Highland Road not Highway Code?


A recent work/pleasure trip to the Highlands of Scotland involved lots of corners – on the roads and in the gardens – and what a delight was around some of those corners…

Meconopsis betonicifolia, the Himalayan Blue Poppy is one of those rarities in the plant world – a true blue flower. It needs acid soil, long daylight hours and a cool, preferably mountain climate (clean air) to perform to its best. Stunning even on dull wet days a mass of them in a bed are astounding to come across on a sunny day – unreal and surreal at the same time. They can be grown in the southern realms of Britain; try to emulate their native conditions, especially if you’re growing from seed. Remember they do like an acid soil, so grow in a pot if necessary. If anyone has managed to grow them in a hot, sunny central London courtyard we’d love to hear about it. as would the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) who are currently trialling Meconopsis in their gardens until 2013.

Slugs and snails are the bane of so many gardeners’ lives, as they eat prized lupins and delphiniums. Move to the Highlands! Around Inverness we heard lupins maligned as weeds as they grow and spread so enthusiastically, to the extent of being a frequent sight on roadsides. Wild lupins brightened up a dismal day, but hopefully not endangering any sheep or Brothags (Highland cattle) as their seeds contain a toxic alkaloid, lupinine.

Talking of slugs and poisonous plants, we had a rather wet walk to explore native flora along part of the Caledonian Canal. The rain brought out black slugs in droves. It was most likely to be Arion ater and we would agree with Trees for Life that there is a preponderance of black coloured rather than brown coloured black slugs along the banks and environs of the Caledonian Canal (we lost count). I could cheerfully have wished some of our garden slugs would go and visit their Scottish cousins as I came home to discover they had chomped through my Dolichos lablab, a scented, purple flowered annual climber with decorative purple pods.

As for poisonous plants we saw aconitum, a native species of Northern Europe found particularly in damp, mountainous regions. A beautiful tall plant, with purple, hooded flowers, we saw our Monkshood nestling among Hazel (Corylus avellana) in a winning design combination of contrasting foliage. There would be a long season of interest, with spring catkins and autumn nuts from the hazel and summer flowers from the aconitum. Definitely one for the notebook. Monkshood is one of the ‘common’ names, so–called for the flowers which resemble the hood or cowl of a monk’s habit. The poison is aconitum but as the taste is quite bitter, accidental poisonings are not common. Indeed you’re far more likely to be poisoned by someone putting aconitum in your curry than by munching the plant yourself.

I came home with some new plants of course, including a new Geranium pratense with purple/black flushed foliage and purple/blue flowers, as seen on the Isle of Skye. As a woodland plant it thrives in semi shade, and will make a good contrast with the Geranium macrorrhizum which I’ll be planting it next to. Happiness is a gardener with plants to plant, whether they belong to a client or to the gardener!

If you would like to talk plants or have help with ideas for your garden, whether you’re after high or low maintenance why not get in touch?


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