Scotto had a birthday recently and both our mums, knowing how much we both treasure presents that are experiences, rather than things, and remembering what it’s like to be away from family, gave him some money towards something that we’d love and remember in years to come- a fantastic daylong boat trip to Lunga and Staffa to see the thousands of puffins and other seabirds nesting on the tiny islands, as well as seal pups, amazing landscapes and the famous Fingal’s Cave!
We hired a car for a couple of nights and headed up to Oban, pitching our tent in the beautiful Sutherland’s Grove, a small forestry park with a towering stand of Douglas firs, some up to 45m and planted in 1870. We snuck in a quick walk in the twilight, soaking in the damp beauty of the place, before the rain set in. It continued all night and, although snug and dry in our tent, we woke up with a nagging suspicion that things might not be looking so bright for our day on the boat! Alas, the notoriously wet west coast weather had set in for a good few days and the tour was cancelled… SO sad. Still, there is a reason why Scotland is so beautiful and mossy and green and it requires giving up the expectation of reliable good weather and we’re getting used to that! So the puffin plans are on hold until next spring ; )
As we’ve already spent a bit of time in Oban, we decided to head down into Argyll Forest to have a wander through its stunning oak forests and rivers and to see if we could get to Benmore Botanic Gardens, a place I’d heard about and had been keen to visit… Benmore is a part of the RBGEdinburgh, a place envisioned for species of plants better suited to this wet coastline than Edinburgh; it houses many species of conifers and broadleaf trees from western USA, Asia and Europe and extensive collections from Japan, Bhutan, Chile and even Tasmania. A major drawcard to the gardens is the amazing avenue of Giant Redwoods which were planted here in 1863 and stand at over 50m…
And there are many other younger redwoods planted across the gardens, ensuring an ongoing population here- not that there is any expectation of the older specimens dyeing anytime soon as they can live up to 3000 years!
I always enjoy seeing species that I’m familiar with a very different habit to normal; this English Oak is growing amongst quite tall firs and spruces, which has encouraged the development of a tall, straight trunk with very little branching. And, interestingly, the bark on the lower branches is white and thin, almost like a birch and very unlike the grey, fissured bark usually seen on this species…
Benmore is particularly known for its rhododendron collection, not a genus I’ve been particularly interested in in the past… I’ve always found the highly hybridised cultivars that we see in Australian and UK gardens pretty gaudy and also very blobby in the landscape but here there were some beautifully slender silhouettes and really interesting foliage. I think I need to add it to next spring’s calendar as I suspect that the flowers on some of these may be much more subtle and beautiful than the ones I’ve seen before!
It was a real treat for us to discover the Tasmanian collection and to wander through the eucalypts, cedars, and southern beeches and to smell the lovely heavy fragrance of Eucryphia lucida, which is used to make our distinctive leatherwood honey… I miss the flora of Australia!
And the fernery… the subject of an 18-month project involving the renovation of the Victorian building that had fallen into terrible condition, the fernery is beautiful in and of itself but also forms a great method of display for its collection- I was really excited to see ferns growing all the way up the stone walls on protruding stones and plinths. The collection is still in its development stage and I think it will be an amazing and innovative display in years to come.
The gardens are open from March 1 to October 31 and I’d really recommend including them in a trip to the west coast. If you’re interested in visiting and are also into walking, CowalFest, a local festival of walking and the outdoors in the first two weeks of October, is offering a number of walks combining the gardens with the surrounding landscapes.