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31 Aug 2020

Highlight plants at Crarae Garden this September

Written by Simon Jones, Gardens & Designed Landscapes Manager
Close-up of a tree with heart-shaped purplish-red leaves.
Disanthus cercidifolius on the turn at Crarae Garden
In Scotland, September is a month in which many plants are beginning their seasonal change, clearly witnessed by the foliage of deciduous trees and shrubs changing from lush summer green into their wonderfully mixed autumnal colours.

Reds, browns, yellows and oranges all combine to give riotous colourful views that belie the lack of floral interest at this time of year! One of the finest places to see this is Crarae Garden in the heart of Argyll. The garden, often referred to as a ‘Himalayan gorge’, has a plant collection that covers more than 50 plant families, 240 genera and over 900 species of plants from around the world.

A small river with rocky boulders in it, with lush green plants on the banks on either side.
The burn running through the gorge at Crarae

Unique views from within the designed landscape

On the left is a rowan tree with red berries; on the right is a eucalyptus with distinctive bark. Loch Fyne is in the background.
A native rowan tree next to an Australian eucalyptus, overlooking Loch Fyne

This images typifies Crarae. Native plants are interspersed with groups of trees and shrubs from around the world, giving a sense of nostalgic comfort mixed with the unknown and exotic, all wrapped up in some of the most beautiful vistas in the west of Scotland. Note the striking contrast between our native rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) with its red berries, and the striped, glossy green bark of an eastern Australian snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila), a montane tree that’s able to cope with the wet conditions of Argyll.

Plants on the turn

Close-up of a tree with heart-shaped purplish-red leaves.
Disanthus cercidifolius – its leaves are turning to beautiful shades of red and purple

When planted en masse, this rare shrub ensures the gorge walk in September is just as breathtaking as seeing any of the 400+ species of rhododendrons in full early season flower. This acid-loving plant, native to China and Japan, is characterised by its heart-shaped leaves and stunning autumn colour when the leaves turn a deep red, almost purple. It will thrive in well-drained acid soil, but you should give careful consideration to its location in the garden because it’s vulnerable to late spring frosts.

A tall green stalk of a plant with a number of large oval seedheads.
The seedhead of Cardiocrinum giganteum

In September, the statuesque, lily-like flowers of Cardiocrinum giganteum produce seed pods at the top of the flower spike, which can sometimes exceed 3m. An Asian plant found across the regions of Himalaya, China and Myanmar, it’s perfectly suited to its place in the well-drained rocky substrates in the banks of the gorge. It’s not an easy plant to cultivate from seed as it may take 7 years to produce flowers – so definitely one for the more patient of gardeners. Once it flowers, the main bulb dies, but it does produce ‘sets’ which will ensure flowers year after year. For the best results, grow in moist but well-drained, deep, humus-rich, fertile soil. It’s intolerant of waterlogging and may need some protection from frosts in colder areas.

Plants still in flower

Close-up of a shrubby tree with clusters of white flowers with a yellow centre.
Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’

The late season honey-scented beauty Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ has white flowers set against evergreen foliage, and is a most unusual, broadly elliptic small tree dripping with flowers. Although it will tolerate both acidic and alkaline soils, like many plants it does have some specific requirements, such as having its roots in shade and the canopy in full sun. But once established, you’ll never regret having a tree like this in your garden. Look out for the nine different species growing at Crarae.

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