Sunday 22 March 2015

University of Leicester Botanic Garden - an unexpected gem

Formal garden with traditional (immaculate) box hedging and spring bedding.
With a colleague I attended a Plant Network meeting on Friday, at the University of Leicester Botanic Garden. Had I been pushed I might have recalled that there is a botanic garden in Leicester, but it would seem to be effectively unknown in the horticultural world. This is a pity, because it is actually rather interesting, as well as being attractive and very well maintained.

The garden occupies the grounds of four large Edwardian mansions built in the English Domestic Revival style, purchased after the war by the University of Leicester for use as student residences, which must have been very pleasant for those lucky enough to live in them. The grounds, totalling 16 acres, became the botanic garden in 1947 and the characters of the original gardens are retained. It is certainly not a traditional botanic garden, though rather more than a park: there are family beds, greenhouses, medicinal plants and herbs, etc, but also a rather attractive formal water garden and sunken garden as well as wide lawns. Sadly we didn't have time to see it in its entirety, but it's only a few miles off the M1 and it would be worth going back in summer to see the National Plant Collection of hardy fuchsias in flower, for example.

We were shown round by the Director, Prof Richard Gornall, who also curates the garden amid a busy academic career.

The Knoll is one of the mansions whose grounds now form the botanic garden.

There is a good collection of conifers: this is the rare Cypriot endemic Cedrus brevifolia, looking very well.

Although with an unfortunate lean caused by previous shading, this is the national champion Pinus aristata (Bristlecone Pine), standing 9 m tall.

A number of interesting plants from the Balearic Islands are grown in the alpine house: this is Senecio rodriguezii.

Prof Gornall's long-term research interest has been in the genus Saxifraga. Also flowering in the alpine house was this S. wendelboi, from Iran.

Secure behind locked doors in the research greenhouse is this collection of wild-origin clones of Japanese Knotweed. Funnily enough they are mostly too tender to survive an English winter: the clone that is such a menace is exceptional. Amazingly, the same (and only) clone is found throughout Europe, parts of North America and Australia: it was introduced by Philipp von Siebold from Japan in 1825.

The last remnants of the Crocus display. LUBG holds 'Crocus Sundays' in season.

Sunday 15 March 2015

48 hours in Ireland

The flowers of Chrysosplenium macrophyllum contrast with and are complimented by the reddish foliage.

Chrysosplenium macrophyllum is perhaps a little too happy on the banks of the Hunting Brook! The bright green foliage by the stream is the native C. oppositifolium.

Spring comes to Hunting Brook Gardens, Co. Wicklow - the first wave in a season-long shift in colour and interest, through this bed, as planned by Jimi Blake, Proprietor (visible in red). The upright stems are the fabulous and rare Aralia echinocaulis, one of the garden's signature plants, and probably the largest stand of it outside China..

A rare gleam of sunlight on an otherwise overcast and chilly weekend falls on Helleborus x ashwoodensis 'Briar Rose'.

The delicate-seeming but easily-grown Ypsilandra tibetica, which has a lovely strong scent reminiscent of marzipan.

A charming combination at  Mount Venus Nursery. It is surprising how seldom one sees Pachyphragma macrophyllum.

Jimi Blake and I had a happy prowl round the remarkable Mount Venus Nursery, just outside Dublin. It offers a tremendous range of good perennials, many of which are hard to find elsewhere. Not the best time to survey the selection, perhaps, but we were charmed by this corner, with rustic columns, Borinda and mossy stones - the latter being the most important aspect.

This morning ewe went to Kilmacurragh, the National Botanic Garden of Ireland's country estate in Wicklow. Wild-type Crocus vernus has been naturalised in the lawns there for centuries, and has outlasted the house, now in a sadly derelict state. At least the Office of Public Works is going to re-roof it this year to prevent further deterioration.
Kilmacurragh was actively gardened by generations of the Acton family, who in the 1850s received young plants of Joseph Hooker's Rhododendron introductions from Sikkim: Seamus O'Brien, Curator, admires a Hooker R. grande.

Now actively gardened by Seamus, Kilmacurragh is again a vibrant place. This is his new Monkey-puzzle avenue, with 36 pairs of trees.

Saturday 7 March 2015

A good gardening day

Eranthis Tubergenii Group 'Guinea Gold' is the last to open here and perhaps the most spectacular.

A really productive session working on the main border. A big clump of Nepeta was edited out.

Today has been the first decent day of the year - far better than decent actually - very lovely. Warm and sunny, with the Curlews, Lapwings and Skylarks in voice all round, and the flowers wide open - pure pleasure to be outside and working in the garden. Shirt sleeves, and tea outside too - though I don't suppose winter has completely receded yet. However, with these temperatures the snowdrops and crocuses are going over fast, so this will be the last weekend to see a good show from them.

Narcissus 'Bowles' Early Sulphur'

Galanthus plicatus 'E.A. Bowles'

Galanthus nivalis 'Susan Grimshaw' is just getting going, unfurling its large flowers for the first time today.

The (mostly) Crocus Bed, where I grow selections that I'm observing or bulking up.

This 4x4 white one turned up in one of my submissions to the RHS Crocus Trial a few years ago: it's rather good. It must've been an unflowered seedling in the clump I dug corms from.

I was not the only one enjoying the crocuses today.