Remarkable plant collector
In spring, roadside verges, hedges and gardens are bright with the myriad pinks of flowering currant, a plant so widespread that I’d always thought it was native. That’s until I took a short detour to the churchyard on the outskirts of Scone, just outside Perth, following a brown sign to the David Douglas Memorial.
It turns out it was Douglas who introduced flowering currant to Britain. Not just Ribes sanguineus, either. Douglas fir (yup, he’s that Douglas), Sitka spruce, Monterey pine, California poppy and a couple of hundred other plants are all “his” too.
The plants he discovered became fashionable with wealthy garden owners who wanted exotic novelties to show off, and spread from there. Nowadays Sitka spruce in particular, and to a lesser extent Douglas fir, are hugely important in the UK timber industry.
David Douglas started his working life aged 11 in the gardens of Scone Palace, just up the road. He went on his first plant hunting expedition to North America in 1823, still only 24. A short 10 years later he was dead, gored by a wild bull after falling into a pig-trap in Hawaii. What a way to go! How many other plants would he have introduced had he lived longer?
Memorial to David Douglas
The Memorial was built in 1841 by Douglas’s admirers to recognise his great contribution to horticulture and forestry. It stands at the top of the churchyard, not huge but imposing.
The churchyard gates are wired together, but don’t let that put you off: the wire’s just there to stop the gates being blown around, because the latch doesn’t work. Go round to the right, past what looks like a lodge [the first time I’ve ever seen one in a churchyard. Was it the gardener’s cottage? Sadly, there was no-one to ask so I’m none the wiser] and up the slope. This is one of the rare times when “you can’t miss it” is true.
The churchyard is open all year, oddly enough! The carefully-mown grass is slippy if there’s been a lot of rain recently. There’s a large car park next to the church with plenty of shade from mature trees.
If you want to go for a walk, a footpath along the stream starts at the car park gate and heads into a small patch of woodland; it makes a good 20 minute stroll.
Alternatively, Kinnoull Hill, a mixed woodland with miles of trails on the outskirts of Perth, is also a great place to walk. Just follow the signs up to the left as you come into Perth from the Scone direction. You need to be fit enough for a steepish climb. Right at the top of the hill there’s a cliff-top folly, built by a Victorian with a sense of the picturesque. It’s a bit nervousness-inducing if you don’t like heights but the view across the Tay is fabulous. Worth the climb.