Location and Setting
Benmore Estate lies in the valley of Loch Eck and the River Eachaig, some 7 miles (11.5km) north-west of the town of Dunoon. The River Massan flows from the west of the estate into the River Eachaig south of Benmore House. The slopes of the valley are generally steep to the north and west of Benmore House, descending to a floodplain at the confluence of the rivers to the south, which in turn flow towards the Holy Loch and the Firth of Clyde beyond. The underlying rocks are mainly metamorphic, quartzites and schists with some igneous intrusions. Soils are of the loam type with peat overlays in places.
The area has a very high rainfall, c. 80-90" on average, and this, with the acid soil conditions, makes it a particularly suitable site for successful conifer establishment. Views south-east to the Holy Loch are gained from the western side of the valley above Benmore House. The house and parkland are moderately significant from the A815 which lies to the east of the River Eachaig. The diverse selection of conifers in the woodland garden is outstanding viewed against the surrounding forests.
Benmore House sits on the west side of Strath Eachaig just north of the confluence of the Rivers Eachaig and Massan. It is surrounded to the north and west by coniferous woodlands. Parkland extends to the south and east, beyond the River Eachaig and the A815 to the edge of Uig Wood. Excellent views are gained across the parkland from high ground to the north-west of the house, and to the Holy Loch and beyond. The estate covers some 10,200 acres (4,131ha) following its expansion in the late 19th century with the purchase of the neighbouring estates of Bernice and Kilmun. Comparison of the 1st edition OS map of 1868 and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1910 confirms that major woodland planting was carried out during this time; driveways were altered and the walled and woodland gardens were established to the north-east of the house. Today the extent of the designed landscape which covers some 929 acres (376ha) remains similar to that shown on the 1st edition OS map.
Benmore has been largely developed since 1820 with the commencement of the forestry planting. Successive owners have contributed to the development. There are no known design plans for the policies and historical map evidence is confined to the OS maps of 1868 and c.1910. Early photographs are in the possession of the current owners.
The lands of Benmore originally belonged to the Campbells of Ballochyle. The development of the estate as seen today began c.1820 when large quantities of Scots pine, spruce and larch were planted in what is said to be the first coniferous plantation in the Cowal Peninsula. The estate had several owners before being purchased c.1863 by Piers Patrick who built the tower of the present house and began to develop the garden including the planting of the Sequoia Avenue, before he sold the estate to James Duncan in 1870. Duncan bought the Benmore, Kilmun and Bernice Estates simultaneously and planted extensively throughout and was largely responsible for the layout which remains today. Development was continued by Mr H.J. Younger who purchased the estate in 1889 and by his son, H.G. Younger, who donated the Estate to the nation in 1928. A Trust Fund was formed which still helps to support the garden today. The woodlands, which form the major part of the estate, are managed by the Forestry Commission. Some 120 acres (50ha) form the Younger Botanic Garden, an annexe of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and contain the collection of trees and shrubs collected by Mr H.G. Younger. Benmore House is now owned by Lothian Regional Council and is maintained as an Outdoor Centre for school children.
Benmore House, listed C(S), was begun in 1862 to the Baronial designs of Glasgow architect Charles Wilson and completed by his partner and successor, David Thomson, in 1874. A picture gallery added during the second phase was later removed. The Steading, listed C(S), was built in the Baronial style c.1874 and is at present being restored. The East Lodge, gates and railings, listed C(S), were also built in 1874. The walled garden is late 19th century and the garden house was also built around this time.
The Bayley Balfour Memorial Hut was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer and is panelled with wood representing every variety of timber grown at Benmore. It was built by Mr H.G. Younger to commemorate the achievements of James Duncan on the estate and dedicated to Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour. It was originally sited in Puck's Glen but was moved to the walled garden to prevent further vandalism.
The fernery, now derelict, is situated on the southern slope of Benmore Hill Wood. The 'Golden Gates' were purchased by James Duncan in Paris in 1871. The fountain in the pond, to the south of the walled garden, is of German origin and dated 1875. The modern sundial in the walled garden commemorates Harold Fletcher, 1907-78. The Sir William Wright-Smith Memorial Hut stands at the Viewpoint above Benmore House.
The parkland lies to the east and south of Benmore House. Reference to the 1st edition OS map of 1868 shows the park to extend further north than at present, up to the edge of the drive on the south side of the house and over the site of what is now the walled garden. A small nursery garden shown on the western boundary of the parkland at this time had gone by the time of the 2nd edition OS of c.1910 as had a driveway running almost due north/south through the park. Also between c.1850- 1910, the park had been extended east, across the River Eachaig to Eckford House and the edge of Uig Wood. Since 1910, the main A815 Dunoon-Arrochar road has bisected this area of parkland. Trees in the main parkland include beech, copper beech and lime, dating largely from c.1870.
Major planting of forest trees is known to have been carried out in c.1820 by Ross Wilson in what are thought to be the first coniferous plantations on the Cowal Peninsula. Extensive planting of almost 6.5 million trees was completed between 1870 and 1883 of which records remain. Of these woodlands, only Cruach Wood and the lower slopes of Uig from Black Gates to Eckford remain intact today, to the north of Benmore House. In 1929, Mr H.G. Younger gifted over 10,000 acres of woodland to the Forestry Commission on condition that they should be devoted to afforestation and the advancement of silviculture and botany. Species are largely coniferous and, since their acquisition, the Forestry Commission has further extended the woodlands.
Puck's Glen, outwith the main designed landscape, is part of Uig Wood and lies approximately 1km south of Benmore House to the east of the A815 amid Uig Wood. The Forestry Commission dedicated the area to the memory of Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour and planted coniferous trees on either side of the gorge. The Forest Garden is being established at Rashfield, south of Puck's Glen for the purpose of producing a variety of forest crops in a small area.
The shrubbery area lies to the north-east of Benmore House, between the park and the walled garden and to the south-west on the low-lying area between the house and the Golden Gates. It is based on a fine collection of trees and shrubs established by Mr H.G. Younger. Since the garden became associated with the RBG, Edinburgh, a large number of Rhododendron species have been added to the collection, further enhancing the display. Here, and in other parts of the garden, the Rhododendrons are planted in series.
The pond garden lies to the south of the walled garden and has been established since the early 1900s. Primulas, Azaleas and Hostas are massed around the edge of the pond and on the island. The island is dominated by a magnificent Cercididphyllum japonicum.
To the west of the pond, a set of stepping stones crosses the stream to the Azalea Lawn. Beside these stones are groups of Hostas and Primulas. To the west of the formal garden walls are specimens Fitzroya cupressoides, Liriodendron tulipifera and Magnolia obovata, which are surrounded by groups of shrubs including Skimmia japonica, Kalmia latifolia, Enkianthus campanulatus and Rosa moyesii. The Younger Memorial Walk runs along the edge of the park to the south-west of the Pond. It includes many specimen trees and shrubs planted by Mr Younger in 1916 including Davidia invoLand Use Consultantsrata and Halesia monticola. Recent additions have further enhanced the area.
To the west of the house stands a specimen of Western Hemlock (Tsugaheterophylla), thought to be the tallest in Britain. Beyond it and to the south is a group of Scots pines which are the oldest trees in the garden, having been planted in 1820. Rhododendrons in this area include those of the subsections Pontica and Irrorata as well as a specimen R. montroseanum `Benmore' which received a first class certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1959.
The woodland garden was established on the hill to the north of Benmore House within a tree canopy which dated from the 19th century. A path leads up the hill past many interesting plants. On the lower slopes, hybrid rhododendrons were established and have since naturalised. The path crosses the Wild Bank which is covered with plants such as Rhododendron rubiginosum, R. coccinum and R. oreotrephes as well as other specimens of Hypericum patulum, Abutilon vitifolium and Hydrangea paniculata. As it climbs, the path passes rowans and fir trees, below which are clumps of Rhododendrons of the Subsection Fortunea. The Viewpoint is situated at the high point of the path where Rhododendrons of Subsection Triflora are established. To the south of the viewpoint, the path descends past Kurume and Glenn Dale Azaleas and Rhododendrons of Subsections Cinnabarina, Barbata, Glischra, Falconera, Grandia and Maddenia.
The formal garden is situated within the walls of the former kitchen garden which extends over some 4 acres (1.6ha) to the north-east of Benmore House. The western side of the garden is open, enclosed only by the slopes of the hill. The garden was built in the latter half of the 19th century in an area of former parkland to the south of the offices. Its original layout of paths is indicated on the 2nd edition OS map; a broad walk running almost due north/south divided the garden in two. The area to the west of this walk was further subdivided into two smaller compartments by a path on the west/east axis which led to a range of glasshouses on the western boundary. A 19th century photograph shows this extensive range of glass which was built by James Duncan. By the early 1900s, most of it had been reduced to ruin; the remainder was lost in the gales of 1968.
The area to the east of the main north/south path was subdivided into four compartments by intersecting paths. These paths were flanked by deep herbaceous borders backed by yew trees. An ornamental fountain formed the central feature.
Since being acquired by the Royal Botanic Garden, the walled garden has ceased to serve its purpose of providing flowers and fruit for the house. It has been developed as a formal garden devoted to the display of varieties and cultivars of conifers suited for small garden situations. These plants, interspersed with other flowering shrubs, are grown in rectangular beds on either side of the original footpath system which has been maintained. Climbing plants and shrubs grow along the inner walls of the garden, among them Ceanothus 'Henri Desfosse', Callistemon citrinus, Scizandra henryi, Trachelospermum jasminioides and Berberidopsis corallina. A greenhouse remains against the south wall of the garden, adjacent to the Gardener's House. The remainder of the garden has been put down to close-mown lawn.
The Pinetum lies to the south-east of the walled garden and was planted by James Duncan in the late 19th century. It contains an interesting range of conifers, many of which are particularly fine examples of their species, eg Abies nordmanniana. The Abies densa is in the Chinese firs planting to the south of Benmore House. The Sequoia Avenue which lined the former main drive to Benmore House was planted c.1865 by Piers Patrick. In the understorey of the Pinetum are Rhododendrons of subsection Fulva, interplanted with several species of spruce (Picea).
The Arboretum was established originally by James Duncan on the lower slopes of Benmore Hill Wood at the south-western boundary of the designed landscape. Most of the original trees have now gone however. Additional exotic trees followed major clearance work of the understorey in the 1920-30s and at present the area is again being developed. To the north of the old arboretum boundary was the Fernery, a small building nestled against a rock outcrop of the hill. It is now derelict but many ferns, including some rare varieties, are now established in the ground flora.