Ardchattan Priory Garden forms the grounds of Ardchattan House, close to the north shore of Loch Etive some five miles inland from its mouth near the Connel Bridge. The garden is open to visitors for part of the year - see the information linked on the right - while Ardchattan House itself is a private residence and not open to visitors: the same is true of cottages in the grounds. The ruins of Ardchattan Priory, which stand beside the main house, are in the care of Historic Environment Scotland and are also open to visitors. See our separate feature about Ardchattan Priory for further information.
Just north of the Connel Bridge a minor single track road turns off the A828 and heads east along the north shore of Loch Etive. If you are in doubt, the brown tourist sign directing visitors to Ardchattan Priory is reassuring. En route you pass Ardchattan Kirk. You know when you've arrived at the garden from the fine stone gateway on the north side of the road. The visitor car park is just inside the gates on the left.
Ardchattan Priory was founded in 1231, and it is certain that there would have been gardens here from that time onwards. Initially these would have been established to provide food for the religious community. The priory ceased to function as such following the Reformation in 1560, and thereafter the garden primarily served what developed into Ardchattan House. Ardchattan Priory Garden as you see it today began to emerge from the early 1900s, in the hands, or perhaps that should be in the green fingers, of the current owner's grandmother and then father, both of whom were very enthusiastic gardeners..
Ardchattan Priory Garden occupies a very gently sloping site a few feet above sea level on the north shore of Loch Etive. It has free draining gravelly soil, and neutral acidity/alkalinity. The climate is fairly damp, with up to 80 inches of rainfall each year, and while the Gulf Stream tends to keep winters fairly mild, there can be severe frosts from time to time. The philosophy used is to play to the garden's strengths, though rhododendrons and azaleas are present despite the absence of an acid soil. The garden is managed by just one full time gardener, something you find increasingly impressive as the size of the garden becomes clear during your visit.
From the visitor car park the drive leads towards Ardchattan House. The garden is divided into three main areas, and one of them lies either side of the drive. To the north, a rectangular projection sticks out towards the foot of the hills that climb steadily to over 1100ft in not much more than a horizontal mile. If you head in this direction you pass through a shrub garden into an area occupied primarily by bulbs and wild flowers, and over 30 varieties of sorbus trees.
At the northern extremity of the garden is a rather fine monkey puzzle tree. Heading back towards the rear of the house you pass the entrance to some apparently disused tennis courts and the rectangular depression that was once home to the monks' pond, used to hold fish caught in Loch Etive and intended for the priory table. The monk's pond was drained when the garden was developed in its modern form to avoid it becoming an attraction to midges.
You then arrive at the working areas of the garden, home to greenhouses and what seems to be a kitchen garden.
To the right of the drive leading from the car park to Ardchattan House, you find many of the garden's azaleas and rhododendrons, surrounding an area that is home to a profusion of daffodils in Spring. Another highlight is a large rose climbing a yew tree. Following the Monks' Walk which runs parallel to the front wall of the garden (and the road beyond it) brings you to the edge of the more formal part of the garden, which covers the ground to the south and south-east of Ardchattan House. There is a slight moment of "should I be here" as you set foot on the wonderful gently sloping lawn, but yes, this part of the garden is open to the public.
The lawn is separated from the wilder part of the garden by a broad herbaceous border, running downhill from the south-west corner of the house. The far side of the lawn is punctuated by a shrub border, while the area to the east of the house and south of the priory ruins is home to a rockery and a rose garden.
Ardchattan Garden has been designed to put on a show throughout the summer half of the year, though it is perhaps at its best when the bulbs are flowering in spring, or when the roses are in bloom. The gardens are suitable for wheelchair users, though some of the grass paths may become soft after very wet weather.