Tuesday, 29 March 2011

RHS awards for American friends

An enjoyable day at the RHS show today was further enhanced by the surprise discovery that two American friends were getting awards. Kathryn Andersen, from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, was the 100th recipient of the Peter Barr Memorial Cup, awarded for meritorious work with daffodils. Kathy was Secretary of the American Daffodil Society for many years, and is also well known for her interests in lilies and clivias. I first got to know her when she and her husband Marvin (who was also in London) came on an Alpine Garden Society Tour I led to East Africa in 1997. I dragged them up Mt Kenya and Kilimanjaro, where they reached higher altitudes (4750 m, 14,480') than most of the group who were much younger than they. Not put off by this experience, they joined a tour to the Drakensberg in 2002. Indomitable is a word invented for Kathy: she came to London from Spain, where she had been seeking wild daffodils.

Harold Koopowitz is also known for his work with Clivia and

daffodils, as well as being a noted expert on Asian slipper-orchids (Paphiopedilum), received the Ralph B White Medal for breeding Narcissus 'Itsy Bitsy Splitsy'. This is is a dwarf split-corona daffodil that, it has to be said, is not at all to my taste - images and information are available at DaffSeek.Org It was good to have chance to catch up with Harold, seen here receiving his award from the President, Elizabeth Banks.

Numerous other eminent plantspeople were given awards, mostly for their exhibits at RHS shows over the past year, but some for long-standing contributions in their fields. For once it was an effective ceremony on the dais in the Lawrence Hall, giving them the public recognition deserved.

And yes, there were some nice plants there too...

Iris sari subsp. manissadjianii, shown in the AGS show by Joy Bishop

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Gaudy night

Fritillaria meleagris

Magdalen tower
across the meadow
Yesterday Magdalen College held a Gaudy (reunion and dinner) for old members who came up in the years 1986-88, so I spent the afternoon and evening in Oxford. Thanks to the foresight of the founder, William Waynflete, in acquiring the land in the Fifteenth Century, the college is situated in 100 acres of grounds alongside the River Cherwell. Behind the college buildings is the Grove where the college's herd of deer spend the winter through to midsummer: on the other side of a branch of the river is the meadow, which they graze in summer and autumn once the hay has been taken off. The meadow is most famous, however, for its population of 'wild' fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris), known here since the Eighteenth Century, but almost certainly planted then. It is an amazing sight when in full bloom, but yesterday only a few were open, and in the murky gloom prevailing were almost invisible.

Much more conspicuous were the other naturalized 'bulbs' that beautify the walks around the meadow and the Fellows' Garden. Unfortunately, a lot of large, brightly coloured daffodils have been planted of late, as so often crassly out of place and out of scale in such a setting. Overlooking these regrettable intrusions is difficult, but around and amongst them are masses of far more attractive plants, most notably the amazing carpets of Anemone appenina in all shades of blue and white (and there are shades of white in this case, as some have bluish backs to their petals, while others are pure white). It is such a special plant, far finer than Anemone blanda, but because its long rhizomes do not tolerate drying in the same way as the hard knobbly tubers of A. blanda do, is not offered by the bulb merchants and sources for it are sadly few. It revels in the light clay soil at Magdalen, competing very effectively with thin grass, and producing a wonderful Delft effect in blue and white.

Anemone appenina
The River Cherwell and Fellows' Garden

New Buildings (1733), from below the Magdalen Plane, planted 1801
The grounds at Magdalen are open to visitors most afternoons (further information here), and are open for the National Gardens Scheme on 17 April.

Dinner in Hall was an enjoyable event: it was reassuring to know that the college kitchen still produces dreadful food and that the college cellar still contains excellent vintages. Better was to meet up with many former friends and acquaintances, some of whom I hadn't seen since we graduated, and find out what they're doing, besides making what seem to be lots of of babies. Luckily the much-vaunted Magdalen cabinet ministers are all above - or below! - our years, but every other profession and trade seemed to be represented, especially lawyers. There were lots of lawyers...

In Hall, post-dessert.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Wild in the garden

Sweet Violet, Viola odorata

Dusky pink Viola odorata
There is a great diversity of native plants in the grounds of Colesbourne Park, with many of the spring-flowering species now coming into full bloom. In the informal setting here they partner and complement the garden plants, as at least equals in the display. Some are showy and obvious, like the Primroses and Wood Anemones, others are more subtle, like the violets, and some would attract only a botanist's interest - but all (or almost all), are very welcome.

Wood Anemone, Anemone nemorosa

Primroses, Primula vulgaris, and Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria

Barren Strawberry, Potentilla sterilis

Even Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta,
has moments when it looks almost pretty...

Monday, 21 March 2011


Philip the Lady Amherst Pheasant  (Chrysolophus amherstiae) displaying.

Philip and Blondie (Yellow Golden Pheasant, Chrysolophus pictus luteus) sizing each other up.

Goldie (Golden Pheasant, Chrysolophus pictus)
Spring hormones were flowing in our pheasants this morning, with a bit of a scrap going on between our Lady Amherst and Yellow Golden cocks (a.k.a. Philip  - the pheasant - we inherited the name, and Blondie, for obvious reasons when compared with Goldie). The displaying was fascinating, with their fabulous plumage shown off to its full effect.

Coming home through the lanes this afternoon I saw this impressive herd of 33 Fallow Deer (Dama dama) in one of the Colesbourne fields. Dark animals are common in the local population, with some approaching back. These were mostly females, with a couple of yearling males amongst them.

Fallow Deer in a field at Colesbourne this afternoon -
not in the garden, fortunately...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Spring buds at Congrove

Betula sp. (grown as B. tauschei)
The valley and arboretum at Congrove

Today I've been for Sunday lunch with Christine and Ben Battle at their home at Congrove, near Bath - an excellent meal and excellent company. Afterwards we toured the arboretum that Christine has been planting on their land in this secluded valley since 2002, and which is becoming a really notable collection. I've known it for several years, and even in its early days I was able to cite specimens growing there in New Trees. It's over a year since I was last there and the growth on the trees has been remarkable, aided by the attention provided by Christine and her right-hand man, Tony Webb, as well as the superb growing conditions in this well-watered, rich-soiled, west-facing valley.

Although it is still too early to see much growth on most trees, many signs of spring were apparent on a glorious warm sunny day. Here are a few details.

Male cones on Torreya grandis

Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra) flowers

Magnolia sprengeri var. diva

Larix principis-rupprechtii

Fraxinus paxiana

Thujopsis dolabrata

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Wild Daffodils in the Golden Triangle

Wild Daffodils, Narcissus pseudonarcissus
The British native wild Daffodil was once a common and widely-distributed plant in (especially) western England and southern Scotland, but increasing intensification of agriculture made it progressively scarcer. By the early Twentieth Century it had become a rare plant in many parts of its former range, but it remained extremely abundant in north-western Gloucestershire and the adjacent parts of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. This is a fertile, gentle countryside, well watered, and wild Daffodils were incredibly abundant in the woods and pastures. It became known as the Golden Triangle, and special excursion trains were run at flowering time to bring people to see - and pick - the flowers. After the War, however, 'improvements' to the fields and modern agricultural practice all but eradicated the Daffodils from their meadow habitat, leaving them confined to woodlands and hedgerows.

As such, they have become a subject of conservation concern, and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has undertaken a study of their distribution and potential threats. This extremely interesting document can be read here. As the County Flower, the wild Daffodil's survival and presence is a matter of local pride, and each year the villages in the Golden Triangle organize daffodil events, which are currently ongoing. Further information is available from the SoGlos website (although they illustrate the events with a picture of an orange-trumpeted garden hybrid!).

The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust focuses its daffodil conservation activities on two sites. The Betty Dawes Wood, owned by the Forestry Commission but managed by GWT, is an oak-hazel coppice, with a patchwork of areas coppiced at different times, so there are daffodils growing in rather shaded to open sites, with the inevitable differences in vigour and flower production. The Gwen and Vera's Fields Nature Reserve, comprising two adjacent, tiny old orchards, on the other hand demonstrate how the old meadows used to look - a mass of flowers. But wild Daffodils are not rare in the Golden Triangle - just much reduced. Every bit of woodland, and mile after mile of hedges and ditches, has them in abundance, a truly glorious sight.

Wild Daffodils in coppiced woodland, Betty Dawes Wood
Active management in Betty Dawes wood benefits
the Daffodils: the oaks aren't bad either.
Field edges and hedgebanks are a refuge for the daffodils.
Daffodils in a roadside ditch: in this situation the clumps become quite large.

Wild Daffodils in Gwen and Vera's Fields Nature Reserve.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Mid-March miscellany

Narcissus 'Small Talk'

Helleborus x belcheri 'Pink Ice'

Unnamed late-flowering Galanthus hybrid

Corydalis solida 'Frodo'

xChionoscilla allenii 'Fra Angelico'

Primula 'Amy Smith'

Paeonia 'Coral Charm'