The designed landscape of Arniston was begun in a formal style between 1689- 1700. Part of a formal scheme by William Adam was carried out between 1726-33 but much of this was later removed. Further planting was carried out between 1753-70 following the amalgamation of the Arniston and Shank estates and this whole area was informalised between 1787-1819 although the Avenues and other features of the previous formal schemes were retained. These followed an improvement plan prepared by Thomas White in 1791 which does not appear to have been carried out in total although some ideas were later adopted. There are a considerable number of maps available which document the development of the estate.
The lands of Arniston belonged to the Knights Templar of South Esk up until 1309 when the Order was suppressed and the estate passed to the Hospitallers. After the Reformation, Mary, Queen of Scots, sold the estate to James Sandilands who later broke up the property into several units. The main part was purchased by George Dundas, 16th laird of the Dundas Estate, for James, his son by his second marriage to Katharine Oliphant. Records show that he was a keen improver of the land. A rough plan of 1582 exists showing the layout of the landscape at that time (SRO RHP 5246/13). It is thought that the first Arniston House was built by James Dundas in 1620. At this time, the road from Edinburgh to the south ran through the estate between the house and the Middleton Burn, crossing over the River South Esk by Traquair Bridge, and is now called 'Lord Traquair's Walk.
James Dundas died in 1628 and his son, also James, inherited the estate. He entered a political career which his successors were to follow over the next two centuries. He was knighted in 1641 and, after 1650, created Lord Arniston. His son, Robert, inherited the estate in 1679 but lived in Holland with his wife, Marian, until 1689 when they began to prepare the estate for the construction of a new house, in a style which was greatly influenced by their exile abroad. It is known that in 1690, thirty beech and one elm were brought from Yester and planted out in the avenue which remains in part today to the south of the house. Robert Dundas sat in the Court of Session as MP for Midlothian and became the titular 2nd Lord Arniston. He died in 1726 and his son, Robert, inherited. The year before his father's death he had commissioned William Adam to prepare plans for a new house and improvements to the landscape. Only part of the house was completed immediately, incorporating the previous house. A plan of 1732 (RHP 5206/02) shows the extent of the landscape proposals which were implemented immediately, even before the house was completed, (although this plan has not been seen in the course of this study). Reference to a plan of 1753 does, however, show that the only Adam proposals to be implemented were those to the south of the house.
Robert Dundas, the 3rd Lord Arniston, was created President of the Supreme Court of Scotland in 1748. His improvements had, however, been suspended in the 1730s due to shortage of money, to the death of his wife and four of his children from smallpox, and to personal injury as a result of an accident. He died in 1753 and his first son, also Robert, resumed the improvement work, financed by his marriage to an heiress. Robert Adam was commissioned to complete the work begun by his father and by 1755 the house was complete. The plan of 1753 shows the extent of improvements completed by the 1st Lord President. 'A plan of Arniston and Shank Enclosures' was made in 1758 (RHP 5246/5/1-6) shortly after the neighbouring estate of Shank was purchased. Between then and 1787, woods and parkland were laid out over this more extensive area. The formal parkland parterre to the south of the house was dismantled between 1764-87. It is thought that the Cascade which formed the south vista of this feature was dismantled c.1764.
Robert, the 4th Lord Arniston, was created President of the Supreme Court in 1760, the second Lord President in the family. He died in 1787 and his son, Robert, inherited. It is from his manuscript accounts of Arniston that much of the detailed history is known. He was concerned with agricultural improvements and was founder Vice President of the Highland Agricultural Society of Edinburgh from 1784. He too rose to high political office, acquiring the title of Lord Chief Baron to the Court of Exchequer in Scotland. Thomas White was commissioned to prepare an improvement plan in 1791. A sketch map of 1800 indicates that little of White's proposals had been carried out but a 'Plan of the Policies and Mains of Arniston' dated 1813 suggested considerable informal planting, much of which was carried out by 1828 as shown on a survey map of that year.
Chief Baron Dundas died in 1819 and his son, Robert, inherited Arniston. There is little evidence of any landscape improvements carried out by him, only activities such as mining and quarrying which became common practice in the surrounding areas. The Newbattle railway was constructed within the northern boundary of the Arniston policies in 1824.
The Chief Baron's grandson inherited in 1838 on the death of his father and appears, from the ages of the trees which remain today, to have planted in the parks and gardens. The OS plans of c.1854 & c.1900 show that the structure of the designed landscape remained relatively consistent during the latter half of the 19th century. In 1898, Robert Dundas was created 1st Baronet of Arniston. He died in 1909 and was succeeded by his elder son Robert, 2nd Baronet, but he died within a year of succeeding to the title. He was succeeded by his brother. Arniston was managed thereafter by Trustees until 1930 when it passed to Miss May Dundas, the daughter of the 2nd Baronet. On her death in 1970, Arniston passed to Mrs Aedrian Dundas Bekker, a cousin of Miss Dundas and daughter of the 4th Baronet, who is in the course of implementing a phased programme of improvement to the house and grounds.