The present designed landscape was laid out partly in accordance with an improvement plan prepared by Thomas White Snr in 1793. Other designers include Lewis Kennedy who laid out the flower garden c.1812.
The earliest records of Abercairny date from the 13th century when it was the property of the 3rd Earl of Strathearn. In 1320, the 7th Earl gave the estates of Abercairny and Ogilvy to his daughter, Mary, on her marriage to Sir John Moray of Drumsargard and since that time it has been retained by successive generations of the family.
William Moray and his son James, although loyal to the Stuart cause, were not active in the 1715 and '45 uprisings and appear to have been involved in improvements to the original house and policies in the middle years of the 18th century. A record of the structure of the designed landscape is provided by Roy's map of c.1750 which shows a large formal field pattern with five main woodland blocks. Avenues from this original layout remain today.
In 1784 Colonel Charles Moray inherited Abercairny from his elder brother, Alexander. By his marriage to the heiress of Sir William Stirling of Ardoch, the Ardoch estates were acquired and the name of Stirling adopted by Colonel Charles. He began improvements to the grounds and commissioned Thomas White Snr to prepare an improvement plan of the policies, dated 1793. The architect John Paterson was requested to provide drawings for a new house in 1796 but he eventually submitted designs for only a new oval drawing room for the old house in the following year. Architects Archibald Elliot and Charles Tatham were asked in turn to prepare designs for the new house but the commission eventually went to Richard Crichton in 1804 for his Gothic Revival building, which became known as Abercairny Abbey.
Colonel Charles died in 1810. The house was incomplete and considerable debts were inherited by his son, Colonel James Moray. He was a spirited figure who was able to resume construction and fitting of the house by 1814. Lewis Kennedy was commissioned to lay out the flower garden on the slope to the north of the house. Richard Crichton died in 1817 and the architectural work was continued by his successors, R.& R. Dickson, over the following years. They were retained by James' brother, William, who inherited Abercairny and Ardoch in the 1830s. He was responsible for the addition of the port-cochere and the stable-block between 1841-2.
On William Moray's death, the estates passed to his sister, Christian, who was married to Henry Home Drummond of Blair Drummond. In 1864 their son, Charles Stirling Home Drummond Moray, inherited. He carried out many improvements, particularly to the gardens, and he was responsible for the Tower which was added to the house in 1869 to the design of R. Thornton Shiels. An account of Abercairny described its 'magnificent park, well kept flower gardens and rich Arboretum' as well as 'a magnificent kitchen garden which few estates can surpass'.*
Abercairny Abbey was used as a hospital during World War II and by 1960 was in poor condition. Major W.S. Drummond Moray, grandson of Charles Drummond Moray, took the decision to demolish the Abbey and a new house was built on the site. Statuary from the house was used to further embellish the gardens which remain today within the structure of the early 19th century landscape.
* Journal of Horticulture & Cottage Gardener, Dec 25, 1884
Abercairny House is a neo-Georgian design by the Hon Claud Phillimore. It was built to replace the previous mansion Abercairny Abbey which was a Gothic Revival building designed by Richard Crichton between 1804-9 and 1814- 17, completed by R.& R. Dickson between 1820-23, 1826-35 and 1841-42 and demolished in 1960. The stable-block, listed category B, is a one and two storey block with a round internal courtyard and large archway on the west elevation. It was built in 1841-2 by R.& R. Dickson and re-used the materials of the previous stables which had stood adjacent to the house.
Crieff Lodge, listed category B, is a single-storey building of Gothic design built c.1800. Garden Lodge, also listed category B, is a single- storey building, dating from c.1840 by architects R.& R. Dickson. Mid North Lodge stands at the main north entrance of the policies off the A85. North Lodge is situated in the north-east corner of the policies at the end of a more picturesque drive through woodland which is no longer used. South Lodge and Auchlone Lodge also remain. The Doocot, listed category B, is a tall, rectangular lean-to building which is thought to date from the 17th century.
A sundial, situated in the garden, is thought to date from the 17th century and is listed category A. The Statue Avenue is composed of six classical statues, one of which is dated 1728. They were brought to Abercairny after the Battle of Waterloo and are listed collectively category B. Two Marble Busts on pedestals which flank the west gate of the garden are listed category B. The Avenue of Busts, one portrait and four classical, is also listed category B. Decorative stone seats stand adjacent to the south- facing wall of the flower garden, and nearby are free standing seats of ornate wrought- iron work. There are several other pieces of ornamentation in the formal and flower gardens including cherubs, urns and vases.
The park was laid out in its present form following an improvement plan which was prepared by Thomas White Snr in 1793. Avenues from the previous formal pattern were incorporated in the new layout and the most prominent of these, the Beech Avenue, which previously formed part of the boundary with Abercairny and Inchbrakie, remains although it appears to have been replanted c.1800 and successively since then.
The White plan suggested two lochs, one directly south of the present house to the north of his suggested location for the new house, and another on the east boundary. Both lochs were serpentine on plan and had islands as central features. The lochs are fed by water from the Muckle Burn which flows into the policies by Crieff Lodge and drains into the Pow Water, which runs through the park to the south of the lochs. The Pow Water is a significant local feature which is vital for the drainage of the Abercairny Parks; it was constructed by monks in the 17th century and was one of the earliest drainage schemes in Strathearn. The west side of the large loch in front of the house had been drained at the time of our visit in preparation for silt clearance and subsequent restocking with fish. The park formed the setting for the many drives which converged on the house from five directions in the policies; today only one drive is maintained as the main access, the Mid North Drive which was the Back Drive, whilst others are retained for farm access.
The parks between the house and the driveway to the south of the main loch are kept in permanent grass and are well stocked with beautiful specimen trees including species of oak, beech and lime. South of the drive, most of the individual park trees have gone, although some original clumps do remain.
The woodland structure which remains today was established as part of the early 19th century designed landscape. Reference to Roy's map indicates that woodlands were well established on the site prior to this time but were mainly felled in the course of the improvements. Some additional woodland areas were added in the late 19th century in the north-east corner between the north drive and Newmill, and in the south-west corner over the site of Inchbrakie House and gardens following their demolition.
The woodlands are now commercial, with conifers as the main crop, although hardwoods are incorporated in the species mix. The gales of 1951, 1968 and 1981 seriously affected the Abercairny estate and resulted in the loss of many trees. Planting is currently being carried out with the aim of re-establishing these areas.
The flower garden was laid out by Lewis Kennedy c.1812 and contained an arbour, trellis work and bridge a la Suisse.* The 1st edition OS map of c.1860 shows a Broad Walk extending from the house up to the roughly rectangular area of some 12 acres, which was terraced to accommodate the natural south sloping landform. An account of 1884** describes the garden as being 'distinguished by its simple effectiveness that is far more pleasing than many more elaborate and correspondingly formal arrangements'. The central broad width of the garden was lined with beds of rhododendrons, azaleas and other shrubs. Other turf walks opened up off this main walk and the vistas formed were often closed on the specimen conifers in the adjacent arboretum. The Broad Walk climbed to a Bowling Green which extended the width of the garden. On the terrace above it was the flower garden which was described as 'homely in design'* with roses, petunias, violas, carnations and many others, all of which were overlooked by a range of glasshouses.
* A.A. Tait. The Landscape Garden in Scotland
** Journal of Horticulture & Cottage Gardener; Dec 25 1884
Today, this garden is still kept up as a flower garden; although the formal flowerbeds have gone. The iron trellis work which was part of the original design remains and the flowerbeds have been restocked with mixed shrubs and heathers. The borders are lined with mixed rhododendrons and azaleas. There are several pieces of ornamentation, including large vases and urns in the upper garden, and clipped trees stand amid the lawns. The lower terrace on which the Bowling Green was sited was later planted with specimen trees and shrubs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Broad Walk has been embellished with statuary, many pieces of which were originally sited within the Abbey prior to its demolition in 1960. Gates lead through the high walls to the shrubbery and arboretum to the west of the garden.
Formal lawns surround the house on all sides and, according to 19th century accounts, these were ornamented simply by a mature specimen Cedar of Lebanon and many clipped yew trees as well as some statuary. The trees remain today although the yews are clipped in a more conical form than in previous years. Some new ornamental trees and shrubs have been established on the perimeter by the present owner. On the north side of the house the ground rises to a steep bank to the south of the flower garden which is clothed with daffodils in spring. The high terrace to the south of the house is ornamented with urns; a sundial and cherub statue stand on the grass terrace. Further cherub statues are erected to the west of the house near the tennis court which has been built on the former croquet lawn.
The walled garden was constructed after the 1793 plan to the west of the house. It was laid out over four acres on a regular plan, with intersecting paths converging in the centre as shown on the 1st edition OS map. It is enclosed by high walls on four sides, and greenhouses some 300' in length were said to line the walls. The garden was managed for over 30 years by the gardener, Mr James Brown, who was a frequent prizewinner for vegetables at national horticultural events. Fruit crops were also a speciality of the garden and the account of 1884 lists all the main varieties of fruit grown.
The garden was maintained during World War II and thereafter managed as a commercial concern. In 1955 it was grassed down and is presently used for grazing. The south wall of the garden has been lowered and the derelict remains of a storehouse stands in the centre.
The arboretum at Abercairny was established by James and William Moray in the mid-19th century on a site to the north-west of the house between the flower garden and the walled garden. In the latter half of the 19th century, additional planting was carried out to the south and east of the flower garden.
An account of the arboretum in 1884* describes it as including 'a large number of conifers, mostly represented by fine examples varying in age from 12 years to half a century'. It records a number of notable specimens but notes the grandest of all to be the Silver firs, many of which lined Lady Fanny's Walk which ran from the flower garden to the kitchen garden. Today, much of the ornamental woodland along this route has reverted to commercial forestry. Measurements were made of some 40 remaining specimens in 1956, 1974 and again in 1978 by Alan Mitchell. It is an impressive list and includes the mature Cedar of Lebanon which grows on the lawn to the east of the house.