Gardens: Ardchattan Priory garden makes the most of its monastic heritage
A raised beach, loch views and mild, damp climate prompted monks to establish Argyll priory and garden
The drive from North Connel to Ardchattan Priory in Argyll, along the shores of Loch Etive, gives you some idea as to why the French order of Valliscaulian monks chose this wonderful site to establish their priory in 1230. On a raised beach with views over the loch, the neutral soil, coupled with the mild, damp climate, enjoys ideal conditions for raising vegetables and nectar-producing flowers.
Eight hundred years on and very little has changed. The ruined chapel and the surrounding graveyard are in the care of Historic Scotland, and can be viewed along with the garden. The priory, converted after the Reformation into a house, remains a private home but the scenery is remarkably unchanged.
Although the garden is planned for year-round interest – spring bulbs succeed azaleas and autumn is a spectacular time – in summer it celebrates the glory of its herbaceous borders and walls festooned with roses.
Sarah Troughton, the present incumbent, whose father and grandmother also tended this garden, explains that Ardchattan’s situation on a raised beach is the reason for the neutral, free-draining soil. “Unlike most Argyll gardens, it is not especially suited to rhododendrons and other ericaceous plants because it lacks acidity.” The mild west coast climate also supports tender plants such as creamy-flowered Eucryphia glutinosa and Cornus kousa, its cousin C florida and white-flowered Hoheria lyallii.
The existing structure, with its herbaceous borders, rose beds, shrubs and ornamental trees, dates from the early 1900s, when Sarah’s grandmother lived at Ardchattan. The grounds are entered via a left turn from the narrow road, into a small parking area opposite a fine Cornus kousa. The walk up the drive is planted with sorbus, azalea and roses, backed with a wildflower meadow.
The heart of Ardchattan remains the priory and its surrounding garden, where cordylines lend an exotic air to the borders. The vegetation has not been allowed to obscure the loch views, which remain of central importance: framed with a palate of summer flowers. Walls festooned with roses and beds of shrubs set off terraced lawns flanked with deep borders. “Roses do well as long as the rain doesn’t destroy their flowers. I tend to go for single or semi-double flowers as these survive the rain better,” Sarah explains. These include red Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’, R glauca and pink-washed R ‘Penelope’.
“Colour combinations are important, as is suitability to soil and weather conditions – we have nearly 80 inches of rain a year, but it’s generally quite mild.” As an example, she cites dianthus combined with R Glauca, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and Hosta sieboldiana. Delphiniums and aconitum. Some of the garden names reflect its monastic beginnings: Monk’s Pond (though there is no water in it as it would be a magnet for midges, which are thankfully few) and Prior’s Walk. k
Ardchattan Priory, North Connel, Argyll, is open under Scotland’s Gardens Scheme on Sunday 29 July, 12pm-4pm (www.gardens-of-argyll.co.uk; www.gardensofscotland.org). Lunch and teas will be available, plus stalls, music and other attractions. The garden is also open with an honesty box from until 31 October. There is disabled access to most of the garden, except in wet weather. Dogs are welcome on leads
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