Autumn is a time of change. The leaves turn to beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red. However, one group of plants of significant importance to us Scots, really steal the show: autumn gentians.
Autumn gentians are small alpine plants which grow in high mountain regions. They come in a range of forms, shapes and sizes – including in a bottle! (Gentiana lutea is used to make an alcoholic drink.) In fact, the most famous autumn gentians are the blue trumpet species, such as Gentiana sino-ornata. This was discovered by George Forrest in NW Yunnan in 1904, who then sent seeds back to Edinburgh in 1912.
Many of the beautiful Scottish introductions have gained national and international acclaim. G. ‘Oban’ is a pure white form which is floriferous and multi headed. On the other hand, ‘Berrybank Sky’ is a small compact plant with a pale blue/purple flower. Ian McNaughton of Macplants Nursery bred all of the Berrybank hybrids.
Gentiana ‘Strathmore’ is an iconic plant which produces a mass of delicately striped, lightly coloured blue funnels.
My favourite is Gentiana x macaulayi ‘Kidbrooke Seedling’. This grows at the lower end of the woodland garden near the Chinese Hillside at RBGE. The flowers lay as perfect torpedoes which will erupt from among the foliage, forming a blanket of blue.
Connor Smith began his horticulture career working at a garden centre which quickly rose to become one of the best in Scotland. After completing his first year of study, he was accepted to work as an intern for the world-renowned conifer and maple grower Iseli Nursery. As a result he became one of the first non-American interns since the programme began in 1987.
Connor gained an interested in alpine plants when working under alpine expert Elspeth MacKintosh at RBGE. Elspeth’s passion and knowledge inspired Connor to deepen his knowledge of alpine plants. In 2019, he worked for the Schachen Alpine Garden high in the German mountains on a Merlin Trust placement.
Connor writes articles on various plant groups both national and international. He has lectured in America, Italy and Britain.