Importance of Site
A site included in the Inventory is assessed for its condition and integrity and for its level of importance. The criteria used are set out in Annex 5 of the Scottish Historic Environment Policy (December 2011). The principles are represented by the following value-based criteria and we have assigned a value for each on a scale ranging from outstanding value to no value. Criteria not applicable to a particular site have been omitted. All sites included in the Inventory are considered to be of national importance.
Work of Art
National press and magazine articles commend The Linn not only for its outstanding botanic collection, but also for the overall design of the gardens, which incorporates and accentuates the natural, dramatic topography of the site (see 'References').
The Linn is a rare example of a small, privately-owned garden created by two family members, which nevertheless meets internationally-agreed standards for a botanic garden collection. Its development is well charted in press accounts, and through the owners' own cataloguing system and newsletters.
Horticultural, Arboricultural, Silvicultural
The botanic collection has a good representation of wild origin material of known provenance, together with eight recorded champion trees. The collection is diverse, well-documented and well-maintained, and contains some unusual and rare species, several of which are endangered in the wild.
The gardens form the setting for a category B listed Victorian villa.
The gardens are mainly enclosed and inward-looking, however some scenic value derives from the tree-canopy which merges with surrounding garden trees and woodland groups in this part of Cove, and which offers a more distinct contrast to the open pasture to the east of the site.
The Meikle Burn has been designated as a Local Nature Conservation Site. Meanwhile, the diverse range of garden areas (woodland, ponds, fast flowing water etc) provides distinct habitat types within a relatively small area.
At present, value in this category derives only from the potential for future survey or investigation to reveal further information about the landscape over time.
Linn Botanic Garden was established via the combined efforts of two generations of the Taggart family. In 1971, Dr Jim Taggart, a botanist and one-time lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, purchased the property and set about transforming the steep and rocky garden grounds that surround the hill-top Victorian villa. In 1997, his son, James Taggart, assumed responsibility, and the gardens continue to grow and evolve under his stewardship.
Prior to this intense period of development, the gardens had retained a conventional, unprepossessing character, and were mainly confined to the more level grounds around the house. Linn villa itself had been built in 1860, perched on a cliff above the other loch-shore villas. Constructed to designs by William Motherwell, it was in keeping with the emerging architectural character of Cove, where wealthy businessmen from Glasgow were erecting grand summer residences in plots leased from the Duke of Argyll. A lawn extended downslope from the west elevation of the house, while to the south-west, the cliff-edge was just metres from the house. By the end of the 19th century, the acquisition of more land to the north-west provided opportunity for a fruit and vegetable garden with associated rectilinear path structure aligned south-east to north-west. A hard tennis court and a croquet green were established on the same alignment in the early years of the 20th century. The house was built for James and Agnes Martin, and the Martin family remained at The Linn up until the mid-20th century. Two further changes in ownership had little impact on the structure of the garden grounds, and the path arrangement described above persisted until the 1970s.
In 1971, Jim Taggart commenced his garden project at The Linn. A botanist by profession, Dr Taggart also came from a horticultural family. His mother had run a branch of the Scottish Rock Garden Club for Cove and Kilcreggan, and had enjoyed participating in various seed exchanges. Now, with a new garden setting, Dr Taggart was able to find a home for a long-established and expanding family plant collection, including some from a now lost garden at Trinity College, Dublin, and could begin plans for his own collection of choice and unusual taxa. His first acts of garden making were to let in light and make room around the house by removing surplus trees and hedges, and to align the former path structure with the long west façade of the house. This involved constructing a terrace around the south and west of the building.
The dramatic and precipitous landscape setting, together with the temperate Gulf Stream conditions, proved ideal for the establishment of different and successful garden areas. During the 1970s and 1980s, Dr Taggart removed decades worth of accumulated debris from the Meikle Burn gully, extended plantings of tender shrubs and trees down the steep banks, and created water features in the lowest part of the gardens to help solve flooding and drainage problems. Meanwhile, the botanical collection grew apace, with species sourced from China, Peru and the Himalayas. Opened to the public from 1974, Linn began to attract attention in the press and the horticultural world as a garden of special interest, and a valuable visitor attraction.
In 1997, Jim Taggart transferred responsibility for the gardens to his son, James Taggart. Also a botanist, James grew up with the garden projects of his father, and had begun collecting plants from the age of five. In 1995, he joined an expedition to Yunnan Province in China, returning to The Linn with the seeds of some 450 plants. With his new role established at Linn, there came recognition that the gardens were by now a significant and maturing repository of plants and trees, many of which were endangered in the wild, and in 1999, the gardens were renamed as a botanic garden. This entailed a greater focus on plant documentation, labelling, and educational access, and one of James' key tasks since then has been to align the older paper records with modern systems of cataloguing. Meanwhile, other projects have included the creation of a New Zealand heath (2005), the development of a significant fern collection, and the ongoing acquisition of rare or special plants from around the world that are rarely seen in cultivation, including a tree fern (Blechnum palmiforme) from the remote South Atlantic Gough Island (Taggart 2009).
At the time of writing (2012), there are in excess of 8000 taxa at Linn, including over 200 rhododendrons, (plus numerous named and unnamed hybrids). This almost certainly represents the greatest diversity of species per area in Scotland. Furthermore, despite the relative youth of the gardens, a tree survey in 2012 identified no less than eight UK and Ireland champion trees together with further Scottish and county champions (Johnson 2012)
The Linn, designed in 1858 by William Motherwell, stands at the centre of the botanic garden. It is a two-storey, rambling-plan, gabled Italianate villa of whinstone and sandstone rubble with harl-pointing. Its adjacent garden terrace was built by Dr Jim Taggart in 1974 using stone from the retaining wall of a croquet lawn. Spanning the Meikle Burn, the stone, single-arched Destiny Bridge was also constructed by Jim Taggart in 2000 as a millennium project and as a replacement for an earlier wooden bridge. It features a carved stone recording the algebraic formula that underpins the bridge's elliptical form. Other architectural features within the gardens include Linn Cottage, built in 1925, glasshouses above the house and at the plant sales area, and steps up the cliff constructed from cast iron colliery rail track. A small octagonal kiosk with red window frames located at the entrance of the nursery area was designed and built by James and Jim Taggart in 1996. A former summerhouse, also with red window frames, provides shelter at the edge of the bottom pond. Moved several times in its history, this summerhouse was once mounted on a revolving platform.
Drives & Approaches
The entrance drive follows the route of an older farm track.
Paths & Walks
The one kilometre walk via serpentine paths is a fundamental part of the garden experience at Linn. Giving access to all parts of the gardens, the paths lead through varied topography, affording scenes of contrasting scales. Occasional views through the tree cover across Loch Long reveal the wider landscape setting, while elsewhere, the steep rocky slopes of the Meikle Burn gully and the surrounding lush vegetation promote more enclosing, intimate-scale gardenscapes, redolent of scenes from plant hunting expeditions.
The naturalistic, animated presence of Meikle Burn contrasts with quieter pools at Linn constructed by Dr Jim Taggart in the 1970s and 1980s. The long, rectangular lily pond at the top of the gardens was built in 1972 on the site of a hard tennis court, and its design is typical of this era. Meanwhile, a small pond within the garden terrace of Linn Villa contains insectivorous plants growing in sphagnum. To the south, a sequence of three circular ponds are set within the Bottom Garden. The largest is fifty feet in diameter and was completed in 1988 to help solve the waterlogging that occurred in this part of the gardens. A fountain was added in 1994, while adjacent planting include Primulas, Astelia, Iris and Rodgersias.
The path leads through a sequence of discrete garden areas. The Walk up the Glen features steep slopes densely planted with rhododendrons, exotic climbers, and Chinese Epimedium species. A schefflera fengii growing on the upper Glenside is one of two at The Linn collected from the wild in China by James Taggart, and has recently been confirmed as the UK and Ireland champion (Johnson 2012). Above the glen, the Bamboo Garden is located in the extreme north-east corner of the gardens. Initiated in 1990, it now contains some 40 different kinds of bamboo. From here, and along the top northern edge of the site past the Long Pond, the Back Border occupies the site of the former cultivated garden. The rose fence and double borders with woody Paeonia species were planted in 1971 to replace the vegetable plots. In the north-west corner of the site, the Old Top Garden is planted as an exotic wood, notable for its good autumnal foliage. Special trees and shrubs growing here include the Australian snowdrop tree (Atherosperma moschatum), Leatherwood (Eucryphia lucida), Enkianthus chinensus, and from Japan, a Sawtooth Pseudocamellia (Stewartia serrata) and a katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum magnificum), which is also distinguished as a UK and Ireland champion (Johnson 2012). By the house, the garden terrace with small shrubs and alpines sits above an unusual New Zealand Alpine Lawn or heath, established by James Taggart in 2004. The path proceeds by the Spiky Bed of cabbage palms, yuccas and grasses towards The Bank where aspect and good air flow encourages frost tender shrubs to flourish. A Lily Bed to the south also features interesting woodland herbs and affords views upslope to unusual Primula and Meconopsis species. Following a circuit of the Bottom Garden and Pond (see 'Water Features'), steps made from old colliery rail track lead up the cliff. Below, to the south is a rockery, featuring dwarf leatherwood (Eucryphia milliganii) and different kinds of Eucalyptus, while to the north-west, a triangular area known as The Moor contains diverse small, heathy shrubs.
Maps, Plans and Archives
1858-61 survey Dunbartonshire, 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25”) and 1:10,560 (6”), published 1865
1894-98 survey Dunbartonshire, 2nd edition OS 1:2500 (25”) and 1:10,560 (6”), published 1899
Johnson, Owen 2012, Trees at Linn, Correspondence between Owen Johnson and Dr Taggart and James Taggart, Historic Scotland file archive, HGPI/R/SA/1
Duncan, Lesley, 1994, Tip top condition, The Herald, 22 October 1994
Historic Scotland on Behalf of Scottish Ministers, The Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Stuart, David, 1996, The gardens at Linn, Homes and Interiors Scotland, 1996, 168-171
Taggart, Jamie 2009, Gough-Island Tree Fern comes to Scotland, Pteridologist, 5, 2, 92-4
Tranter, Sue 1999, Pick of the bunch, Scotland on Sunday, 19 September 1999
Whittingham, Jo 2005, Family affair, The Garden, May 2005, 337–341
Linn Botanic Gardens, Cove Leaflet
Linn Botanic Gardens, www.linnbotanicgardens.org.uk