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.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

48 hours in Ireland

The flowers of Chrysosplenium macrophyllum contrast with and are complimented by the reddish foliage.

Chrysosplenium macrophyllum is perhaps a little too happy on the banks of the Hunting Brook! The bright green foliage by the stream is the native C. oppositifolium.

Spring comes to Hunting Brook Gardens, Co. Wicklow - the first wave in a season-long shift in colour and interest, through this bed, as planned by Jimi Blake, Proprietor (visible in red). The upright stems are the fabulous and rare Aralia echinocaulis, one of the garden's signature plants, and probably the largest stand of it outside China..

A rare gleam of sunlight on an otherwise overcast and chilly weekend falls on Helleborus x ashwoodensis 'Briar Rose'.

The delicate-seeming but easily-grown Ypsilandra tibetica, which has a lovely strong scent reminiscent of marzipan.

A charming combination at  Mount Venus Nursery. It is surprising how seldom one sees Pachyphragma macrophyllum.

Jimi Blake and I had a happy prowl round the remarkable Mount Venus Nursery, just outside Dublin. It offers a tremendous range of good perennials, many of which are hard to find elsewhere. Not the best time to survey the selection, perhaps, but we were charmed by this corner, with rustic columns, Borinda and mossy stones - the latter being the most important aspect.

This morning ewe went to Kilmacurragh, the National Botanic Garden of Ireland's country estate in Wicklow. Wild-type Crocus vernus has been naturalised in the lawns there for centuries, and has outlasted the house, now in a sadly derelict state. At least the Office of Public Works is going to re-roof it this year to prevent further deterioration.
Kilmacurragh was actively gardened by generations of the Acton family, who in the 1850s received young plants of Joseph Hooker's Rhododendron introductions from Sikkim: Seamus O'Brien, Curator, admires a Hooker R. grande.

Now actively gardened by Seamus, Kilmacurragh is again a vibrant place. This is his new Monkey-puzzle avenue, with 36 pairs of trees.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

A good gardening day

Eranthis Tubergenii Group 'Guinea Gold' is the last to open here and perhaps the most spectacular.

A really productive session working on the main border. A big clump of Nepeta was edited out.

Today has been the first decent day of the year - far better than decent actually - very lovely. Warm and sunny, with the Curlews, Lapwings and Skylarks in voice all round, and the flowers wide open - pure pleasure to be outside and working in the garden. Shirt sleeves, and tea outside too - though I don't suppose winter has completely receded yet. However, with these temperatures the snowdrops and crocuses are going over fast, so this will be the last weekend to see a good show from them.

Narcissus 'Bowles' Early Sulphur'

Galanthus plicatus 'E.A. Bowles'

Galanthus nivalis 'Susan Grimshaw' is just getting going, unfurling its large flowers for the first time today.

The (mostly) Crocus Bed, where I grow selections that I'm observing or bulking up.

This 4x4 white one turned up in one of my submissions to the RHS Crocus Trial a few years ago: it's rather good. It must've been an unflowered seedling in the clump I dug corms from.

I was not the only one enjoying the crocuses today.

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.)