Each year, Perthshire attracts a huge number of visitors looking to explore the wonderful gardens that are dotted around our beautiful county.  One such attraction is the award-winning Explorers Garden at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which is managed and cared for under the watchful eye of Julia Corden.


This year, the Explorers Garden has been awarded two significant accolades.  The first sees them receive Partner Garden of the Royal Horticultural Society status; the second, a National Collection Status, awarded by Plant Heritage in recognition of their Meconopsis large blue cultivars, better known as blue poppies.

Both awards pay testament to the dedication of Julia and the team of 42 local volunteers who maintain the garden in Highland Perthshire.  Julia and the team have successfully curated 95% of the blue poppy cultivars list to achieve their National Collection status which now showcases an impressive 32 cultivars.

Julia commented, “We have been dedicated to the sourcing and nurturing of Blue Poppies from around Scotland for the past decade and the entire team have worked tirelessly to create and maintain the high standard of design and planting visitors can experience today. A large number of the cultivars we have are extremely rare and we are fortunate to have received donations of these plants from fellow collectors who trust and respect our high standards of care and attention.

To have received both National Collection and RHS Partner status is a real privilege and we hope it encourages visitors from across the UK and internationally to visit.”

Julia Corden

As well as managing the Explorers Garden, Julia is a modern day plant hunter and international tour guide and has recently returned from an expedition to Bhutan, bordering the Arunachal Pradesh state of India. Her stunning photographic exhibition, ‘In Search Of The Blue Poppy:Bhutan’ beautifully highlights the plants, people and mountains of the Himalayan villages she visited and is now showing in the garden’s David Douglas Pavilion.

Julia and her team were the first group of botanists to travel to this area since 1934 although their modern day Plant Hunter title ensures only photographs, rather than specimens, return.

This expedition has been a lifelong dream of Julia’s, who has been plant hunting since her first international trip to Switzerland in 1982. Since then she has led trips to New Zealand, Patagonia, Chilli, South Africa and Costa Rica to name but a few.

She trained at the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, achieving her diploma in horticulture; following work in the South Island New Zealand, plant hunting travels through Hawaii, Delhi and Bangkok, and restoration work on an East Sussex estate she returned to Scotland to take over the management of Explorers in Pitlochry.

Julia also volunteers with The Scottish Rock Garden Club and is on the board of the Diana Aitchison Fund which supports courses of study and helps finance projects or trips pertaining to rock garden plants.

A hands-on manager, Julia leads a team of 42 volunteers at Explorers and together they have created and designed a celebration of Scottish Plant Hunters.   There’s is a stunning six acre woodland garden divided into areas representing different parts of the globe and celebrating the work of botanists such as George Forrest, Francis Mason and David Douglas.

One of the main attractions, is, as you’d expect, The Blue Poppy collection which has been designed to illustrate the subtle differences between each variety, with the contrasting shades of blue throughout the Himalayan section of Explorers a must-see highlight in any visit to Highland Perthshire.

The Explorers Garden at Pitlochry Festival Theatre is a stunning six acre woodland garden that celebrates the history of the great Scottish Plant Hunters including George Forrest, Francis Mason, David Douglas. Divided into areas representing different parts of the globe, visitors can take a journey from The Himalayas to China in one afternoon.

The garden is open from April 1st to November 2nd, every day from 10am to 5pm. Guided Tours are available Wednesday and Saturday at 11.30am.

Julia Corden : In Search of the Blue Poppy: Bhutan is showing in the David Douglas Pavilion at The Explorers Garden and will run from April 2016 to November 1st.

Whilst you’re there, why not stay a little longer and book in for one of the seven plays showing this season at Pitlochry Festival Theatre? More on our events section.

Royal Horticultural Society

The RHS is a charitable organisation with four of its own gardens in Surrey, Yorkshire, Essex and Devon who are supported by 176 independently owned gardens around the UK and a further 19 overseas.

RHS members should note they can now enjoy Buy-1-Get-1-Free entry to the Explorers Garden.

National Collection Status

This award gives recognition to a decade spent sourcing (and nurturing) Blue Poppies from all around Scotland to create a stunning collection that is a sweeping bank of blue, best enjoyed between the months of May to July.

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