A post by RBGE Research Associate Dr. Helen Bennett

In April 2023 we were visited at RBGE by Elizabeth Farquharson with her daughter Katharine Trotter, to gift her father’s horticultural papers to the Archives. Elizabeth was the youngest child of John MacWatt MD (1857-1938) of Duns, a fulltime medical practitioner who also became a noted horticulturalist, particularly known for his expertise in the identification, cultivation and breeding of the genus Primula.

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A photograph of Dr. MacWatt in his garden at Morelands, alongside some of his primula catalogues; part of the collection donated by Elizabeth.

It was a remarkable experience to speak with someone of 107, able to give us first-hand memories not only of Dr. John MacWatt, but also of Joseph Taylor, his groom, chauffeur and right-hand man in the garden, and his neighbour, Amy N. Cameron (1871-1931), the amateur photographer responsible for the plant portraits which illustrated Dr. MacWatt’s publications on Primulas.

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One of the Primula photographs donated by Elizabeth in April- we know from a photograph already in our collections that it is Primula acaulis var. sibthorpii and was taken by Amy Cameron on 28 January 1913, but we now know, from Elizabeth’s recollections, that it was hand coloured by Amy too.

The MacWatt Primula Papers given by Elizabeth include notes and copies of her father’s published writings, scrapbooks of news cuttings, his many horticultural medals from his exhibits at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea and elsewhere, an extensive collection of photographs of his garden ‘Morelands’ in Duns, and the plants grown there, and copies of the catalogues of Primulas and other plants available for sale from ‘Morelands’ from around 1910 to 1915.

The collection adds considerably to the MacWatt material already held by RBGE. As the genus Primula was a research interest he shared with successive Regius Keepers, it is not surprising that Dr MacWatt had been in regular contact with the Garden, making several donations of plant material from 1913 onwards. About the same time, he had given 43 plant portrait prints of Primulas in his collection, taken by Amy Cameron, and in 1937, just a few months before his death, several dozen of her negatives, many of which illustrated his 1923 monograph The Primulas of Europe. The MacWatt Primula Papers are in the process of being catalogued and the results of continuing research will be reported in the future.

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Elizabeth Farquharson, with her daughter Katharine Trotter, visiting the Library and Archive on 19 April this year, discussing her father’s work with RBGE Archivist Leonie Paterson

We are sad however, to report that since this visit, after suffering a stroke, Elizabeth Farquharson passed away on the 24 May 2023. Elizabeth entered the medical profession like her father and grandfather, and had a lifelong interest in natural history. A longstanding member of the Edinburgh Natural History Society, she was an authority on mycology, among other subjects, and the guiding force behind the Fungus Group South East Scotland (now Edinburgh Lothian Fungus Enthusiasts).

Helen Bennett