Primula auricula 'Dilly Dilly'

Plants in Season

There is always a plant of interest to look out for in Scotland, whatever the season  Whether it be for its flowers, fruits, foliage or interesting shape, there is a plant for every season.

So, from garden favourites to plants in the wider environment, we will keep you up to date with what is on show in every season of the year.


Ornamental Grasses

Grasses set off the Saughton Bandstand

Regular visitors to Saughton Park will know that one area of the park is planted, largely, with ornamental grasses. Ornamental grasses have seen a steady rise in popularity.  They are particularly good for bringing movement and texture to gardens for much of the year. They can be grown on their own, combined with herbaceous perennials in mixed borders, used as focal points and do well in gravel and exposed gardens.  The feathery flower heads appear in summer and autumn. They don’t have the bright colours of many flowers as, being wind pollinated they don’t need to attract insects, but are still very attractive.  The stems, foliage and seed heads often last, providing structure well into winter. Most grasses like a sunny, open spot in a fertile, moist but well drained soil. In shade, they struggle to flower and eventually weaken. They will not tolerate either waterlogged or very dry soils.

Some of the plants sold as ‘grasses’ in garden centres are actually sedges, which prefer moist conditions e.g. any Carex or the ‘black grass’ Ophiopogon nigrescens. Bamboos are true grasses though many make rather large clumps, and some are notorious spreaders. Many of the grasses now sold are selected forms of our wild species.  Of the smaller grasses, the grey blue forms of sheep’s fescue such as Festuca ‘Elijah Blue’ are popular though they do tend to lose colour with age. The golden Hakonechloa aureola is another relatively low growing type. A little taller and very attractive in the wind are the ponytail grass, Stipa tenuissima, and its relative, the pheasant grass, S. arundinacea (now renamed Anemanthele lessoniana).

Taller again is the graceful Deschampsia cespitosa, the tufted hair grass. Other very good middle height grasses are the many forms of Miscanthus and Calamagrostis.  The golden oat grass, Stipa gigantea, as its name suggests, is around 5-6 feet in height. Sometimes called the giant reed, Arundo donax can reach even higher. As a Mediterranean species it is not good in very cold sites.  The plumes of some pampas grasses can reach 15 feet and look out of scale in small gardens, but forms such as Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ are only around five feet tall.

Be careful when handling some grasses as the leaves can cut unprotected hands. Grasses are low maintenance plants and are usually pest and disease free.  Cut back the old flower stems when they are no longer attractive and no later than early spring to allow new growth to push through. With deciduous types also cut back all the old growth. With evergreens, just tidy them up. You can divide clumps to make new plants.

Stan da Prato
September 2020


Bluebells and Bellflowers

Campanula rotundifolia

Campanula rotundifolia, the Scottish bluebell (harebell further south), is now coming into flower. It is common on dry, nutrient-poor grasslands and heaths and often colonises cracks in boulders or cliff faces. The two English names have been used alongside each other as in the traditional verse quoted in Flora Celtica ‘The heathbell, the harebell, old Scotland’s bell of blue,’ while Robert Burns,  who, as  a farmer, must have known many wildflowers, wrote of harebells.  More recently, Scottish Bluebell was the name of a best-selling brand of matches, popular when coal fires had to be lit every day. Unlike the bulbous bluebell or wild hyacinth, Hyacinthoides non –scripta, C. rotundifolia flowers are edible.

There are several other low growing bellflowers that do well in this country but are not native.  They grow in S.E. Europe thus the name Dalmatian or Adriatic bellflower for C. portenschlagiana. It and the slightly paler Trailing Bellflower, C. poscharskyana, are tough enough to seed themselves into cracks in walls or paving and so have become naturalised. In a rockery give them plenty of room as they will spread! These campanulas have several named garden varieties available in garden centres.

More dainty is the little C. cochlearifolia, sometimes called fairy thimbles.  It also likes to run around in a rockery or trough. A white form of this plant is available. There are some choice dwarf campanulas, such as C. pulla and C. zoysii, but as these need very sharp drainage they tend to be better in a trough or even cold frame or alpine house in winter to avoid excessive damp. Larger at around a foot tall is the native clustered bellflower, C. glomerata. This plant is also in cultivation e.g. the selected form ‘Superba’.

In all, ten campanulas are now naturalised somewhere in the UK. They include taller species like the peach-leaved bellflower, C. persicifolia and the even bigger (up to six feet and very robust) milky bellflower, C. lactiflora, which comes in several shades of blue as well as white.  Almost as tall, the giant bellflower, C. latifolia, is native to Scotland although this one is scarce. It is best looked for on riverbanks or wood edges. Less seen today is Canterbury Bells, C. medium, in white, pink or blue, with cup-like flowers and a saucer-like rim. It is a biennial so be sure to collect the seed to raise new plants.

Campanula lactiflora (at Saughton Park)

Stan da Prato
July 2020


When is a geranium not a geranium?

When it’s a pelargonium of course! Pelargoniums are marginally hardy plants from dry areas in Southern Africa, often used in summer bedding schemes, while true geraniums are frost hardy native plants in many parts of Europe, including the British Isles.

There are several types of hardy geranium native to Scotland. All of them have attractive flowers which provide nectar for many insects.  They all grow easily in dry situations, so are good for walls or between paving stones in gardens. Some of them compete well with grass in a wildflower meadow.  The seed pods look like birds’ bills, hence the name cranesbill. Meadow Cranesbill is the wild blue geranium, Geranium pratense, which grows tallest – it can  grow up to three feet. The similar, but smaller, purple Geranium sylvaticum is found around woods.

Geranium pratense

One of the most attractive wildflowers of sandy coastal grassland is the Bloody Cranesbill, G. sanguineum. The small and sprawling annual Herb Robert, G. robertianum, is happy in shade.

Another annual, the Dove’s-foot Cranesbill (G. molle), is named for the leaf’s resemblance to the feathered feet of doves. The little Cut Leaved Cranesbill, G. dissectum, is a long-established weed of disturbed ground. Several garden escapes have become established in the wild. At least 14 have been recorded in the Lothians alone.

Species from Europe and further afield offer further variety and there is now a wide range of hybrids, all of which are good garden plants.  The early flowering G. macrorrhizum comes in the pale pink ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ or the darker ‘Bevan’s Variety’. G. x oxonianum ‘Wargrave Pink’ is one of the geraniums most often seen.

A deeper magenta comes with the vigorous Geranium ‘Anne Folkard’, which likes to scramble into other plants. There are lots of blue cultivars such as the old classic ‘Johnson’s Blue’, and the newer, and very good, ‘Rozanne’ (Jolly Bee is the same thing). This one is sterile, so the blue flowers keep going from midsummer well into autumn.

G. wallichianum ‘Buxton’s Blue’ has a white centre to the blue flowers.  ‘Mrs. Kendall Clark’ is a paler version of G. pratense while striatum is a pale form of G. sanguineum.  Good dwarf types include the pink ‘Mavis Simpson’ and the red ‘Russell Pritchard’. Even more compact are G. cinereum ‘Ballerina’ and Geranium cinereum ‘Laurence Flatman’.  

Geranium wallichianum ‘Buxton’s Blue’

The more vigorous geraniums respond well to being cut back hard after their flowers go over and this will often lead to a second flush later in the year. They are also easy to increase by division.

Stan da Prato
July 2020


Paeonia still coming in to flower

With the slightly cooler temperatures some, but not all Paeonia have decided to slow down their progress towards flowering.

These two images show the delightful change in colour over time of the first Paeonia to flower in my garden.

As you can see I have not always been good at recording the names of my Paeonia.  I thought this one was P. lactiflora Flame.  But I don’t think it is so have labelled it as another unknown!

Another unknown Paeonia in Pam’s garden!


More purples in Colin’s Garden

We seem to be having a bit of a purple day here at The Caley and it is not just because of my own particular bias against yellow flowers!

These plants are growing in Colin’s garden and are looking particularly fine at the moment. If only I had more room in my own garden for some of these.  One advantage of knowing lots of gardeners is that they are always willing to share plants.

Geranium ‘Lawhead Croft’

Colin acquired this plant at a Hardy Plant Society sale.  It first occurred in Hector Riddell’s garden many years ago and he described it as genetically unstable.  Colin admits that the pink can be variable.

Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’

Another Hardy Plant Society acquisition, this time from seed. As well as looking great in the garden, it makes an excellent cut flower.  Will grow in full sun or in partial shade.

Geranium phaeum

Geranium phaeum, commonly known as the dusky crane’s bill or, even more dramatically, the black widow.  Good for a shady spot.

Chaerophylum hirsutum ‘Roseum’

Pink hairy chervil, a relative of cow parsley, will grow in sun or partial shade.

Colin also has some non-purple plants.  This pear tree is over 50 years old and has been extensively pruned in the past couple of years.  Growing against a south facing wall, it had a crop of over 30 pears last year – fingers crossed for a good crop again this year.


The Queen of the May

Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, is common in hedgerows, wood edges and scrub as it will grow in most soils. The flowers are scented, white or occasionally pink, and grow in clusters. They attract a variety of pollinating insects, then develop into the familiar red haws. The haws are valuable food for birds and other wildlife. They can also be made into jellies, jams and syrups. The petals are also edible, as are the leaves if picked when still young and tender. Herbalists used hawthorn to treat cardiac problems and it seems it has antioxidant properties.

It is a popular hedge plant as its spines and close branches make it stock and human proof with regular cutting or laying.

The idea that hawthorn was the source of Jesus’s crown led to the superstition that bad luck followed anyone uprooting a hawthorn. It is unlikely that it grew in Palestine.  European folklore claimed it was deadly to vampires, and stakes used to kill them were made from thorn wood. In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn, Sgitheach, marks the entrance to the otherworld and is associated with the fairies.

The saying ’Ne’er cast a cloot til May be  oot’  warns country people not to shed warm clothes before summer has fully arrived and the may (hawthorn) blossom is in full bloom. Also known as the Queen of the May, it is said to the only British plant named after the month in which it blooms. Using the flowering branches on May day is a very early custom. Since the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1752, the tree was rarely in full bloom in England before mid-May. In Scotland it often did not flower until June, though this is now changing with a warmer climate.

Various hybrids and cultivars exist, some of which are used as garden shrubs, including the popular ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ with dark pink double flowers.

Stan da Prato
May 2020


Paeonia just keep flowering

As we move into June there will be more images of Paeonia in our gardens.  Most of the blooms this week originally came from Binny Plants but one of them came from Lidl.

I am looking forward to next week as I have a few ready to burst into flower.  And I know at least one more member is waiting with his camera at the ready!


Cacti – flowering

Cacti come in a range of shapes and sizes.  Cacti are succulents although not all succulents are cacti! They grow well on windowsills and sometimes the Whittle household has found a Cacti has outgrown its space so it has been split and offered at a Caley Show or meeting.  Last year we offered some small Mammilaria at the Christmas event at Saughton. We still have a few at home which we had intended to offer at the Spring Show.  But as we couldn’t have a Spring Show they are flowering away quite happily!

This Rebutia was from a previous cutting offered at a Spring Show.  Clearly Gill has looked after it as it is clearly very happy.

But it may be some time before the next Whittle offsets are taken as this Mammilaria seems quite happy.


And finally a couple of pictures from Stan – as I said they come in all shapes and sizes..

Do you have a flowering Cacti?  Why not share it?



Paeonia in profusion

When you think of Paeonia (Peonies) you probably expect a brightly coloured, big, blousy flower

But there are a less common species which are perhaps a little less blousy.

Sometimes we can be concerned by variation in the same variety. Look as the variation in these three images of Paeonia delavayi.


Hopefully the blooms will have survived the weekend winds.  But there will be more to share soon.


The Need for Nettles

The stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, has hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems that act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals on contact. The tiny flowers, held in dense clusters in the leaf axils, are wind pollinated. It spreads both by abundant seeds and by rhizomes, and can re-establish quickly after fire. It likes fertile and disturbed ground so is a successful coloniser in gardens, on agricultural land and development sites.

Urtica dioica

Nettle soup


The plant has a long history of use in traditional medicine, food and textiles.  It is highly nutritious; cooking gets rid of the sting, so it was often used in soup or stews.  Rolling in nettles was a folk remedy for rheumatism!  Nettles have been used to make clothing for 3,000 years. German Army uniforms were almost all made from nettle during World War I due to a shortage of cotton. In World War 2 in this country children collected them to produce a green camouflage dye.

Nettles are sometimes used in cheese making, for example Cornish Yarg.  Since 1986, in the annual World Nettle Eating Championship in Dorset, held as part of a charity beer festival, competitors try to eat as many as possible in an hour!!



Nettles are the food plant for caterpillars of the peacock, comma and small tortoiseshell butterflies and many moths, including angle shades, buff ermine, dot moth, flame, gothic, grey chi, grey pug, lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing and Hebrew character.   Many other invertebrates eat nettles which in turn attract insect eating birds. Later the seeds are eaten by finches.

Stan da Prato