Places to Visit in Scotland
- Scottish Plant Hunters Garden, Pitlochry, Perthshire
Gardening is a popular hobby in Scotland - the temperate climate (and all that lovely rain) makes it easy for us to either create a riot of colour or a garden full of pastel shades (or a bit of both). Few Scottish gardeners, however, appreciate that it was frequently intrepid Scottish explorers who first introduced many of the plants we take for granted here and in Europe. The Scottish Plant Hunters Garden beside the Festival Theatre in Pitlochry, in the heart of rural Perthshire, aims to show in a natural setting many of these plants - and tell the stories of a number of these Scottish plant collectors, who risked their lives travelling to remote parts of the world to bring back thousands of amazing specimens.
Built on a wooded hillside above the Pitlochry Festival Theatre on a 6.5 acre site, this is not just "a garden" but a whole series of gardens, illustrating the contribution that a selection of eighteen Scottish plant hunters have made over the centuries. Many of the original trees growing in the garden were there long before the project began but lots of the shrubs and smaller trees which have been planted have a lot of growing still to do to fill up all the spaces. But already there is a lot to see and, with the experts from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, giving advice, there is a colourful and interesting display from spring through summer to the autumn/fall.
Billed as "Scotland's newest garden" it has taken many years to raise the finance for this project and bring it to fruition. A large part of the funding has come from the European Regional Development Fund and one of their conditions was that there should be a policy of "access for all". Creating footpaths on a steeply sloping site which were suitable for wheel-chair access proved to be quite a task - but has been largely achieved.
Every so often, through breaks in the trees, the garden provides magnificent views of the hills beyond Pitlochry. In particular, Ben Vrackie, beyond the river Tummel, rises in the distance.
In addition to display boards giving biographies of the Scottish plant hunters included in the garden, there are specially commissioned buildings which have been created in which delve more deeply into the lives and discoveries of David Douglas and George Forrest. The Douglas Pavilion with an 80-seat amphitheatre, is designed to look like a ship and is constructed from trees that he discovered.
From time to time during the summer, the Pitlochry Festival Theatre uses the garden as a live performance area so, if you're lucky, you will be able to enjoy some free entertainment.
While celebrating the achievements of more than 120 plant collectors who have made a contribution to our gardens in some shape or form, the Scottish Plant Hunters Garden has focused on a number of the better known exponents, including:
- David Douglas (1799-1834) - Born in Scone, a few miles north-west of Perth, he was employed as an apprentice gardener in the estate of the Earl of Mansfield at Scone Palace. Later, he moved to the Botanical Gardens in Glasgow and attended botany lectures at Glasgow University. On the recommendation of his professor at the university, he moved to the Horticultural Society of London. He was sent on a plant hunting expedition to North America in 1823. On later expeditions he reached the Columbia River and his plants collecting included the Douglas Fir, lupins, phlox, penstemmon, sunflowers, clarkia, Californian poppy, mimulus, flowering currant, rose of sharon (hypericum), gaillardia and mahonia. In 1825 and 1826 he covered a total of over 6,000 miles in rough territory, far from civilisation, showing courage, tenacity and an acute sense of observation as well as a love of science and a passion for nature. He was the first European to climb the northern Rocky Mountains. In 1834, while on a trip to Hawaii, he was killed by a wild bull after falling into a pit.
- James Drummond (1786-1863) -Homecoming Research by Roy Kemp in Australia shows that Drummond was born in Inverarity, near Forfar. Drummond began as a nurseryman before becoming curator of Cork Botanic Garden where he remained for 20 years. He was then given the task of creating a new botanic garden in Western Australia. He later became the Government Naturalist but when funding ceased, he became an independent collector, sending seeds to the UK. At the age of 54 he travelled to King George's Sound and later to Augusta, discovering Dasypogon hookerii. In 1843, on a tour of the south-east of Australia he found the black flowered Boronia megastima, Banksias and Dryandras, Anigozanthus pulcherrinus and Backhousia myrtifolia. Sales of his discoveries barely covered his expenses but he then journeyed to the Murchiston River on a trip which lasted 18 months. He died in Perth, Australia in 1863.
- George Forrest (1873-1932) - Born in Falkirk and after a spell in Australia returned to Scotland and was employed by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. In 1904 he was sent to the Yunnan province of Western China and this was followed by six more expeditions to China and the Himalayas. He was responsible for bringing back over 30,000 specimens of 10,000 plants over a period of 17 years including 300 new species of rhododendron, azaleas, primulas, gentians, conifers, orchids, magnolias, saxifrages and pieris - Pieris Forestii adds a splash of colour to shady corners of many gardens.
- William Forsyth (1737-1804) - was born at Old Meldrum, in Aberdeenshire. He was invited to London and later became gardener to the company of apothecaries, at their physic-garden in Chelsea. He became responsible for starting an international seed and plant exchange. In 1779 he was appointed by George III as chief superintendent of the royal gardens at Kensington and St Jamesís. He made a particular study of the diseases of trees and created a mixture to treat wounds caused by cankerous growths. During the Napoleonic Wars there was concern about defective oak timbers and as his remedies were found to be beneficial, he was awarded a government grant. While not strictly a "plant hunter" he played a key role in the appointment of Scots in this field. He is best remembered now for the family of plants known as "Forsythia".
- Robert Fortune (1812-1880) - was born in Edrom in the Scottish Borders and after a spell at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh moved to the Horticultural Society's Garden at Chiswick in London in 1840. He was sent on a plant and seed collecting expedition to China and brought back not only tea (which allowed the introduction of the plant to India) and roses but also Peking peaches from the garden of the Emperor. Other discoveries among 200 species on five journeys to China and Japan included Anemone Japonica, Dicentra Spectabilis (seen here), Mahonia Japonica, Lilium Auratum and Primula Japonica.
- John Fraser (1750-1811) - was born near Tomnacloich, Inverness and he set up as a linen draper in London at the age of 20. As a result of a friendship with William Forsyth (see above) he became interested in plants and travelled to Newfoundland in 1780. His success as a plant hunter - and encouragement from Forsyth - induced him to pursue this new career and he spent the next 30 years travelling in North America. He was appointed as "Botanical Collector" by Emperor Paul I of Russia and made long journeys on their behalf. He was shipwrecked in the Caribbean and on his return to London in 1802 discovered that he was not going to be paid by the Emperor! His plant discoveries included varieties of Rhododendron and Hydrangea.
- David Lyall (1817-1895) - studied medicine at Aberdeen and became a naval surgeon on the Antarctic expeditions of Sir James Ross. Part of his job was to make collect botanical specimens and he came back with no less than 1500 species. He later went on a survey expedition to New Zealand and then moved to North America, including a journey from the Gulf of Georgia in Canada to high in the Rocky Mountains. His plant collections included Hebe, Ranunculus (pictured here), Arabis Lyallii and Larix Lyallii, the sub-alpine larch.
- Frances Masson (1741-1805) - born in Aberdeen, he was appointed as Kew's first plant hunter and travelled with Captain Cook to Capetown in South Africa and subsequently made a number of visits there and to the West Indies (where he was captured by a French force on Grenada). On his release, he travelled to Canada in 1797 and explored the Great Lakes region. He died in Montreal in 1805. His plant introductions include species of Pelargonium, Mesembryanthemum, Lobelia, Gladiolus, Trilium and Kniphofia.
- Archibald Menzies (1754-1842) - began his working life in the gardens of Castle Menzies but after graduating in medicine at Edinburgh University he travelled to the east coast of America and the West Indies as a ship's surgeon. He then joined a ship which went round Cape Horn to Vancouver Island and thereafter round the world - a journey taking three years. On another journey he visited Cape of Good Hope, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii as well as Vancouver Island again. He recorded rare conifers, maples, alders, rhododendrons, Lupinus Arboreaus, Pinus Radiata, Cupressus Macrocarpa and Sequoia Sempervirens - the giant redwood. He also introduced the Monkey Puzzle tree from Chile.
- George Sherrif (1898-1967) - born in Larbert, he began a military career and served in India and the North-West Frontier. He met plant collector Frank Ludlow and the pair travelled through Tibet and collected 500 plants, including Primula Sherriffae, Primula Ludlowii and Lucalia Grandiflora. On a later expedition in the Himalayas they brought back 2,000 specimens, including 69 Rhododendrons (13 of which were new) and 59 Primulas. Introductions included Mecanopsis Sherriffii (seen here), Rhododendron Sheriffii. In 1938, travelling from Tibet to Bhutan, he collected another 5,000 specimens. He retired to Kirriemuir in the 1950s - creating a garden of Himalayan plants.
- Thomas Thomson (1817-1878) - born in Glasgow, he graduated from the University there as a doctor of medicine and travelled to Calcutta as a surgeon with the East India Company. Inspired by the botanist J D Hooker, he explored the flora in Afghanistan. At one point he was captured by local tribesmen and nearly sold into slavery but managed to obtain his release. During a survey of the boundary between Kashmir and Tibet and explored Sikkim with Hooker. He returned to Britain with thousands of plants and published the first volume of Flora Indica in 1855. His plant introductions include Rhododendrons Thomsonii, Falconeri and Grande - this is one of the largest rhododendrons and grows well in the west of Scotland.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre and River Tummel
The Scottish Plant Hunters Garden has been created in part to add to the attraction of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre but the garden benefits greatly from having the catering and other facilities of the theatre close by. In particular, since the theatre is open in the evenings for performances, its restaurants and bars are available to visitors to the garden. That can be a great advantage in a country where eating facilities often close down at 5pm - if not before!
The Festival Theatre is located overlooking the river Tummel and a short distance up-river is a hydro-electric dam. This includes a "fish ladder" which has viewing windows to allow visitors to see the salmon and other fish passing up-river to spawn.
How to Get There
Pitlochry is in the heart of Perthshire and although the main Perth to Inverness A9 road now by-passes the town, there are good sign-posts from that road to the Festival Theatre. See also the Location Map (you can enlarge the scale of this map, if required).
Return to Index of Places to Visit
Where else would you like to go in Scotland?
News & Views>
All Features Index>
Search This Site>
Scottish Pictorial Calendar>
Places to Visit>