LAYERS OF HISTORY
The house at Glenarn was built in 1849 as a summer residence by Andrew Macgeorge, a lawyer from Glasgow. The First Edition Ordinance Survey map shows that by 1860 he had laid out the grounds with a network of paths that we walk on today. This was not so much a garden, more a miniature estate of 12 acres, a little piece of Scotland, mainly planted with indigenous trees and a few exotics from abroad.
Glenarn remained in the Macgeorge family until 1921 when it was acquired by Mr Smith of Maryhill in Glasgow, an engineer about whom we know little. In 1927 the property was sold to James Bogle Gibson of Portencross in Ayrshire. He died before the transaction was completed and Glenarn was made over to his eldest son Archie who, like his younger brother Sandy, was training to be an accountant.
The story is told of a storm in February 1928 blowing over 60 trees at Glenarn. The two brothers cleared the wreckage and, in the space created, planted rhododendrons. The reality is more complex. John Holms of Formakin, an acquaintance from Ayrshire days, took the two young men under his wing and introduced them to major land owners in Scotland, such as Lord Stair at Lochinch and the Balfour family at Dawyk, who were subscribing to the plant hunting expeditions of George Forrest in China. The brothers would go off at weekends, talk about rhododendrons with their hosts and return with a trailer load of plants for the garden.
From these beginnings, and using the underlying Victorian structure, the Gibsons created a West Coast garden, with rhododendrons but also magnolias and maples, as well as southern hemisphere plants such as embothriums and crinodendrons, and also eucryphias that provide so much interest later in the season. By 1939 they had laid out a rock garden in the quarry (which originally had provided the building stone for the house) and maintained a large vegetable patch, overseen by their gardener.
When we saw Glenarn in 1983 Sandy Gibson had died the previous year, pre-deceased by his brother in 1975. The house was run down and the garden fabulously overgrown. We reduced the house to a more manageable size and over the years gradually rebuilt the garden structures. We set about restoring the garden, conserving, and propagating, expanding and recording its collections of plants, work that continues every day.