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"Big Tree Country" - Part 4


By david


Scone and David Douglas.

Just two miles outside the city of Perth is the village of Scone (pronounced “Skoon”), probably best known for the nearby palace of that name. It should also, however, be more widely known as the birthplace of one of my personal heroes (and he should also be one to every gardener in the UK) – David Douglas, planthunter extraordinaire.

David Douglas, 1799 – 1834 (from illustration on an information board)

Douglas, son of a local stonemason, was born at a very interesting time for the area. The Earl of Mansfield, owner of Scone Palace, had been undertaking major renovation work to the building and the estate. The grounds were being influenced by the designs of “Capability” Brown (100,000 trees were planted between 1803 and 1833). The Earl even had the village of Scone moved entirely to a new location, out of sight from the palace windows.

At the age of 11, having completed his schooling, Douglas began a seven-year gardening apprenticeship at the palace. In the summer evenings, and in his free time, he travelled around the countryside and farther north, collecting rare and as-yet-unidentified plants for a Perth nursery to propagate and sell.

There are several reminders of Douglas to be seen at Scone Palace, but the main one has to be the mighty Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) on the estate. This tree was grown from the original batch of seeds brought back by Douglas from the Pacific Northwest.

Standing beneath its massive limbs is, indeed, an awesome feeling.

Close by is a modern pavilion, dedicated to Douglas and fellow Scottish planthunters, constructed from the wood of various trees they introduced from overseas.

The Pavilion, above, and roof detail, below.

Within the Palace, an entire corridor is given over to a David Douglas exhibition, featuring a large series of very informative panels chronicling his life and expeditions.

Scone Palace, of course, holds many more attractions, but these are beyond the scope of this blog (another visit, perhaps next summer, to enjoy the grounds better?)

In the Scone parish churchyard stands an impressive 23-ft high memorial to David Douglas. It was erected in 1841 from the proceeds of a public subscription fund organised by the Perthshire Royal Horticultural Society.

The David Douglas Memorial, Scone Parish Church

Inscription on the Front of the Memorial

The reverse side of the monument lists just a very small selection of the plants introduced to the UK by Douglas. The full list numbers over 200 (some estimates are closer to 240). This was an incredible achievement for a man who met a premature death, aged just 35, when he fell into a wild bull pit trap on the island of Hawaii, and was fatally wounded by an enraged beast within it.

There are several places in Scotland linked to Douglas, which can be visited between late Spring and late Autumn, sometimes referred to as the “David Douglas Trail”. This could, perhaps, be a future project for me?

Before leaving this corner of Perthshire, there is one more “must see” – the world’s tallest hedge – which is just 10 miles from Scone.

The Beech Hedge, Meikleour, Perthshire

This hedge of beech (Fagus sylvatica)was planted in 1745 by Robert Murray Nairne of Meikleour House, to mark the eastern boundary of the estate. This year saw the arrival of Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) in Scotland, and the second Jacobite Rebellion. Nairne and his wife, Jean Mercer, became Jacobite sympathisers, which cost Nairne his life at the Battle of Culloden the following year. His wife was forced to flee from their home into anonymity, and the hedge left to grow.

It is now recognised by the Guiness Book of Records as the tallest hedge of its kind in the world, and the longest in Britain. It runs for 530 metres (530 yards, or a third of a mile), and increases in height from 24 metres (80 feet) at the southern end, to 36 metres (120 feet) at the north end. The hedge is cut and measured every 10 years by the Meikleour trust, a task which takes 4 men about 6 weeks to complete.

In Spring and Summer the foliage is green, but I like to see it in its Autumn and Winter colours.

Scone Palace, December 2008

More blog posts by david

Previous post: "Big Tree Country" - Part 3

Next post: "Eternal Plants" : A Botanical Vision of the Past.



~love the interior roof of the pavilion!

17 Dec, 2008


Very interesting and beautiful photographs. We get a lot of history from you, nice.

18 Dec, 2008


Excellent blog David. Very informative. Do you know the Native Indian ledgend of the Douglas Fir cones?

18 Dec, 2008


It is nice, isn't it Arlene. This looks quite new, and the wood smells lovely. Haven't these trees seen some interesting events, Marguerite? Gilli, I don't know the legend, would love to hear it here, if you could?

18 Dec, 2008


David ~
Thank you. Another very interesting blog.
Perfect paragraphs :o) LOL.
Good photography really brings it to life.
Well done. :o)

18 Dec, 2008


Thanks for that David a lovely Blog..

The Pavilion is awsome and that hedge I would like to see .
I don,t think I would risk standing under the huge bough of the Douglas Fir though !

18 Dec, 2008


Very interesting photo's & blog.

18 Dec, 2008


particularly like the beech hedge...good photography,David

18 Dec, 2008


Good gracious! All those plants that we take for granted - were down to him, David! what an amazing man - and what a dreadful way to go....

Thanks for the 'Plantsman' lesson - and the rest, I really enjoyed it.

18 Dec, 2008


David, I've added the legend on a blog as I also wanted to post a picture....

19 Dec, 2008

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