Sign up for our newsletter

View our Privacy policy


Scottish Garden of the Season: Glenarn

February 27th 2017
The garden at Glenarn in Rhu comprises two gardens, one on top of the other. The original Victorian layout of the 1850s had formal lawns around the house, paddock and stables to the rear and paths laid out through natural glens for perambu lations. On to this was superimposed the plant hunters new introductions from the 1920s onwards, creating a woodland garden, full of rhododendrons, magnolias and other exotic delights. Since 1850 only 3 families have lived at Glenarn and contributed to the garden: the Macgeorges in Victorian times, the Gibsons from 1927 and the Thornleys from 1983. We have spent the past 34 years initially restoring and latterly moving forward with new clearance and planting for the future.
The beginning of spring starts early at Glenarn. As the days begin to lengthen and the light levels increase, snowdrops and snowflakes are soon evident. These can stand everything the weather throws at us, snow, hail, rain and frost. The first daffodils are flowering although the whole narcissus family take at least 3 months to complete their wonderful early display. Buds are opening on N minor and N cyclamineus, the first species daffodils to flower with us.
We are lucky to have few late frosts, not unknown but rare from mid-March. The heavy tree work is complete and we begin the job of raking paths to clear winter debris, especially twigs and branches of lime and birch trees. The pond must be emptied and cleaned out, the sodden leaves barrowed away to dry out under old rhododendrons. Herbaceous vegetation is cut back and all the beds in the rock garden, pond area,
around the upper greenhouse and the house are top dressed with well-rotted compost, just as the first crocus, erythroniums and hellebores emerge.
It always amazes me how much is in flower by mid-March. Species rhododendrons such as R magnificum and R giganteum may have started to open in February together with R Praecox and R mucronulatum and the delicate R moupinense in the rock garden, protected from frost in the quarry by a tall Japanese umbrella pine. As March progresses, the strong reds of R striggillosum, hookeri, neriiflorum, piercei and meddianum begin to show colour. In
addition, the buds on the tall Asiatic magnolias shed their outer casings. These are truly magnificent precocious flowers, covering large trees up to 40 feet in height, long before any sign of leaves. The effect in the garden is striking with huge luminous beacons shining out. The flowers are white or pale pink but occasionally shocking pink or purple as in M sprengeri var sprengeri Diva. The magnolias bloom through April with other smaller members of the genus following in May and June.
Primulas are flowering in the rock garden, now deer fenced so that the erythroniums pushing through are no longer cropped. There are pleasing colour combinations of Daphne bholua Peter Smithers and hellebores in shades of pink to deepest purple and slatey-black, punctuated by the lily-like caps of E dens-canis and E White Beauty. Trilliums
and Sanguinaria are already pushing through the leaf mould as are the pinky red buds of paeonias, to flower in April and May.
There may be a few days of colder weather but overall the thermometer is rising, the birds are singing their hearts out and pairing up, the jackdaws are inspecting the chimney pots and the frogs are gathering in the old pond for their great annual mating party. Life goes on.
Where: Glenarn, Glenarn Road, Rhu, Helensburgh G84 8LL
Open: 21 March 2017–21 September 2017
Admission: £5.00,  children under 16 free if accompanied