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Autumn Gentians

November 29, 2019
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Autumn is a time of change. The leaves turn to beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red but one plant steals the show (and is of significant importance to us Scots): autumn gentians.

Gentians are small alpine plants which grow in high alpine regions. They come in a range of forms, shapes and sizes – including in a bottle! (Gentiana lutea is used to make an alcoholic drink.) The most famous gentians are the blue trumpet species such as Gentiana sino-ornata found by George Forrest in NW Yunnan in 1904 who 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 flowering form which is floriferous and multi headed. ‘Berrybank Sky’ is a small compact plant with a pale blue/purple flower. The Berrybank Hybrids are bred by Ian McNaughton of Macplants Nursery.

G. ‘Strathmore’ an iconic plant which produces a mass of lightly coloured blue funnels which are delicately striped.

My favourite is Gentiana x macaulayi ‘Kidbrooke Seedling’ at the lower end of the Woodland garden near the Chinese Hillside at RBGE. The flowers lay as perfect torpedoes which will erupt into a sea of flowers forming a blanket of blue. 

Image of Connor Smith Connor Smith

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 - becoming one of the first non-American interns to be extended since the inception of the programme in 1987.

Returning to Scotland, Connor received an offer to work for Zu Jeddeloh nursery in Germany where he witnessed cutting edge machinery, innovation and marketing. A short spell with Kevock Garden followed, where he participated in one of their Gold Medal-winning displays at the Chelsea Flower Show. Then, it was on to Vannucci Piante in Pistoia, Italy - the largest growing area in Europe.

Connor gained an interested in alpine plants when working under alpine expert Elspeth MacKintosh at RBGE. Elspeth’s passion and knowledge inspired Connor to further pursue a world in alpine plants. In 2019, he worked for the Schachen Alpine Garden high in the German mountains on a Merlin Trust placement.

Connor has written articles on various plant groups both national and international. He has lectured in America, Italy and Britain and is based at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.