THE PLANT COLLECTORS There are two very impressive specimens of Sequioadendron giganteum the Wellingtonia or Big Tree, growing at Cluny. One of these is a Champion tree standing at about 33.5m (110 feet) and has an enormous girth of 11m (36 feet), the widest for a UK conifer. There were two introductions from California of S. giganteum into Britain in 1853. One of these was by John Matthew, a Perthshire botanist, who sent seed back to his father in Gourdiehall, Perthshire. The oldest trees in Scotland are considered to have been derived from this collection and although it is not known for certain, it is very possible that the Cluny trees also originate from this seed. Visitors can be quite overwhelmed by the massive grandeur of the two Cluny Sequoiadendrons which dominate the garden and the
A number of famous Scottish plant collectors were instrumental in introducing many new species of plants now commonly grown in this country. At Cluny, there are a considerable number of examples of the species first introduced by Scottish plant collectors beginning with those of Archibald Menzies in the late 1700s up until present day botanists and nurserymen.
Archibald Menzies was in fact born near Aberfeldy in 1754 and worked in the garden at Castle Menzies for a short period of time before training as a surgeon and travelling to a number of countries including America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as a naval surgeon-naturalist. Good examples at Cluny of the species he introduced are Thuja plicata, the Western Red Cedar and Xanthocyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’, the Nootka cypress.
Born in Scone in 1799, David Douglas trained as a gardener at Scone Palace then later as the under gardener at Valleyfield, Dunfermline. He went on to work with, and was greatly influenced by William Hooker, Professor of Botany at Glasgow University. In 1823 he was sent by the Horticultural Society of London to the east coast of North America to collect seeds and cuttings of fruit trees in particular. In 1824 he travelled to the west coast of North America and returned home in 1827 having collected over 200 species of plants and seeds. Between 1830 and 1833 he collected in California
Examples at Cluny of Douglas’s introductions are: Abies grandis, the Grand Fir; Pinus radiata, the Monterey pine; Pseudotsuga menziesii, Douglas Fir; Abies nobilis, Noble Fir; Abies grandis, Grand Fir; Abies procera, .
George Forrest a Scot born in Falkirk in 1873, worked in the herbarium in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh after a period of trying to make his fortune in Australia. He travelled to Yunnan in 1904 sponsored by A.K. Bulley (Bees’ nursery) and began collecting numerous seeds, plants and herbarium specimens with the help of local collectors in the summer of 1905. As a result of political tensions in the country, Forrest and his companions were attacked by the lamas (warrior priests) and Forrest barely escaped with his life and had even been reported as murdered. He had suffered dreadful experiences during a 21 day man-hunt, 18 of these without shoes. He lost all his plant and seed collection, papers, books, camera and most importantly to him, much of the season. As a truly dedicated plant hunter, he quickly resumed collecting and returned to Britain in 1906 with large quantities of seed, tubers, roots and plants. This included 5,500 herbarium specimens numbered, pressed and dried ready for identification. He carried out a further 6 expeditions to Yunnan ranging into upper Burma, eastern Tibet and Sichuan province. He discovered 1200 plant species new to science as well as many birds and mammals. Close to the end of his last trip in 1932 in Yunnan, he died of a massive heart attack. Some examples of Forrest’s introductions at Cluny are: Abies Forrestii; Pieris formosa var forrestii; a number of Rhododendron, Philadelphus and Deutzia species; Arisaema consangineum; Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense; Nomocharis aperta; Nomocharis mairei; Paeonia delavayi; Primula aurantiaca; Primula bulleyana; Primula chungensis; Primula flaccida; Primula forrestii; Primula sonchifolia; Primula vialii.
PLANT HUNTERS WITH DIRECT CONNECTIONS TO CLUNYAfter being invalided out of the First World War, George Sherriff, a Scotsman, became a gunner on the North-West Frontier. Between 1928 and 1932 he worked with the consular service in Kashgar appointed as Vice-Consul then Consul. From 1933 to 1949, Sherriff with Frank Ludlow, a professor in Biology, made seven plant exploration trips in the Himalaya of Bhutan and south-east Tibet. During that time this unique partnership sent back thousands of packets of seeds, large quantities of herbarium and living plant material and hundreds of bird skins. Their expedition to Tibet in 1938 produced the largest and most comprehensive collection of plants that had ever come out of Tibet and probably the first time that living plant material was transported to Britain by air. They discovered many new species particularly primulas, rhododendrons and lilies. The amazing story of their travels is told from their diaries in A Quest of Flowers by Harold R. Fletcher and is an excellent read for anyone interested in plants, plant hunting or unadulterated travel.
Bobby Masterton who created Cluny, was extremely fortunate to receive 400 of the 20,000 packets of seed from the Sherriff and Ludlow expedition to Bhutan in 1949. Much of the seed collected came from an altitude of 10,000 to 14,000 ft (3000 to 4250m) and the resulting plants suited the soil and climatic conditions at Cluny. Included in the seed were specialities such as Meconopsis sherriffii, M. simplicifolia, M. lancifolia, M. superba, Primula kingii, P. calderianana, P. caveana, P. bellidifolia, P. elongata, Nomocharis nana (now Lilium nanum), and Lilium nepalense as well as other notable perennials and many types of Cotoneaster, Berberis, Sorbus, and Viburnum. Some of these or their progeny are still growing here but others have been lost and indeed are no longer in cultivation in the UK. One notable tree, Prunus serrula with its copper peeling bark was grown from that collection and planted as a sapling. It remains a distinctive tree in the garden producing numerous cherries annually.