Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Supplementary Information Updated
Local Authority
NG 85913 81993
185913, 881993

A remarkable garden carved out of seaboard rock and pebble beach on Scotland's remote and wind-blasted West Highland coast. Osgood Mackenzie started to establish shelterbelt plantings in 1864 which allowed him to nurture one of the most exotic plant collections in Scotland.

*Record updated in 2016 only to note opening of Inverewe House to visitors (see under architectural features). The Inventory site as a whole has not been reviewed.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The layout of the gardens, Woodland Garden and Walled Garden has high value as a Work of Art.


Level of interest

Its associations with Osgood Mackenzie and his pioneering work on the development of gardening on Scotland's remote Western Seaboard gives Inverewe outstanding Historical value.


Level of interest

Inverewe has outstanding Horticultural value because of the fine and important collection of plants many of which are tender and only grow elsewhere in Britain in the south-west of England.


Level of interest

There are no listed buildings at Inverewe so the site does not have any Architectural value.


Level of interest
Not Assessed


Level of interest

The woodlands contribute variety to the moorland surrounding Inverewe, especially from the south shore of Loch Ewe. This gives the site high Scenic value.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The woodland flora and the habitat along the seashore give Inverewe a little Nature Conservation value.

Location and Setting

Inverewe is situated on the A832 in Wester Ross some half a mile (1km) north of Poolewe and some 5 miles (8km) north-east of Gairloch. It lies on a red sandstone promontory at the south eastern end of Loch Ewe. The A832 runs along the eastern boundary of the site. In the Woodland Garden, the soil consists of shallow layers of acid peat over-lying red sandstone or Lewisian gneiss. In the Walled Garden much of the soil was imported by Osgood Mackenzie and, after many years of mulching with seaweed, has formed a good loam. The climate is affected by the Gulf Stream and the maritime conditions. The annual rainfall is high about 46.5". The strong winds, particularly the prevailing south westerlies regularly blast the garden (and three severe gales, one in 1983 and two more in 1984, have devastated the shelterbelts). The surrounding land is mainly heather moorland with many rocky outcrops protruding through it. The sea lies to the west and the foothills of the North-West Highlands rise to the east. There are views west across the Loch, south to Flowerdale Forest and beyond to the Torridon Hills, and south-east towards Ben Airigh Charr and Slioch 3,215' (980m). The woodland canopy of conifers along the peninsula contributes greatly to the surrounding moorland scenery, especially from the south of the loch.

The house lies in the centre of the southern part of the garden. The garden is bordered on two sides by the sea, on the third by dense plantations of conifers and by the A832 on the fourth. The extent of the woodland shelterbelts planted in 1862 has remained the same, but the Woodland Garden under the trees has gradually increased in size over the years and now extends to an area of about 62 acres (25 ha).

Site History

The gardens have developed from the mid 19th century to the present day without any break in maintenance or periods without supervision.

In 1862, Osgood Mackenzie's mother purchased the adjoining estates of Inverewe and Kernsary as a gift for her son. Osgood was 20 years old. The Mackenzies were a local family and owned Tournaig at Gairloch. The Walled Garden was built first and completed by 1864 when the site for the house was chosen because of its proximity to it. Shortly afterwards Mackenzie fenced the Woodland Garden against deer and rabbits and planted the peninsula with Corsican and Scots pine trees to provide shelter. Before he started, only one tree, a willow, grew in the boggy heather covering the rocky promontory.

Mackenzie's famous book 'Gardening in the Western Highlands' was published in 1908. It describes in great detail the making of the garden, how he imported soil to replace the pebble beach in the walled garden, and how the rock under the heather was crazed to allow for some drainage and for the tree roots to gain a foothold. In amongst the pines, Mackenzie planted a few ornamental trees including larch, oak, beech and the more exotic Wellingtonias and silver firs. From about 1880, the poorer specimens in the shelterbelts were removed. In their place, a wide range of exotic trees and shrubs were planted and gradually the garden grew. More and more tender plants were tried and many succeeded. Between 1908 and 1918, the date of Osgood Mackenzie's next account of the garden, he recorded several winters without any frost at all. This gave the more delicate plants a chance to get established.

In 1914 a disastrous fire gutted the original house and many of the records of the garden were destroyed. In 1922, after 60 years of gardening at Inverewe, Osgood Mackenzie died. His daughter, Mairi T. Sawyer, who was a keen and knowledgeable gardener, inherited the garden. In 1936 the present house was built on the site of the original one; some of the redundant stone was used to make the rockery. Mrs Sawyer continued to develop the garden and introduce more plants, many of which came from the plant hunting expeditions of the 1920s. In 1952, a year before she died, Mairi Sawyer presented Inverewe estate, of about 2,100 acres, to the National Trust for Scotland with an endowment for its upkeep. As the guidebook explains, 'It was her wish that the garden should always be a source of pleasure for all those who were willing to travel to this remote corner of the Western Highlands.'

In 1954, the Trust appointed Dr J. M. Cowan as the first Representative of the Trust to oversee the management of the gardens and live in the house. For the next 13 years, Kenny John Urquhart remained as Head Gardener; he retired in 1965, after over 50 years at Inverewe.

From 1964 to 1973, Geoffrey Collins was Head Gardener; he was followed by Richard Fulcher (who retired in 1983). Both these gardeners, with the assistance of the NTS Representatives, continued to expand the range of plants grown at Inverewe and to manage the enormous increase in visitors. In 1952 there were only 3,000 visitors and in 1981 there were over 100,000.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Inverewe House was rebuilt in 1936. The original house was built around 1864 and was badly burnt in 1914. It was partially restored before being demolished when the new house was constructed in 1936. The Lodge was probably built at the same time as the original house. The Visitor Centre was designed by Schomberg Scott and built in 1963. It was enlarged with the restaurant in 1978. The Walls of the Kitchen Garden and high retaining wall on the north side were built by Osgood Mackenzie before 1864. Various other ancillary buildings, such as the gardener's office, and the ticket office have been erected by the Trust. Within the Woodland Garden, there are two Log Shelters copied from examples seen in Norway. They are simple rustic buildings made from logs with their roofs covered with sods of turf.

*Inverewe House was opened to the public for the first time in 2016 following a major renovation and conservation project (


When the property belonged to Sir John Hay, it was covered with Scots pine which were felled in the late 18th century for charcoal. In 1864, Osgood Mackenzie planted conifers over the peninsula. Recently, two blocks of conifers, mainly Scots pine, Douglas fir and larch, outside the garden on the north side, have been leased to the Forestry Commission. Today the Trust manages over 460 acres of commercial conifer forest and the Forestry Commission runs another 200 acres. Near the Gardens, there are about 83 acres of woodland.

Woodland Garden

The Woodland Garden lies to the west and north of the house. From about 1880, Osgood Mackenzie began clearing the shelterbelt and he started to the north of the house. He planted ornamental trees and shrubs and many of the old hybrid Rhododendrons came, as gift, from Muncaster in Cumbria. In the Bambooselem, tall Eucalyptus tower over the exotic trees; they were probably part of the first planting in the late 19th century. More Eucalyptus trees were planted along the drive and near the garage. Gradually Osgood Mackenzie moved the garden westward into the peninsula and laid out all the paths of which there are over 10 km (7.5 miles). The guidebook describes 14 different areas and observes that there are many more. Today, the Woodland Garden is filled with rare, tender exotics, many of which only grow elsewhere in the south-west of England. One of the areas to the west of the house is known as the Millstone or 'Japan', called after a Japanese cherry which has since gone. It is now heavily shaded but plants like the tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica), the Chusan palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), and the tender Chiliean Lomatia ferruginea grow well here. From the Millstone, the path rises to the top of the knoll and passes through many rare species Rhododendrons including a group of triflorum species and the small williamsianum. On the banks of the two small ponds grow moisture-loving plants, particularly Primulas, the Himalayan blue poppies (Meconopsisspp.), and the enormous leaved Gunnera manicata. Some of the Rhododendrons have self- seeded, including R. thomsonii, with its bronze peeling bark. At the highest point, there is a viewing area, where the shelterbelt has been opened out to expose the spectacular views south across the loch to the Torridon Hills. The western side of the knoll is far more exposed to the salt-laden strong winds and their strength can be seen on the sculptured windblown shape of the trees. Under them, Osgood Mackenzie had planted Rhododendron ponticum, but his daughter found that Griselinia littoralis was much more satisfactory. A winding path, and steps called Devil's Elbow are carved out of a sandstone outcrop; from them there is a good view to the small bay, known as Camas Glas, where most of the cruise ships anchor. From the bottom of the steps the path leads west towards the end of the peninsula and the jetty. On the lower path, which runs along the bay, the self-clinging Schizophragma hydrangeoides scrambles over an outcrop of stone. This path leads to the northern area. It was here at Pender's Walk in 1953, that Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation was commemorated when many of the tall trees were thinned and planting took place including some seedling Rhododendrons raised at Inverewe. Under the shelter of these trees many Rhododendrons of the tender Maddenii series are flourishing. The large delicate white flowers of these Rhododendrons are very fragrant. To the north east, further clearing and planting was undertaken to commemorate the Queen's jubilee. The Peace Plot was planted in 1919 to celebrate the signing of the armistice and now contains many of the most tender and delicate shrubs. Both `America' and `Bambooselem' lie just to the north of the house. They contain several of the oldest ornamental trees and also a huge Magnolia campbellii and several white flowered Eucryphias.

The Gardens

The garden around the house and along the drive includes some of the most colourful areas at Inverewe. Recent planting, especially along the drive, has concentrated on extending the flowering period and providing more colour during the summer months. To the south of the house under a small retaining wall, the herbaceous border is filled with plants flowering in July and August. Beyond the lawn towards the beach is the rockery made by Mrs Sawyer with the materials from the old house. Even though the wind has damaged many plants, some alpines have managed to survive and the Trust extended the rockery in 1970 to provide space for a collection of alpines from New Zealand.

In 1981, the entrance, Visitor Centre and car park planting was redesigned by Elisabeth Beazley following the road improvements.

Walled Gardens

The Walled Garden was the first area to be made into a garden by Osgood Mackenzie and its formation is described in his book. The stone built northern retaining wall, curving along the edge of the drive was cut into the bank and is over 12m (36 ft) high. All the soil was imported and the pebbles from the raised beach were thrown over the lower wall onto the seashore. The garden is oblong in shape and crossed by several paths. Mackenzie created a typical Scottish garden where vegetables, flowers and fruit are mixed together. This character remains much the same today although a greater area is used for plant propagation. Gnarled old fruit trees are still trained to the wall and tender climbers such as Clianthus puniceus, the lobster claw, grow up amongst them. Under the wall, runs a long herbaceous border which is planned to be most colourful in June and early July. In 1976 the Trust built an additional greenhouse to serve as a propagating and stock house. Most of the ancillary buildings are sited at the eastern end adjacent to the Visitor's Centre.




Printed Sources

J.M.Cowan, Report on Inverewe Gardens 1949

J.M. Cowan, Inverewe 1964

P.Verney, 1976, 63-74

Guidebooks - Inverewe NTS 1984, Inverewe NTS 1979, Inverewe NTS 1960

Management Plan NTS.

G.A. Little, 1981, 232-33

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

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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Printed: 26/05/2024 22:25