The story of Inverewe Garden is fascinating, almost like a fairytale which might begin in the traditional way, ‘Once upon a time, a small willow tree stood all by itself on a heather moorland in the Highlands of Scotland’. Indeed that was the only tree to be seen in 1862 when the founder of the garden, Osgood Mackenzie, began the long task of making Inverewe, a task which occupied him until his death in 1922, by which time the willow had disappeared, replaced by Scots and Corsican pine trees.
Mrs Mairi Sawyer, his daughter, continued the development of the garden during her lifetime and in 1952, one year before her death, she placed her life’s work and that of her father’s in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, together with an endowment for its upkeep. It was her wish that the garden should always be a source of pleasure for all those who were willing to travel to this remote corner of the Western Highlands. In 1952, visitors numbered about 3,000 a year while today’s visitor numbers are well over 120,000.
The Inverewe peninsula is a mass of red Torridonian sandstone. A hundred years ago it was almost devoid of vegetation apart from some stunted heather and still shorter crowberry. The only soil was the rawest, acid black peat, varying from an inch to two or three feet in depth. In the early stages of developing the garden, soil had to be carried in creels to provide beds for plants. Because of its exposed position, the peninsula catches nearly every gale that blows and it is continually being soused with salt spray. To counter the more vicious of the elements there is the benevolent, warm flow of air emanating from the Gulf Stream. This temperate influence has been an important factor in the development of the garden.
This is an amazing garden with a tremendous range of plants and trees. No fewer than 477 are listed in the beautifully prepared guide book, which takes one on a tour of the garden.
The National Collection of the little rock plant, orisia, is held at Inverewe, where it is at home in moist, peaty shade.