Sunday, 13 April 2014

A busy gardening weekend

Paeonia mairei
In a Facebook post an American friend, Mike Fusaro, alerts his circle that today is the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson in 1743, and gives a very choice quotation from the great man setting out his philosophy about gardening: 'No occupation is so delightful to me as the cultivation of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one thro' the year.'

With fine weather - though windy - this weekend, it has been delightful to be in the garden and to be able to get things done, preparing the garden for the rush that is to come over the next few weeks.

The view from my bedroom this morning.
Without a greenhouse growing things in pots, especially tender plants, is a challenge. The various house windowsills had a clear-out today to give potted plants a good watering, but it is the hardening off that presents the greatest challenge. It's not just a temperature issue: plants grown without exposure to direct sunshine or moving air are very unprepared for exposure, and I did a lot of juggling things in and out of doorways today.

Last year's fern fronds have been cut off, revealing swelling croziers. this is a Polystichum setiferum cultivar.

Later in the day: lawn mown, hedge trimmed

A temporarily upward-facing Erythronium showing the beautiful markings in its throat.

Not subject to migration outdoors, at least yet, is this Cymbidium 'Doris Dawson 'Scotch Mist' on my study windowsill, flowering again after a year in my care.

The very last snowdrop of the season, a secondary flower of 'Little Drip'.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Which do you prefer?

Narcissus 'Amabilis'

Narcissus 'Silent Valley'
A poll option is given in the righthand sidebar.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A wet visit to Holehird Gardens

Magnolia 'Caerhays Surprise' on the lawn in the Walled Garden
A visit to friends in the Lake District gave me the opportunity to return to Holehird Gardens this afternoon. The 17 acres of neatly kept gardens are run entirely by volunteers who are members of the Lakeland Horticultural Society, and are a testimony to their competence and good will. Unfortunately the Lake District lived up to its reputation for heavy rainfall for the whole weekend, and the gardens were thoroughly drenched: it was a brief visit and these are a few iPad snaps to give an idea of the range of interesting plants currently in flower there. There is no cafe at Holehird, but I can thoroughly recommend Francine's, in nearby Windermere, for an excellent lunch.

The only dry spot: the alpine house, with nicely constructed tufa walls full of choice plants.

Saxifraga x biasolettoi 'Atropurpurea' (though the RHS Plant Finder suggests this name may not be correct).

Part of the rock garden

Rhododendron 'Pemakofairy',  ground-hugging dwarf with comparatively large flowers, rather the worse for rain.

The daffodils were sadly much bashed-about by wind and heavy rain.

I thought the planting round this runnel (taking run-off through the walled garden) was very well done: the combination of Corydalis and Dicentra  is charming. The picture really doesn't do it justice.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Wild Daffodils at Farndale

The Wild Daffodil, Narcissus peudonarcissus
Having heard that there was  good display of Wild Daffodils at Farndale, up in the North York Moors National Park, I went to see them this morning with my friend Tom Mitchell, proprietor of Evolution Plants. We got there to find a busy scene of cars milling about in a field car park, an ice cream vendor doing a roaring trade, and lots of people, many apparently clad for a Himalayan trek, setting off to walk up the valley where the daffodils grow. Although Farndale lies between quite high moors, the valley bottom is gentle, with a built path running alongside the River Dove through the fields and wooded banks. The daffodils occur in the rough places where plough and fertiliser can't reach and give a pleasant shimmer under the trees, but aren't present in huge dense drifts. It was a nice walk on a mild morning, and it was good to see a lot of people coming out to see wild flowers,but there wasn't much feeling of the wild about it (and - hush! - the display of Wild Daffodils in the Forest of Dean is much better).

The Farndale daffodils are a very popular destination for a spring stroll.

Seems a bit cheap!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

An outstanding bulb collection

Freesia cultivars
Having sent most of the day at a Biodiversity Action Plan workshop in Pickering, for light relief on the way home I called in at the famous RV Roger Ltd nursery, which has a huge range of plants, many grown there in the open ground. The proprietor, Ian Roger, is a great bulb enthusiast and in season they stock an incredible range. He combines business with pleasure by growing a display of bulbous plants in a 'bulb yard', including two substantial greenhouses, raised beds and big potting bags of the larger species. All are beautifully grown and labelled.Among the assemblage is one of the National Plant Collections of Erythronium, just starting to flower, though the early blooms had mostly been ruined by Sunday night's frost, and in the first greenhouse are a lot of rather choice Cape bulbs. It's evidently going to be a place to visit regularly during the spring.

Moraea atropunctata

An impressive array of Gladiolus species and simple hybrids.

The very elegant Lachenalia suaveolens

Fritillaria bucharica 'Hodji-Obi-Garm'

A collection of Tulipa humilis cultivars

Crown Imperials, with Fritillaria raddeana in front. The three colours flowering behind it are in the Rascal series,  a new race of shorter hybrids bred in Holland. The cultivars are named after composers.

Raised beds containing the very extensive Erythronium collection.

Even the car park has bulbs: a lovely fringe of self-sown Muscari latifolium and Chionodoxa

Friday, 21 March 2014

Rhododendron thomsonii

Rhododendron thomsonii - the Hooker clone in Ray Wood

Flowering now in Ray Wood at Castle Howard is a lanky, half-collapsed old rhododendron that has very obviously seen better days. Unprepossessing it may be, but it is one of the most treasured plants in our collection, a 'Hooker original' clone of Rhododendron thomsonii.

Rhododendron thomsonii, by WH Fitch, from Rhododendrons of the Sikkim-Himalaya, 1849

The still young Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911) spent the year 1849 botanising in Sikkim. His own account of that time may be read in his Himalayan Journals (1854) and the story has been retold many times elsewhere, the highlight being the imprisonment of Hooker and his companion Archibald Campbell by the Rajah of Sikkim. But for botany and horticulture the expedition was incredibly significant, revealing most strikingly the extraordinary diversity and richness of the genus Rhododendron in the Himalayan region. From the notes, sketches and specimens Hooker sent home a magnificent series of plates was prepared by the botanical artist Walter Hood Fitch, and published immediately in sections as The Rhododendrons of  Sikkim-Himalaya (1849-51). One of the species found by Hooker had brilliantly scarlet flowers with neat foliage and attractive bark, and he named it after his friend from the University of Glasgow, Dr Thomas Thomson (1817-1878), who joined Hooker in Darjeeling after the latter's release from captivity. Thomson also knew about being a prisoner: he had been captured in the First Afghan War (plus ├ža change!) and was to have been sold into slavery, but managed to escape. Together they went to Assam for another season's exploration.

Thomas Thomson, by George Richmond, known for flattering portraiture.
In Sikkim Hooker did more than just collect herbarium specimens: he also gathered seed. This went back to Kew, from where it was distributed to interested individuals and organisations worldwide, including the then famous nursery of Standish and Noble at Sunningdale in Surrey. They made Hooker's rhododendrons commercially available and in so doing started the long-lasting fashion for rhododendrons in British gardens. In their catalogue of 1852 they wrote: " No plants of recent introduction have created so much interest as the Sikkim Rhododendrons, discovered and sent to this country by Dr Hooker... The exquisite representations of the principal kinds, in The Rhododendrons of the Sikkim-Himalaya, have in no small degree contributed to excite and strengthen expectation.' One can imagine a brisk trade in young seedlings that year.

But not all the plants were sold. A later owner of the Sunningdale site, James Russell, creator of the garden in Ray Wood and the Yorkshire Arboretum tells the story in notes now included on our database: When I first took over Sunningdale Nurseries in 1939, 7 trees from Hooker's Sikkim seed of 1849 survived, some of them multi-stemmed and of great size. The wartime neglect, the winter of 1941, their age and the cold and freezing rain of 1947 took their toll." Jim Russell moved to Castle Howard in 1968 after an inheritance dispute forced the sale of the site, but he brought representatives of the rhododendron collection there with him, including "a layer 8/9', from the tree which Harry White considered to be the best of the Hooker plants, in 1968 and this is growing extremely well."

It is this plant that is now in flower - we hope the frost forecast for this weekend does not penetrate the canopy of Ray Wood - and looking so sparse, a victim of the undergrowth that swamped the collection during an unfortunate period of neglect. To preserve this clone, with this remarkable history, we have sent material for micropropagation at the Duchy College in Cornwall, and cuttings have been taken, so we hope that before too long we will be able to plant out a further generation of healthy youngsters.

The dubious state of our 'Hooker clone' of Rhododendron thomsonii. "The trunk of this tree is one of its main beauties; with age the bark begins to peel, revealing a polished stem, rich fawn and brown, with lilac shadings. In late summer there is another season of beauty when the young leaves appear; at first lettuce-green, they change to a vivid blue-green for a week or so." James Russell.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Quality time with the pheasants

I spent a few minutes this afternoon using my iPad to video my Lady Amherst's Pheasants. It came out better than expected, so I've loaded it to YouTube and thence to here.  Not very horticultural but still in my garden, where the pheasants and bantams are very much part of the scene. Seen here are Philip, the adult male, in full plumage, his two females, and the young male and female hatched last year. They are gluttons for sunflower hearts.