Thursday 31 December 2015

Plant of the Year 2015: Monarda 'Gewitterwolke'

Monarda 'Gewitterwolke', October, with Miscanthus 'Yakushima Dwarf'
Last year my friend Jimi Blake, from Hunting Brook Gardens in Co. Wicklow, brought me a selection of Monarda cultivars that he had found to be good additions to his regularly changing garden assortment. Among them was the German selection 'Gewitterwolke' - the name means "thundercloud", which he particularly rated. This spring space was found to accommodate the small plant in the main border: it motored ahead and with a judicious pinching-out of the shoots quickly formed a nice multi-branched plant, nestling between Miscanthus 'Yakushima Dwarf' and Aruncus 'Horatio', which between them have given it the perfect setting for the rest of the year. It is perhaps because it worked so well with the surrounding plants that it caught my eye repeatedly through the season, and thus has become my Plant of the Year 2015.

The dusky flowers and bracts must have suggested the name; here 'Gewitterwolke'  is seen in August with Dahlia 'Freya's Paso Doble' behind, another candidate for Plant of the Year.

Evening light just catching the flowers. Aruncus 'Horatio' behind and Dahlia 'Twynings Revel' beyond (Plant of the Year 2013)

Another very pleasing combination was formed with Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Orangofield'
Another excellent Monarda also deserves a mention - 'Scorpio', a Piet Oudolf selection that plays a big part in his plantings at nearby Scampston Hall, where I got the plant from, in fact (promptly split and shared with Jimi). It's a slightly brighter purple and stood a bit higher than 'Gewitterwolke' this year (next year may even them out), and made - and makes - a superb contribution to the garden. Both are supposedly mildew resistant, though they both had some mildew by late September or early October, but insufficient to be unsightly or cause diminished growth. Such mildew-resistance is essential in any Monarda I'll choose in future.

Monarda 'Scorpio' in August

'Scorpio' (bottom right) still looking great in early October.

Seeding heads of 'Gewitterwolke' standing firm this week, alongside (though not visible) the Miscanthus and Aruncus, despite best efforts of Storms Desmond to Fred over the past month. 'Scorpio' is also still in good vertical condition.

Garden People 2015

Galanthophiles: Jörg Lebsa, Matt Bishop, Steve Thompson

The Plant School: Rosemary Campbell-Preston and her group, The Savill Garden.
Nursery folk: Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson, Far Reaches Nursery, WA

note the trousers

Designer dude: Dave Demers

West meets East: Dan Hinkley and Tony Avent, with Kathy Musial, Heronswood

Propagator, writer, conservationist: Robbie Blackhall-Miles

Name-changers (sometimes): the RHS Nomenclature and Taxonomy Advisory Group

Mother: Susan Grimshaw, Winter Hill, Cookham.
Rhododendronistas: David Millais, Hannah Wilson, RHS Harlow Carr Rhododendron Show

Plant explorer: Jens Nielsen

Belgian dendrologists: Abraham Ramnmeloo, Philippe de Spoelberch, Arboretum Kalmthout

Author, photographer: Troy B. Marden, Burnby Hall Gardens

Groundsman: Ben Paterson, The Yorkshire Arboretum

Devonians: Keith Rushforth, Dick Fulcher, Sorbus Study Day, Ashill

Plantsman: Gary Keim, Harewood House

Hortihorts: Darran Jaques, Rob Stacewicz, Soho

Saturday 19 December 2015

Seventeen degrees

The almost unprecedented spell of mild weather continues unabated, and seems likely to extend into January. Although there was little sun, a warm moist wind has blown all day, with temperatures of  16-17oC through the middle of the day. Such temperatures are comfortable for us, and help on the fuel bills, but are not good for the garden or the wider environment; actively growing plants will be vulnerable if a hard frost comes. Fitting these temperatures, or other 'abnormal' weather into the picture of global climate change is difficult, but surely they are part of the complex jigsaw that is only going to get muddled further as time goes on.

Crocus laevigatus 'fontenyi' at RV Rogers nurseries, Pickering, at lunchtime - the flowers open as far as they would go without recurving.

Galanthus elwesii 'Mrs Macnamara' usually comes into flower in early January: it's at least two weeks early this year.

'the colder the weather is, and the deeper the snow is, the fairer and larger is the floure, and the warmer that the weather is. the lesser is the floure, and worse coloured' - astute observation by John Gerard in the 16th Century, confirmed by the miserable flowers of Eranthis hyemalis 'Lightning' just appearing.

Well-developed flowers on this seedling hellebore

The mild weather made it quite a pleasure to get outside and get on with cutting down the perennials. Strong winds earlier in the month had wrecked most of the standing stems, and the next season is coming on apace below, so there was no compunction in going for it.

The Silver Sebrights found good pickings around the bases of the perennials - they're particularly fond of young snails.

Monday 16 November 2015

A new Curator at Wisley

Matthew Pottage, at Chelsea, May 2015
I'm delighted to report that my friend Matthew Pottage has been appointed Curator of RHS Garden Wisley. It's been an unbroken ascent from student to the top job, which in itself is a tribute to both his qualities and the perception by RHS management of an asset to be nurtured and retained. The plantsmanship he brings has been evident in the areas in his charge for several years, and we can look forward to the garden going from strength to strength under his leadership. Great opportunities are in the pipeline as the new masterplan for the site is unfurled, and Matt is just the person to drive the changes forward. Congratulations - and good luck!

Thursday 12 November 2015

Mark Flanagan, MVO, VMH, 1959-2015

Mark Flanagan talking about one of his beloved rhododendrons, at a meeting of the RHS Woody Plant Committee, March 2014.
Yesterday afternoon, at an intensely emotional funeral, we said goodbye to Mark Flanagan, Keeper of the Gardens at Windsor Great Park (The Royal Landscape), and Chairman of the RHS Woody Plant Committee. Having been apparently hale and hearty until then, in mid-September he suffered a seizure and subsequent heart attacks, from which he never regained consciousness until his death on 24 October.

Mark was thoroughly decent and likeable, a superb plantsman at the pinnacle of his profession and powers, respected by all who knew him. He started his horticultural career as an apprentice in the Manchester Parks Department, and then went on to undertake the horticultural diploma course at RBG Edinburgh, where he met his wife Lesley - and where he had already decided on his dream job: to be Keeper of the Gardens at Windsor Great Park. In due course he did just that, succeeding the legendary John Bond in 1997, but in the interim worked first at Kew and then Wakehurst Place, where he became Deputy Curator.

It was his great fortune, paradoxically, to be at Wakehurst when the Great Storm of 1987 struck. The devastation it caused at both Kew and Wakehurst Place was the impetus for a series of collecting expeditions to provide new specimens to rejuvenate the collections - and this catalysed a remarkable collecting partnership and deep friendship between Mark and his counterpart at Kew, Tony Kirkham.

A duo immortalised on  a plant label (at RBG Edinburgh): Tricyrtis formosana was collected in Taiwan in 1992. Their Taiwanese collaborator, Dr Pan, held such a high regard for Mark that he flew to England to be at the funeral.
Mark and Tony first travelled together to South Korea in 1989; trips to Taiwan, the Russian Far East, Japan and China all followed. On each they made significant collections of seed of plants of all kinds, from which many of the trees are now becoming quite large and imposing, and which will continue to increase in stature and beauty. Their adventures on these expeditions are chronicled in the first of their two co-authored books, Plants from the Edge of the World (Timber Press, 2005). Throughout their travels their principle inspiration was Ernest Wilson, the great English plant hunter who did so much to bring the diversity of the Chinese flora to western gardens. On a trip to Sichuan in 2001 it was his encyclopaedic knowledge of the gardening literature that led Mark to realise that a (by then dead) huge old Cunninghamia was the same tree as that photographed by Wilson in 1908, reproduced by Bean. This extraordinary revelation sparked a further series of travels in which the two attempted to find locations visited by Wilson, and where possible, take a photograph from the same spot. Although much has changed in China, much remains, and the comparative images, published together in their book Wilson's China (Kew Publishing, 2009), are incredible. In many cases the same trees are easily recognisable, even when they are just components of the landscape, not to mention the set piece images of magnificent veterans. They had recently extended this project to cover Wilson's travels in Japan: Tony assured us yesterday that he will complete this project.

The two books by 'Flanagan & Kirkham'. In addition, Mark contributed many well-written articles to the horticultural press.
 As so often is the case, one learns more about someone at the funeral than one ever knew in life. We were privileged yesterday to hear two magnificent eulogies of Mark. Tony Kirkham spoke of things horticultural and their travels, while Callum Flanagan spoke powerfully of his father the family man - 'the perfect male role model.' The standing ovation he received was a tribute not only to an extraordinary eulogy bravely delivered, but to its subject and his family.

Tributes had also come from the highest places. As soon as she heard of Mark's illness the Queen appointed him a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO), an honour exclusively in her gift, and this was presented at Mark's bedside in Harefield Hospital. Horticulture was slower to respond, but rather remarkably, the Royal Horticultural Society broke with 118 years of tradition to posthumously award Mark the highest accolade in horticulture, the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH), news broken by Tony Kirkham in his eulogy. The VMH can be held by only 63 living recipients at any time and there is no doubt that as he approached the level of elder statesman it would have come to Mark: but now his name is inscribed on that list of the greats of horticulture, as it should be.

Spring in the Valley Gardens; Mark's responsibilities in The Royal Landscape covered the Savill and Valley Gardens, and the private garden around Frogmore House. The very highest standards of horticulture were maintained in them all.

Meliosma veitchiorum, one of the 'aristocrats of the garden', grown from seed collected by Mark in Sichuan, growing in the Savill Garden (bad phone photo from yesterday morning). The first shoot ever to be cut from it adorned his coffin, alongside the long infructescences of another SICH plant, Pterocarya macroptera subsp. insignis and fine Rhododendron foliage.

The wreath from Kew was made up by the unofficial wreath-maker there, Carlos Magdalena, using plants collected by Mark and Tony, and other Chinese species. The 'roses' are created from ginkgo and maple leaves. (Img. Carlos Magdalena)
Other tributes will undoubtedly be paid, and commemorations made, but no plantsman could wish for a better memorial than that of gardens stocked with plants he has collected and grown on, and Mark Flanagan's plants are to be found in gardens all over the country. I hope that this, and their rich memories, will be a solace to his family, Lesley, Callum and Sophie, and his very many grieving friends.

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: "Oh how beautiful"and sitting in the shade
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Autumn tints in the border

Geranium pratense 'Plenum Violaceum'
A few details of leaves of herbaceous plants, on a damp dull day - not all autumn colours come from woody plants.

Euphorbia 'Excalibur'

Sarracenia flava

unknown umbellifer

Roscoea humeana

Sanguisorba cv.

Rhubarb 'Champagne'

Persicaria amplexicaulis 'JS Caliente'

Persicaria runcinata 'Purple Fantasy' (It's interesting that these members of the Polygonaceae all show good colours.)

Sunday 11 October 2015

Autumn light

Dahlia 'Mary Evelyn' (and Symphyotrichum 'Nicholas'): the dahlia has 'grown on me' through the season.
With the exception of a couple of wet days early last week the weather lately has been consistently pleasant, with a cool misty morning giving way to lovely warm sunshine. In consequence the lighting effects in the garden have been delightful - these are a few attempts at capturing some of them this weekend.

Aster 'Cotswold Gem' - an outstanding selection by Bob Brown.
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 'Primrose Upward', Aconitum 'Spatlese', Acer cissifolium behind.

Aconitum 'Royal Flush'

Morning on my study window view: Aruncus 'Horatio' and Symphyotrichum novi-belgii 'Dusky Maid' are prominent.

Calamagrostis emodensis

Eryngium serra

Euphorbia ceratocarpa

Helianthus 'Carine' - a shorter version of 'Lemon Queen', highly recommended.

Sanguisorba 'Cangshan Cranberry'

Galanthus reginae-olgae