younger rhododendron plants continue to flourish and flower every spring.

At the end of the 1980s, two dramatic storms caused huge damage and the entire hillside above the house and garden had to be clear felled to remove the huge ancient trees that had been blown down. Inspired by this clean slate, Nicky Macpherson, an artist and painter, began to create a water garden where only a small burn had run before. A series of ponds were built with bridges crossing over, an entirely man- made waterfall with dramatic planting of gunnera, primula and other water-loving plants and the addition of a variety of sculptures create another dimension to the long-established garden. Water lilies now flourish in the ponds bringing a further element of Monets garden at Giverny to the Highlands. Water plays an important part in the creation and management of this garden as there is an average of up to 80 inches of rain a year which creates a problem with drainage to the sea, now blocked by both the Kyle railway line and the main road.

Attadale Gardens today has benefited from the hard work and dedication of a series of gardeners over the past 40 years under the guiding eye until recently of Nicky Macpherson who constantly found new projects to develop. Above the drive, over 1000 new trees were planted to replace the fallen and are already well- established. As a visitor to the garden, you move through a series of connected but separate gardens. The water garden welcomes you as you walk down the drive on your arrival with dark ponds reflecting the planting above when the sun shines.

From the lookout, above the cheetah sculpture by Hamish Mackie, you can enjoy an overview of the garden layout and the house as well as the distant view of the Cuillin hills on Skye beyond Loch Carron. You can wander through the old Sunken Garden, divided into four quadrants, each echoing each other in their planting, and with the colours of the flowers reflecting the colours of the surrounding hills. Sedums, geraniums and astilbes are succeeded by Japanese anemones (or anemone hupehensis) that seem to survive and flourish well into the autumn.

Beyond the sunken garden, is the Peace Garden, started as a memorial to Ewen Macphersons late grandfather Colonel Colin MacLean killed in the First World War, with Japanese cherries, French peace roses and a well-positioned Lutyens bench from which to enjoy a view of the house and sunken garden.

The Japanese Garden was created in response to the water that would lie after heavy rain which meant that grass could not flourish there. Gravel provided a solution and various elements of traditional Japanese gardens were adapted to the local situation with the Applecross Hills providing the borrowed landscape or Shakkei. Cloud pruning continues the Japanese theme not only in the trees within the garden but also the huge surrounding hedge. Japanese maples or acers bring colours that change throughout the seasons.

You can walk on to enjoy the sight of the old Rhododendron Dell, where ancient rhododendrons flower in succession within an old quarry and a suitably scaled large bench offers another place for quiet contemplation.

The sunken Fern garden with its geodesic dome with tender ferns planted inside provides another place to explore and enjoy and the sound of running water is a frequent accompaniment for the visitor here too. The spectacular Dicksonia ferns provide an impressive sight surrounding this space and other shade-loving plants, such as the mouse plant (or arisarum proboscideum) and the Himalayan lily (or cardiocrinum giganteum) that can grow to over 6 foot, as well as a wide variety of different ferns grow well here.

In total contrast to other parts of the garden, the Kitchen garden provides a well laid-out and organised space with neat rows of vegetables providing colour and a dramatically different space to the rest of the gardens. Throughout there are sculptures to be found lurking in unexpected places which provides another dimension to the garden experience and one that provides additional interest for children who visit.