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.

Sunday 9 March 2014

More from a lovely weekend

Summing up the day; bright warm sunshine bringing out the flowers and the insects. Lesser Tortoisehell and bulble bee on ×Chionoscilla 'Fra Angelico'

The good weather continued today, even warmer and sunnier than yesterday, so I have earned myself a stiff back with a good afternoon's work outside. Yesterday's post looked at dicots, so here, to balance things out, are some monocots.

There's a good reason why Crocus vernus 'Pickwick' is so popular.

Galanthus plicatus 'E.A. Bowles' reaches its peak late in the season: I think it's the finest of all poculiform snowdrops.

G. nivalis 'Susan Grimshaw' is also a late-season snowdrop, now just at its peak.

Narcissus 'Candlepower' is a miniature trumpet, quite delightful.

A (small) host of golden daffodils: in this case Narcissus perez-chiscanoi

A comparison of sizes of some early daffodils. From left: N. hipanicus 'Concolor; 'Bowles' Early Sulphur'; N. perez-chiscanoi; 'Navarre'; 'Lionel Bacon' (flower 2.2 cm from base of tube to rim of trumpet).

The classic yellow trumpet daffodils are largely derived from Narcissus hispanicus. It and its allies are distinguishable by having tiny dark points on the tips of the anthers, just visible here but somewhat more conspicuous before the pollen dehisces. This was grown from seed labelled N. hispanicus 'Patrick Synge', but the seedlings are quite variable.

A little Asian curiosity: Ypsilandra cavalerieri. It has a strong, pleasant perfume that I really can't describe.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Pulmonaria 'Cally Hybrid', an excellent soft blue, with rather large flowers.
The garden is now full of colour and interest once more and it was extremely pleasant to be outside weeding this afternoon. Although bulbous plants still dominate the show but there are many herbaceous plants and alpines coming into flower or attractive new growth: this is a selection.

Helleborus 'Penny's Pink': except in full sun I find this a rather dull flower, but it is redeemed by its floriferousness and the beautiful mottled foliage.

Hacquetia epipactis 'Thor'

Saxifraga iranica 'Cumulus' is an easy charmer.

The flowers of Callianthemum anemonoides recline on the ground.

Primula vulgaris 'Taigetos' is a superb recent introduction by Broadleigh Gardens.

The variegated Primula denticulata 'Karryan' has yet to elongate its scapes, so the flowers are still deep in the leaf rosettes.

Striking colour in the emerging shoots of Lunaria rediviva 'Partway White'

The mounds of foliage of Anthriscus sylvestris 'Going for Gold' really need a solid dark  foil to show off to best advantage: perhaps a big-leaved Bergenia would do the trick.

Monday 3 March 2014

A perfect day for crocuses

The expanded, receptive (and pollinated) stigma of Crocus vernus

A large-flowered, nicely marked C. vernus selection (owner of the stigma above)

Crocus vernus 'Purpureus Grandiflorus' is the classic big purple crocus - a magnificent beast 

Janis Ruksans' selection 'Yalta', possibly a hybrid of C. vernus and C. tommasinianus

A nicely striped hybrid of C. vernus and C. tommasinianus.

Another hybrid - my selection 'Pieta', named for its marbly white exterior.

Most of the C. tommasinianus are on the wane now, but this  pink selection is still looking good.

Crocus malyi: the brown tube makes a nice contrast with the white segments

Cheap and very cheerful, sold as C. sieberi but probably really C. atticus; 'Tricolor' and 'Firefly'

Crocus chrysanthus 'Romance' - a lovely soft yellow.

For many, the colour of spring: Crocus 'Golden Yellow' has been a garden stalwart since the Seventeenth Century.

Saturday 1 March 2014

Snowdrops (and moss) at Austwick Hall

Snowdrops (mostly single and double G. nivalis) in the wood at Austwick Hall
I took the opportunity today to visit my friends Michael Person and Eric Culley at Austwick Hall, on the other side of North Yorkshire. In addition to running the place as a fabulous boutique hotel, they work hard on the gardens, and in the wood above the house they have developed a snowdrops and sculpture trail that I had been keen to see. Last year the weather on the appointed day was uncertain, so I didn't go - a great benefit in fact, as today was beautiful and lovely to be outside in. The snowdrops looked lovely, and are just hanging on for the last day of the opening season tomorrow, but I also greatly enjoyed the verdure of the luxuriant moss covering the woodland floor, and wished I could identify the different species. The wood lies over a limestone pavement and is rich in native species as well as survivors from a Victorian wild garden made here by the Clapham family: sheets of wild daffodils are days away from opening..

Galanthus woronowii flourishing in damp conditions.

Verdant moss over the surface of a now hidden limestone pavement, evidently making the most of a mild wet winter.

There is an extensive patch of the European Petasites albus in the upper part of the wood, a remnant of Victorian planting. Vigorous but nicer than P. japonicus.

Austwick is 85 miles from here by the shortest route. This, however, was not a fast route, and very tedious round the edge of Leeds, so I returned through the heart of the Yorkshire Dales in late afternoon sunshine, which was utterly delightful.

Ingleborough, with a band of snow on the northern face. This is how I like to see snow: distantly, at the top of a high mountain.

A serendipitous finale: Scots Guardsman pulling an excursion train over Ribblehead Viaduct, shortly after I stopped to take a picture of this magnificent structure, built in the 1870s.