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In praise of the Douglas fir

June 8, 2010

Right, supper’s in the oven, dogs are fed, child 2 is at last settled at painting (pictures, mostly; kitchen table, sometimes) and I have five minutes before we need to jump in the car to collect child 1 from after-school club. Sorry that Tuesday’s tree is nearly Wednesday’s this week. The past few days have been pretty manic here at Castle Beastie. This was the weekend of our dreaded Garden Open Day, which we have been working towards for weeks. It went off very well, in the end, and I had only one awkward horticultural question to field: I’d like to write more about it when I have a second, though not today. It kept us extremely busy over the whole weekend, what with preparations and clearing up, and we’ve also had school sports day on Friday, a tour party this morning, a caterer to meet this afternoon for a summer function and a wedding team arriving to set up a marquee etc for this weekend. Summers are all go!

Anyway, trees. Ahhh. In this season of lush greenery, I have surprised myself by turning to a conifer as this Tuesday’s tree. Evergreens perhaps seem more suitable to a winter post. Our grounds here at the castle, however, are dominated by conifers, which give structure and atmosphere to the policies. The most widespread is the Douglas Fir.

As this old label at the root of one of our firs suggests, Douglas Firs are not native to Scotland. The first seed of this variety was sent from North America back to Scotland in 1826 by the eponymous David Douglas, plantsman, explorer and one-time gardener at Scone Palace. (The tree grown from that original seed is still flourishing in the grounds of Scone.) Ours are mere teenagers by comparison: they were planted here at Castle Beastie in the 1840s.

Whether, as seems likely, they were grown from seeds of the tree at Scone, we do not know for sure. It is equally possible that they derive from seeds and seedlings brought directly from North America by the then laird of the castle, who had travelled extensively in the Rockies and further west in the 1820s and ’30s.

That visionary laird did not live to see his plantings grow to maturity, as it must have been a hundred years before his avenues and rides of Douglas Firs and Giant Sequoias began to look as they do today. His trees are flourishing. Their wide girths and upward momentum give a tremendous sense of strength and vigour, and they seem as if they are in the prime of life.

At this time of year, with the sap rising, their fronds are tipped with bright lime green, as if lit by sunlight even on a drizzly day like today. Walking under their immense heights, through ferns and rhododendrons, with rabbits and deer in the undergrowth, is like walking down the nave of a medieval cathedral, complete with its own incense: the smell of Douglas firs in the sunshine is like the sweet, warm smell of strawberry jam cooking in a pot on the hob. If we could bottle the smell, we would make city dwellers very happy.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Jean S permalink
    June 8, 2010 8:26 pm

    there is indeed nothing quite like the smell of a Doug fir on a warm, sunny day. To me, it’s THE smell of summer in Oregon.

  2. June 8, 2010 8:51 pm

    The fronds look so delicate on such a huge, stately tree. Glad your Open Garden Day went well. We’re expecting snow this week!

  3. dancingbeastie permalink
    June 8, 2010 11:13 pm

    Jean, how strange to think that summers in Oregon smell the same as summers at my home in Scotland…but of course they would, since Oregon is the home of the Douglas fir. Their warm sweetness is the smell of home to me too – I just love it.

    Alaine, yes, the fronds are incredibly delicate looking, feathery and soft. The crumbly, split texture of the bark at the base of the trees always makes me think of chocolate cake that has risen too fast in the oven. (It doesn’t take much to make me think of cake, unfortunately.) Here we are tipping into midsummer as you tilt towards midwinter and snow – perhaps a conifer post was the right choice for Australia, then!

  4. June 9, 2010 12:06 pm

    I, too, think of conifers as being ‘winter trees’ – except once spring comes and those bright lime green tips appear, it is almost as exciting a sight as seeing blossoms.

    Personally, I think these particular trees look very strange – so tall and sparsely decorated with droopy branches.

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      June 9, 2010 3:26 pm

      I know what you mean, Violet Sky. Ours have very droopy crowns too, which makes them look a bit limp-wristed. A single one might look rather unprepossessing – but as a forest, they are delicious.

  5. Wendy permalink
    June 10, 2010 12:03 am

    They are lovely and I enjoyed hearing the history of them. They do evoke a bit of a Robin Hood theme don’t they

  6. June 10, 2010 12:09 am

    Oh, yes, I can also feel the smell of Oregon when I see this magnificient trees!

    Our American best friends live in Portland, Ore and Bend, Ore, so we”ve sure been there smelling these lovely, big trees. Underneath lots of Rhododenrons are growing, it’s so beautiful.

    The trees in Sweden do not grow this big. Here the firs are more cute…! If that’s what you can call a fir!

    I would like to stroll along the path under your big Douglas firs!


    • dancingbeastie permalink
      June 10, 2010 6:19 pm

      Wendy, hmm, I’ve often thought of Tolkien’s elves here in the woods but never of Robin Hood. I do see what you mean. Certainly the greenwood is merry at this time of year – although men in tights are a bit thin on the ground! 😀

      Agneta, I can see I am going to have to make a pilgrimage to Oregon one of these days, to see this sort of landscape in its native setting. We certainly associate Scandinavia with firs here, so clearly your Swedish trees are more than big enough to impress us!

      • June 11, 2010 12:14 pm

        Well, they, the trees, are not as big as the Douglas, but many……oh my, they are many, many, many, many…… can go by car for hours (at least it seems like hours….) and you see no people only trees…..

  7. June 11, 2010 6:54 pm

    Thank you so much for the postcards!

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      June 13, 2010 4:55 pm

      my pleasure 🙂


  1. on the Oregon Trail in Scotland « Dancing Beastie
  2. the Tuesday tree: planning for the future « Dancing Beastie
  3. The Tuesday fir cone « Dancing Beastie
  4. Victims of the gales « Dancing Beastie
  5. The Tuesday tree: conifers for moongazers « Dancing Beastie
  6. Autumn under the Douglas firs | Dancing Beastie

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