The present designed landscape was established in association with Dunecht House which was built in c.1820. The park and policies were extended under the improvements carried out by G. Bennet Mitchell between 1900-1907. The terraces were laid out by Sir Aston Webb 1912-30 and the gardens were extended at that time.
In 1820 a 'Grecian edifice' was built on the site of the present house and in 1845 the property was bought by Lord Lindsay, later the 25th Earl of Crawford and the 8th Earl of Balcarres, with the proceeds of his family's wealth from Lancashire coal. By 1859 the house was extended by John & William Smith and in 1867 he commissioned George Edmund Street to add a vast chapel and huge library; both were built in the 'Lombardic' style. Lord Crawford died in 1881 and all work stopped.
In 1900, the estate was sold by his son to A.C. Pirie of Craibstone who employed G. Bennet Mitchell to undertake an extensive scheme of 'estate improvements'. He built the village of Dunecht, changing its name from Waterton. In 1907, the lst Viscount Cowdray rented the estate and finally purchased it in 1909. Following World War I, Lord Cowdray embarked on a series of alterations including the building of the terraces to the south of the house. A disastrous gale hit the estate in 1953 and a large amount of timber was lost. Under the ownership of the Cowdray family, planting has continued in the gardens, particularly during the 1950s, and throughout the policies.
Dunecht House is listed category A and was originally built by John Smith in 1820 in Neo Greek Style. His son, William, made Italianate additions on the south side of the present courtyard in 1859. George Edmund Street altered the facade and added the chapel and library between 1872-77 in French-Italian Romanesque. Further additions were built by G. Bennet Mitchell in 1900 and his conservatory was removed by Sir Aston Webb during the alterations between 1912- 1920. The most recent work was undertaken by Dr William Kelly between 1924-25. The original portico has been erected south of the Loch of Skene as a temple.
The Garages and Flats (formerly the Stable-Block), Dunecht Lodge, and South Lodge (gates by William Smith 1859) are listed category B and are thought to have been built by John Smith c.1820. The Engineer's House is listed category B and is early 19th century. The West and North Lodges are listed category B and are by Aston Webb c.1912. Denwell Cottage is by G. Bennet Mitchell c.1900. The Skene Lodges are twin tower lodges which stand on the banks of Loch Skene. They were designed by Dr Alexander Marshall MacKenzie in 1922. Associated with them is the boat-house. The Main Gates are listed category B and were designed by Dr. William Kelly in 1924-5.
The Home Farm (the Dairy) is thought to date from the early 18th century although it has been much remodelled. The Doocot, now unroofed, and Kennels Cottage are both mid-19th century probably by William Smith. The remains of the mansion of Housedale and the adjacent Walled Garden are listed category C(S). A doorway, dated 1705, is incorporated in the remains of the house. A nearby two-storey outbuilding is dated 1723. John Smith built the West Gate of the Walled Garden c.1820. Walker and Duncan built the Gardener's Cottage in 1912.
The Terrace by Aston Webb was constructed between 1912-30. The Gazebo is listed category B and is by Aston Webb c.1913. The Statuary includes the Sphinxes (c.1800), the Urns, and the Swan Fountains which are all listed category B. Two Bronze Groups are listed category C and are by Lilian Wade, 1916.
There are several more buildings within the policies and these include other Lodges, the Laundry and farm buildings.
The present park was established c.1820 and enlarged in the late 19th and early c.20th. century. It was planted by Lord Lindsay and was enlarged and 'improved' by G. Bennet Mitchell for Mr Pirie. The undulating parkland surrounds the house on three sides; several sweeping drives intersect throughout the park. Their curving lines accentuate the small hillocks and break up the wide expanse of the area. Dunecht Loch is the main feature of the park to the south east of the house. An avenue, planted to commemorate the Coronation of 1953, lines the drive between the house and the walled garden. There are several other avenues of mixed conifers including Abies veitchii, Picea glehnii, Pinus cembra and others. Specimen trees, particularly beech, oak, Wellingtonias, spruce and firs in the southern park frame the views to the loch and the hills beyond. Several trees were lost in the gale in 1953. The southern section has been converted into a golf course, run by a local club. The fairways and greens have broken up the visual effect of the parkland although recent planting has been based on the sites of original park clumps only.
Woodland plantations surround the park and there were extensive plantations on Heather Hill and Tillymannoch Wood. Much timber was lost in the gale in 1953 and replanting has continued ever since. The majority of the woodlands are coniferous: Sitka, Douglas fir and some larch grown for a commercial crop. The smaller plantations to the west and east of the house are the remnants of earlier plantings, c.1880 and c.1900, and are mainly planted with beech, oak, sycamore and some conifers including larch, Scots pine and Douglas fir. The same mix is used along the windswept shelterbelt bordering the A944, planted c.1900. Around the lodges at the Loch of Skene there are several old Scots pine which date certainly from the 18th century and some large horse chestnut dating from c.1900.
There are two distinct areas of the woodland garden: one near the house and the other along the southern side of Dunecht Loch. The lochside was planted up c.1930. Much of the original planting has been lost but there are still shrubs such as dogwood, Philadelphus and the remains of a line of cherries bordering the path. At the eastern end the loch edge is marked by one or two large, well-formed copper beech.
The woodland garden to the west of the house is planted under a mixed canopy dating from c.1880, c.1900, and c.1950. To the west, a Keyhole has been cut through the mainly beech woodland for a view to the southern Grampian hills. Grass paths meander through Rhododendrons and other exotic shrubs to small glades planted up with exotic specimens, particularly unusual maples such as Acer griseum and A. davidii, the latter grown for its bark colouring. There are also many different rowans and birches. Taller conifers border the glades, in particular Wellingtonias and Douglas fir; over 45 trees were measured by Alan Mitchell in 1983.
The Loch of Skene is a large natural loch raised some 30' from the natural level in c.1920 to provide hydro-electric power. It lies on the eastern edge of the present designed landscape. The policies were extended to include the loch in the early 1900s when the new east drive was laid out. Dunecht Loch is a significant feature in the park to the south of the house. It was enlarged in the latter half of the 19th century. Waterton Loch is situated at the northern edge of the site near the North Lodges and the village of Dunecht. The original portico of Dunecht House has been re-erected at the south side of the loch as a Doric Temple.
Two large terraces were built adjacent to the house in c.1912 on the site of a formal garden indicated on the 1st edition OS map, one cut into the hill to the west and the other was built up from the park to the south; both were designed on the grand scale by Aston Webb. An attractive gazebo, two large lead fountains, and various imposing statues accent the layout which is linked by a series of low walls, smaller terraces, banks, paths and balustrades. Originally, the gardens were filled with box hedges and parterres ornamented by specimen conifers. These have been removed and the beds along either side of the south terrace are now colourful herbaceous borders restored two years ago and planted with late summer-flowering plants. The rose beds are edged with catmint and fuchsias. The western terrace is a simple lawn bordered by two long banks of heathers with larger banks of Ghent Azaleas above, leading to a cherry walk which is spectacular during the flowering season. The paths around the bank are raked and a mature beech of c.1820 stands on the lawn. The tennis court and summerhouse are situated near the Chapel.
The former extensive kitchen garden is now used as a market garden and nursery, raising shrubs for the wholesale market. Some of the glasshouses still remain, though in a very poor state. The original layout has gone. The nursery has extended northwards into the orchard and the adjacent field, which is used for lining out.