General Subjects > Blogs and Diaries

Notes from the Cruickshank Botanic Garden

(1/24) > >>

Cruickshank Friend:
The Cruickshank Botanic Garden is situated in the medieval burgh of Old Aberdeen on the King's College campus of the University of Aberdeen and is a partnership between the University and the Cruickshank Charitable Trust.  The Garden is in a sheltered situation between St. Machar's Cathedral and King's College, about 1 mile from the sea, with relatively mild winters and not much frost.

  "For the teaching and study of Botany as pure science, and as applied to the Arts and Industries, and for the furtherance of University interests and the public good."
 Deed of Trust, 26th April 1898.


It was founded in 1898 with a bequest  and land from Miss Anne Cruickshank, given in memory of her brother Dr Alexander Cruickshank. Their father had been Regius Professor of Mathematics in the University. The original Deed of Trust specified that the Garden was to be 'for the furtherance of University interests and the public good'. The Garden is true to its origins, and provides an educational resource both for University students and for the thousands of schoolchildren who visit the Natural History Centre, as well as a wonderful amenity for staff, students and the general public.

This beautiful and peaceful  eleven  acre Garden offers year round interest to visitors.
The garden comprises: a sunken garden with alpine lawn, a rock garden built in the 1960s complete with waterfalls and pond system, a long unbroken herbaceous border, a formal rose garden with drystone walling, and an arboretum. It has a large collection of flowering bulbs and rhododendrons,
 and many unusual shrubs and trees.  It is sometimes known as The Secret Garden of Old Aberdeen.

The Cruickshank Botanic Garden is an internationally important collection of plants, a valuable educational resource, and part of the heritage of the University and City of Aberdeen.
The Garden, which is open to the public free of charge, exists to promote an appreciation of the beauty, diversity and importance of plants, and an understanding of their role in the natural world
and is  dedicated to understanding and conserving our natural world.

The Friends of the Cruickshank Botanic Garden were established in 1982 to provide a forum for those 'interested in the well-being of the Garden'. The Friends provide support for the Garden in kind, through volunteering and acting as advocates for the Garden, and financially, by the purchase of equipment and plants.  A wide range of events is organised for members during the year and Friends receive a quarterly newsletter and an annual seed list.
They also fund summer student placements and the Friends Horticulture Bursary.  The recipient of that Bursary for 2009-2010 was SRGC member Kate Barnard – who previously had been awarded an SRGC Grant for a placement at Dunedin Botanic Garden in New Zealand -


Botanic Gardens are at risk everywhere as University budgets become tighter  - this thread, dedicated to the Botanic Garden of the University in Aberdeen, is intended as a tribute to the work of those running these gardens, those from outside who volunteer to support such gardens and as an example of what is available in the form of such gardens and how different groups can combine to  offer mutual support.
Contributions for a similar thread for other Botanic Gardens around the world are more than welcome.
Regular readers of the Forum will be aware that we have among our number a former gardener at the Cruickshank, Roma Fiddes  and the Garden Notes here have been contributed to the newsletters of the Friends of the Cruickshank Botanic Garden by David Atkinson  from Aberdeenshire,  who has , in the past, served both as the Convenor of the SRGC Aberdeen Group and the President of the FCBG.
We thank  David Akinson, the Committee of the FCBG and Mark Paterson, Curator of the Garden for their support.

Some photos by courtesy of the CBG/FCBG website.

Cruickshank Friend:
David Atkinson's Garden Notes - reports of what takes his eye as  he walks around the CBG- begin in Winter 2009.....

Cruickshank Garden Notes - December 2009

So here we are after a white Christmas - everyone’s dream - with the ground hard frozen, slithering around in a winter wonderland, thinking more of scraping windscreens, clearing tracks and jump starting cars than hands on horticulture. Hopefully the gift exchange frenzy has brought, at the very least, some new gardening books to inspire and inform next year’s activities.

Until our current wintry blast, the descent towards the shortest day, though wet, had been very gentle with few frosts.  Deeside in particular had beautiful autumn colours, grass continued to grow and a number of what are usually winter flowerers bloomed weeks earlier than normal;  Mahonia ‘Charity’, Viburnum x bodnantense and Winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, were all in flower in October, Witchhazel buds were showing yellow well before Christmas and the foliage of spring bulbs was, possibly unwisely, in evidence far earlier than usual.
Snow has a very neatening, unifying effect on the landscape, covering blots and blemishes, softening shapes and making the effect of humans less pronounced, so on the wintry day I visited the Cruickshank Garden. Between swirling snow showers it appeared more of a sculpture park than busy garden, work done and undone both invisible under the ample white blanket; very calm and strangely quiet, the sound of the traffic somehow deadened by the snow.  Thus it was really the overall effects that struck me more than individual plants, though even in the snow the benefits of strong structural evergreens - like the many hollies and for instance the Japanese umbrella pine, Sciadopitys verticillata, came to the fore.  Similarly the red peeling bark of the excellent Acer griseum provided a pleasing shock of colour in the monochrome scene.

Photo of Sciadopitys verticillata by Trond Hoy

Enjoy the elegant weeping foliage of the large Juniperus recurva var coxii - the coffin juniper - dominating the eastern end of the sunken garden. Don’t bother to try the fruit of the medlar, Mespilus germanicus in the bed to the left of the shrub border by the boundary wall, as although reputedly edible when softened by frost – bletted - I remain to be convinced!  Another shrub whose very name warns off potential nibblers, the Killarney strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, can be seen in fine flower with masses of small white bells in the shrub border against the warm brick wall, whilst further along Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ is still exhibiting its spikes of yellow flowers.  The winter grey-green catkins of the evergreen Garrya elliptica can already be seen by the entrance to the rock garden, where the story is in general of future promise rather than current display; the furry flower buds of Magnolia wilsonii, in the bed at the bottom of the slope, showing it will yet again carry a fine crop of its elegant pendant flowers.

So a slippy, chilly drive home to enjoy the illusion of order provided by snow cover and to bask in glow of as yet unbroken resolutions to stay on top of the garden work next year!
                              David Atkinson

Cruickshank Friend:
Cruickshank Garden Notes         Spring 2010

The snow seems finally to have gone.  It feels as though we had a very long January and suddenly spring is springing up all around and grass cutting is just around the corner.  Out at Craigievar- in the Arctic zone- the snow came a week before Christmas, and apart from a brief thaw in mid February only left in mid March leaving behind a fair amount of death and destruction.  The low temperatures have seen off a number of old friends - sages, rosemary, a buddleia or two, a Daphne bholua looking sick and many more.  But more striking this winter is the physical damage caused by the sheer weight of the snow, particularly in the absence of wind to blow it off plants and other structures.  The tally here includes two lean-to greenhouses, various gutters and a now ‘M’ shaped polytunnel, plus of course numerous broken branches, split shrubs and so on.

St. Machar Cathedral, from the Chanonry

However let us return to our nascent spring and a bright if chilly morning in the Cruickshank garden.  In many locations in the garden at the moment it is of course spring bulbs which catch the eye, from the snowdrops on the lawn just inside the Chanonry gate, to the patches of iris and cyclamen in the rock garden. Viburnum x bodnantense and Hammamelis spp must be about the most reliable winter flowering shrubs and deserve to be in any thinking person’s garden - situated near the house, otherwise their blooming may pass unnoticed in the depth of winter.  One of the above viburnum’s parents, Viburnum farrerii  is still in flower in the recently cleared bed next to the Chanonry entrance, near a Hammamelis mollis ‘Pallida’, still brightening the garden with its pale yellow scented flowers - the first of number in flower around the garden.

The normally robust New Zealand daisy bush, Olearia macrodonta, in the signpost bed in front of the Cruickshank Building, is showing signs of winter damage with crisped leaves and dead shoots, as is the slightly tender Rubus lineatus - a lovely foliage plant with leaves silvery and silky underneath - despite its warm position in a bed beside the building.   However the winter flowering Iris unguicularis, nestling at the foot of the building has still managed to produce a respectable display of large pale purple flowers.  On the other side of the path in front of the Auris building the branches of the excellent wide spreading flowering cherry, Prunus ‘Moerheimii’ are covered in swelling buds as is its neighbour and relative an unnamed small cherry.

The Witch Hazel relative, Parrotia persica, on the left of the path through to the sunken garden, is studded with small red petalless flowers, its pleasant flaking bark visible in its leafless state.  The peeling bark of the paper bark maple, Acer griseum, also stands out well while the surrounding trees are leafless. The purple hose in hose, primula massed in a bed near here remind one of how valuable primrose and polyanthus forms are at this time of year, so must split the ones I still have and purloin some more!

Have a look at the ‘ancient’ hedge along the northern edge of the lawn where the old order beds used to be, now expertly laid by the head gardener - ready to restrain livestock!  It will be interesting to watch its progress and recovery from what looks like drastic treatment.  While we are on the subject  of hedges, I was struck by how well cut and in good condition both the holly hedges round the rose garden and the hornbeam one round the old kitchen garden are; smooth and tapering to the top.

The herbaceous border looks pleasingly ready for action, cut down with new shoots just visible as are the buds on the spectacular Paeonia rockii on the south facing terrace, whereas Garrya elliptica, the evergreen shrub by the gate through to the rock garden is in its full glory, draped in long grey-green catkins (my specimen is another winter casualty I fear).  On the way to this enjoy the sight and scent of the excellent Daphne bholua in the bed in front of the wall, wreathed in headily scented pink flowers - a good bet for a reasonably sunny sheltered position in town,  if a bit challenged by the more arduous conditions further inland.

In the rock garden, enjoy the patches of numerous different bulbs (corms, tubers etc – but let’s not get too fussy!) - the grouping of Cyclamen coum at the foot of the Monkey puzzle tree is particularly pleasing, then home to your own garden to prepare for the impending growing season!
 David Atkinson

Cruickshank Friend:
Cruickshank Garden Notes Summer  2010

Well, the long hot summer we all seem to feel we deserve after the long cold winter we enjoyed, has yet to materialise and had better hurry up if it is going to be long. There have been some very pleasant warm moments and even whole days, but a lot of very chilly ones with icy northerly winds and too much wetness- what a joy it is mowing sodden grass!  The unfolding of the season has revealed further winter casualties - plants apparently all right but unable to sustain new growth; either because half broken branches could not support the extra windage that a new crop of leaves brought, or because roots or bark  were more damaged than they had first seemed.  I have lost, in addition to the plants mentioned in the last notes a three metre sweet chestnut, a large Paulownia tomentosa and even a dwarf Scots pine and various Deutzia.  In addition gardeners have had to contend with the damage hungry rabbits and deer have caused in many country gardens - a rabbit fence is a poor barrier if there is three feet of snow, and apple and rowan bark is tasty enough to a starving grazer.  On a much more positive note however those trees and shrubs which survive the winter are flowering profusely, native Hawthorn, Rowan, Gorse and Broom are joined by Rhododendrons, Viburnums and more, presumably as a result of last year’s conditions- a reasonably warm and moist summer with a slow and measured descent into autumn and winter.

Paulownia tomentosa thriving in Australia, photo by Fermiano de Sousa

Thus to the Cruickshank on a pleasant Thursday evening when the lowing herd – if there had been one – would undoubtedly have been winding slowly o’er the lea, where the big beech by the Chanonry entrance is already laden with a heavy crop of mast, and embryonic berries can be spotted on the rowans nearby.  The Weeping ash, Fraxinus excelsior ‘Pendula’ on the corner encloses a pleasing green space beneath its branches as do the very satisfactory two Weeping elms, Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’ on the northern edge of the old order beds.  All three of these much more satisfactory and dignified than most weeping trees because they were either grafted high or trained vertically before being allowed to weep. The bed by the south west corner of the Cruickshank building has been planted with a diverse selection of Aquilegia species and forms. The bed is colourful and interesting now and it will be amusing to view the results of their promiscuous mixing in years to come!  In the nearby peat bed the  New Zealand native, Bulbinella hookeri with bronzy foliage and spikes of egg-yolk yellow flowers, like a mini red hot poker, is thriving in the coolish dampish conditions, shaded from the south by a well and fragrantly flowered dwarf lilac Syringa  meyeri ‘Palibin’- an excellent, very hardy and easy-going choice for any garden.  This bed, as with many others in the garden is enlivened at the moment by self sown specimens of Dame’s violet, Hesperis matronalis, with musky scented flowers in shades of lilac - another plant that should be in all but the most rigidly controlled gardens.

As you wander through to the shrub border leading to St. Machar Drive, note the spectacle of Laburnum x wateri ‘Vossii’ , common enough to be overlooked, but marvellous when wreathed in its long dangling racemes of yellow pea flowers. Enjoy also the large white flowers on the Medlar, Mespilus  germanica at the eastern end of boundary  border and the nearby red flowered hawthorn, Crateagus laevigata ‘Punicea’(aka Crimson Cloud).

In the west facing side of the shrub border one of the garden’s specimens of the Chilean fire bush, Embothrium coccineum, Lanceolatum Group, is exotically  covered in profuse orange red flowers, near the golden Philadelphus, P.coronarius ‘Aureus’ on the point of filling the air with the heady scent of its largish white flowers. This plant is another reliable garden plant, tolerant of pruning and thriving - though more lime green than golden - in even quite dense shade. Two pinkish flowered Lilacs Syringa emodi from the Himalaya and the Canadian raised S. x josiflexa ’Bellicent’ are also fragrantly thriving here.

The Rose Garden is just yawning and stretching with pleasing early blooms on, among others, the excellent Rugosa hybrid, the vigorous, scented magenta flowered Roseraie del’Hay, the species Rosa moyesii and the tall white flowered Rosa pimpinellifolia (now R. spinosissima) ‘Altaica’.  Don’t forget to admire the excellent and beautifully tended hedges which bound this area.

The herbaceous border, mulched and staked is already charming with patches of early perennials and the promise of so much more; a group of a whitish Foxtail lily  (Eremurus?), Paeonies, Geranium,  a tall yellow Meadow rue, Thalictrum lucidum, the crimson-flowered Thistle, Cirsium rivulare, and much more on an almost daily basis.

The terrace wall is delightful with another specimen of Embothrium coccineum, a Bladder senna, Colutea x meadia with copper coloured pea flowers with faces like a Disney cartoon character, Wisteria and the splendid Californian currant, Ribes speciosum, with dangling fuchsia like flowers, waiting hopefully for a humming bird to come and pollinate them!

Finally to the Rock Garden where the spring display is quieting down, though much of interest remains, including a group of the African violet relative, the Chasmophyte, Ramonda myconi in the Dawn redwood bed, dactylorhiza orchids here and there and a fine stand of the native Flag iris I. pseudacorus, here in water in the bottom pool but surprisingly tolerant of drier conditions.

Close-up of Paulownia flowers

And so to bed - hoping that by the time you read this we will be basking in sunshine and looking forward to a refreshing glass of Pimms with not a jumper or fleece in sight! 
                                                                                                                                     David Atkinson

Cruickshank Friend:
Cruickshank notes – Autumn 2010

Another growing season reaches its climax - fruit ripens on trees, harvest time nears and those provident ants among us make jams and other preserves to sustain themselves through the long winter months.  It seems to have been another good year for trees and shrubs; those that survived the snow and cold have in general flowered well and their branches are now weighed down with berries or other fruit.
The large beech tree by the Chanonry gate has, accordingly, a huge crop of mast and the two rowans on the other side of the path, a pink-berried form of Sorbus cashmeriana and a white- berried Sorbus forrestii are laden with fruit, as indeed is the fine weeping ash, Fraxinus excelsior ‘Pendula’ on the corner of this bed, ready to provide the gardeners with lots of weeding opportunities next season.  The ‘notice board’ bed has a white agapanthus in flower at the moment as well as the exotically flowered New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax – a reasonable bet in Aberdeen, though in my experience it does not survive the winters inland. Unfortunately the more excitingly-coloured foliage types are forms or hybrids of the less hardy Phormium cookianum, which struggles even in town.  Also in this bed is a plant of the herbaceous berberis relative Podophyllum hexandrum, usually thriving in a coolish moist situation- indeed there is a good clump in the sunken garden, with pleasant, large mottled leaves, largeish pink flowers and at this time of year very striking plum sized and shaped bright red fruits which are allegedly edible when fully ripe - ‘juicy but insipid’- but I’m not sure I fancy trying one!

 Actaea rubra in flower, Canada - Cohan Fulford

The unequivocally poisonous berries of Actaea rubra, the baneberry, similarly bright red, can be seen in a number of places in the garden, cheering up shady corners.  There is an interesting brief account of the effects of a deliberate experimental self-intoxication in the Wikipedia entry for this species - but don’t try it at home!  The youngish specimen of the Chinese shrub, Decaisnea fargesii, has large crop pods, green like broad beans at the moment but soon to change to a remarkable metallic-blue.  This is a very hardy large shrub though prone to damage from late frosts, with elegant, large pinnate leaves and racemes of yellow-green flowers.  Nearby the two weeping elm specimens, Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’, continue to defy Dutch elm disease and provide shady bowers from our searing summer sun.
The maidenhair tree, Gingko biloba, does less well though it must be at least 30 years old.   It is a scrawny specimen suffering here from our cool maritime summers, though thriving as far north as Levens Hall in Cumbria.

The large beech on the lawn between the shrub border and the rose garden is in danger of overwhelming the other residents - the horse chestnut relative, the American Aesculus parviflora is almost under its canopy, though the elegant Chinese Tetradium daniellii to the south of the beech is still managing to flower profusely, its corymbs of small white buds about to release their fragrance into the late summer air.

The South African bed on the northern side of the sunken garden is delightful at the moment with forms of the cape figwort Phygelius spp, Agapanthus and Eucomis, whilst the bed in front is a flower filled mass of annual marigolds, cornflower, and quaking grass, Briza maxima.

However, the major impact in the garden at this time of year is provided by the herbaceous border, still not quite at its peak, it is nonetheless a splendid celebration of the sheer diversity of form, colour and habit of plants that thrive in Aberdeen, with its size allowing planting in bold blocks for maximum impact.  Here can be found Phlox paniculata  forms in purple, white and shades of pink, tall Eupatorium in purple, pink and white, blocks of agapanthus in a very good blue, forms of spikey foliaged Crocosmia x crocosmiflora and much more besides.

Eupatorium maculatum in bud,  Canada, Kristl Walek

The rock garden is by comparison relatively restrained though its evergreenery is as ever pleasing and restful.  However even here clumps of the ginger relative Roscoea spp. provide exotic floral pleasure and the large leaved hydrangeas, H. sargentiana and H. aspera in the border along the southern edge are parading their tasteful lilac lace-caps.  Enjoy also their neighbour, the handsome Clethra delavayi with dark green leaves and long racemes of lily of the valley-like flowers - worth trying in a very sheltered spot even inland, flowering with me for a number of years.  Finally, there was just one Cyclamen hederifolium flower visible, but by the time you read this the early autumn display should be well under way.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                 David Aktkinson


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version