Scotland The Brave - In The Rain

by Margaret de Weese†† October 2002


In May of this year I found myself on a bus headed toward the soft rainy shores of Western Scotland. Seated in front of my cousin, Judy and me, was a gentleman sensibly attired in a raincoat, umbrella and hat across his lap. I introduced myself and in the comical way that one narrows the distance between introductions: Canada...B.C., Vancouver Island, Victoria Rhododendron Society...Dave Ballantyne!We were headed for the gardens of Benmore, Ardkinglas, Eckmore, Stonefield Castle.


When we reached Benmore the skies poured. Sandals were traded for sensible walking shoes but my light wool coat was drenched within two minutes. Benmore, in the rain, is marvellous so what must it be like in the sunshine.. does it ever shine? must be Nirvana.Actually we did see slides taken by Clint Smith of Benmore in the sun so it must.However the rainfall on the West Coast of Scotland is similar to Tofino's rain...perfect for the large leaved rhododendrons which are trees. When we were there the Matteucia shuttlecock ferns set off the deep blues of the various varieties of Meconopsis, the new soft greens of the ubiquitous bracken were emerging and everywhere bluebells that looked like flooded fields.


At Eckmore we were taken round the steep slippery hillside by Lord Eckmore. He was very proud of his 25 foot Douglas Fir and I rather unwisely said in British Columbia we pulled them out like weeds.He said "Then damn British Columbia!" which I didn't think lordly at all!


Our guides were part of the Scottish Rhododendron Society and so we were well informed about which species ..almost to the point of lengthy discussions...again in the pouring rain...being tedious.By the time we reached the hotel we were all headed for a hot bath followed by a hot toddy!


The next day Judy and I played hooky from probably the most famous gardens in the rhododendron world.I will leave it to Dave to tell about Crarae, Barvalla (Western garden of Peter Cox).Judy went to visit a famous archaeological site of the early Celtic people while I had an adventure of two ferries plus an hour taxi ride to the misty Isle of Bute to see a restored sunken Victorian fernery.It was magical if you love ferns and I was treated like a visiting VIP from Canada. Again it poured and while waiting for the one taxi to arrive (I was earlier than the appointed meeting time), I spent some time in the ladies washroom pushing the hot air drier button and blowing hot air into my coat sleeves to get warm!


The following day we visited the loveliest garden I have ever seen in Arduaine.The sun shone through the rain-laden clouds and we all loved the time spent there.There were many people from the ARS on the tour and we would cross paths, each smiling hugely and saying "Can you smell the


R.lindleyi (written up so well by Steve Hootman in the summer RSF newsletter), or pointing out which path one must see.It was all too much for one short visit.Then on through spectacular Clan Campbell controlled glens and frighteningly narrow roads in our huge bus.Occasionally we would come to a sign which indicated the road narrowing and we thought it impossible it could do so.Glen Arn on the Clyde was our last garden tour and for species and hospitality it was an incredible end to our tour.The sun shone brightly and we all felt the delights of rhododendrons could not be matched.


The Edinburgh Rhodo '02 Conference was first rate.The highlights to me were: the quality of the presentations in the lecture theatre, beginning with Kenneth Cox's Riddle of Tsang Po Gorge to the finish with Steve Hootman, the formal dinner in the glorious Signet Library and the presentation of the ARS Gold Medal to our host Dr. David Argent for his work with Vireyas, the working greenhouses filled with Vireyas and the opportunity to work in the laboratory with the microscopes under Dr. Argent and Dr. Chamberlain.


The next few days I rented a car and explored by myself the south west coast of Scotland, staying near Stranraer.There I saw Logan Botanical Gardens, Castle Kennedy and a private garden belonging to the Dalrymple-Kennedys which had a large lake and the perimeter of scented yellow luteum reflected in the lake, tall beech trees, Japanese Maples, an old moss covered boat shed with a punt waiting for company and I was the only one in this enchanted garden.


Then on to Kew Gardens where I spent two days before boarding my plane home.The Temperate House filled with the soft greens of giant tree ferns, filigree lilies, and vireyas where I was guided by two long term friends I had only corresponded with through the internet, but had never met in person : Chris Callard of and Stephen Pope from Brighton who is a tree fern expert.


A write up is so superficial but I hope you get the gist of the excitement and the enjoyment I experienced on this most recent trip to Scotland. (Edís Note:Not superficial; delightful).