Garden of Cosmic Speculation - Atlas Obscura

Garden of Cosmic Speculation

Holywood, Scotland

A 30-acre garden inspired by the principles of modern physics. 


Snail-shaped grass mounds, twisting DNA helix sculptures, and undulating waves of rhododendrons make up the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, a 30-acre garden whose design is guided by the fundamentals of modern physics.

The garden was designed by architecture theorist Charles Jencks and his late wife, Maggie Keswick, an expert on Chinese gardens. Located at their private residence, Portrack House, near Dumfries, Scotland, the design, according to Jencks, brings out the basic elements that underlie the cosmos.

From 1989 until Keswick died in 1995, Jencks and his wife met with horticulturists and scientists to design a landscape that would bridge the worlds of art, nature, and science. Perhaps viewed as an unconventional approach to landscaping, the garden features a dizzying display of geometric fractals that all illuminate—or at least are inspired by—concepts of black holes, string theory, and the “Big Bang.”

The garden features five major areas connected by several artificial lakes, bridges, and other architectural works, including large white staircases and terraces that zigzag down a green hillside, representing the story of the creation of the universe.

Jencks continued work on the garden through 2007. Today, it is open to the public one day a year through Scotland’s Gardens Scheme and helps to raise money for Maggie’s Centres, a cancer care foundation named after Jenck’s late wife.

Here is what Jenks had to say about the creation: ” My, goal in designing the garden, is partly a traditional one: to celebrate nature and our delight in it. Today after a century of extraordinary discoveries in biology, such as evolution the role of DNA, and cosmology, the birth if not the origin of the universe, means that there are new subjects for garden art and a new view of nature that might be presented.”


Know Before You Go

Holywood is 1½ miles off A76, five miles north of Dumfries. Tickets are limited to 5,000 visitors and the garden is only open one weekend per year, typically the first Saturday and Sunday of May. Tickets are only available through the Scotland Gardens website. These usually go on sale a few months prior and are quickly snatched up.

Due to the nature of the terrain, a large portion are not handicap accessible. It is advised to wear appropriate clothing and footwear, as the space is entirely outdoors and susceptible to the elements. Children and dogs are welcome. Adhere to sign postings about walking trails and avoid climbing on certain structures. Dogs must be on leads/leashes at all times.

Portable toilets are located throughout the grounds. A small cart is set up, serving hot and cold beverages. Picnics are allowed, but the site asks that participants remove any waste materials. 

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