The Early History of The Garden
Larachmhor is first named on a map in 1748 in David Bruce’s Statistical Account as the “wood of Larachmhor”. After 1722 a great clearance of timber took place as Clanranald tried to recoup his fortunes. All trees of suitable size except in the “policies”-gardens for the big house were cut and burned for charcoal. There is a record of 400 dozen (4,800) sacks of charcoal exported annually to Maryport in Cumbria for iron smelting. Later the same Cumbrian family, Ainsworth, was smelting iron at Furnace, by Inverary, and there were similar operations at Bonawe near Oban.
In 1790 Larachmhor is shown on a contemporary map as a “garden”; it was probably used as a kitchen garden for the big house. In 1801 Ranald George MacDonald, Chief of Clanranald, built a Georgian mansion where Glen Cottage now stands. Originally called Arisaig House, it was later named Glen House. It was eventually demolished after a fire, except for a later extension which forms today’s Glen Cottage. Due to financial mismanagement the house and lands changed hands three times before coming into the possession of the Astley family.
The Larachmhor Garden continued to be used as a kitchen garden and nursery; probably laid out in the mid-19th century, it was arranged in six compartments divided by paths. This area was surrounded by further regular plots, and the valley sides were covered with semi-natural woodland and a few planted hardwoods and conifers.
The Involvement of
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
By the early 1960’s the estate owner, Miss Becher begin to rationalise the holdings, selling off Arisaig House and its fine gardens, and developing an estate base in the coastal hamlet of Drimindarroch. She also advertised the garden at Larachmhor for sale or rent. The road to the Isles was a frequent early summer expedition for RBGE plant enthusiasts who would take in the exclusive site of the Alpine Diapensia lapponica, on the summit of Fraoch Bheinn, above Glenfinnan, some 10 miles back along the road. Thus in late 1961 a group of RBGE staff became aware of and initiated enquiries about the prospect of taking on the garden. On 17th May 1962 a seven year lease was signed, and Larachmhor Garden came into the care of the RBGE team, coordinated by Ian Hedge (RBGE SE Asian botanist, herbarium Curator, and now in his 80’s) active RBGE research associate.
Ever since, a progressively evolving group of current and former staff and their collaborators have enjoyed the privilege of escaping to the sanctuary of this enchanting place to work the garden and savour its unique setting and thoroughly wild plantings.
By the beginning of the 1990’s the mantle passed to a new generation of wild place enthusiasts, coordinated by Alan Bennell (RBGE sometime mycologist, and Head of Visitor Services) who with Curator, Ian Sinclair (ex BBG Garden Supervisor) and (invalided) Techniclal Adviser, Neil Claughan (Ex EBG Arbor team supervisor, and latterly head gardener NTS Fyvie Castle) who continue to keep the dream alive.
The vital RBGE connection remains, and was essential in persuading the new estate owner in 1997 (Rhu Estate is now the property of Monsieur and Mme Namy), to continue the unique relationship by which the garden is sustained. It was also seminally important in diverting the upgraded A 830, that might otherwise have carved a course through the heart of the site.
Into the 21st Century
In spite of storm, floods, fire, roadworks and the ongoing incursions of deer, dogs and the occasional rogue human, Larachmhor Garden is growing strongly into the 21st century, as we start to look towards involving another new generation taking up its splendidly rewarding challenges.
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The truly exotic character of Larachmhor was instigated by the redoubtable John Holmes, Renfrewshire businessman, entrepreneur, art collector, and above all maniacal ‘Rhodoholic’. Tired of the limitation of building a fine collection of rhododendrons on his estate at Formakin, near Houston, he scoured the west coast for 8 years, until he settled on the favoured ground of Larachmhor, with its valuable adjacent railway link (Arisaig station is a few hundred metres away).
From 1927 until his death in 1938 he planted extensively around the site, shipping in great collections he amassed from fellow landowners around the UK, from seminal collecting trips (incl. George Forrest) and from specialist nurseries. Alas his Robert Lorimer designed house overlooking part of the garden was never completed, and remains as an eerie ruin.
Early in his planting he had recruited as gardener, John Brennan, a first world war invalid originally from Ulster and who had worked at Arduaine. Brennan was set up in a basic two room bothy, with a fire and using water from the burn. Residing in ‘Brennan’s Hut’ he continued to maintain the garden and undertake other work locally, where he was a well liked character, until his demise in 1959. Thereafter the garden became neglected and overgrown.