Dec 302015
Primula denticulata

January 1st dawned wet and mild, the north block metrological station easily touching 14°C. Walking around the Garden on New Year’s morning; Snowdrops – in flower. A first at RBGE for Galanthus nivalis, we expect these to bloom in February. To complement, there was also one solitary Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis showing colour but still in tight bud. This after 2014 which was the warmest year on record, each of the past four seasons of 2014 recorded temperatures almost 1.5°c warmer than the average. Records also show that this was the mildest New Year’s Day since 1916.

Our first cut of the lawns was made on the 6th January on a day when the gardens metrological station recorded a balmy 11.2°C and ground conditions were dry. Sunshine and a light breeze from the SSW added to the spring like ambiance.

Mid-month storms blew through and snow fell; yet Crocus were showing developed buds with good colour in the lawn at the east gate.
A week of sub-zero overnight temperatures sucked the moisture from the soil and left the blackbirds scratching around in the leaves to uncover their breakfast as the daylight arrived. The early flowers went into a state of suspended animation as temperatures dropped and snow flurries settled on frozen ground.

During February the weather turned dry and by the 12th we had reached the 13th consecutive dry day. Sunshine and frosty nights were also a characteristic of the first half of the month.

March came in, as weather lore decrees, like a lion. The anemometer at the west recorded gusts in excess of 50mph as midnight struck. Sleet showers added to the misery during daylight but the sight of carpets of Snowdrops moving in unison was a reminder that the Met Office officially deems the first as the start of spring.
However unlike the proverb, March did not go out like a lamb. Gales and light snow storms brought the month to an end, although the Forsythia were blossoming the lawns had not put on the even growth expected of spring.

Primula denticulata

Primula denticulata

Swathes of Primula denticulata brightened the peat walls in the week after Easter. The Magnolias were also at their best during early April. Indeed April was the month we thought spring would last forever, warmth and settled conditions through most of the month allowed blossom to flourish and fresh young growth to expand. Unfortunately temperatures plummeted and hail storms concluded the month.

May was cold, much lower temperature than usual. The foliage on the Geraniums planted out in the Palm House border turned purple overnight following planting. My tomatoes, planted in an unheated glasshouse refused to put on any growth until June. Usually, these romp away and need strings to support the growth within 10 days of planting. Not this year.

Colchicum speciosum

Colchicum speciosum

It was the middle of June when the sun warmed us and even then the coolness of the evenings was evident. Although temperatures were low many days of gusting wind caused soil moisture deficit through full leaf tree canopies sucking water from the soil to keep hydrated.

June was the month when, after many years of waiting the Amorphophallus titanum flowered. The first time the Titan Arum had flowered in Scotland and it drew crowds for days. The draw being its accolade as the smelliest flower. It opened early evening of Friday 26th June and the smell of rotting flesh could be experienced in the corridor, thirty paces away.

When the highest July temperature recorded in Britain (36.7°C) occurred on 1st July at Heathrow we were a more comfortable 23°C. Apart from that initial burst of heat, what can i say of July, the grass grew prolifically, turn your back and the mower was needed again. The Atlantic lows kept the temperature down and the sun behind clouds during July. Looking at the cards from the sunshine recorder there are very few that were burnt in a continual line showing a full day of sunshine. Most days we had intermittent sun then cloud cover. Even the butter on the kitchen table was not soft enough to spread as low temperatures continued throughout July, recording an overnight low of 7.6oc on the 9th: Miserable.

August improved and then September arrived with settled weather and the borders of tender perennials and South African bulbs revelled in the climate of SE Scotland. The Autumn Crocus, Colchicum speciosum were stretching due south craning the flower stalks at awkward angles to give the open goblet of petals maximum exposure to the heat.

Honey from hives south of e gate lodge 10 9 2015 from Himalayan Balsam flowers Brian Pool

Honey from hives south of e gate lodge 10 9 2015 from Himalayan Balsam flowers Brian Pool

The bee hives placed in the rough meadow behind the east gate lodge produced a good quantity of honey. Brian the beekeeper explained that the dark colour of honey in the plates is indicative of the bees feeding on Himalayan Balsam. Huge swathes of this are found due south of the Garden on the banks of the Water of Leith. The bees arrive back at the hive with a white stripe down their back, pollen traces from rubbing against the anthers on entering the flower.

The dry weeks of September and much cooler overnight temperatures gave a good start to the autumn colour. Sunshine and warmth were with us for the best seasonal weather for decades.
On the last day of September the sun shone from 6.30am continually until 5.15pm. To start October, on the first we had continual sunshine for eight hours. Both days saw a spectacular sunrise and sunset. Temperatures in the high teens/ low 20’s were achieved on many successive days.

October brought a slow and prolonged autumn colour season. The benign weather and lack of rain saw tree canopies colour spectacularly. Another benefit of the mild autumn was the tomato harvest, not the tastiest, but my plants, following a slow spring establishment produced a bountiful crop that ripened fully. Compliment this with a vase full of freshly picked sweet peas on the last day of October that still scented the room and there may be benefits to our changing climate!

As the winter arrived so did the rain and any perceived benefits of a warmer climate disappeared. We experienced the wettest November since 1976 and this was followed through December by storms that fell onto already saturated ground making it difficult to garden.

In the middle of December the birds provided a mini dawn chorus on the way to work around 7.00am, the night had been so mild. The other interesting fact with these unseasonably high temperatures at this time of year is the absence of windchill.
The data below was taken from the garden weather station following a mild night with a high of 16.4°c recorded at 6.00am.
Conditions at local time 10:35 on 19 December 2015
Temperature and Humidity
Temperature 15.4 °C
Windchill 15.4 °C

The question being; will there be a showing at RBGE of Winter Aconites on New Year’s Day 2016 following this exceptionally mild weather?

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2016 with opportunities to garden and grow plants to perfection.

Apr 012015

Filling an alpine trough with colour is Primula marginata, a native to the Alps. The rosette of evergreen foliage is toothed around the edges and white farina is found on both the upper and underside of the leaves. Older plants gain a woody appearance as the stem elongates with each growing season, shedding the lower leaves.

A variable species in flower, having a colour range from dark purple through to white, resulting in many named cultivars within the horticultural trade.
On a warm day a faint, most unusual scent, a mix of wood smoke and aged tobacco can be discerned emanating from the flowers. Several flowers are held on a flimsy peduncle.

Primula marginata

Primula marginata

Primula marginata

Primula marginata


Sep 132014

We are all back safe and sound in Kathmandu and after a few very busy days I now have a chance to do this.

Phoksumdo Tal (3600m), Dolpa Distrit, Nepal. Flora of Nepal 2014

Phoksumdo Tal (3600m), Dolpa District, Nepal.
Flora of Nepal 2014

Since getting back we’ve sorted the collections made in the field in to 4 duplicate sets. One set has been handed over to Nepal’s Department of Plant Resources (DPR) and one to Tribhuvan University’s (TU) Botany department. We’ve secured export permits for the remaing two sets one for us at RBGE and one for Tokyo Univeristy herbarium. All four institutions are the collaborating partners working on the Flora of Nepal, so everyone benifits from the fieldwork.

Patick and myself have spent time working on the Pedicularis and Clematis collections at Nepal’s National Herbarium at Godavari and we’ve all attended a post trek Flora of Nepal meeting and seminar with staff from TU and DPR.

Unsurprisingly a lot has happened in the past 4 weeks so here are some highlights.

  • A 26 hours bus journey involving 4 buses and a jeep ride due to multiple landslips blocking roads. Each time a full unload and transfer from vehicle to vehicle.
    Our first bus the Burtibang Express. Road conditions at times in Baglung District Nepal

    Our first bus the Burtibang Express. Road conditions at times in Baglung District Nepal

    Jeep travel in Baglung District. Nepal

    Jeep travel in Baglung District. Nepal

  • We walked over 180km from Burtibang Bazaar in Baglung District to Phoksumdo Tal in Dolpa District, then back to Juphal. Our route gave us an altitudinal gain and loss of almost 30,000m
  • Three fairly high passes were crossed. Phagune Dhuri at 4100m (12,300ft), the map said it was only 3800m! Then two passes of 4500m (13,500ft),  one unnamed and the other was the Jangla Bhanjyang.
  • There was medical emergency at our highest camp at 4300m which involved a night time descent of 300m for some of our group and and the administration of emergency oxygen. Then the following morning a run up to the pass of 500m to get the Sat phone to work and a call to the medics. Not to worry everyone is fine.
  • We made 451 herbarium colletions of plants of along the way.
  • And excitingly there is one new species of Clematis.
Final route heading north. Each red dot is a collection site.

Final route heading north. Each red dot is a collection site. As we do data entry in the field it is east to generate a map of our work quickly.


The internet is not great in Kathmandu for uploading images and with the intermittent load shedding (power cuts) here are just a few of the great plants we saw and collected. I’ll do more when we get back to Edinburgh.

Right time to go tidy gear and pack it away in the store until next time.

Flora of Nepa BRD expedition 2014, Rukum District, Nepal.

Primula reidii. Flora of Nepal BRD expedition 2014, Rukum District, Nepal.

SIlene sp. Flora of Nepal BRD expedition 2014. Rukum District, Nepal

Silene helleboriflora  Flora of Nepal BRD expedition 2014. Rukum District, Nepal

Clematis tibetana subsp. brevipes. Flora of Nepal BRD expedition 2014. Dolpa District, Nepal.

Clematis tibetana subsp. brevipes. Flora of Nepal BRD expedition 2014. Dolpa District, Nepal.

Flora of Nepal BRD expedition 2014. Rukum District, Nepal

Meconopsis horridula. Flora of Nepal BRD expedition 2014. Rukum District, Nepal

Feb 212014

Well perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but there are quite a few Primulas now flowering in the garden and Alpine House. This large and geographically widespread genus, found in the northern hemisphere, are certainly a welcome sign of spring.

Primula vulgaris 20100679A comp   Primula vulgaris ssp. vulgaris 19651473A comp

Primula vulgaris (L) and Primula vulgaris ssp. vulgaris (R)

The photos show two colour forms of Primula vulgaris. The plants on the left are on an open corner of the Woodland Garden and flower from now until September – a real garden worthy form of the species.

An early drumstick Primula is also starting to flower. Within the three different collections of this species in the Woodland Garden a huge variation in the size of the flower heads can be seen. Flower heads range from golf ball to almost tennis ball size! The larger flowering form hasn’t even started to emerge yet, but does put on quite a show later in spring.

Primula denticulata 20040957C comp

Primula denticulata in the lower Woodland Garden.

Finally, across in the Alpine House, there are examples of wild collected Primula allionii which show the range of colours found in natural populations.

Primula allionii 20051231 comp   Primula allionii 20051238 comp

Colours range from the palest pink to really quite vibrant pinks and pale lilac in these Primula allionii.


Jun 032013

The late flowering Primula kisoana hails from Japan. A crossing of cultures; the title refers to Burns most recorded song probably well aired in Japan.

P. kisoana is easily grown but an uncommon plant of cultivation, preferring a cool moist soil with partial sun through dappled shade. Deeply indented large soft hairy leaves, the hairs more predominant leaf on the reverse side of the leaf and the stalk, than the top side.

A strong flower spike arising to 300mm from the foliage clump bears a multitude of flat faced flowers with rose coloured petals.

Primula kisoana. Photo by Tony Garn

Primula kisoana

Primula kisoana. Photo by Tony Garn

Primula kisoana

Primula kisoana, underside of leaf. Photo by tony Garn

Primula kisoana, underside of leaf

Apr 022013

The extended cold has taken a toll on clay pots. These pots are absorbent and susceptible to freezing and thawing temperatures. Dependant on the kiln temperatures when fired pots may be frost resistant or frost proof. Even those that are frost proof will, over the years, flake and gradually disintegrate; the rims being the vulnerable area. However this presents a good opportunity for a repotting exercise and division of stock to increase the number of plants in your collection.

Primula marginata thrive as pot grown specimens throwing out flowers from the rosette of foliage. Those botanising in the European Alps will see it growing on limestone ledges and slopes in the 800 – 3000 metre range. As the plant ages it appears to sit on a trunk that elevates the rosette of farina covered foliage.

The cultivar Primula marginata ‘Inshriach Form’ is highly regarded raised in the Highlands, with good flower colour and first class foliage form.

Frosted clay pot. Photo by Tony Garn

Frosted clay pot

Primula marginata 'Inshriach Form' . Photo by tony Garn

Primula marginata ‘Inshriach Form’

Primula marginata foreground P. marginata 'Inshriach Form' background. Photo by Tony Garn

Primula marginata foreground P. marginata ‘Inshriach Form’ background

Mar 042013

Flowering in the alpine house at the Garden is a collection of Primula allionii. One specimen collected, as seed; from limestone cliffs in the French Maritime Alps is a cushion of magenta pink colour. The edges of the petals neatly subdivided. At an altitude of 700 – 1900m these stunted looking clumps of vegetation cling to the rock face. Making use of cracks and crevices to gain a root hold.

The lighter coloured image shows the cultivar Primula allionii ‘Anna Griffith’, one of the most popular cultivated varieties. Exhibiting a delicate pink shade with distinctly frilled edge to the petals.

In the alpine house these are potted into an open mix, grown in clay pans and then plunged into a sand bed ensuring the root zone is kept cool. When watering due care is needed to prevent any landing on the foliage. The best plants thrive when spent flowers are removed along with any aged leaves.

Primula allionii. Photo by Tony Garn

Primula allionii

Primula allionii 'Anna Griffith' . Photo by Tony Garn

Primula allionii ‘Anna Griffith’

Primula allionii collection. Photo by Tony Garn

Primula allionii collection

Feb 292012

Used as we are to the yellow flowers of the Primrose, there are colour variations of this species which we are lessPrimula vulgaris familiar with. A native to three continents; Europe, N. Africa and SW Asia; in Britain this low growing perennial herb colonises hedge bases and open woodland.

Seeds of this Primula vulgaris were collected in Eastern Georgia. Growing amongst Beech forest with spring bulbs; Scilla and Galanthus. The flower colour ranges through shades of white to violet. Some botanists would defer to a sub species status thus acknowledging the status and stability of the petal colour.

The plant exhibits the thrum eyed and pin eyed morphology of the species by which making anthers or stigmas prominent in individual flowers on the same plant prevents self pollination.

Primula vulgaris - Pin eyed flower. Photo by Tony Garn

Primula vulgaris – Pin eyed flower

Primula vulgaris - Thrum eyed flower. Photo by Tony Garn

Primula vulgaris – Thrum eyed flower

Apr 132010

A fine start for the Alpine team at the garden.

The team have won gold medals for displays of alpines at Stirling, Hexham and Edinburgh this year. These shows are organised by the Scottish Rock Garden Club providing a forum for members to display the very best that the season and their growing skills offer.

Open to the public, the next show will be Perth on 17th April, followed by Glasgow; 1st May and Aberdeen on the 15th May. Well worth a visit to admire the colour and diversity of these mountainside plants.

Better still; spend time in the alpine house at Edinburgh. There you will see the diversity of flower colour within the species of Primula allionii. This pan was part of the display at last weekends Edinburgh show along with Iris willmottiana for which a Certificate of merit was also awarded.

Selection of wild collected Primula alllionii

Selection of wild collected Primula alllionii

Gold medals and a certificate of merit for Iris willmottiana

Gold medals and a certificate of merit for Iris willmottiana

Mar 202008
Primula vulgaris

Primula vulgaris

Primula vulgaris and its close relative the Cowslip, P. veris, are well known spring indicators. Spreading by seed and the scratching activity of mammals which inadvertently split clumps apart, resulting in the propagules rooting into the surrounding vegetation. The Primrose has been developed by generations of plant breeders and is now marketed aggressively as spring bedding. Flower colour ranges through white to red and blue. Resist temptation and plant or sow the true yellow species; where a damp shady corner is available these plants will thrive. Look to see the difference in pin eye and thrum eyed flowers. Pin eye is self evident; observe the prominent pin headed stigma. In the thrum eyed flowers the multiple anthers protrude slightly from the petals.

Two others to keep an eye out for are Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, a British native with an invasive root system. The yellow composite flowers ride on a scaly stalk. When seen this is a reliable indicator that the soil is warm enough for weed seedlings to germinate. Should the weekend be dry go armed with a hoe and reduce the germinating population sprouting up through bare soil before they become a problem. One seedling that rapidly colonises bare soil is Lamium purpureum, the Red Dead Nettle. Flowering early in the year it is a provider of nectar for early bees who need sugar after their winter sleep.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp. pseudonarcissus

Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp. pseudonarcissus

This Easter has coincided with Daffodils in full bloom. Look out for Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Flowering in the Rock garden with yellow corolla surrounded by much lighter petals. A coloniser of damp ditch banks but as with the Primrose will appear in most areas in various forms.

At various locations through the garden are swathes of Wood Anemone, Anemone nemorosa, a coloniser of woodland glades. The brittle match thin roots form mats through the leaf litter. On a sunny day the myriad of buds suddenly open transforming large patches of ground into a white or pink carpet.

Pulsatilla vulgaris

Pulsatilla vulgaris

Also in the family Ranunculaceae is Pulsatilla vulgaris the Pasque Flower, found growing in the rock garden the purple buds protrude upwards from the central clump, opening bell shaped and drooping down into the dissected foliage. Covered in minute hairs this gives the foliage a silver appearance. Close by is Pulsatila vulgaris ssp. grandis slightly earlier to open and with larger flowers and the same bright yellow anthers, a native to Central Europe. Both prefer dry grassland, preferring a limestone base where they clump up successfully producing lacy seedheads during summer.

Corylus avellana 'Contorta'

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’

Harry Lauders Walking Stick was discovered in a Gloucestershire hedgerow two centuries ago, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ is hanging with yellow catkins filled with pollen. Look closer at the deciduous shoots to see the female flowers, small buds with slightly protruding red stigmas ready to catch the wind blown pollen grains.

Finally two parasitic species formerly in the family Orobanchaceae but with the family revisions following the adoption of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) within the Herbarium is now in Scrophulariaceae. Lathraea clandestina is found near the pond at the base of host trees. A mass of purple parrot bill shaped flowers arise from the leafless clump. In contrast the flowers of L. squamaria, the Toothwort, are arranged on a short stalk, the whole is devoid of chlorophyll, insipid pink in colour and would pass as a shrimp if put on a dinner plate.


Lathraea squamaria

Lathraea squamaria

Lathraea clandestina

Lathraea clandestina