Trees at Innes in 1794

MFC Paper 20 by AHA Scott 1977

In Elgin Museum Library, enclosed in a hook of pressed plants, there are two double paged lined sheets (each 310 mm x 184 mm) entitled ‘List of Plants etc. in Innes Garden May 1794'. There is no attribution on the list but it is thought to be the work, whether directly or indirectly of A. Cooper Esq., advocate to the Earl of Fife.

296 plants are listed, a line to each. A typical line reads:— "235 Alchemilla Alpina Alpian digitated leaved lady's mantle Tetrand: Monog" At the end, there are a further 24 lines where other plants are noted less systematically. This addendum is in the same hand but may have been added later.

The plants noted include native domesticated species but are mainly garden introductions. The entire list is of great interest. This note is however only concerned with the 62 species or varieties of trees. Of these 21 are native to the British Isles, 22 are European but not native, 4 are from the East but so long cultivated in Europe that they may be considered European, 7 are fruit trees and 8 are from eastern America.

Amongst the entries of native trees there are two oddities. No. 71 is Acer Campastre Campion and No. 151 is Acer Campestre. Both are given as the Common Mapple. (Here and throughout this note the original spelling and punctuation are retained). Many in this group, such as beech, hornbeam, box and spindle, are native to Britain but introductions to Moray. Only one oak is listed (Quercus Robur) and one elm (Ulmus Campestris). It seems unlikely that the number of these species then available was unknown at Innes because for example, the English, small leaved, Dutch, Cornish and Scots elms are given by William Boutcher (1) in his Treatise on Forest Trees of 1775. The book must have been well known locally because Brodie of Brodie, the Earl of Findlater, the Duke of Gordon and the Earl of Moray were among the subscribers.

Many of the European trees were those long introduced like sweet chestnut, sycamore, walnut, laurel, true service and the medlar. A tree of particular interest in this group is No. 272 Quercus Exoniensis, the Exeter evergreen oak. This is the Lucombe oak, a cross between the Turkey and cork oaks, first raised at Exeter in 1762, 32 years earlier. The tree is still there, 116 cm in diameter, a fine fully furnished specimen in the inner garden.

The fruit trees in the list include peach and quince as well as more robust species. The eastern trees are two species of mulberry, fig, and oriental plane. This last appears in Boutcher (1) as extolled by the 'Ancient Persians, Asiatics, Greeks and Romans'. None are known in Moray today, which throws a little doubt on Grigor's (2) note, in 1881, that 'at Gordon Castle one has attained the height of 68 feet with a trunk 3 feet in diameter’. This is more likely to have been a London plane.

The climatic match between Scotland and Eastern America is not happy. Few of the trees sent home by the first colonists have done well here and many have been failures.

The eight American trees in the list are:—

  • 96 Thuya Occidentalis American Arbor Vitae
  • 105 Liriodendron Tulipifera
  • 117 Celtis Occidentalis Nettle Tree
  • 217 Mespilus Canadonsis Canadian snowy mespilus
  • 222 Juniperus Virgineana Virginian red cedar
  • 276 Pinus Balsamia Balm of Gilead Fir
  • 278 Pinus Strobus New England pine
  • 294 Robinea Pseudo~Acacia

There are good Robinas now at Orton, Fochabers, Lochloy and elsewhere, flowering tulip trees at Blackhills and strobus pine at Culbin and Aberlour. There are thought to be no nettle trees in Moray; this was another recommendation of Boutcher's and, one suspects, expensive and shortlived. It may also be relevant that strobus pine, tulip tree and Balm of Gilead fir were offered for sale from John Home's nursery in Banff in March 1763 (3). Mrs. Jean Wilson, recently Local Studies Librarian at Banff, tells me that this was the precursor of Mr. Reid's nursery at Colleonard mentioned in the old Statistical Account in 1799. The nursery was presumably on Findlater (later Seafield) land because Colleonard was one of the first farms to be improved by the Earl in the mid eighteenth century. Innes House was built between 1640 and 1653, for Sir Robert Innes. I am indebted to Ian Keillar for this information and that it cost £15288 (Scots). The house passed to the Duffs, Earls of Fife, in 1767. In a letter published in Young (1784) (4) the then Earl stated that he had planted 549.5 acres requiring 676,566 trees, 266,000 were common firs, 100,000 birch, 50,000 larch, 5,000 spruce, 65,160 oaks and the rest various leaftrees. It is also recorded that between 1784 and 1787 the order of preference at Innes was common fir, birch, oak, beech, larch, rowan, sweet chestnut, alder, ash, elms, poplar, sycamore, willow, laburnum, hazel and Norway spruce.

But these trees would be planted on the Estate at large and it is with the policies that the list is concerned. The description of William Leslie, minister of Lhanbryde, writing in the 'Survey of Moray' (5) published in 1798 suggests that the appearance has not altered too radically in the interval. ‘The approach to the house bends in a winding course through the grove, and terminates in an open lawn having a very extensive, but irregularly-formed garden on one side, in which are long reaches of fruit wall, covered with the richest variety of fruitage, pears, cherries, plums, nectarines, and peaches. There are also many lofty forest trees among which numbers of common fruit trees luxuriantly mingle’.

  1. William Boutcher, nurseryman at Comely Garden, Edinburgh; Treatise on Forest Trees 1775.
  2. John Grigor; Arboriculture 1881.
  3. Quoted in M,L. Anderson; A History of Scottish Forestry 1967 pp 576 1 600.
  4. A. Young; Annals of Agriculture 1784 - 1815.
  5. William Leslie and others; Survey of the Province of Moray 1798.
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