Monday, 11 May 2015

Some late daffodils

The striking large, brightly coloured flowers  of Narcissus nobilis are really something special, (With Primula ''Guinevere'.)

It hasn't been a great daffodil season here; the early ones were fine, but the main season never quite achieved its full potential due to the combination of very dry soil, sunshine and string winds, all tending to frizzle them up quite quickly. After recent rain, however, some late-flowering species and cultivars are looking good, and will carry the daffodil season on for another week so so.


Narcissus abscissus is not a spectacular plant; It was known to the Seventeenth century gardeners as the 'Clipt Trunk Daffodil' on account of its straight trumpet without a flare at the rim.

A tiny wild type N. poeticus, probably referable to N. radiiflorus: it could be useful to breeders of miniatures, but with no garden presence of its own. N. poeticus 'Recurvus' is also just opening.

The green eye of 'Cedar Hills', a lovely Grant Mitsch selection. This was picked several days ago to enjoy the flower unblemished indoors: its fellow buds in the garden have not yet opened. 

I lost the name of this very late reverse bicolor trumpet years ago (it came from Janis Ruksans), but I like its lateness and the gradual change in colour from cream to ivory then nearly white.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Irish Garden


A morning of lashing rain seems like a good opportunity to review a magnificent book, The Irish Garden, with text by Jane Powers and photography by her husband Jonathan Hession. Recently released by Frances Lincoln, who are to be congratulated on having the vision to publish it so generously, this is a well-produced, big (400 pages), heavy book with excellent reproduction. Nothing is cramped and text and photographs are well balanced. It is beautifully written and unusually accurate in nomenclature, and someone has done an outstanding job at proof-reading.

It's very evident that author and photographer between them spent a long time working on the book - you can't cover that many gardens in depth in a season or two and the images provide evidence of multiple visits to many. Remarkably it doesn't seem to be raining in any of them! 38 gardens are covered in detail, given several spreads, and numerous others are mentioned in the introductions to each of the 'chapters' - really loose groupings of gardens of similar style or period. The whole island of Ireland is covered, though there is perhaps more emphasis on the Republic. This will be a lasting record of current Irish horticulture and a high standard against which to compare any other review of a country's gardens. At 3 kg it practically needs its own Ryanair luggage allowance, but although hardly a handy guidebook, it will be essential reading for anyone researching Irish gardens or planning a horticultural tour there for years to come.

A garden to visit: Glenveagh, Co Donegal, where much planting was done by James Russell (founder of the Yorkshire Arboretum) 'He had apparently wild ideas which proved to be excellent'
With its generally soft climate and abundant rainfall, gardening in Ireland has different advantages and challenges to those we experience in Great Britain. Growth is lush and soon becomes rampant, meaning that the jungle comes in fast if a back is turned. Many of the gardens described have been rescued after shorter or longer periods of neglect - and Jane Powers is not above a warning here or there when she feels that the current custodians of a particular garden are failing to maintain standards. Inevitably, I suppose, many of the featured gardens are those created by the Anglo-Irish elite, past and present, centred on various grand piles. Magnificent they are, and omitting them would be unthinkable, but it would have been nice if some smaller gardens had been featured more fully. One can think of those of Conrad McCormick and Harold McBride in the North, and Bruno Nicolai in Cork - all plantsmen remarkable in any company. Carmel Duignan's smaller garden in Dublin gets a mention, but that's about it.

One of the spreads featuring Carl Wright's Caher Bridge garden, a gem inserted among the rocks of the Burren.
I am fortunate enough to know the owners or keepers of several of the gardens featured, and have visited their and other gardens described. If there is one flaw in this excellent book it is that there are no images of the gardeners, past or present, who created these places (and indeed the images are all unpopulated). The tales of how the umpteenth Earl did or created this or that, and changes and fortunes of ownership, are faithfully recorded, but we have no image of any of them. Mount Congreve is literally synonymous with its magnificent creator, Ambrose Congreve, and what would the Dillon Garden be without Helen Dillon? I suspect this was a conscious decision, for uniformity, but perhaps we could next have an illustrated guide to Irish gardeners?

A full spread showing June Blake's Garden - the images do full justice to their subjects. 

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Some spring flowers

Cypripedium formosanum, fortunately brought in before the sharp frosts this week.

Pleione speciosa, the original cultivated clone  - always a reliable performer.

A kind friend sent me bulbs of Narcissus 'Unknown Poet' last year. It has  neat round flowers and a very flat corona.

Narcissus 'Thalia' at the Yorkshire Arboretum.

Prunus yedoense in Ray Wood

Rhododendron parmulatum, in Ray Wood last week - sadly frosted this.

Lewisia tweedyi at RHS Garden Harlow Carr - where I am now a Garden Advisor.

A shimmer of Erythronium 'Pagoda' under Cornus at Harlow Carr.

Tulipa 'Exotic Emperor' frothing in a big pot at Harlow Carr.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Narcissus 'Beersheba'

'Beersheba' on Thursday - just a hint of creaminess remains in the trumpet.
One of my annual pleasures is to have a vase of Narcissus 'Beersheba' on my desk for a few days each spring, enabling me to be distracted easily by its beauty. It was introduced by the Rev George H Engleheart in 1923 and very quickly became popular, as the first all-white trumpet daffodil of its size. Although an 'old' daffodil it is not small, reaching 12 cm across these flowers, and with the potential to be bigger if they were grown in rich conditions - but this is plenty big enough for me. Despite its size it remains elegant, with enough 'movement' in the corolla to avoid stiffness, and the narrow trumpet expands into a nice flange at its mouth. Bowles described this as having the outline of a Convolvulus flower, though I don't see it, but his observation that the corolla lobes form two perfect triangles is perfectly true.

It is a great shame that this beauty is not easy to obtain, with the crass 'Ice Follies' or lumpish 'Mount Hood' being the standard white daffodils of commerce. No source is listed for 'Beersheba' in The RHS Plant Finder 2014, but it's offered by Croft 16  Daffodils in the UK, and by Old House Gardens in the United States, so it can be acquired - and I very much recommend its acquisition.



The play of light within the flowers is wonderful: pure white by today.

Early morning in the garden, 6/4/15. The flowers open with a pale lemon trumpet, but it quickly fades to ivory then pure white.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Rhododendron species portraits from Ray Wood, 6 April

Rhododendron calophytum

R. mucronulatum

R. fulvum 'Windlesham White'

R. piercei

R. pocophorum var. hemidartum Rock 11179

R. temenium var. gilvum 'Cruachan'

R. lanatoides KW 5971

R. diphrocalyx

R. barbatum: the Blue Tits have discovered that this species (and R. mallotum, also with red flowers) contains nectar , which they drink from the flowers. In perching on the truss, however, they damage the flowers, and sometimes rip them apart.

R. meddianum Forrest 24104

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A wet day in Maidenhead

Magnolia 'Star Wars' at its best - the buds burst but not blowsy.
I was at my parents' in Maidenhead on Sunday, and although it was an unpleasant wet day their garden was looking nice, with lots of interesting and attractive plants in flower. Here are a few pics.


Self-sown primroses of the sibthorpii persuasion in the front garden.

Recycled hyacinths by the pond

Asarum maximum in the cold greenhouse where it gets very little attention, but obviously thrives on it. 

A fine pot of jonquils, but the label is missing: Narcissus henriquesii, or N. cordubensis, I think.

A melange of plants on the conservatory bench: Impatiens sodenii in the centre.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

University of Leicester Botanic Garden - an unexpected gem


Formal garden with traditional (immaculate) box hedging and spring bedding.
With a colleague I attended a Plant Network meeting on Friday, at the University of Leicester Botanic Garden. Had I been pushed I might have recalled that there is a botanic garden in Leicester, but it would seem to be effectively unknown in the horticultural world. This is a pity, because it is actually rather interesting, as well as being attractive and very well maintained.

The garden occupies the grounds of four large Edwardian mansions built in the English Domestic Revival style, purchased after the war by the University of Leicester for use as student residences, which must have been very pleasant for those lucky enough to live in them. The grounds, totalling 16 acres, became the botanic garden in 1947 and the characters of the original gardens are retained. It is certainly not a traditional botanic garden, though rather more than a park: there are family beds, greenhouses, medicinal plants and herbs, etc, but also a rather attractive formal water garden and sunken garden as well as wide lawns. Sadly we didn't have time to see it in its entirety, but it's only a few miles off the M1 and it would be worth going back in summer to see the National Plant Collection of hardy fuchsias in flower, for example.


We were shown round by the Director, Prof Richard Gornall, who also curates the garden amid a busy academic career.

The Knoll is one of the mansions whose grounds now form the botanic garden.

There is a good collection of conifers: this is the rare Cypriot endemic Cedrus brevifolia, looking very well.

Although with an unfortunate lean caused by previous shading, this is the national champion Pinus aristata (Bristlecone Pine), standing 9 m tall.

A number of interesting plants from the Balearic Islands are grown in the alpine house: this is Senecio rodriguezii.

Prof Gornall's long-term research interest has been in the genus Saxifraga. Also flowering in the alpine house was this S. wendelboi, from Iran.

Secure behind locked doors in the research greenhouse is this collection of wild-origin clones of Japanese Knotweed. Funnily enough they are mostly too tender to survive an English winter: the clone that is such a menace is exceptional. Amazingly, the same (and only) clone is found throughout Europe, parts of North America and Australia: it was introduced by Philipp von Siebold from Japan in 1825.

The last remnants of the Crocus display. LUBG holds 'Crocus Sundays' in season.