Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Last Date Amended
Supplementary Information Updated
Local Authority
Argyll And Bute
Planning Authority
Argyll And Bute
Ardchattan And Muckairn
NM 95538 33931
195538, 733931

Achnacloich is an important example of a west coast woodland garden with an extensive collection of plants, including many rare varieties.

Type of Site

A woodland garden developed in the mid-20th century and established within an existing 19th century framework of woodland and parkland.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1870s; 1920s to 1950s

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

Interest in this category derives from the appreciation evident in late 20th century and early 21st century accounts of the garden in its current form, as created by T.E Nelson. For example, the garden was praised in an article published in Country Life in 1991 and listed among exotic gardens to visit in Scotland in 1998 (Truscott 1998). Achnacloich's rhododendrons feature among paintings by Emma Tennant (2015), exhibited by the Fine Art Society, and the garden described as 'marvellous'.

No earlier accounts testifying to appreciation of the 19th or earlier 20th century garden are known. The layout of the garden is not connected with a designer who achieved national renown, and there is no known evidence to suggest Achnacloich has performed a trendsetting role for the development of later gardens.


Level of interest

Achnacloich fits within a wider tradition of woodland gardens in Scotland created from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. The west coast of Scotland was recognised as a place where tender specimen trees and shrubs could thrive, due to the high rainfall and the warm temperate climate provided by the Gulf Stream. These gardens were planted with rhododendrons and other wild origin plant material often derived from the China-Himalayan region. Achnacloich is an authentic example of a 'west coast' woodland garden in Scotland.

T.E. Nelson's connections with horticulturalists such as F.R.S. Balfour of Dawyck are also of relevance here. Through these connections it is likely that Achnacloich received species from prominent gardens such as Dawyck, many of which were planted using seed collected by late 19th and early 20th century plant hunters. Information shared about the plants' cultivation, propagation and siting possibly influenced the development of the garden.


Level of interest

The garden has an outstanding collection of plants, shrubs and trees in terms of scale, mixed age and diversity, including many rare and tender specimens. The plants typify those suited to west coast of Scotland conditions in terms of climate, maritime influence, geology and soils.

There is clear plant labelling throughout the woodland garden. The plant collection is in good condition and under renewal (2018).


Level of interest

The garden is the setting for the category B listed Achnacloich House. The lodge house, former stables and boathouse are not listed but represent former estate buildings and contribute to the overall architectural interest of the site. On balance, the site merits high value in this category


Level of interest

There is one scheduled monument, Dun Creagach (SM3682), on the shore of Loch Etive within the policy parkland. As such, the site merits outstanding value in this category.


Level of interest

The mix of broadleaf and coniferous trees of the woodland garden are highly visible when approaching along the A85 to the south and from the northern shores of Loch Etive. This mixed woodland stands on a raised terrace framed by the lower lying pasture of the parkland. This creates a distinct contrast between the different elements of the site, which in turn contributes visual interest to the wider landscape.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

Although there are no natural heritage designations, the woodland flora and fauna provide some nature conservation value. The varied habitats contained within the garden include mixed woodlands, ponds and bog garden, mature trees and open pasture, which provide a habitat for birds, as well as insects such as bees. The garden is managed in a way to encourage birds and other wildlife.

Location and Setting

Achnacloich is situated on the shores of Loch Etive around 3km east of Connel and 5.5km west of Taynuilt, on the west coast of Scotland. The wider landscape setting is characterised by upland moorland with a patchwork of fields at the moorland edge, long ribbon lochs and commercial forestry plantations.

The garden lies on a headland overlooking Loch Etive. It is bordered by the loch on the northwest and northeast and by the road and railway on the southeast and southwest. As the house and woodlands stand on a raised terrace above lower-lying fields, the mature trees of the woodland have prominence within the surrounding area. From within the garden there are extensive views west towards Mull and Morvern and north towards Ben Cruachan.

The garden as a whole extends to some 41 hectares (101 acres). It consists of a mature structure of policy woodlands, which provides shelter for the plant collection, framed by lower-lying parkland. Achnacloich House lies in the centre of the northern section with garden terraces and a large lawn. The house, terraces and lawn together form the central heart of the garden. The woodland garden is laid out on the slopes around the house with the parkland extending along the loch shore to the north and west. The topography within the garden is varied, providing different microclimates and planting opportunities.

Site History

Achnacloich House was built in 1858 and extended in the late 19th or early 20th century. The house was built for Colin Campbell but both the house and estate were sold to Alexander Stevenson in the late 19th century before being sold again to the Nelson family in 1892. The house and estate appear to have changed name on a number of occasions, and are recorded as having been known as both Stonefield and Highwood. By the date of the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map (1871) the name had reverted to Auchnacloich and at the time of writing (2018) is known as Achnacloich.

The policies were laid out by the 1870s, with many of the mature trees in the garden planted by this date. The presence of a vegetable garden and 'ornamental ground' are also noted in the Ordnance Survey Name Book (1868-1878).

The woodland garden was created within the setting of mature woodland in the 1920s and 1930s by T.E. Nelson, who inherited the estate in 1917. It was further developed and enhanced by both T.E. Nelson and his wife Jane Nelson in the 1940s and 1950s. T.E. Nelson knew many of the major horticulturalists of the day from whom he is known to have acquired plants as well as information about their cultivation, propagation and siting. He was the nephew of F.R.S. Balfour who created the gardens that are now Dawyck Botanic Garden in the Scottish Borders. He also knew Sir George Campbell of Crarae, Sir Thomas Ainsworth of Ardanaiseig, Michael Noble of Ardkinglas, Lord Strathconar of Colonsay and Sir James Horlick of Gigha. As such, many plants within the garden are likely derived from seed from the major plant hunting expeditions which supplied some of the gardens with which Nelson was connected.

The Nelsons introduced plants to Achnacloich from all parts of the world, especially rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias, many of which originate in the southern hemisphere. Some of these plants, such as Magnolia wilsonii (Wilson Magnolia) and Stranvaesia davidiana have become well established and are now self-seeding. At the time of writing (2018) the garden continues to be developed and maintained by the owners.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Achnacloich House was built in 1858. It is a two-storey rubble built Scottish baronial mansion with three-storey entrance tower. It was designed by John Starforth for Colin Campbell and enlarged between 1890 and 1906. Two garden terraces extend along the length of the house to the south. A rectangular walled garden, built of dry-stone walls, stands to the east of the house. It was built before 1860 and contains a small greenhouse.

A single-storey lodge house with adjacent outbuildings, now converted to a house, are situated at the entrance to the garden on the east. A stone-built boathouse lies on the western shoreline. The lodge house, outbuildings and boathouse were first shown on the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map and built between 1871 and 1897. The boathouse lies next to a stone jetty, built before 1871.

Drives & Approaches

Historic maps show that the main drive into this landscape was in place by the later 19th century (Ordnance Survey 1871; 1897). Access to the garden is from the south, along a minor road off the A85. A lodge house stands at the entrance to the garden, from where the main drive passes through gate piers and approaches the house in a wide sweeping curve up the hill.

Paths & Walks

A network of informal mown grass paths provide the basis for walking trails around the woodland garden.

Paths lead into the woodland garden from Achnacloich House and a large central lawn. A varied topography and high tree canopy provide opportunities for understorey plants to develop. The paths wind through glades and around trees with steps and bridges taking paths across slopes and over ponds. Within the woodland garden, openings in the canopy prove glimpses of the surrounding hills, while there are more extensive views from the edges of the woodland. Three stone-built viewpoints, positioned on the western edge of the woodland garden above steeply sloping ground, provide more formal views across Loch Etive to the hills of Mull and Morvern beyond.



The parkland stretches along the loch shore on the lower ground to the north and west of the woodland garden. It frames the higher ground occupied by the woodlands and house. A small number of specimen trees survive within the southwest section of the parkland and the fields are grazed by the famous Achnacloich herd of Highland cattle.

Woodland Garden

The woodland garden was created from the 1920s under a canopy of mature trees. The house and lawn provide a central focus, with the woodland garden extending across the surrounding slopes. Mature policy woodland provides shelter for the plant collection and the varied topography within the garden creates different microclimates and planting opportunities.

The structure of the garden consists of sheltering mature trees within which a series of open glades of differing sizes have been created. The more mature tree species create an upper canopy and edge which, in combination with the varied topography, is used to shape each glade. Plants are arranged to promote an experience of space and setting so that each specimen or group of species can be enjoyed individually or collectively. Plants are labelled and protected where necessary.

The glades have a varied plant collection of trees, shrubs and flowering plants, including maples, rowans, magnolias, camellias, azaleas and primulas. Many originate in China, Japan and the Antipodes and the collection includes a number of rare and unusual plant species such as Emmenopteris henreyi. Of particular note is the varied collection of rhododendrons, most of which are within the woodland to the east of the house. The collection includes a number of rare and unusual varieties such as Rhododendron hunnewellianum and Rhododendron decorum (great white rhododendron) as well as Rhododendron falconeri (Falconer rhododendron), Rhododendron maddenii and Rhododendron sinogrande (great Chinese rhododendron).

Notable species of trees within the collection include Eucalyptus, a variety of different Sorbus species, Cercidiphyllum japonicum (katsura tree), Disanthus cercidifolius (long-stiped disanthus) and Magnolia sieboldii (Chinese magnolia) as well as mature oak, sycamore, pine and larch.

Water Features

A small area known as the glen was created in the 1950s in the southwest of the garden. Here a burn and ponds bordered by water loving plants step down the slope within an open glade, providing the setting for species such as Acer, Liquidamber (sweet gum) and ferns.

In the northern corner of the woodland garden, a more open area provides the setting for a series of small ponds. Here there is a diverse range of bog plants and marginal water plants as well as waterlilies. To the west of the ponds, a small bog garden has developed near a burn. This has been colonised by primulas seeding themselves in ideal growing conditions.

The Gardens

South of the house two terraces extend along its length, forming a terraced garden planted with a diverse range of species. These include Rhododendron glaucophyllum, Rhododendron yunnansense (Yunnan Rhododendron), Rose moyesii (rose 'Geranium'), Camellia and Potentilla. Yew hedges border a centre flight of steps.

A large lawn lies to the south of the house and occupies the centre of the garden. The west end of the lawn is dominated by a large multi-stemmed Douglas fir planted in the mid-19th century.


Walled Gardens

A rectangular walled garden is located a short distance to the east of the house. Protected by dry-stone walls, it is set in one of the most sheltered parts of the garden with higher ground surrounding it on all sides. It is used for growing and propagating tender and rare species for growing in the woodland garden and contains a small greenhouse.




Canmore: ID 142236 [accessed 08/01/2018]


Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1871, published 1875) Argyllshire, Sheet LXXXVII. Six-inch to the mile. 1st edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1897, published 1900) Argyllshire, Sheet LXXXVII.SE. Six-inch to the mile. 2nd edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Printed sources:

Environmental Resources Management (1996) Landscape assessment of Argyll and the Firth of Clyde. Scottish Natural Heritage Review. No. 78.

Newcastle Courant (1892) What society papers say, Saturday 25 June 1892, p.8.

Tennant, E. (2015) Plants with provenance. Fine Art Society: London.

Truscott, J. (1991) Glade and glen: [Garden at Achnacloich, near Oban]', Country Life, vol. 185, 5, 31 January 1991, pp 54-57.

Truscott, J. (1998) Exotica Caledonia, Country Life, vol.192, 33, 13 August 1998, pp. 58-61.

Walker, F. A. (2000) The buildings of Scotland: Argyll and Bute. Penguin Books: London. p. 198.

Online sources:

Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Stonefield House and estate [accessed 08/01/2018]

Ordnance Survey Name Books, Argyll OS Name Books, 1868-1878, Argyll volume 23, OS1/2/23/9, p.9 [accessed 08/01/2018]

The Telegraph 8 September 2011 Jane Nelson [accessed 08/01/2018]

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Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

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Achnacloich, area of ponds in northeast of garden, looking northeast., during daytime, on clear day with cloudy sky.
Achnacloich, looking west from viewpoint across Loch Etive, during daytime, on clear day with cloudy sky.
Achnacloich, walled garden, looking east, during daytime, on clear day with cloudy sky.
Achnacloich, parkland, looking southwest, during daytime, on clear day with cloudy sky.
Achnacloich, terraced garden and house, looking east, during daytime, on clear day with cloudy sky.
Achnacloich, view up steps of terraced gardens, looking north, during daytime, on clear day with cloudy sky.
Achnacloich, view of lawn and house, looking north, during daytime on clear day with cloudy sky.
Achnacloich, view across the lawn, looking east, during daytime, on clear day with cloudy sky.
Achnacloich, bog garden, looking southwest, during daytime, on clear day with blue sky.
Achnacloich, the glen, looking southeast, during daytime, on clear day.

Printed: 03/12/2022 08:36