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2 Dec 2022

The PLANTS project: reflections on Inverewe

Written by Philippa Holdsworth, PLANTS Inventory Team Manager North
Inverewe Garden
Philippa Holdsworth (PLANTS Inventory Team Manager North) reflects on auditing the unique site of Inverewe Garden.

In the three weeks prior to our Inverewe trip we had been surveying Crathes Castle Garden, which is also where the PLANTS North Team is based. There is a lot going on there and a lot of special and interesting plants. What’s so different at Inverewe, however, is the climate; the planting is exotic compared with what we find in North East Scotland.

The garden attracts a huge number of visitors each year from all over the world. One of the things you notice is how quickly visitors start getting excited about plants when they enter the gates. The very first displays include stunning large aeoniums and eye-catching fascicularias. Then their attention is drawn by the fabulous mature eucalyptus trees, dating from the time of Osgood Mackenzie who created the garden. Already these attractions are setting the garden apart from the norm. Next the visitors head either along the drive, with its beautiful open aspect over the walled garden to Loch Ewe, or down into the walled garden itself via the South African borders with their vibrant colours.

As relative newcomers to the garden, we enjoyed all these aspects while attempting to catalogue the planting in areas full of strange and unusual plants. The site is large, and I took the approach of getting to know it bit by bit so that I could take things in. With the help of the gardeners we established a suitable scope for our first phase of survey and started work on cataloguing everything in the walled garden. The Cynara cardunculus (artichoke thistle) is impressive against the mountain backdrop, even when you are working to identify different varieties.

One of the key differences to get used to was the impact the absence of drought had on the garden. The summer of 2022 had seen record-breaking high temperatures all over the UK and Europe, but not in North West Scotland. The summer had been cool and damp, and plants that we had seen at Crathes already finished for the season were at their peak of flowering in September at Inverewe. There was also the wide range of planting that was completely new to us. We needed a lot of guidance from the very supportive garden staff to keep us on track, and as a result we learned a lot.

The garden holds five National Collections, and on this visit we were mostly involved with the collection of olearias, which are daisy bushes from Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand. We got to know the members of the collection via their interesting variety of leaf shapes and our references on New Zealand plants. One small sturdy specimen still eludes identification at this stage.

Inverewe’s warmest day of the year to date came during our first week there, so we started out with sun protection, then moved into wet weather gear and midge protection during week two and colder weather gear in week three. My colleagues had not previously experienced a full-on Scottish midge onslaught, never mind having to work through it, so they began to see the Highlands in a less romantic light. The trickiest part of working with the midge net over your face is the reduction in visibility. I went back to a plant I had struggled to identify on the previous day and found that in a different light, and without a midge net over my face, it was fairly obvious really!

By the end of our trip we had got to know the garden in its different weather moods and discovered the effects these have on the amazing mountain and loch backdrop. We had experienced village life in Poolewe, and dipped into the intriguing war-time history of the area. We had bonded as a team under midge nets and rain gear, and learned about plant species from all over the globe.

Find out about the PLANTS project and read more from the series

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