As I think of the beauty and joy that your work has brought to prairie people, prairie homes and prairie yards, I wonder about the synchronicity of events in your life. How did a boy, born in a Scottish fishing village, nurture and grow his innate passion for plants throughout his young life in Scotland and bring it to his new life in the wild landscape of the Canadian Prairies?

Dr. Skinner's daughter, Heather, visits Rosehearty.

My sister (Frank Skinner’s daughter), Heather, in Rosehearty.

Here is Frank’s story, from Rosehearty to Canada, in his own words (taken from Horticultural Horizons), “What is probably my earliest memory is of watching some one digging Gladiolus bulbs in the back yard of the house in Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire, in which I was born.  That must have been in the autumn of 1885 when I was 3 years of age…in the spring of 1886, my father went bankrupt and all he owned, including the house and furnishings were sold by auction.  We moved from Rosehearty into Fraserburgh to live.

I have very few memories of Fraserburgh…however I did grow flowers in pots from cuttings; my family told me that I pulled up my cuttings almost everyday to see if they had started rooting; and, in spite of this treatment, they grew.

When I was about six years old my father secured work with a fish curer in Aberdeen.  On arrival at Aberdeen my mother left me with her older sister, my Aunty Mary.  It was while I was with her that I spent one of the happiest periods of my life.  My aunt’s family were all grown up and married except Bob and George, both of whom were very good to me.  Bob was fond of growing flowers and had a small greenhouse in which he grew a lot of flowers that were too tender for outdoors.  The place where my aunt lived had once been quite a pretentious country home with its stables, coach houses and cottages for those who worked there.

The Monkey Puzzle tree that Frank Skinner remembered well still stands in Aberdeen more than hundred years after he left for Canada

The Monkey Puzzle tree that Frank Skinner remembered well still stands in Aberdeen

At the time I stayed with my aunt the main part of the big house was used as a convalescent home. One wing was occupied by the family of an army officer called French.  There were two boys in the French family about my age, with whom I used to play.  I remember making miniature monkey puzzle trees with heads of Timothy grass that grew near the Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria imbricata) that was the central feature of the park.

A Mr. and Mrs. Mennie had charge of the convalescent home and the gardens that surrounded the house and Mr. Mennie and I soon became fast friends.  The kitchen garden was behind the house and the central path was bordered by double pinks (Dianthus) white on one side and pink on the other, and as I was an obedient child, Mr. Mennie used to sometimes let me pick flowers from this border.  This path led to a wall on which plums and apples were trained and in front of the fruit trees was a long bed of roses – the old roses such as moss rose, cabbage rose and the hybrid perpetuals.  The memory of these fragrant old varieties has had a great deal of influence on my work with roses.

The cottages and yard were enclosed by a high stone wall screened by ornamental trees and shrubs like rhododendrons, lilacs and mock-orange and the love I developed for them has stayed with me all these years.

The lane to the property Frank Skinner grew up in still has daffodils (not blooming in the picture)

The lane to the property Frank Skinner grew up in still has daffodils (not blooming in the picture)

The bedroom I slept in had a little window that looked onto an old yew tree. I would awaken in the morning to the song of birds in this tree trying to outsing the caged bird in my room.

The driveway was lined with maples with white and yellow narcissus between them.

When I lived there a burn (creek) ran through the property, and along its banks the monkey flower (Mimulus moschatus) grew apparently wild.  Where the burn left the property, a purple beech had been planted and some of its slender branches trailed in the waters of the burn, as if loath to see them go.”


In 1895, Frank and his family left Scotland to come to Canada to join some other family members who had come to Canada a few years earlier.  Frank writes: “We arrived in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on a Saturday night and had to lie to for a while on account of fog.  Sunday was a beautiful late June day, and after the fog lifted we were to see a picture that is still as fresh in my mind as if I had seen it last summer.  We were sailing near the south shore where the fresh green fields, the calm waters of the river, and the villages with their churches and trees were the essence of quiet pastoral life.  Towards evening service was held on the lower deck, and we boys who had been getting our first view of Canada from the bow of the ship got back for the service just as the passengers were singing the hymn “Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By” and a sailing ship was passing us on its way down the Gulf. The whole was a picture that was indelibly imprinted on my memory.”

Skinner's Nursery boarding house in Dropmore, Manitoba

Skinner’s Nursery boarding house in Dropmore, Manitoba

And so began a lifetime of growing, collecting, and developing plants at his home in Dropmore Manitoba.

Remembering our father’s descriptions of the yard in Aberdeen, my sister Heather and I set off to find it on a wet, grey Scottish day in 2015.  We had done a little research but when we arrived at what we thought was the correct address we walked through a grassy park.  There was no big house, no stables, no cottages, no gardens, and no greenhouses; only a falling down coach house.  But, to our delight, we did spy the huge Monkey puzzle tree and then the driveway with the maples and the daffodils!  This was where Frank had spent many happy childhood hours and some of the plants that he held in his memory for the rest of his life greeted us.

Me, standing among the daffodils near where my dad grew up, with the Monkey Puzzle tree in the background.

Me, standing among the daffodils near where my dad grew up, with the Monkey Puzzle tree in the background.