Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
NS 20656 73078
220656, 673078

The designed landscape at Ardgowan dates from around 1800 and is a good example of the work of James Ramsay. The parkland, woodland and gardens  provide an impressive setting for the category A listed house and make an important contribution to the local scenery.

Type of Site

Commanding extensive views over the Firth of Clyde, the mansion sits within late Victorian and Edwardian formal and kitchen gardens in a wider frame of parkland and woodland.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Main structure established c1800 with improvements mid/late-19th-century and improvements and additions early-20th-century to present.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The designed landscape at Ardgowan has outstanding value as a Work of Art and is an important example of the work of James Ramsay.


Level of interest

There are several estate plans dating from the 18th century at the house and also Lady Alice Thynne's records of the gardens. Ardgowan has been associated with the Stewart family since the early 15th century.


Level of interest

Many members of the family have been keen plantsmen and the collection of shrubs at Ardgowan has high value. It has been well documented in the past.


Level of interest

The designed landscape provides the setting for an A listed building and has outstanding Architectural value.


Level of interest

The landscape of Ardgowan is visible from the surrounding roads and makes a major contribution to the scenery.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The older woodlands and shoreline provide a variety of habitats which give Ardgowan high value in this category.

Location and Setting

Ardgowan lies half a mile north of Inverkip at Lunderston Bay on the Firth of Clyde. It is some 3 miles (5km) south of Gourock and 5 miles (8km) south-west of Greenock. It is bounded by the A78(T) to the south-east and the A78 to Gourock to the north and by the Firth of Clyde to the west. The Kip Water flows through the southern margin of the estate. To the north of the river valley, the hills rise up to 663' (202m) and, to the south, they rise to 935' (285m) at Dunnock Hill. The designed landscape of Ardgowan has been laid out on the relatively flat coastal area, although the mansion and former Castle were built on a higher elevation on the raised beach, 60' above the surrounding land. The mansion commands extensive views over the Firth of Clyde to the north, west and south. The designed landscape at Ardgowan is very visible from the surrounding woods and the policy woodlands are particularly significant in the views from the A78(T) to the south.

Ardgowan Castle, now a ruin, was set on a promontory on the raised beach above the surrounding coastal flats in a relatively defensible position. When the mansion house was built in 1797, a site was chosen further east, still commanding extensive views. General Roy's plan of 1750, surveyed before the mansion house was built, shows only a small area of enclosed land around the old Castle with a formal arrangement of shelter planting. The 1st edition OS map of 1856 shows the picturesque designed landscape as laid out by Ramsay. It extends from Bankfoot in the north-west to Bridgend in the south-east and to Inverkip Bay in the south and is enclosed by minor roads. Beyond these boundaries, the hill slopes to the north-east and south-east were planted by the 8th Baronet to be viewed from the mansion house; Idzholm and Bargane Plantations were established for amenity to show a variety of colour. The extent of the designed landscape remains similar today and encloses some 365 acres (147.8ha).

Site History

The designed landscape at Ardgowan was laid out c.1800 to the designs of James Ramsay.

The lands of Ardgowan were conferred by Robert III in 1403 to his natural son, Sir John Stewart, whose descendants have held the lands of Ardgowan ever since. The old castle at Ardgowan is now a ruin and lies a short distance to the south-west of the present mansion. The designed landscape at Ardgowan dates from the end of the 18th century when the new mansion house was built. The 3rd Baronet, Sir Michael, had married Helen Houston in c.1730, an heiress of the Shaw family and acquired the Mansion House in Greenock. His son, John Shaw- Stewart, commissioned Hugh Cairncross to design a new mansion house at Ardgowan which was started in 1797. John's wife, Frances, was the widow of Sir James Maxwell, 6th Baronet of Pollok, who was herself a keen gardener and is reputed to have introduced shrubs and the snowdrops, for which Ardgowan is renowned, from Pollok.

The design plan for the layout of the grounds around 1800 has recently been discovered at Ardgowan. It is by James Ramsay, and a survey plan of 1817 drawn by D. Reid, also kept at the house, shows the landscape laid out according to Ramsay's plans, with minor changes, eg the drives. The 6th Baronet, Sir Michael, succeeded in 1825 and employed William Burn to carry out additions to the house. He was succeeded by his son, Sir Michael, as 7th Baronet in 1836 and he married Lady Octavia Grosvenor in 1852. They made many improvements to the grounds and Lady Octavia brought her gardener from Eaton Hall in Cheshire to Ardgowan. A formal garden was laid out to the south west of the house with a beech walk along the ridge to the Castle. Two summerhouses were placed along the woodland walks in the grounds. The formal garden was laid out with white gravel paths.

Sir Michael died in 1903 and was succeeded by Sir Hugh, who employed Lorimer in 1904 to carry out improvements which included the construction of the Conservatory. Sir Hugh married Lady Alice Thynne who was a keen plantswoman and kept detailed record books of the gardens. They were both keen planters; the policy woodlands were planted up to be viewed from the house and exotic and ornamental trees and shrubs were planted along the ridge. The Golden Garden was added for them on their Golden Wedding Anniversary. During World War II the house was used as a hospital and some of the garden features, such as the summerhouses, were lost during this time.

Sir Houston and Lady Shaw-Stewart are currently making improvements to the gardens and have commissioned Vernon Russell Smith to design the new layout along the south-west front of the house.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Ardgowan House was designed in 1797 by H. Cairncross. It is a two-storey classical style mansion house with pedimented three-storey centre block, and it is listed A. Additions were made by William Burn in 1831-32 and Sir Robert Lorimer in 1904. Ardgowan Castle is a three-storey tower, now ruined, of the late 15th century which is listed B. The North Lodge is dated 1797 and is of similar style to the house, one storey, and listed B.

There is a Gothic chapel to the north of the house designed by John Henderson in the 1850s and the offices include a model dairy building with servants' tunnel leading to the steading. The stables were also built around 1797 and there is a doocot in the courtyard. There is also a game larder near the house and a tall complex sundial in the formal garden.


The parkland at Ardgowan retains the design drawn up by Ramsay and contains some particularly fine parkland trees including some older oak trees which date from the 18th century and were retained when the new landscape was laid out. Other specimens include horse chestnut, beech, sycamore, elm and Scots pine, most dating from the mid to late 19th century. There was at one time a 9-hole golf course laid out in the parks but they are now all maintained for grazing sheep and cattle.


Many of the estate woodlands were replanted by Sir Hugh, 8th Baronet, in the early years of this century. He chose mixed plantings of deciduous and conifer species, planting with regard to their colour in the views. Planting was continued up to World War II and most of the woodlands are in good heart. The older woodlands, particularly the parkland roundels, need some attention. Crowhill Wood, to the west of the house above the shore at Ardgowan Point, is an old beech wood; walks were laid out to it from the house and summerhouses are shown on the lst edition OS map along the routes.

The Gardens

The main garden has been developed along the ridge from the Castle to the mansion house and has been redesigned during its history. The 1st edition OS map of 1856 shows a small formal area along the south-west front of the house, surrounded by a shrubbery, with a bowling green marked to the east of the Castle. The shrubbery was planted by Sir Michael and Lady Octavia and contained many interesting varieties of Rhododendrons and other ornamental shrubs. A photograph taken in 1889 shows the broad grass walk laid out along the ridge with the newly planted young ornamental trees, including cedar and Sequoias. The Gardeners' Chronicle article of 1901 describes the magnificent broad terrace and the 'well-kept flower garden' in the parterre to the south- west of the house. There were 'great yews, similar in shape to a horse-shoe, with a garden seat in the recess so formed, also other stone-like hedges that the late Duke of Devonshire used to term evergreen buttresses'.

In Edwardian times the formal garden was laid out as a rose garden with hybrid tea roses in formal beds with a central sundial feature. Vernon Russell-Smith has redesigned these gardens and they are currently being relaid. Many ornamental trees and shrubs remain alongside the Broad Walk and these include Eucryphia, Cercidiphyllum and Azaleas. The banks of the ridge support many wildflowers and spring bulbs, particularly the snowdrops which were illustrated in Sir Herbert Maxwell's book. The shrubberies were separated from the parks by ha-has. The Golden Garden lies to the north of the park and was put in on the occasion of Sir Hugh and Lady Alice's Golden Wedding.

Walled Gardens

The 3.5 acre kitchen gardens were put in to the south of the castle ridge in the first half of the 19th century and are shown on the lst edition map. The walled garden is an unusual lozenge shape and vegetable crops were grown outside the walls over a further 1.25 acres. In 1901 there was a 'spacious central wall, trimmed yews and a magnificent ribbon border' two hundred yards long which was planted with Alyssum, Pelargonium and Ageratum. There were four good sized greenhouses with a porch in the centre. A circular walk surrounded the walled garden and could be overlooked from the castle above. Since World War II the gardens have been let as a market garden and, more recently, as a tree nursery.



Printed Sources

GC, Oct 26th 1901Millar, Castles & Mansions of Renfrewshire, 1889Herbert Maxwell, Scottish Gardens, 1911Plans at ArdgowanGroome'sListingsNMRS, Photographs

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.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

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Printed: 15/06/2021 07:44