In praise of the Douglas fir
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.