Fortune features in Pitlochry

The Scottish Plant Explorers Garden at Pitlochry.
The Scottish Plant Explorers Garden at Pitlochry.

In the wooded hillside just above the Festival Theatre in Pitlochry, a special garden has been created to celebrate the many hardy and resilient Scots, who have gone out and scoured the world for the wild flowers, shrubs and trees which now enrich our gardens and countryside.

They also expand our knowledge of the distribution of plants in their natural environment and their specimens were used to propel Scotland to the forefront in the science of taxanomic botany.

For some reason Scotland has turned out a vast number of explorers and about 120 individuals are represented in the garden. To be included you must have been born in Scotland and have now passed away. The garden extends to about six acres and is divided into glades with winding paths, here you can find plants from different parts of the world and follow in the footsteps of the Scottish Plant Hunters. Display boards give a brief history of individual explorers, where and when they were born, where they travelled and what they found and brought back. In the area surrounding the display boards are planted a number of species which were collected by each explorer.

Four explorers are covered below:

Frances Masson was born in Aberdeen in 1741, he was employed at Kew Gardens and was sent out to South Africa, sailing with Captain Cook in 1772, returning in 1775. Among the now familar plants he introduced were Red Hot Pokers, the blue flowered bulbous Agapanthus, Gladioli, Arum Lilies and Fairy Fishing Wands (Dieramma). He subsequently died in Canada.

David Douglas is one of our most famous collectors, he was born in Scone, Perth in 1799 and made three expeditions to North America. His conifer introductions have transformed the British landscape with such introductions as Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, Grand and Noble Firs to mention just four trees. He also introduced herbaceous and alpine plants including Douglasia, a tiny cushion plant related to the primulas and named in his honour.

George Forrest who was born in Falkirk in 1873 was probably the most industrious of our collectors, collecting over 31,000 specimens on seven expeditions to China between 1904 and 1932. Amongst his introductions were many species of Rhododendron, Primula, Gentiana and Iris and lots of other very familiar garden plants. He collected vast numbers of dried plant specimens which are housed in the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.

By far our most famous local collector is Robert Fortune who was born in Kelloe in 1812. He travelled in China from 1848 to 1851 on behalf of the British East India Company and is famous for collecting tea plants in China which were used for starting up the cultivation of tea in India. He also travelled widely in Japan, Taiwan and the Far East and introduced many species and varieties of Chrysanthemum, Paeonia and Rose to Britain. The hardy palm tree Trachycarpus fortunei commemorates his name.

The garden in Pitlochry has been landscaped with raised beds, peat gardens and walled areas with dry stane dykes. It is maintained with a one permanent member of staff and over 40 volunteers. It is open to the public from 1st April until 31st October.