Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A damp day at Colesbourne Park

Cyclamen coum with Galanthus 'S. Arnott'. The Cyclamen have been spreading well now for about ten years, enjoying the thin, short turf.

The reasonable weather of Saturday turned on Sunday to leaden skies; cold heavy rain began before lunchtime. It was an unfortunate day to be visiting Colesbourne Park, but it was pre-planned and my only chance this season. Despite the rain it was lovely to be back and top se how the garden continues to develop..

Several people have said that Colesbourne is looking better than ever this year and so it is. In a wild garden of this kind, where plants are left to multiply and spread, or are spread deliberately, it's inevitable that the show gets better. The single snowdrop of three or five years ago is now a robust clump, and the aconites, crocuses and cyclamen have had that time to produce annual seed crops and abundant seedlings. Trees and shrubs develop too, and there's a real pleasure seeing trees I grew from seed now reaching 5-6 m in height and fruiting themselves, making a significant contribution to the landscape.  In the more formal area of the garden, around the house, my successor Chris Horsfall has made some lovely colourful plantings, blending other bulbs with snowdrops and foliage plants, that give great pleasure. Here are some pictures that I hope give an impression of this great winter garden.

Galanthus nivalis in the wood near the entrance. There were no snowdrops here twenty years ago!

The Spring Garden, with 'S. Arnott' and 'James Backhouse' in profusion.

The original inverse poculiform snowdrop, G. plicatus 'Trym', planted in the grass in the hope that its genes will pass to seedlings.
Planted by Chris Horsfall, the virescent G. elwesii 'Margaret Biddulph' and G. nivalis 'Pusey Green Tips' with winter aconites and the wonderful Corydalis temuliflora 'Chocolate Stars'

G. plicatus 'Seraph' is a distinctively shaped poculiform.

My 'Spring Bling' bed is developing nicely.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Farewell to The Patch

Galanthus elwesii 'Margaret Owen'
In November I reported the death of Margaret Owen, whose garden at The Patch, Acton Pigott, Shropshire, was a noted repository of good plants. Thanks to the generosity of her family, and the kindness of a group of her friends, a large number of galanthophiles and other plantspeople were invited to the Patch last Saturday for a final visit and snowdrop lunch. A lot of work had been put in by Chris Sanders and others to remedy the effect of months of neglect, and the garden was looking as good as I've seen it for some years. the snowdrops were at their peak, and showing off just how well they perform in rich Shropshire loam. Although it was generally bright, it was a chilly day, with the occasional sleety squalls that mark all the best snowdrop parties, so it was a relief when we able to file into the barn and take seats for lunch, crammed in along the familiar narrow tables for an excellent meal.

The enjoyment was bittersweet, however, as we all knew it was for the last time - though the memories will live on. We were invited to list five snowdrops we'd like from the collection, which will be sent out in due course - that will be an exciting package!

On the following day the garden was opened to the public for the traditional sale in aid of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and many of the snowdrops were sold off, founding or enriching other collections - and thus gardens move on.

Lots of old friends to talk to and catch up with - most of the 'inner segments' were present.

Part of a lovely group of G. nivalis Sandersii Group 'Woodpeckers', a good growable clone.

The snowdrop for which Margaret will be best remembered, named for her late husband, G. elwesii 'Godfrey Owen', with six outer and inner segments.

Good conversation flowing at the crowded tables in the barn -  about 70 sat down for lunch.

A poignant reminder of Margaret: instructions on how to progress round the garden, in an attempt to stop people treading on her trilliums.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Seattle Gardens 1: University of Washington Botanic Gardens

How have I failed to see Camellia × williamsii 'Hiraethlyn' before? Such a beautiful simple flower.
I got back yesterday from the inside of a week in Seattle - far too short a time sandwiched between long flights. The trip was  primarily for me to attend the Mahonia Summit, of which more anon, but it gave me time to visit various gardens and to meet and make friends along the way. On the rather overcast afternoon of Wednesday 11th I went with Ross Bayton and Riz Reyes to the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, which have several sites. We started in the arboretum, generally known as the Washington Park Arboretum, which extends over 230 acres and has many fine and interesting trees and other plants. Some geographically themed areas are in development, though the maintenance of other parts is somewhat in arrears. We could only see part of it in the time available, but it gave an idea of the diversity of plants there.

Hamamelis mollis in the Witt Winter Garden, with a large clump of the ubiquitous fern of the Pacific Northwest, the handsome Polystichum munitum.

The New Zealand garden is the best developed of the geographical areas so far, presenting the typically drab shades of NZ vegetation over a generous space.

A young specimen of the rare Notholithocarpus dealbatus f. attenuato-dentatus, with strongly toothed instead of more or less entire leaves, was an interesting sight.

The bigeneric hybrid ×Sycoparrotia semidecidua was in full flower on large trees, alongside fine specimens of its parent Sycopsis sinensis, also flowering freely - but  no Parrotia persica was to be seen.

Making a change from floating hellebore flowers, a selection of passionflowers in the greenhouse. Researchers are studying them to try to understand pollination in the diverse flower forms.
After the arboretum we went over to see the greenhouses on the main university campus. Serving both the research and teaching sides of botany and horticulture at the university, they contain a wonderfully eclectic and rich collection of plants, in a rather old-fashioned jumble - or jungle. With a strong emphasis on the evolution of plants there are many real oddities there, including Amborella, the most primitive of angiosperms, which (as with many other things) I'd never seen before. Worryingly, this remarkable collection is under threat; a new greenhouse is promised, but it is to occupy the current site and it it is not at all clear how the plants are to be maintained in the interim, nor what the university will decide for its policy on maintaining the collection. It would be a great pity to lose such a resource.

Not least of the botanic marvels there is a specimen of the Miracle Berry, Synsepalum dulcificum. The small red fruits of this contain a glycoprotein called miraculin, which when swished around in the mouth binds to taste receptors, resulting in the perception of even sour things tasting sweet. I had never tried this before, so Terry Huang was sent up a ladder to find a berry, and someone else found a 'Meyer' lemon. The ritual was duly performed - and the lemon tasted so deliciously sweet that I scoffed the lot (barring one wedge that fell into a compost bucket). If offered the chance, try it!

Benches crammed with interesting plants at the University of Washington greenhouse. Heliamphora hard by Wollemia on the right.

Superbly grown Welwitschia mirabilis, in great steel pipes for pots. I've never seen it looking better. These specimens are fertile, but this year's young cones were only just emerging.

Riz Reyes examines a Nepenthes.

Terry Huang, Ross Bayton and I examine Theophrasta (pic by Riz Reyes). Supplemtyary lighting is provided, making photography rather difficult late on a dingy afternoon.

A plant I had never seen before - Theophrasta jussieui from Hispaniola, variously placed in Theophrastaceae or Primulaceae and which, according to Mabberley's Plant-book, has sapromyophilous flowers, so a new word too! (Though it describes the well-known phenomenon of dung- or carrion-scented flowers pollinated by insects.)

Friday, 6 February 2015

The defrosting North

Cyclamen coum and Polypodium cambricum Cambricum Group early this morning.
 After a long weekend away I returned home on Wednesday morning, travelling through green countryside until just past York. At that point snow began to appear and as I travelled further east it got thicker and thicker. At home, on the edge of the Yorkshire wolds, there were 7.5 cm of snow on the ground, and it was still falling. It didn't go on much longer, but it left a legacy that lingers. A lot melted yesterday, but then a very clear night produced a hard frost so it froze solid again. A beautiful hoar frost developed and in clear bright sunshine this morning everything looked beautifully crisp and sparkly. It remained windless, clear and sunny all day - by lunchtime it was (dare I say it?) pleasantly warm, and for the first time this year the flowers could open.

Eranthis hyemalis 'Orange Glow'

Hoar frost on E. h. 'Zitronefalter' early on.

The same clump at lunchtime.

The first Crocus to open wide - a nice pink C. tommasinianus selection.

Galanthus 'S. Arnott'

G. elwesii 'Rosemary Burnham'

'Primrose Warburg'

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The importance of records

Rhododendron 'Fugen-no-tsuki' (flower is 3 cm across)
Before Christmas I was surprised to find a few flowers on an azalea in our garden in Ray Wood at Castle Howard. I took a sprig home with me, writing the accession number on the back of a leaf as usual, and looked it up. We have it labelled as Rhododendron kiusianum 'Fugenno-tsugi', but the International Rhododendron Register gives the spelling as 'Fugen-no-tsuki', and the plant seems to match the description given there (though it doesn't mention that the calyx is petaloid, as it is on these flowers).

The Yorkshire Arboretum database contains the notes made on each plant added to the collection by the late Jim Russell, and in this case there is a general commentary on the variation of R. kiusianum and its propensity to form hybrids with other species. There is also a line giving the information: "Wild collected forms introduced by the National Arboretum, Washington. A plant each from Windsor, autumn 1981. NA 40818".

Intrigued, I emailed my friend Dr Richard Olsen at the United States National Arboretum to enquire if anything more was known about this source. He passed the enquiry to their Plant Records officer Stefan Lura, who replied with all the details one could wish for. In 1976 Dr John Creech and 'Skip' (Sylvester) March from USNA went to Japan to collect interesting plants from small nurseries, which, it was felt, were disappearing and good plants were at risk of being lost. One of the groups of plants they focused on were selections of Rhododendron kiusianum, or hybrids thereof, that had been collected in the mountains and brought into cultivation. Their success with this is described in detail in an article by Ronald Bare, fortunately available online. 'Fugen-no-tsuki' was one of fourteen cultivars obtained from a nursery "called Kyoma Yokota, located near Mt. Unzen in Kunimiche, Minami Takaki-gun. The nursery is run by a young Japanese woman under the watchful eye of her elderly father." It was given the collection number C&M 563, and then the accession number NA 40818.

By 1979 the USNA had propagated enough cuttings from the imported plants to offer them to other institutions. Their database shows that in that year material of eleven clones was sent to Wisley and to Sir Harold Hillier. I enquired how, in that case, had Jim Russell obtained material from Windsor. This prompted Stefan to hunt through records that had not made it to database: sure enough, in the distribution records for 1980 he found a request form, completed by Skip March, authorising the sending of 16 clones to John Bond, then Keeper of the Royal Gardens in Windsor Great Park. The material was sent on 24 November 1980. It was obviously on one of Jim Russell's forays there, in autumn 1981, that he acquired the plants we now grow (we also have several more of these clones, which I'll look out for in normal flowering season). Whether he grew them from cuttings, or whether John Bond gave him the original plants is unknown, but the next step is to find out if any of them are still grown at Windsor - 'Fugen-no-tsuki' is no longer cultivated by USNA in Washington DC, and it's not at the Hillier Gardens or Wisley either.

All this information is now recorded in our database, making the history of one small, obscure azalea that much more complete - I'm very grateful to Stefan Lura for his interest in hunting out the records.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Plant of the Year 2014: Dactylorhiza × grandis

Dactylorhiza ×grandis from Blackthorn Nursery, in the garden border June 2014.
 My Plant of the Year 2014 is the hybrid marsh orchid, Dactylorhiza ×grandis, which impressed me this year in many places, wild and cultivated, during its flowering season of May and June. Typically a robust plant with big spikes of deep pink to purplish flowers, it can be an excellent garden plant whether grown in the border, as the clump illustrated above is, or naturalized in a meadow situation.

Dactylorhiza ×grandis is a hybrid between the Southern Marsh Orchid  (D. praetermissa) and the Common Spotted Orchid (D. fuchsii) and is usually present where they grow together. The name is applicable to any derivative of the cross and as plants have some fertility, and almost certainly backcross to either of the parents, a swarm of intermediates can develop within a population, making interpretation challenging at times. To help decipher it, here are pure examples of the parents, and then some hybrids.

Dactylorhiza praetermissa, showing the typically wedge-shaped lips with a central band of spots/. The flowers are usually a deep purple (this is a pale example) and contribute rich colours to the hybrid.  The leaves usually lack spots. (Yorkshire Arboretum June 2013)

Dactylorhiza fuchsii is much paler in colour, with a strongly three-lobed lip decorated by dark lines and loops. Leaves are usually spotted. (Wharram Quarry June 2014)

A swarm of parents and hybrids: the very dark spikes are D. praetermissa, pale ones D. fuchsii with intermediate hybrids in darker pink (e.g. fourth from left along the lower edge of the image). (Roadside verge A166, E. Yorks, June 2014)

A ×grandis that is close to D. praetermissa, with only slightly lobed lips, but with a more elaborate pattern of dots and dashes. (Yorkshire Arboretum June 2014)

A very robust hybrid with well-developed lip markings but also less lobing than in D. fuchsii.

A good dark-flowered hybrid, with attractively spotted leaves, and an obliging clumping habit. (A166 verge, June 2014)

 D. ×grandis growing in the meadow at The Garden House, Devon, surrounded by classic meadow plants (late May 2014).

Both parents, and the hybrid, are available from specialist nurseries and are well worth acquiring and planting close together; if conditions are right a swarm of hybrids is bound to result.

No hybrids, just a wonderful stand of Dactylorhiza fuchsii at Chatsworth, June 2014.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Garden people 2014

Florist: Phillipe Chadwick

American galanthophiles: Susan and Kent Cadwalader, Ernest Cavallo, Susan Alexander

Pogonophile: Razvan Chisu

Student: Terry Huang

Designer: Arabella Lennox-Boyd
Plantsman: Tom Hudson

Bulb planters: staff and volunteers of the Yorkshire Arboretum

Judges: John David, Stephen Lacey, unknown, Rosie Atkins

Curator: Colin Crosbie 

Deputy Curator: Matthew Pottage