Exploring the gardens of Scotland
For centuries, Scotland's national symbol has been the thistle. This spiky purple plant - made up of various types including the spear, melancholy and pernicious thistle - has found its way into the heart of Scottish culture. Explorers who venture into the wild highlands of Scotland today will see this purple plant dotting the green hills, but its true fascination lies in its bizarre origin story.
In the dead of night, as a party of Scottish warriors slept peacefully while the waves crashed against the shores of Largs in Ayrshire, an army of Norwegian Vikings advanced, knives in hand. Not wishing to wake their sleeping victims, the Vikings removed their shoes. Stepping silently on the wet grass, a foot fell gently on a prickly, purple plant. As the sharp thorns protruding out of its green body pierced the skin of the invader, he let out a deafening shriek, waking the sleeping Scotsman and altering them of the impending ambush. This is the legend of how the thistle - that saved a group of Scottish warriors from invasion during the reign of Alexander III in the 13th Century - came to be the national symbol of Scotland. Adorning gardens and vast hillsides across the country, the thistle as been a noble symbol for over 500 years and can be found on coins, suits of armour and Scotland's most prestigious honour - the Order of the Thistle.
Scotland may be famed for the thistle that's been immortalised in legend and poetry, but there are many horticultural adventures to be found in the Scottish wilderness...
Just an hour outside the bustling city of Edinburgh sits the wild terrain of Tweed Valley. A haven for all gardening enthusiasts, Tweed Valley is home to Kailzie Gardens. Stepping inside the Walled Garden - open from March to October - is like falling into the pages of a fairytale as stone archways, black gates and wooden bridges sit amongst varieties of colourful flowers. You'll spot numerous shrubs, Roses, Potentillas and Berberis. Stop by the greenhouses in Spring and you'll be hit with the intoxicating aroma of an old Wisteria. This is accompanied by Geraniums, Pelagoniums and Schizanthus, to name a few.
Visit the Wild Garden in the peak season of Spring to see an array of Snowdrops, Daffodils and Bluebells surrounding an abundance of specimen trees including a Larch, planted in 1725, that is believed to be the oldest tree of its kind in the whole of Scotland. Take a stroll along the Burnside Walk and over the arched bridge where you'll spot Primula Pulverulenta, Cercidiphyllums, Rhododendrons, Amelanchiers, Prunus Subhirtella, Autumnalis Rosea and Prunus Serotina. The bird watchers amongst you will also enjoy spying on Herons, Kingfishers, Oyster Catchers, Wagtails, Dippers, Curlew, Lapwing, Lark and Cuckoos that thrive at Kailzie Gardens.
Whether you're fierce enough to tackle Scotland in the cold heart of winter, or if you'd prefer to explore its colourful gardens as they bloom in Spring, Scotland has something to offer everyone and it's about time you visit this magnificent country.