Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Wild flower of the week

& In flower now

There is always an interesting plant to see in Scotland.

Thanks to Stan da Prato for all of his hard work in producing the information and images that go into these posts.


In Flower Now – Gentians

The intense blue trumpets of gentians are one of the glories of the autumn garden. These grow well in Scotland as they dislike alkaline soils and do require good levels of moisture during the warm summer months so you will need to water them in a dry spell. If your soil is very heavy they benefit from organic matter to open up the drainage –if this is not possible consider growing in ericaceous compost in a container. Some of the new varieties have been developed with container growing in mind as they are more compact than the older ones which tend to trail.

Most are forms or hybrids of Gentiana sino-ornata first introduced from Yunnan in China by George Forrest in 1904. The species is itself very variable.

Gentiana sino-ornata

More difficult to grow is the sky blue Gentiana farreri named after the well-known English rock gardener.   Some of the sino-ornata hybrids are more vigorous pale blue types eg ‘Devonhall’. Several white cultivars are now available.  You sometimes see forms with blue and white stripes but these seem to be unstable. ‘Eugens Allerbester’ is a double but an acquired taste!

Any with the word Silk in their names were bred at Aberconwy nursery in north Wales by Keith Lever as was ‘Gorau Glass‘ (best blue in Welsh). The have just introduced  a very attractive  sky blue with some farreri parentage named ‘Silken Star‘ This has been derived from the plant Alec Duguid introduced when at Edrom nursery.

Gentiana ‘Blue Silk’

The Berrybank series as well as more recent ones with Scottish place names were raised by Ian McNaughton and have been distributed by Macplants    – based in Boggs Holdings near Pencaitland, East Lothian.  ‘Balmoral’ and ‘Braemar’ both flower earlier than most. ‘The Caley’, the introduction named after the Caley, has proved to be a very floriferous late variety. ‘Oban’ is a nice white one and one of the newer ones, ‘Troon’, is a deep blue, almost purple.

Gentiana ‘The Caley’

By winter the plants turn brown and the old foliage can be taken off – new growth will push up in spring. These plants usually divide easily into small thongs which can then be grown on.


In Flower Now – Late Summer Borders

There is a huge variety of plants to provide late summer colour. Many are in the aster/daisy family. Michaelmas daisies are traditional herbaceous border plants.  Many of the older cultivars are very prone to mildew, need staking and not worth persevering with.  Several others in this family have yellow or reddish-brown flowers such as Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Helenium ‘Moerheim’ and Coreopsis cultivars. Also in the daisy family, but usually mauve, is the cone flower Echinacea and the taller purple Eupatorium, which prefers slightly damp conditions. Erigerons are very good at the front of the border.  Good examples are the small but abundantly flowered E. karvinskianus or the large cultivar ‘Sea Breeze’.

As a contrast the Crocosmias (formerly montbretias) have iris shaped leaves and sprays of flowers. As well as the old orange forms, there are other colours available such as the bright red ‘Lucifer’. Hemerocallis also have strap like leaves and are still in flower. They grow anywhere and are available in a range of colours. In sunny and well sheltered spots try some of the blue Agapanthus. The deciduous varieties are usually hardier than the evergreens. The tall Anemone japonica (from China not Japan,) available in colours from white through pink, gives yet more contrast in leaves and flower form. Later still are the pink and red forms of Hesperantha which many still know as Schizostylis.

Many grasses are at their best as the flowering stems mature. Some look better on their own rather than mixed with other plants but do experiment to see what you prefer.  Pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana, is the biggest of them all though dwarf forms are available. Stipa gigantea is also fairly tall and an elegant grass. Smaller but still graceful as they move in the wind are Stipa tenuissima ‘Pony Tails’or Hakonechloa.

Some shrubs incorporate well into largely herbaceous borders. The butterfly bush Buddleja comes in a series of colours from white through to deep purple. They can be treated as herbaceous by cutting the older branches hard back at the end of autumn.

Sedums like ‘Autumn Joy’ are all good late summer plants; some are attractive to bees, but butterflies seem to have trouble accessing some cultivars.  Coloured leaves can add interest like the very easy to grow felt grey lamb’s lugs Stachys byzantina, while the red low growing Persicarias like ‘Darjeeling Red’, are also good at the front of a bed.

Stachys byzantina

Specialist nurseries offer a much wider range of these plants and are always worth a visit or a look at their websites. One advantage of perennials is that most divide very easily allowing gardeners to bulk up their own beds or share with friends.

Why not pay a visit to Saughton Park in Edinburgh to see the impressive range of plants in the herbaceous borders.  They might just provide the inspiration that you need.


In Flower Now – Annual Mixes

Annual mixes are a way to brighten up public spaces or private gardens at relatively low cost. They are often referred to as wildflowers which is misleading as they often include non-native plants, such as orange Californian poppies, along with some native cornfield annuals such as blue cornflowers and red poppies, to give more variety. Cosmos is also often added to prolong the flowering period.  Insects certainly make use of them.

If you wish to create a similar effect as the one in the picture you need to eliminate less desirable species such as thistles before sowing. To get a really good display in later years don’t rely on self-seeding but cultivate and sow afresh.


In Flower Now – Shrub Roses

We are now in the peak time for roses with a great variety are now available. For formal beds or for showing, the classic hybrid teas such as ‘Peace’ are still unsurpassed, while floribundas such as ‘Iceberg’ are good for mass planting. Recent years have seen renewed interest in shrub roses which go well with other plants in mixed borders. The fact that some have good fragrance is another plus point. Newer varieties of these roses are the product of various crosses between species roses and modern bush types. The result is a wide mixture of shrubs of varying sizes and colours although they are usually quite large, reaching 5ft or 6ft in height. Most are tough and reliable. Many of them repeat flower unlike the wild species.  The old- fashioned shape of the blooms look appropriate in cottage garden settings.

Lack of repeat flowering is not a problem with those that produce colourful hips. Good examples are Rosa glauca (formerly rubrifolia) with attractive red foliage and red hips following on from small pink flowers. If you have space, the tall Rosa moyesii, especially the form ‘Geranium’, has bright red hips. The well-known R. rugosa has cherry tomato like hips. Often seen in public landscape schemes, this has an unfortunate habit of trapping litter in its many prickles.

Of the traditional shrub roses, it is still worth growing some of the old moss roses with their unusual mossy growths on their sepals.  Rosa mundi has stripes whilst ‘Zephirin Drouhin’ is the thornless rose with scented flowers, but it is prone to fungus problems.  ‘Comte de Chambord’ is another good pink while ‘Reine de Violettes’ starts deep pink then takes on a purple tinge.

Of the newer hybrids, many raised by David Austin whose website is well worth a look, most repeat.  ‘Princess Anne’ is a very floriferous dark pink, ‘Dame Judi Dench’ is apricot, ‘Gertrude  Jekyll’ has very good scent, ‘ Darcey Bussell’ is deep red, ‘Bonica’ is pink and very reliable, ‘Red Coat’ has large single blooms whereas  ‘Ballerina’ has lots of small flowers in clusters.


In Flower Now – Meconopsis

Always one of the features at Gardening Scotland, Meconopsis is one of those groups of plants with star quality. Though best known to gardeners as the big blue Himalayan poppies, there are other types. They come from upland areas in China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan so do well in many parts of Scotland, though they are not so happy in the drier eastern parts of the country. Usually thought of as woodland plants in this country, in the wild they are often found in alpine meadows or even scree slopes but always with adequate moisture in the growing season.

The big blue flowers of Meconopis baileyi/betonicifolia and hybrids are what attract most gardeners. Note: there has been considerable confusion over the names of these – for guidance look at the excellent website of the Meconopsis Group.   All meconopsis like cool, humus rich soils with semi shade needed in the south of the UK. Some are infertile and must propagated by division.  Even though some do set seed, such as the very popular cultivar ‘Lingholm’, division is considered the best method of propagation to get a good form. Meconopsis can be short lived if conditions are not to their liking. Many enthusiasts consider ‘Slieve Donard’ their favourite classic big blue poppy. Other blues include the early and very large ‘Mophead’ and the slightly purple ‘Barney’s Blue’.   Other colour forms in this group include ‘Hensol Violet’ whilst ‘Marit’ is the best white.

Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’

The very tall M.  napaulensis has attractive rosettes which will eventually throw up a giant red or yellow flower spike then dies after setting seed.  The smaller red, M. punicea, is also monocarpic but the duller red, M. x cookei ‘Old Rose’ is perennial. M. quintuplinervia is a very attractive small species with lilac blue flowers, sometimes called the harebell poppy.

To obtain any of these plants go to a specialist nursery.

One meconopsis that is very easy to grow and can become a weed, is M. cambrica, the yellow Welsh poppy. It is native to parts of the UK though is very widespread in gardens where an orange form also occurs.   Some botanists now classify it in a different genus, Papaver. Only plant it where you don’t mind if it self-seeds.


Wild Flower of the Week – Bluebells

A carpet of bluebells (wild hyacinths for many in Scotland, where a bluebell is traditionally Campanula rotundifolia) is one of the glories of spring. They are usually found in old deciduous woods, where light can penetrate to the forest floor before the trees leaf out.  Amazingly, around a third of the world population of these bulbs grows in the British Isles. Spanish bluebells seem to have escaped from gardens in the 1900s and are now relatively widespread though are usually in or near towns. The fear was that hybridisation would adversely affect the native species.  However, recent research led by RBGE has established that the natives are much better at reproduction than the invaders. It is still good practice not to plant or dispose of non-native plants in the countryside. To read more on the research, click here.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

The native plant is Hyacinthoides non-scripta with deep blue flowers drooping to one side of the stem with reflexed petals and a strong scent. Hyacinthoides hispanica is typically bigger with paler blue, more open flowers arranged all round a stiff upright stem. Flowers are usually unscented, and the pollen is green or blue. Hybrids can show a mix of these characteristics. They are much more likely to occur in white or pink forms than our native plant.

Hyacinthoides hispanica


In Flower Now – Oilseed Rape

The bright yellow flowers of oilseed rape have become a familiar late-spring sight. The plant is a brassica and its name ‘rape’ comes from the Latin word rapum that means a turnip.  Oilseed rape is a popular break crop which allows pests to die out between cereal crops like wheat or barley. Most is autumn sown and harvested at a time when other crops are still growing which helps farm management.

Rapeseed oil  used to have high levels of damaging  erucic acid.  Today’s varieties have been bred with low acid to provide an oil that is suitable for use in cooking and food processing. Known as vegetable oil or canola, the oil is widely used by the food industry and is now also processed for use as biodiesel. The residue is used for animal feed. Rapeseed oil has become popular as it is low in saturated fat and is high in omega-3 and the cold pressed oils now compete with olive oil.

Anyone who has stood beside a field in flower will know the strong scent. Some individuals experience an allergic type reaction to flowering oilseed. Whether rape pollen causes hay fever has not been established, because rape is an insect-pollinated crop, whereas hay fever is usually caused by wind-pollinated plants such as grasses. Rape has a large pollen grain, but it doesn’t move very far.

Rapeseed produces great quantities of nectar from which honeybees produce a peppery honey, often blended with milder honeys.  A problem with some canola honey is that most of the North American crop of oilseed is genetically modified to resist herbicides. So, if you are organic, stick to European honey.

Oilseed has helped woodpigeons become one of the commonest birds in Britain. Recent   bans on the use of pesticides may have an effect on the amount of oilseed grown in this country.


Wildflower of the week – Blackthorn

Blackthorn Prunus spinosa is now distinctive with white flowers against black branches that do not yet have leaves. The plant typically suckers to form thorny thickets.

The Cherry Plum or Myrobalan Prunus cerasifera starts to flower even earlier but has some leaves on greener twigs. It is often used in hedges and a purple leaved form is common in gardens.

Later in the year Blackthorn carries purple fruit which give its alternative name of Sloe. Sloe gin is traditionally made from fruit picked in autumn after the first frost. Each berry is pricked -traditionally with a thorn from the bush- and a jar is filled half way with the berries. Gin is added along with sugar and further flavour comes from cloves or cinnamon.

A well-known brand of cider is named after Blackthorn but is made from apples. (Cherry Plum fruits are red.) Blackthorn is also traditionally used for making walking sticks.


In Flower Now – Daffodils

Daffodils, often in large plantings, are now brightening many parks and gardens. The more vigorous types, such as the trumpets or large-cupped, are the most often seen. Yellow is the predominant colour though some others, such as the large-cupped, cream coloured ‘Ice Follies’ (Division 2) also do well planted in quantity in public places.

Ice Follies

The smaller cupped Division 3 group are also popular –compare ‘Barrett Browning’ (Div 3) with ‘Professor Einstein’ (Div 2). Daffodil enthusiasts use 13 divisions; 12 for the different cultivated forms and one for wild species and natural hybrids as wild daffodils are rather promiscuous!

Two forms of wild daffodil grow in Britain, the two-toned mainly in England where it was the subject of Wordsworth’s famous poem and the all-yellow Tenby daffodil in Wales. They are available from bulb merchants, but they can be slow to establish in gardens.

Wild Daffodils

Both are forms of Narcissus pseudonarcissus which is also the parent of the large trumpet types such as ‘King Alfred’, ‘Dutch Master’ etc (Division 1).

Dutch Master

Not all of these 13 types flower at the same time.  Besides these large forms the hybrids from N.  cyclamineus (Division 6) are quite early. They often show the swept back look of the wild parent. The popular ‘Jetfire’ is in this group but the most popular dwarf daffodil of all, ‘Tete-a-Tete’  is in Division 12 (miscellaneous) as it looks so different compared to its cyclamineus  ancestor.


Further information about the different divisions of daffodils can be found in the Spring Bulb Show schedule which is on the Spring Show page of the website.  Or why not come along to the Spring Bulb Show, 30th and 31st March – 12-5pm at Saughton Park in Edinburgh where you can see all of the different types of daffodils (and other spring flowering bulbs) for yourself.  You may even be encouraged to enter the show next year.  Be warned though – growing daffodils is addictive!! You can never stop at just one.

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