crytogams, Dawyck Botanic Garden, Edinburgh Zoo, koalas at Edinburgh Zoo, pandas at Edinburgh Zoo, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
I think it might be a sign of growing older that time appears to have sped up. I now find myself saying phrases like ‘Where has the time gone?’, ‘Is it 5 o’ clock/ Friday/ October already?’ Things creep up on me now. I was horrified to see Christmas crackers and puddings in the supermarket the other day not because of frustration with the over-commercialisation of the festive season, but rather the realisation that Christmas isn’t actually THAT far away. Oh, and I woke up the other day in a cold sweat when it dawned on me that I have less than a month to finish the book.
September merged into October for me whilst on a trip to Scotland. We loved Edinburgh so much last year that we thought we’d go again. It was a fantastic break catching up with a friend, eating great food and taking in the stunning scenery. I do wish someone would invent teleportation though. Any journey which involves the M6 is a slog, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s being stuck in a traffic jam. If it’s possible I try to plan a stop-off to beak up long journeys. Not only are they a way of seeing somewhere which I might not otherwise, they are essential for restoring the blood flow to my legs after a prolonged period in the car. Dawyck Botanic Garden is an hour or so south of Edinburgh, so it seemed the perfect place to stop for a walk and the obligatory cup of tea. Dawyck, a few miles outside the town of Biggar (stop the sniggering at the back), is an arboretum under the management of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. The collection, covering over 60 acres, was once part of the Dawyck Estate where, over 300 years, 3 successive families have planted and maintained a globally significant collection of trees.
It was the fresh clean air which I noticed first. Now, it’s not as if I live in a polluted city choked by traffic exhaust fumes. Okay, sometimes the air in my village is a tad potent thanks to the silage the farmer has spread, but generally I’m lucky to be able to take deep breaths of clean Welsh air. There was something very noticeable though about Dawyck, it had a zing to the air that you get in alpine villages. It’s the sort of place that makes you feel as if you’ve had an expensive facial when you haven’t. Then you notice the trees. My, what trees! They were like green skyscrapers shooting up towards the clouds; there’s something awe-inspiring about such gigantic trees. I get a similar feeling when I’m on a beach and I’m faced with the vastness of the sky, clouds and sea; this is nature in all its glory and it’s fabulous. If you love trees you’ll love it here. The location, with the mountains, craggy hillsides and gushing streams, is unlike the other arboretums I have visited, which tend to have been created in more gently undulating landscapes. Thanks to the stunning surroundings Dawyck has some fabulous vistas. My favourite was looking down from the Beech Walk towards the privately owned house with its classic Scottish Baronial architecture and Trahenna Hill looming over it.
The Veitches were the first family to live at Dawyck, in the castle which predated the current house, and they started the tradition of tree planting. The Naesmyths who followed continued the legacy. This was a family with a serious interest in plant hunting and especially trees. Sir James (1704-1779) trained under the tutelage of the famous botanist Carl Linnaeus, and his grandson Sir John Murray discovered a new species of beech growing on the estate with an unusual columnar habit of growth; it subsequently became known as the Dawyck Beech. Sir John also funded the trips of plant hunters such as William Lobb and David Douglas. The Douglas Trail within the arboretum includes the famous firs named after him which are believed to be among the first to have been grown in the UK. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Balfour family became the new owners. Fred Balfour added to the arboretum including trees from North America and Asia. He too financed plant collectors in return for seed. He wasn’t just a tree lover though, under his ownership azaleas and rhododendrons, meconopsis and daffodils were planted to add interest to the gardens throughout the year. The Balfours still live in Dawyck House, but they gifted the arboretum to the Botanic Gardens in 1979.
In the clear unpolluted air lichens thrive. There were some trees which were so covered in lichen it was hard to tell what they were underneath the dripping, Gandalf-like lichen beards. A whole area is devoted to crytogams. Despite 4 years of studying horticulture I’d never heard of the word before – it means a plant which reproduces by spores instead of flowers and seeds, and includes mosses, fungi, liverworts, ferns and algae. The damp conditions make it perfect for mosses and the understory to the trees was a mossy equivalent of a shag pile carpet, deep, springy and verdant green.
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh are a world leader in the study of cryptogams. As part of this research a Scots Pine, planted from seed at Dawyck in the 1840s and blown down in the 1990s, is being studied as it decays to see which fungi and organisms make it their home. I find these elements of horticulture, the less glamorous side of it, fascinating. It’s easy and obvious why we adore flowers but I love that there are people out there who make it their life’s work to study the plants that so often go unnoticed.
And so to the furry creatures mentioned in the title. It wasn’t part of the plan to visit Edinburgh Zoo but the rain came down and we didn’t fancy wandering around an art gallery. I did wonder if we’d made the right decision as we squelched our way to the entrance but I’m so glad we chose animals over Whistler and Monet. Of course, the pandas have grabbed a huge amount of attention since their arrival at the zoo. The will-there-won’t-there be the patter of tiny panda paws has disappointingly come to nothing. It did mean however that the panda enclosure was open to visitors once again. I have learnt from years of zoo visits not to get my hopes up about seeing any particular creature. I have stood in front of many an enclosure searching high and low for the advertised creature only to shuffle off still none the wiser as to what a slow loris looks like in the fur. We timed our visit to the panda enclosure perfectly. We arrived to be told by the keeper that the male panda had been lying on a plinth for 4 hours. Within seconds it got up, strolled along the back wall, then walked straight towards us so it was within inches of the fence, before disappearing inside and out of view. For the briefest of moments we got to see one of the most iconic creatures on the planet and closer than I had ever imagined.
Another creature, an animal I have wanted to see ever since I can remember, was even more obliging. Edinburgh Zoo is the only place in the UK where you can see koalas and it was such a treat to see them. Considering koalas spend 23 out of 24 hours a day asleep we were lucky to see to see one of them eating, stretching and climbing, albeit all done at a measured koala pace. It must have exhausted itself though because it too joined its fellow koalas for a snooze, but I’m not sure it can get any cuter than a sleeping koala resting its head on a paw.
P.s. Thanks to Wellyman for his fab photos.
It was a lovely break. 🙂
Good to have a break before the final push to finish the book; good luck with that. Seeing a Panda so close must have been truly amazing.
Yes it was lovely to get away for a few days and thank you I’m getting there with the book. It was incredible to see the panda – it and the koala are creatures I never though I’d be able to see.
Arabella Sock said:
I love lichens and mosses. I went to a nursery once where various plants to be sold had all sorts of frondy things and lichens growing in their pots.. Considerably more attractive and fascinating than the plants themselves.
When we were travelling the Great Ocean Road in Australia (as you do) we spotted some cute koalas in the trees off the road. we stopped and started photoing and within minutes everyone else on the road was stopping and staring up into the trees causing several car shunts! a common cause of accidents there apparently.
I find mosses and lichen fascinating. Thinking about studying them more. Amazing to see koalas in the wild. I’ve heard one of the reasons why they are struggling is because people take pot shots at them. Makes me lost for words.
They’re fascinating aren’t they. Ha ha! I’ve had plants like that too. Amazing to see koalas in the wild. I read that one of the reasons why they are struggling is because people take pot shots at them whilst they are sleeping in the trees. Things like that make me lost for words.
The Dawyck Botanic Garden seems to be truly special! I am so glad you got to see it. I love the Dawyck House as well. You photo of the lichen is simply stunning. I hope I get to visit Scotland one day myself and the Dawyck Botanic Garden is now certainly on my must-see-gardens list. Good luck with your book! Warm regards from Southern California,
I hope you get a chance to visit Scotland soon, although it’s a long way from California. 😉 I’d recommend Dawyck and Edinburgh if you do visit. Thank you, the book is coming along. 🙂
Susie Dixon said:
Know what you mean by the air. Jon and I went to Scotland in June to Banff. We live in a village too, but the air was lovely and fresh in Scotland. Have a good weekend Susie x
Hi Susie. The freshness of the air really took me by surprise, no wonder there’s so much moss and lichen there. Thank you, I managed to get lots done at the allotment before the rain came. It’s nearly but to bed for winter now.
I find lichen and moss fascinating, it’s like a vast garden in miniature. How cute that koala is sleeping on its paw like that, and wonderful that you got to see the pandas.
That’s it exactly, like the fairy gardens I used to imagine when I was a child.
Backlane Notebook said:
What a darling koala and I too love lichen. My Hydarngea petiolaris has a lovely turquoise lichen adorning it currently – I’ll try and photograph it.
I’ve become quite a lichen fan. Love the sound of your turquoise one. The koala was very cute. The photo makes me smile every time I see it.
Please compliment Wellyman on his photos! It sounds like a wonderful trip, and any trip which includes Edinburgh just has to be amazing. I could just about smell that fresh crisp air as I read your description and I know exactly what you mean !
I will do and thank you he’ll be very chuffed. It was lovely and Edinburgh and Scotland are fabulous places. Hoping we get a chance to go back and explore further.
Wow, the view down to Dawyck House is sensational. And how lovely to have seen a panda. I know what you mean about looking for animals that are hiding, it happens to me too. There are water voles at Slimbridge, but we’d never ever seen one and I was convinced there were just a couple in there, and that they were always hiding. We went in the morning the other day (we almost always go in the afternoon) and there were TEN in there, running around all over the place. Not quite as amazing as a panda, but we were pretty impressed nonetheless. Good luck with the book deadline (or shouldn’t I mention it..?)
Wow! We have yet to see a water vole. It might not be a panda but if we saw a water vole we’d be so chuffed. We’ve been to Slimbridge once and caught a glimpse of a kingfisher but no water voles. We keep meaning to do the canoe along the waterways at Slimbridge but haven’t got round to it yet. Thank you! I’m getting there. It’s the edit stage that you shouldn’t mention …. 😉
What a fab sounding place for a much-needed pit stop! I love lichens too, they are wonderfully strange – looking, and I am a sucker for textures anyway. I loved your description of the landscape and the trees, I know exactly what you mean, some kinds of landscapes have the ability to boost your soul, to give you a feeling of exhilaration at the same time as making you feel small. Your trip sounds like the perfect fuel for the last push on your boo -good luck! And kudos to Piano Learner/ wellyman for the photos.
You’d love it. The lichens are just incredible. It was good to get away for a short break, although it wasn’t exactly restful. We got stuck on the M6 on the way home and with a detour to see family it took us 13 hours to get home!! WM is really enjoying the new camera and lenses and learning how to use them. It’s all a bit complicated for me though. 😉 One day I’ll master it.
Enjoyed your review on Dawyck. I can’t count the number of times we’ve done that journey, and driven through Biggar, keen to reach Edinburgh, as we were, at last, so nearly there, totally unaware of the existence of this estate. I must follow your example, next time, and pause for a break. It must have been a lovely time to visit and it sounds crisp and fresh! Your description of the lichens did make me giggle – I couldn’t describe them any better! Yes, “Wellyman’s” photos are wonderful – so cute! Despite my years there, I’ve never visited the zoo, I’m sorry to say! It was definitely worth your while!
I know what you mean. We did look at the map and think should we just push on to Edinburgh but I’m so glad we stopped off. I suppose we wouldn’t have visited either if the weather had been better but it was worth it. The photos of the panda and koala make me smile every time I see them.
A most enjoyable post and lovely photos. If you think that time is going fast then just wait until you reach my age!
Dawyck Botanic garden looks to be an interesting place to visit.
Lucky you seeing a panda close up and koalas, both of which are such endearing animals. xx
Thank you Flighty. Dawyck was well worth the detour. I know we felt very lucky to see both. x
Love the yew photo!
-and the panda of course 🙂
Sounds like a nice trip, and of course it’s always nice to get away for a bit. I have to laugh though when I hear complaints about a two or three hour drive, that’s easily a day trip here!
Nice to hear about where my treasured beech comes from, it’s a favorite.
Thank you. The journey to Edinburgh was 6 hours in total but the journey home with a detour to see family ended up taking 10 hours!!. It’s less about time and distance and more about being stuck in traffic for me. It feels like such a waste of time. Oh well. It’s a very beautiful beech, how lovely to have your own specimen. 🙂
I take back my comment, that is a long enough drive to grate the nerves of even the most patient driver! -and I will take hours on the open highway if it means avoiding sitting stuck in traffic.
🙂 We live somewhere where traffic jams are rare and tend to be caused by cows crossing the road. I used to live near London though and every journey had to have extra time planned into it. We allowed 3 hours for a trip that should have taken just over an hour and even then we still nearly missed the start of the ballet. Parts of our tiny island are much too crowded. 😉
Various gardens just off the M6 too Louise – with going up to my Mum’s 3 or more times a year we almost always make a point of finding somewhere different en route to visit. It certainly helps break up a long journey. Not been to Dawyck before but our next visit to Edinburgh is by train so it’s one to remember for another time. Lucky you seeing the panda – it was at the height of panda pregnancy watch when we were at the zoo last year and the public had no access at all 😦
We don’t tend to stop off on the way up to family as we can do that trip in one go or are travelling at night but there are a few places I would like to visit, so maybe we should try and incorporate some next year. We were so lucky with the panda. It was only moving about for a minute or so before it went indoors. Some other visitors arrived just after it had gone inside.
Fabulous post beautiful pictures….. 🙂
Thank you. 🙂
A great post , really enjoyed it. I’ ve never been to Dawyck. It looks well worth a visit. I love the panda and the Koala bear. It reminds me I haven’ t been to a zoo for years. I used to enjoy it as much as my children did.
Thanks you Chloris. I would recommend Dawyck if you get the chance to visit. The panda and koala were fab. Every time I see the photos they make me smile. Edinburgh has a fantastic conservation programme too. It’s good to know that the work they do is making a difference in the wild.
Sounds like a fab trip. We went to Dawyck last year while hunting for Meconopsis in bloom. The whole place is fantastic, and as I’m a sucker for mosses I definitely had more than enough to look at. And the trees are amazing as well, aren’t they. I’ll get round to the Danish garden list one of these days, have been a bit under the weather, but I haven’t forgotten.
Thanks Helle, it was. It would be fabulous to see the meconopsis in bloom. Oh there’s no hurry for the list we have many things to decide about next year, unfortunately a trip to Denmark might not happen. 😦 I’d still love to see the names of place you’d recommend though, just in case. Sorry to hear you have been unwell. I hope you feel better soon. x
Diana Studer said:
beware the drop bear!
David Marsden said:
I’ve planted a Dawyck beech at the Priory, Lou (recently nibbled by an escapee bull from Margaret’s farm) but had no idea who or what it was named for. So thanks for that. I’m a bit of a sucker for a good zoo but Edinburgh’s one I haven’t been to. A little disappointed PL didn’t capture the panda on roller skates. If that Kitkat advert was before your time … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR0WXJwnHW8
Sorry to hear about the nibbled Dawyck Beech. It’s a very lovely tree though, so the bull had good taste. I hope it survives the experience to grow into a majestic specimen.
I love zoos. I’m often a bit vary of saying that and did think twice about posting about it because I know they divide opinion. A wet Friday in October meant we almost had the zoo to ourselves too. Thanks for the link, it made me chuckle. I wish it was before my time but no I remember the advert well. We did wonder if that would happen. The admission price was a little steep plus a car park charge on top, so we did joke that we’d be expecting tap dancing koalas and roller skating pandas for the price. In the end we were so lucky just to see the panda and so close. Think the koalas stole the day for me though. So incredibly cute.
Hi Louise, the images are amazing, especially the moss and lichen – well done, wellyman! Scotland must be gorgeous at this time of year but I agree travelling in the UK is not a pleasure. In May I was stuck for ages on the M25 on way back from Wisley. As for getting older and time flying: same for me and it gets worse and worse every year! Terrible in a way but then it’s also a sign that we have much going on and our lives are exciting. What is your new book about? Looking forward to it. Happy autumn days!
Sounds as if you had a great trip WW and those few days away should provide you with all the wooomph you need to finish the book. Good luck with the final run-in. Have never been to Dawyck but it has been noted just in case we find ourselves in the area. I would like to see and stroke those lichen covered trees. We must visit Chester Zoo which is only just down the road. I know exactly what you mean about fresh air. We are just back from a few days away in the Lake District where it was an absolute pleasure to inhale 🙂
I love the idea of breaking a long car journey with a garden visit – thanks for your tips about the gardens to visit in the Leeds area. I didn’t have time to stop on this trip but have earmarked them for future trips up the M1. Zoos are so expensive now, aren’t they? I go to London Zoo but have an annual pass; I wish they still had bears there as they used to when my son was little but they’ve been moved up to Whipsnade. Probably better for them up there with more room to play. Funny you commenting on the fresh air of Scotland – I always feel like that when I come to the Forest of Dean which I think may be heading towards your part of the country?
I’ve put together a list of Danish gardens I could send you, even if you’re not going next year, maybe you’ll go some other time. I’ll try coping it into this form, hope it’s not too long.
Danish Gardens to Visit
Have means garden – haven means the garden, just to avoid confusion 😉
Denmark doesn’t really have large gardens like say Sissinghurst or Hidcote or Great Dixter, there is no gardening tradition to speak of. But still, there are some gardens that I find interesting and worth a visit. All dependent on one’s taste and preferences, of course.
Haven i Hune – my favourite garden to visit. A private garden now run by a foundation after the owner died 5 years ago. Built from scratch on 4000 sq.m. close to the sea, as close to an English garden as you’ll get in DK. http://www.annejust.dk – website unfortunately only in Danish
Jette Fröhlichs Have – famous Danish industrial designer’s garden – massive rose collection http://www.jettefroehlichshave.dk
The Royal Library Gardens – right next to Christiansborg Castle where parliament sits. A very pleasant quiet garden in the middle of the city.
http://www.slke.dk/fileadmin/user_upload/slke/Dokumenter/Publikationer/Foldere/Guide_Slotte_og _Haver/2014/Guide_2014-2015-UK-reduceret.pdf – a list of royal palaces and their gardens/parks –
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek – a sculpture museum, amongst other things, with an inner courtyard garden which comes highly recommended – http://www.glyptotek.com
The Botanical Gardens, but don’t expect Kew!
The National Archives rooftop garden – http://www.visitcopenhagen.com/copenhagen/green-roofs-at-rigsarkivet-gdk653008 –
Copenhagen Town Hall also has a courtyard garden, but to be honest, I don’t know how interesting it is.
There are several former royal gardens that are now public parks in the city and surrounding areas.
Southern Sweden seems to have many more private gardens in the English mould, but I haven’t visited any so cannot say anything about them. But I am sure they can be googled.
Hope this is of some help, should you go at some stage.
Thanks for this Helle. It would be lovely to go but I think moving house next year will end up taking priority. Hopefully once we’re settled we can do a Scandinavian garden tour. :)) Hope you’re feeling better.