Threave Gardens lies just to the south west of Castle Douglas and is clearly signposted off the B736 as it makes its way into the town from the A75 bypass.
The gardens were originally established alongside Threave House, built in 1872 on rising land to the east of the valley of the River Dee and commanding excellent views west to the hills of Galloway. Threave House was built by William Gordon, a Liverpool businessman who had bought the Threave Estate as a summer home for his extensive family in 1867. He preferred this location for the house to the lower parts of the estate extending to the River Dee and including Threave Island and Threave Castle.
The house and estate were passed to the National Trust for Scotland by William's bachelor grandson, Major Alan Gordon, in 1948. The NTS have since continued to maintain and develop the 24 hectares of gardens around Threave House as a visitor attraction. The gardens also serve as a live classroom for the NTS's School of Practical Gardening, which offers much sought after one year courses in the practical skills of amenity gardening.
The course is based in Threave House, part of which has been converted into flats for students. The public rooms at Threave House have been restored much as they would have been in 1938, and guided tours are available to the public from March to October: see details on the right.
The gardens are sited amid generally west sloping wooded parkland. They make no attempt to reflect any particular period of the gardens' history, instead serving the expectations of today's visitors and the needs of the School of Practical Gardening.
Visitors enter the garden via the Visitor Centre, built around its attractively cone-roofed centrepiece. The Visitor Centre includes a large restaurant, display areas, gift shop and a garden centre.
Once in the garden itself your attention is drawn first to the Countryside Centre housed in the beautifully restored stable block of Threave House. The house itself is located in the upper reaches of the gardens, where the views are best.
To the west of the Countryside Centre is the one acre walled garden built to provide Threave House with fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. The original glasshouse in the walled garden had coal fires built into its hollow walls to help extend the season over which useful produce could be grown. The current glasshouse was built in 1997 and includes three temperature zones. The cool house is home to rhododendrons from Asia, while the tropical house contains orchids, bananas and bird-of-paradise plants.
Elsewhere you find a series of discrete gardens. These include the Secret Garden, accessible via a laburnum arch; a peat garden; a rock garden; a rose garden; a woodland garden and the pond and waterfall. The Discovery Garden is designed to inspire children with its mown grass paths leading through wild flower meadows.