Linn Botanic Garden was established via the combined efforts of two generations of the Taggart family. In 1971, Dr Jim Taggart, a botanist and one-time lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, purchased the property and set about transforming the steep and rocky garden grounds that surround the hill-top Victorian villa. In 1997, his son, James Taggart, assumed responsibility, and the gardens continue to grow and evolve under his stewardship.
Prior to this intense period of development, the gardens had retained a conventional, unprepossessing character, and were mainly confined to the more level grounds around the house. Linn villa itself had been built in 1860, perched on a cliff above the other loch-shore villas. Constructed to designs by William Motherwell, it was in keeping with the emerging architectural character of Cove, where wealthy businessmen from Glasgow were erecting grand summer residences in plots leased from the Duke of Argyll. A lawn extended downslope from the west elevation of the house, while to the south-west, the cliff-edge was just metres from the house. By the end of the 19th century, the acquisition of more land to the north-west provided opportunity for a fruit and vegetable garden with associated rectilinear path structure aligned south-east to north-west. A hard tennis court and a croquet green were established on the same alignment in the early years of the 20th century. The house was built for James and Agnes Martin, and the Martin family remained at The Linn up until the mid-20th century. Two further changes in ownership had little impact on the structure of the garden grounds, and the path arrangement described above persisted until the 1970s.
In 1971, Jim Taggart commenced his garden project at The Linn. A botanist by profession, Dr Taggart also came from a horticultural family. His mother had run a branch of the Scottish Rock Garden Club for Cove and Kilcreggan, and had enjoyed participating in various seed exchanges. Now, with a new garden setting, Dr Taggart was able to find a home for a long-established and expanding family plant collection, including some from a now lost garden at Trinity College, Dublin, and could begin plans for his own collection of choice and unusual taxa. His first acts of garden making were to let in light and make room around the house by removing surplus trees and hedges, and to align the former path structure with the long west façade of the house. This involved constructing a terrace around the south and west of the building.
The dramatic and precipitous landscape setting, together with the temperate Gulf Stream conditions, proved ideal for the establishment of different and successful garden areas. During the 1970s and 1980s, Dr Taggart removed decades worth of accumulated debris from the Meikle Burn gully, extended plantings of tender shrubs and trees down the steep banks, and created water features in the lowest part of the gardens to help solve flooding and drainage problems. Meanwhile, the botanical collection grew apace, with species sourced from China, Peru and the Himalayas. Opened to the public from 1974, Linn began to attract attention in the press and the horticultural world as a garden of special interest, and a valuable visitor attraction.
In 1997, Jim Taggart transferred responsibility for the gardens to his son, James Taggart. Also a botanist, James grew up with the garden projects of his father, and had begun collecting plants from the age of five. In 1995, he joined an expedition to Yunnan Province in China, returning to The Linn with the seeds of some 450 plants. With his new role established at Linn, there came recognition that the gardens were by now a significant and maturing repository of plants and trees, many of which were endangered in the wild, and in 1999, the gardens were renamed as a botanic garden. This entailed a greater focus on plant documentation, labelling, and educational access, and one of James' key tasks since then has been to align the older paper records with modern systems of cataloguing. Meanwhile, other projects have included the creation of a New Zealand heath (2005), the development of a significant fern collection, and the ongoing acquisition of rare or special plants from around the world that are rarely seen in cultivation, including a tree fern (Blechnum palmiforme) from the remote South Atlantic Gough Island (Taggart 2009).
At the time of writing (2012), there are in excess of 8000 taxa at Linn, including over 200 rhododendrons, (plus numerous named and unnamed hybrids). This almost certainly represents the greatest diversity of species per area in Scotland. Furthermore, despite the relative youth of the gardens, a tree survey in 2012 identified no less than eight UK and Ireland champion trees together with further Scottish and county champions (Johnson 2012)