A Romantic Scottish Island Garden
Anyone going to the ravishingly beautiful Isle of Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides this August should make a beeline for Torosay Castle. Just a few minutes drive from the ferry at Craignure, it is one of the most beguiling and romantic gardens I have ever visited. If walking appeals there is a good path from Craignure through woodland to ,the castle. Since it changed ownership a couple of years ago it is now only open sporadically the next occasion being on August the 7th. It is also open on 2nd October. For details see: www.scotlandsgardens.org.
The twelve acre gardens are notable for the formal terraces designed c.1897 by that excellent architect Sir Robert Lorimer (1864-1929). A series of balustraded terraces descend from the castle to a large lawn. The castle is a fine example of the Scots Baronial style. It was designed by David Bryce and completed in 1858. Lorimer is often referred to as the Scottish counterpart to Sir Edwin Lutyens. From the main terrace the view over to Duart Castle is breathtakingly thrilling for those who love a good Scottish castle.
(I do as can be testified by my book ‘Twentieth Century Castles in Britain published by Frances Lincoln). Interestingly at the time Lorimer was drawing up his plans for Torosay, Duart was a desolate ruin. It was rebuilt a few years later by Sir Fitzroy Maclean and was the backdrop for a symbolicly charged clan gathering just before the First World War.
Oh to be designing a grand garden at the beginning of the 20th-century when antique sculptures were widely avaible and there wasn’t the horrid threat of theft hanging over them. One of the most striking features of Torosay is the Statue Walk of nineteen limestone statues by the Italian sculptor Antonio Bonazza 1698-1763. The statues were acquired by the then owner of Torosay, Walter Murray Guthrie from a derelict garden on the outskirts of Padua in Italy and shipped to Scotland for next to nothing as ballast in a cargo ship.At the same period, William Waldorf Astor was also busy accumulating an extensive collection of antique Italian sculptures for his 125 acre pleasure gardens at Hever Castle, Kent,’Over the past 40 years Italy has been picked clean as a bone’ he wrote in a letter to Lady Sackville in 1913. There is a restrained Edwardian confidence to Lorimer’s transformation of the garden at Torosay which still delights a century or so on.
The lavish drifts of plants such as hostas, rodergsias and primulas are on a scale that I have hardly ever encountered elsewhere. No doubt the heavy rainfall and temperate climate are both contributing factors.
The garden is divided up into several different parts including a walled garden with vegetables and a Japanese garden. There is a good collection of hydrangeas which thrive in Mull’s weather. It is a stunning garden and well worth visiting.
Torosay is next open on the 7th August 10am-5pm.