Jim had a life-long love of the natural world and was a member of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science (PSNS) for 70 years, including a record-breaking 16 years as President. The Society has planted a number of trees on Kinnoull Hill as a memorial to him.
He was also a leading member of the Scottish Rock Garden Club and was renowned for his rock garden displays at their annual show in Perth. In 1951 he created great interest by exhibiting a rock garden with a stream and waterfall that pioneered the use of a pump to circulate the water.
The innovation was brought about by a pre-war disaster, where his mains fed and drained rock garden water feature flooded the City Hall when a goldfish became trapped in the outflow pipe.
Jim Aitken was born on 13 January, 1913 and spent his early years on the Balgowan Estate, near Perth, where his father was a gardener. Around 1920 his family moved to Perth when his father bought Orchardbank, above what is now Branklyn Garden. As a young man, Jim helped the Renton family when they were setting up Branklyn.
Jim was educated at Kinnoull Primary School and Balhousie Boys School. Although he shared his father’s love of gardening, he did not go into the family business at Orchardbank, but set up his own landscape gardening business. Through this he became known and in demand around Perth and throughout Scotland for his artistic design of gardens.
Through many outings, talks and articles, Jim shared his love of nature and passed on his knowledge of Scotland’s natural heritage. He was a keen photographer and travelled widely to photograph flowers in their natural setting. His impressive collection of transparencies is now in the care of PSNS.
The honorary secretary of PSNS, Rhoda Fothergill, who took up her role just before Jim began his 1970-86 tenure as President, said,
“ Jim had a very great love of plants and a wonderful, comprehensive knowledge of Scotland’s natural history. He always had the interests of the Society at heart and attracted a crowd to the AGMs because people came to hear his Presidential programme afterwards.
“ He had a very artistic eye for garden layout and liked to keep things natural looking. His stonework reflected his love of natural rock and scree on hillsides. Jim had a very fine way of landscaping stones into a garden so that they appeared to belong there.”
Jim had a special interest in Alpine plants. He made trips to the Alps to observe growing conditions and collect specimens of these fragile looking, but hardy plants. On one expedition, in the ‘50s, he braved avalanches to reach plants flowering as the snowline retreated.
Jim was a well-known figure in Perth, particularly because it was his custom to wear a kilt while working or walking around town. This habit also attracted interest from the locals on his journeys abroad.