Wednesday 29 May 2013

60 years on: commemorating the first ascent of Everest

Mt Everest, 30 July 1988, from the ridge above Kala Pattar (c. 18,400')
Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the ascent of Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a triumph famously announced to the world on the morning of the Queen's coronation only three days later. The failures and tragedies of previous expeditions were redeemed, and the timing of the success added its own regal lustre.

My maternal grandfather, Ambrose Wood, had been interested in Everest from boyhood and had climbed the mountain many times from the comfort of his armchair, possessing a good collection of the early accounts of attempted climbs. I was thus familiar with the Everest story from an early age and as soon as I could, aged 20, I went to Nepal to see the mountain and experience the joys of exploring the Himalaya for myself. And it really was by myself - two months alone and carrying my own kit made it as much a journey of self-exploration as anything else. By then I was also immersed in the writings of the great plant-hunters and my two goals were to see Everest and blue poppies. Both were achieved, with a miraculously cloudless morning permitting spectacular views of the mountain from my highest point, and finding Meconopsis horridula to be really quite abundant in the upper Khumbu valley.

Meconopsis horridula, Khumbu, July 1988
 A few years later I was fortunate to hear both Sir Edmund Hillary and Lord Hunt speak about the 1953 expedition, using original slides; one of the most memorable (for me) being a picture of Magnolia campbellii in full flower on the march-in, specially mentioned by Hillary for its magnificence. The early spring flora was obviously appreciated by the climbers, and Hunt's book The Ascent of Everest is full of references to plants and flowers, including the magnolias. On my trek I missed them and most of the rhododendrons, but at higher elevations the alpine flowers were in full bloom and I revelled in them.

Primula sikkimensis, Khumbu, July 1988.
With the passing of George Lowe earlier this year the climbing members of the 1953 Everest Expedition are all dead: Tenzing died in 1986, Hunt in 1998 and Hillary in 2009, though Jan Morris, who as The Times correspondent James Morris achieved the coup of getting the news to London so fast in the days of runners and coded telegrams, is still alive. Theirs was a great story and it is good to remember it today.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Travels after Chelsea

Evening in the Palm House, Kew, the splendidly named Caryota no in top right.

The giant plastic pineapple on the lake at Kew, viewed through polarising spectacles as part of the TuttiFrutti experience in the IncrEdibles summer feature. One can row a boat below it through a banana-flavoured grotto.

A strangely rare tree, Xanthoceras sorbifolium, at Kew.

Halesia carolina 'Rosea' at the Harcourt Arboretum. It is a good year fro halesias - this one was laden.

Preparing (home-grown) timbers for a cruck-built shelter at the Harcourt Arboretum , a very exciting project.

Magdalen Tower and Oxford Botanic Garden.

The revolution in growing Castilleja has been extraordinary: from 'ungrowable' to broadcast-sowing. This is in the prairie area created by James Hitchmough at the Oxford Botanic Garden.

One of the few older survivors of the general clearance of the botanic garden extension, Magnolia sieboldii subsp. sinensis smells as good as it did 25 years ago.

The very elegant and appropriate design by Simon Bagnall for a new quad at Worcester College, Oxford, featuring standard  Magnolia 'Elizabeth'.

Wisteria floribunda 'Yae-kokuryu' (syn. 'Black Dragon') in the front quad at Worcester College.

The old orchard at Worcester College has been transformed into a delightful space by judicious planting and the creation of meandering grass paths.

A magnificent Zelkova carpinifolia by the Cherwell, Christ Church meadows, Oxford.

Paeonia mlokosewitschii at its best in Sibylle Kreutzberger's garden.

An old African friend: Hagenia abyssinica at Pan-Global Plants.

New growth on the odd hybrid Mahonia 'Pan's Peculiar'

Tilia henryana at Pan-Global Plants.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Chelsea people: Tuesday

Arriving, mostly.

Taking an order.

'You look divine as you advance, but have you seen yourselves retreating?'

In the Great Pavilion

The Sherwood Forest look? (I must check Philip's tail...)

The Artisan Gardens did not get a second visit.

The besieged designer (Chris Beardshaw)

Monday 20 May 2013

Glimpses from Centenary Chelsea

Lilies from R.W. Hyde: photos of Chelseas past line the Great Pavilion.

Blackmore & Langdon have exhibited at every Chelsea Show since 1913, possibly without changing the design of their stand.

Upside-down Hippeastrum

Meconopsis punicea and other gems from Kevock Garden

The Yorkshire Garden, presaging the Tour de France's visit
Birdbath by Willie Wildlife Bronze Sculptures
M&G Garden

Trollius and Meconopsis in the Royal Bank of Canada Garden

The Centenary Tea Party: Peter Del Tredici and Derek Spicer chat, Tony Kirkham tucks in.

Her Majesty, Prince Harry, Sue Biggs and Elizabeth Banks

Captions, please...

Saturday 18 May 2013

A cactus called 'Adolf Hitler' - or perhaps not

Epiphyllum 'Reichskanzler Adolph Hitler' or 'Sherman E. Beahm'
My former employer in Holland, the late Kees Sahin, in addition to being an incredibly knowledgeable plantsman, had a fertile and mischievous mind, with a penchant for doing or saying outrageous things that would throw people off balance, usually to his advantage. Another passion was plant names: with a flood of introductions coming from the Sahin stable each year this was something we had to give a lot of thought to and would frequently be the subject of conversation on car journeys up and down The Netherlands. On one such journey he suddenly recalled that there had been an Epiphyllum named after Adolf Hitler, which appealed to his sense of shock value. Once back at home he wrote to his friend Gordon Rowley, the great cactus and succulent expert (and another highly idiosyncratic individual), for information. By return came an envelope containing two shoots with the name 'Adolf Hitler' written on them.

These were promptly rooted and grown on, and as a memory of two great plantsmen and an amusing conservation I kept one of them. It is now in flower on my bedroom windowsill. It has bloomed before, but for some reason I've missed the flowers, so this is the first time I've seen it in full - rather gaudy - glory. Last night it was sweetly scented, but now (mid-morning) there is nothing to detect.

A little research online tells an interesting story. It was raised by Curt Knebel, a great German breeder (information available here), and introduced in 1935 under the name 'Reichskanzler Adolph Hitler'- usually shortened and anglicised as 'Adolf Hitler'. This name having become unacceptable after the Second World War, it was 'officially' changed to 'Sherman E. Beahm', commemorating another Epiphyllum breeder and nurseryman) from Pasadena, California. One does have to wonder how he liked the designation 'Sherman E. Beahm' (syn. 'Adolf Hitler').

It is not an invasive plant.

Thursday 16 May 2013

All go at the Yorkshire Arboretum

It's a busy time at the Yorkshire Arboretum, with lots going on in every way. Most importantly, spring is surging ahead and the trees are at their most beautiful stage - the optimistic greens of spring.

We are putting in a new drain to try to reduce waterlogging problems in wet periods.: Mike Hainsworth operating the digger with great precision.

Nicola Hall and the Tree Team of volunteers spent today planting trees on the approach to the visitor centre - it looks so much better already.

A glory of dandelions in our wildflower meadow areas.

Male cones of Abies procera 'Glauca'

Bird Cherry, Prunus padus, is in full flower.

A beautiful but unnamed Rhododendron in the arboretum ('Hotei' x 'Skipper')

And the show goes on in Ray Wood...

Monday 13 May 2013

Eranthis seed

Ripe seed of Eranthis hyemalis - in this case 'Zitronenfalter'
Each year there seems to be one day when the seed of Winter Aconites ripens, the follicles open, and one has to get out with bags or envelopes to gather it before it sheds. Yesterday was that day here and despite the poor weather at flowering time a reasonable quantity of seed had been set on some cultivars. Today I've sown the seed, in a gritty loam-based compost, topped with a good layer of grit, which I'll keep in an out-of-the-way corner of the garden until germination occurs next spring. The urgency is because the seed rapidly loses its viability if it becomes dried out, and sowing from pod to pot guarantees a good crop of seedlings next year. In the first year all one gets is a pair of cotyledons, which make a tiny tuber; in the second season a small peltate leaf with the characteristically lobed margin is produced, and from then it will be another couple of seasons before flowering size is reached. So one needs to get going with them, and not miss the chance for another year.

Pots sown today with seed from different Eranthis cultivars

Monday 6 May 2013

In the garden this weekend

Tulipa 'Green Star': need more of this next year.

A lovely ivory-coloured daffodil from Janis Ruksans many years ago - the label is lost. It's always very late to flower.

Fritillaria graeca

Gentiana acaulis (Mrs Wayne's clone from Colesbourne) flowering happily in its pot.

At last I've been able to spend a decent amount of time in the my own garden, in more than decent weather, enjoying plants that are either established in the ground from planting last autumn, or still in pots, but also being able to get on with developing the garden.  With the main border dug and prepared I've been able to plant a lot of perennials, some from pots, but the majority were bare-rooted clumps. I was very fortunate in being able to leave the perennials I'd propagated last spring lined out in the vegetable patch at Colesbourne Park, so they established good root systems and made plenty of growth, while causing no bother to anyone. I brought them here in February and got them heeled in - this was the first chance I've had to move them. The long winter and dry weather have together delayed growth, so they were in perfect condition for lifting and replanting, with new roots emerging and the shoots beginning to get going. Comparing these plants with those that have been in pots there is no contest as to which are the better.

Part of the main border on Saturday: I have left some of the previous plantings in place.

A clump of Symphyotrichum ' Ochtendgloren', just beginning to get itself moving and perfect for replanting.

The border this evening.
It is lovely to have Philip back with me again, now occupying the aviary at the end of the border.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine is an amazing new introduction: it was one of the plants I shouldn't have bought last year, but I'm very glad I did.