Thursday 30 September 2010

Last of the cherry tomatoes

A tomato tarte tatin, with goat's cheese added later - delicious!

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Moving an old friend

In 1997, when I was looking after Primrose Warburg's garden following her death, I dug up an old tree peony that had belonged to Nancy Lindsay (d. 1973), and gave it to Elizabeth Parker-Jervis for safe-keeping. Following her death in March, her family are now placing her property on the market, and I was called in to move the precious peony for a second time. A couple of hours of digging got it out, and tomorrow it will find a hopefully permanent home at Colesbourne Park.

It has been identified as 'Guardian of the Monastery', whether reliably or not, but for me it will always be my old friend 'Nancy Lindsay's peony', a memory of two great gardening friends and a conection with a third. Elizabeth did have it propagated and a few plants have been distributed, but this is clearly something I have to work on. Thanks to Celia Sawyer for the photo of the flower.

Monday 27 September 2010

Garden pictures from the weekend

First-flowering of a seedling poker, grown as Kniphofia ichopensis, but certainly a hybrid.

Argyranthemum 'Jamaica Primrose' (with Calamagrostis 'Overdam' behind). This is the clone maintained and distributed by Pam Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger: it is much superior to the clone currently offered commercially, being more compact and much more floriferous, but its willingness to flower makes it difficult to find vegetative cutting material from the plants.

Clematis brevicaudata and Viburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpa'.

Impatiens kilimanjari subsp. kilimanjari

Comma on Aster x frikartii 'Monch'

Aster 'Monch'

Saturday 25 September 2010

Malvern Autumn Show

Michaelmas daisies shown by Old Court Nursery

The Three Counties Showground at Malvern, Worcestershire, hosts two horticultural shows each year. The first, in May, is a major event; the Autumn Show, on this weekend, is smaller and attracts less attention from the media. It is less exclusively horticultural, with poultry, rabbit and guinea pig shows, and displays of canines and other quadrupeds to divert attention from the plants - or the superabundant shopping opportunities.

Crocus banaticus and Asian gentians on the Hartside Nursery stand

The RHS Show, consisting of nursery displays and sales tables, was held this year in the large display sheds at the southern end of the showground. While spacious enough for the smaller number of nurseries attending, they're not really suitable for the purpose,  being poorly lit, and the whole thing seemed rather pushed off into a corner: it didn't have the 'buzz' of most big shows. Nevertheless, there were some attractive displays to be seen, reminding us of the abundance of good plants for the autumn garden. I liked this combination of Kniphofia 'Toffee Nosed' and Orlaya grandiflora on Chris Cooke's stand, and elsewhere an attractive pairing was Miscanthus 'Malepartus' and Verbena bonariensis.

Heuchera (etc) shown by Plantagogo

The show held in the Harvest Pavilion is more of a classic flower and produce show, held under the auspices of the Three Counties Agricultural Society and the Midlands Vegetable Society. The giant vegetables attract most attention, as well they might, for their sheer improbability and the skill needed to produce them, but the majority of the produce on display is  more normally proportioned (and looks much more appetizing).
The first prize for the display of giant vegetables (above right) was won by A. Jones, and the trug (below) by A. Young.

A noteworthy success was achieved in the Chrysanthemum show by Colesbourne resident George Proverbs, who won first prizes for all five classes he entered, including for this entry of five vases of three stems. To produce such top-quality blooms is a huge challenge, requiring meticulous attention through the growing season, including the protection of the developing flower head in an inflated paper bag.

There are classes for all sorts of flowers, ranging from alpines to roses, and of course dahlias. Although many of those exhibited are too large-flowered to be attractive in the garden, there are many smaller-flowered cultivars on display that offer the promise of being useful additions to the summer border; after admiring it for several years I really must acquire plants of 'Weston Spanish Dancer' (right) next spring.

Friday 24 September 2010

A new edition of a classic tree book

Hugh Johnson's Trees has just been published by Mitchell Beazley (£30) (in North America it is entitled The World of Trees, University of California Press). It is the successor to his enduringly popular International Book of Trees (1973), now updated after nearly forty years and illustrated with new images chosen to inspire and inform. I have to declare an interest, as I was consultant editor, but this is a lovely book, packed with both information and reminiscence. The first edition was written when Hugh was just starting to plant his garden at Saling Hall in the heat of his first enthusiasm for trees; the enthusiasm has not waned, but this is a maturer vintage that can be enjoyed now, but will remain drinkable long into the future.

Thursday 23 September 2010

First snowdrop, first daffodil

Calling for tea at my parents' this afternoon, my mother was quick to point out the first snowdrop of the season, a self-sown Galanthus reginae-olgae in the Cyclamen plunge-bed of the alpine house, which had just popped its bud. Having been away I haven't been in touch with the galanthophile network, so don't know when the first snowdrop of the year was reported, but this was the first I've seen. The pleasure in seeing the first r-o of the year is always slightly muted by the thought that it heralds the onset of winter.

Also flowering well, whether in pots or loose in the sand plunge, was Narcissus miniatus (below), the Eastern Mediterranean plant usually known as N. serotinus (this name is now used for more westerly populations). It's a charming little plant, flowering as soon as moisture is provided in September, and producing a flowering stem (scape) that also does duty as foliage, producing the carboydrates needed to replenish the bulb. It soon goes to seed, and unless caught in time this scatters all over, resulting in abundant interlopers. These grow well, but the bulb is very slow to multiply vegetatively, if it ever does. I have never attempted to grow it outside, but suspect that it would need a very warm sheltered site.

Malus aforethought

Malus x robusta

The RHS Woody Plant Committee had a day at Kew today, studying ornamental crabapples. There are about forty species in the genus Malus, with fruits varying in size from scarcely larger than the head of a map pin in M. sieboldii, to the largest edible apples. The fruits were the focus of today's interest, as the foliage has yet to colour-up -  another sesssion is really needed to look at the blossom. The morning session was led by Nick Dunn of the nursery Frank P Matthews, Trees for Life, of Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, whose interest in crabapples developed from their use as pollinators for commercial apple orchards. He has become a champion of them, keen to promote the planting of cultivars other than the standard handful that dominate the trade. We looked at a wide selection of samples he had brought, and heard his (and others') comments on their qualities. Interestingly, he has a very low opinion of the well-known trio 'Golden Hornet', 'John Downie' and 'Profusion', principally on the grounds of their low resistance to disease; his two favourites are 'Jelly King' for fruit (already fallen and converted into jelly at his nursery, so we didn't see this one) and M. brevipes 'Wedding Bouquet' for flower (thanks to Nick/Frank P Matthews for the use of this image, above right). Here at Colesbourne it is proving to be a very pretty, free-flowering tree, producing its almost pure white flowers in great abundance.

Malus 'Carnival', a new French cultivar with beautiful fruits 

In the afternoon we were shown round the Kew collection of Malus by Tony Kirkham, Head of the Arboretum. Many are much less spectacular than the cultivars, but are of great interest nevertheless, and there was a lot of discussion about the variability of several species, especially M. yunnanensis and M. baccata, comparing the Kew specimens with samples brought in by participants.

Many thanks to Tony (left) and Nick (right) for making this a really interesting and informative day.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Back home

Leucadendron 'Pom-Pom' at Kirstenbosch

We arrived home from South Africa this morning, tired and poor, but having had an excellent holiday. There will be more posts with a South African theme to come, perhaps when the English winter needs a little warming up.

The garden here is looking good, with the autumn bulbs in full swing, and nice displays of composites, salvias and similar autumnal flowers. A cutting-back session and a lawn-mowing are urgently needed, though, and will restore a certain crispness to the effect.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Two nurseries and a garden

Appropriately for the 'Hibiscus Coast', one of the numerous local garden centres and nurseries in this area of the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, Joymac Nurseries in Uvongo, specializes in Hibiscus cultivars. We came upon it by chance yesterday, and found it fascinating, with a remarkable collection of cultivars on display and for sale. The owners breed and select their own cultivars, attempting to improve on existing material, selecting especially for good garden worthiness. The names of their own selections are prefixed by  the nursery name, as in the beautifully coloured  'Joymac Silver Pearl' (right). The full range of cultivars can be found on their website.

Almost neighbouring Joymac Nursery is the Stephward Estate, the creation of Stephen van Belkum and Howard Eades, who have developed a tropical fantasy on a five acre site. Peacocks roam among pools and pillars, while parrots squawk in the background; there is a restaurant around a brilliant blue pool and accommodation is available (much more from their website). The gardens contain good collections of Heliconia and bromeliads, and Howard has several shade houses full of a diversity of orchids, Nepenthes and all sorts of interesting things. He imports orchids from Asia for sale through the nursery, but has also set up a lab for growing orchids from seed and has taught himself the techniques needed for this complicated process - impressive for someone who told us that ten years ago he didn't like orchids. We acquired a selection of bromeliads for Adrian's mother's garden, but the plant we all most wanted was not available, a superb specimen of the Jade Vine, Strongylodon macrobotrys. Not easy to propagate, it is greatly sought after round here, for obvious reasons (below).

In the afternoon we visited the garden of Geoff and Lynne Nichols at Southport, surrounding the family home. Situated on a ridge of a stabilised old sand dune, it commands a view of the sea, and like all such views here, enjoys convenient comfortable whale-watching. (The sea at present is thick with Humpback Whales, whose spouts and backs are to be seen constantly, with occasional spectacular breaches; this is true when watching from land, at least: on a marine whale-watching excursion we saw only two dolphins.)

The Nichols's garden is informal, but packed with interesting plants, both native and exotic. It is the mark of a true plantsman (Geoff is now a horticultural and ecological consultant) that a pondweed is valued alongside more conspicuous plants. Potamogeton schweinfurthii (right) is a handsome plant, in its own way, and I would also be happy to grow it. Going round the garden was a huge pleasure, and a good chatter about mutual acquaintances and the indigenous plant mafia over a pot of tea rounded off a splendid afternoon.

Xylotheca kraussiana

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Durban Botanic Gardens

Yesterday we travelled up the coast to visit the Durban Botanic Gardens, which claims to be the oldest surviving botanic garden in Africa. It dates its foundation to 1849, when it became one of the network of gardens established throughout the British Empire to foster agricultural development and advance scientific knowledge. Its first mission was to grow plants with economic potential, and only later did it develop as a collection of more botanical interest.

The palm walk

The result is, on a site of only 15 ha in the middle of the city of Durban, a compact and beautiful garden, with fine lawns and mature trees in the best botanic garden tradition. It is however, a city park rather than part of the South African National Botanic Gardens network, and admission is free. The current drought meant that we did not see it at its verdant best, but it is generally well maintained. The most serious deficiency from the point of view of a botanical visitor was the high proportion of missing labels, which was often rather frustrating, especially when so many plants are unfamiliar.

There are four major collections in the garden; bromeliads, though most are unlabelled; orchids, including an immaculate and magnificent display in the orchid house;  palms (see top picture), of which there is an impressive array of both mature and younger specimens, and cycads, with broad plantings of both native and alien species. These, unfortunately, were unlabelled, with one exception, the original collection of Encephalartos woodii. The plant was found by, and bears the name of, John Medley Wood, curator of the gardens 1882-1913 (left). He found a solitary male specimen in Zululand in 1895, growing as a tuft of stems: but this was the only specimen ever located. Stems were brought into cultivation over the years until none remained in situ, so the species is extinct in the wild and reproductively extinct in cultivation. The plant shown here seems to have been the first collection made, in about 1905, and is still growing strong.

Encephalartos woodii

A selection of attractive plants is shown below, but two non-horticultural features deserve a particular mention. Firstly, the tea garden, a slightly ramshackle building staffed by volunteers who serve refreshments in aid of tuberculosis (and now usually concurrently HIV+) patients in Natal, a stalwart service. Although I didn't partake of them, the cream scones being consumed at an adjacent table  looked magnificent. Secondly, the lake, which is home to an assortment of 'exotic' but native waterbirds, which could be watched for hours
(African Spoonbill, Sacred Ibis and Reed Cormorant to right).

Bombax elliptica

Brownea grandiceps

Tabebuia sp. (left), Mucuna bennettii

Scadoxus puniceus at the foot of a Ficus

Sacred Ibis

Sunday 12 September 2010


On Thursday we paid a far too hurried visit to Soekershof, a remarkable garden in the wine-growing area around Robertson, about 2 hours drive from Cape Town. Not having read the website properly we just turned up, when really visitors are asked to come for a tour at 11 am, but we were warmly welcomed by the proprietors, Yvonne de Wit and Herman van Bon. They moved to the property in 2000, and started clearing the 'jungle' that had overgrown what had once been the highly renowned garden of Marthinus Malherbe, a cactus and succulent enthusiast.

Many fine specimens were still present, and the couple has developed their interest in 'vetplanten' (fat plants, in Dutch, covering anything succulent) to create a fine collection of both native and non-native species, well-grown in raised beds, or in more specialized conditions (Aloe dichotoma to right). With very high summer temperatures and cool but not frosty winters the climate evidently suits a wide range of these plants. Yvonne gave us a whistle stop tour (we still had 400 km to drive) and showed us some of the highlights of the collection, but we had no time to see the mazes that form the main attraction of the property for most visitors, or to peruse the nursery. Soekershof is certainly a place to return to sometime, and not as stop-off on a long journey.

Cheiridopsis denticulata

Titanopsis calcarea, known in Afrikaans by the descriptive name skilpad tongetjie, tortoise-tongue

Drosanthemum sp. with Echinocactus grusonii

Monsonia crassicaule, a succulent member of the Geraniaceae.

Euphorbia inermis, with sweetly-scented flowers.