Visitors to Dawyck Botanic Garden, near Peebles, over the last week have been witnessing the transformation of an ailing beech tree into a lasting tribute to one of the most remarkable plant hunters of the 19th century. Now, with the completion of the impressive David Douglas wood carving, the Garden is preparing to refresh the story of the intrepid adventurer who contributed hugely to the make-up of Britain’s gardens and woodlands, before coming to a mysterious end at the bottom of a bull pit in Hawaii
The grand carving, standing around 10ft tall, is situated a short five minute walk from the Visitor Centre. It characterises Douglas, perched on a rocky outcrop, looking out over the historical central core of the Garden. The carving has been created from an 180- year-old European beech (Fagus sylvatica) which was storm damaged, in 2009 and again in the “big blow” of early 2012. It is the work of the Dumfriesshire woodcarver Rodney Holland.
“Beech is widely represented in the Garden collections”, explained Graham Stewart, the Garden’s Curator. “It was commonly planted on Scottish estates in the 1800’s and is a long- lived tree. However, it is prone to disease and rot in the later years of its life. This particular tree was monitored following last year’s blow and we took the decision it was becoming too dangerous to leave standing.
“The Douglas connection, meanwhile, is well documented. Dawyck has many of his early plant collections, including Douglas fir, western hemlock and grand fir, notably from his exploits in the Pacific northwest of America in the early 19th century. As this particular beech tree had to be taken out at a time when we were the updating the David Douglas Trail, first installed here in 1999, it seemed sensible to link the two. It was a lovely touch for the carving to portray Douglas holding the silver telescope found in the bull pit where he died. That piece of antiquity was sold to the Balfour family, who gifted to the nation the area that now makes up the botanic garden. The telescope, is now in the keeping of Dawyck’s parent organisation, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh”.
As well as seeking out the carving, visitors to Dawyck this weekend also have the opportunity of joining in a children’s activity fun day on Saturday, August 24, when Poppy Browne will tell fairy stories and lead craft making sessions throughout the afternoon. Also running, in the Dawyck Studio is Nature at its Best, by Jeffrey Wilkinson, an exhibition of paintings inspired by the Garden’s seasons.