6 Highlands plants to spot holidaying on Loch Ness

Scotland is full of rich horticulture from its tended park and gardens to its wild woodland and landscaped Highlands estates. Every inch of soil here is treasured by locals and tourist alike, not to mention the keen conservationists who are committed to nurturing Scotland’s wildland.

Through conservation and a thriving habitat the wild hills of the Scottish Highlands continue to bloom. The landscape is a huge part of the tourism trade and people come to see its formal garden displays and its majestic wild terrain alike. From sprays of daffodils on forest floors to beautiful rose gardens surrounding old castles to cascading heather billowing off coastal cliff sides, Scotland is a country of colour. And it can seem that way more so in spring than any other time of year. This could be mostly owing to the sheer anticipation after bleak winters spanning the endless Highlands mountains.

Here, we look at the flowers that create the most splendid, colourful and delicate displays right through to the gritty heart of Scotland’s natural landscape. The variety is vast and the effects are spectacular. Already coaxing the warmer weather to come along? Continue reading for some visionary wonders that will really get you in the mood for spring.Holidaying on Loch Ness

Gorse – spectacular hillside hedge-like flower

Common Gorse is widely seen in sandy, coastal soils and thin, upland soils. It begins flowering sporadically during late autumn and continues through the winter until flowering fully in spring. Its hillside appearance differs vastly from the flower seen up close; a chameleon of Scottish plant life. En masse, gorse has a real shrubbery effect as if covering everything in its vicinity. However, if you regard it individually it really is the most delicate and feminine looking flower. Evergreen gorse is tough, thorny and an excellent windbreak against the cold Scottish sea spray. But its pretty buttercup yellow petals also makes it the prettiest countryside backdrop.

In Scotland, crofters and farmers traditionally used gorse as a winter feed for cows, ponies and other livestock. And its party trick? It exudes a scent similar to that of a coconut when in full flower.

Heather- Ling and Bell have different needs

Looking for that world famous purple spray across wild highland hills? Then you’re best searching out heather ling, the best-known native Scottish heather. This billowing and resilient evergreen mountain plant provides a comforting and nostalgic scene. Despite its seeming toughness, however, heather ling must be planted in a water-retentive soil and be given an annual trim in order to thrive in all weathers. Ling flowers July to September making it a Scottish Highlands summer holiday postcard favourite.Holidaying on Loch Ness

The Bell heather has brighter purple/magenta blooms, and is found in high and rocky places. It’s more at home planted in a thin, gritty soil with high drainage. Generally it blooms slightly earlier than the ling variety. In the wild, they often co-exist, with ling lining the damp hollows of rocks, and the bell inhabiting the drier areas. Should your holiday in the Highlands be during winter you can sought out hardier heather varieties that bloom during this colder season.

Cross-Leaved Heath – pretty blooms brighten boggy Scotland soil

Heath is a more rarely found relation of heather although it also thrives in wet soil landscapes. In its ideal setting of peaty and boggy areas heath produces mid-pink blooms at the tips of the stems. It offers a generous flowering period between June and October. A historic thought? Charles Darwin theorised that this species might be partly-carnivorous, due to it possessing glands. However, later research suggested that these were more likely to help the heath cling to its exposed surroundings in high winds.

Scottish Bluebell thrives most of the year

The name even sounds beautiful however in Scotland it is known as the Harebell, and is not to be mistaken for the famous English bluebell. Aesthetically, it is generally bushier and features delicate, upright, branching stems and larger, bluish-purple bell-shaped blooms. Unlike its English cousin, which flowers in woodland shaded areas, the Harebell is adapted to poor, moorland soil. It is therefore seen mainly in dry upland areas as opposed to hidden trails.

Holidaying on Loch Ness

Thankfully, the English bluebell is very common in Scottish woodlands. This benefits Scottish holidaymakers who can appreciate both plants in various tourist spots, including formal Scottish gardens. Another bonus: the bluebell is hardy in low winter temperatures so can be admired throughout the year. It flowers continuously from late spring into autumn as long as temperatures are above 12°C.

Interestingly, the harebell is under threat from the introduction of the Spanish bluebell. The latter is more aggressive in its reproduction. Conservationists have worked hard preserving what should really be termed the British bluebell, which is now protected by law.

Scottish Flame Flower

This spectacular climbing flower is thought to have come to Scotland in the 19th century. Its roots are in Peru but it has become so loved and has naturalised in Scotland so well that ‘Scottish’ has been added to the name. The romantic flame flower can be found cascading down the walls of old Highlands gardens, especially old, abandoned ones.

The striking plant can grow up to three metres tall and its extravagant scarlet petals bloom late summer adding to the romance. Expect flowering from July to September and afterwards luscious blueberries come autumn. A cooler summer is the ideal environment for this Scottish plant and it thrives in shaded, moist, peaty soils. Once it has established itself however, it is here to stay. The flame flower is edible (a nasturtium) and so would be an ideal addition to Aldourie Castle Estate’s walled garden. Chef would love to pick this for his artisan style fruit or green salads.

The Scotch Thistle

Where England has the rose, Scotland’s national flower is the thistle. However less beautiful by far, there’s no denying its resilient and unique nature. It’s a true symbol of Scotland and we are proud to feature it as part of the design on the Aldourie Castle website.  The Scotch thistle grows tall, strong and handsome, up to five feet in height. Once upon a time it was regarded as a weed but the modern gardener of today favours it for its architectural value is tall and handsome thistle can grow up to five feet in height, and although regarded as a weed in the past, is now gaining favour with modern gardeners for its architectural value.

The thistle would be perfectly placed in the Aldourie Estate’s arboretum or woodland, for a wild, fairytale looks. However, it is naturally happiest in poorer soils, waste ground and roadsides and, despite its name, is quite rare in Scotland! There are of course other thistles that can be found more readily in the Scottish Highlands, most commonly the Melancholy Thistle. The flower heads feature elegantly overlapping purple-edged sepals, with reddish-purple florets so keep an eye out for these along your Highland country lane walks.


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