One of Scotland’s most iconic gardens celebrates 100 years of growing astonishing plants.

Set above the River Tay in Perthshire is a garden that’s full of surprises. At just two acres in size it is a relatively small space as important gardens go, but every inch of it is packed with rare and unusual plants.

It was started in the 1920s by a pair of avid collectors called John and Dorothy Renton, who carved paths and borders out of this steep, south-facing site that had previously been an orchard, and then they set about filling them with treasures that they coaxed into life from seed.

The garden is called Branklyn and this year, as it marks its centenary, it is still one of the most exciting gardens in the country for lovers of Himalayan and Alpine plants.

Plant enthusiasts come from all over the world to visit Branklyn, especially in spring when its bulbs and shrubs combine to create colourful and often scented displays. There are extensive collections of rhododendrons, lilies and casiopes - small shrubs, native to the Arctic, which have bell-shaped white flowers - and in spring trilliums, erythroniums and primulas carpet the ground.

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Most spectacular of all, however, are the Himalayan blue poppies, which start to flower at the end of May and which astonish visitors with their vivid, blue shade.

These flowers were only introduced to the west in the early part of the 20th century and reports of their existence in previous years were often dismissed as ‘myths’ because no-one could believe that blue poppies existed.

When seed of the flowers did arrive from the high slopes of the Himalayas, it was found to be difficult to grow because of the plant’s particular need for moist, acidic soil and shade. But those were precisely the conditions that Branklyn could provide and so blue poppies flourished here long before they were grown in many other gardens.

Their presence was yet another example of Dorothy Renton’s knack for making friends with all the great plant hunters of the age, who shared seeds from their expeditions. As a result Branklyn contains some of the first western-grown examples of their kind collected by Gorge Forrest, Frank Ludlow and some of the other great botanists of their day.

Today it is cared for by Jim Jermyn, property manager with the National Trust for Scotland who along with a dedicated team of gardeners and volunteers has ensured that Branklyn today is as brim-full of beautiful plants as when the Rentons lived here.

When Jim arrived six years ago he brought with him many of his own plant collections, including an array of specialist snowdrops that now numbers more than 200 named varieties and he has since planted many late-flowering perennials, including aster, phlox, crocosmia and Michelmas daisy, which extend the season until the autumn gentians come into flower.

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“Many of the plants, such as the viburnums and azaleas, are almost as old as the garden,” says Jim.

“And the Rentons also planted many fine trees, including a Betula albosinensis var. Septentrionalis, the Chinese red bark birch tree, which was brought back as seed from south west China by another of the great plant hunters, Joseph Rock.”

Today the garden is shadier than it was in the Renton’s time.

“All the trees that they planted have now grown and matured, and we have had to reinforce the grass paths that they laid because we now welcome thousands of visitors every year.”

Another challenge facing Jim and the team is the switch away from peat-based composts.

“It is hard to find something else that suits the particular groups of plants that we grow here, but we are currently trialling compost made from sheep’s wool and bracken to see if that could be a suitable substitute.”

Jim is confident that new ways will be found of continuing to grow the amazing plants that flourish at Branklyn and that this exceptional garden will be as glorious in another 100 years as it is today.

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Himalayan Blue Poppies
The first viable seed of the Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) was introduced to the UK in 1913 by Frank Kingdon-Ward who had found the plants growing amongst rocks at 17,000 feet in Eastern Tibet.

The poppies like moist, well-drained soil in partial shade and they are short-lived plants, although they do self-seed.

True blue does not exist as a pigment in the plant world, so in order to achieve it the blue poppy has to undertake significant rearranging of its genetic material.

Most of the blue poppies in cultivation are a cross between Meconopsis betonicifolia and Meconipsis grandis, called Meconopsis x sheldonii, of which ‘Lingholm’ is one of the best forms.

Grow them at the fringes of woodland or under the edges of shrubs, placing them in good soil that doesn’t dry out in summer.


Garden Notebook

Branklyn Garden
116 Dundee Road, Perth PH2 7BB
Open daily, 10am - 5pm
Entry: £7.50/£6
T: 01738 625535