Originally created by Ben Humble MBE in the 1960s, the mountain garden at CairnGorm Mountain was rejuvenated in 2001 when the old chair lifts were replaced by the funicular railway and the area was enlarged and given a new lease of life. Today it is one of the most spectacular areas in the Cairngorms National Park and is the highest garden in the UK.
Mountain wildlife is typically found in distinct zones from the valley floor to the high plateau. The wild mountain garden recreates these habitat zones on different terraces within the garden so visitors of all abilities and ages are able to experience the native plants and wild flowers in their natural environment.
At the heart of this visitor attraction are the mountain woods, which have some of the highest natural tree regeneration in the UK. Dwarf trees (including Dwarf Willow – the smallest in the world) and low lying shrubs link the forest and the open hillside. Many of the trees in the mountain garden stand less than 2 metres tall and were planted in the early 1960s – living evidence that the growing season at this altitude is short and the conditions harsh. Watch out for the gardener in the summer months, Jonny will be happy to show you recent growth and points of interest or indeed help you identify some of your favourite alpines.
Meanwhile, the low mountain zone is found above the natural tree line and is represented by a middle terrace in the garden. Thanks to the altitudes of between 650m and 900m, the dwarf shrub and moss heaths are more dominant. The wind is a major influence, shaping plants and ridges, while blanket bogs provide rich food sources for populations of rare birds including Ptarmigan and Dotterel.
The third area represented in the garden is the plateau and mountain summits and is influenced by extreme weather exposure. There are late lying snow beds that last all year and have become a haven for insects; while snow beds maintain water sources during warmer periods.