Sunday, 4 October 2015

University of Oxford Botanic Gardens

I suppose that, generally speaking, most people would regard October as a bit late to be visiting botanic gardens. Certainly it seemed to me that the ideal flowering season was well behind us. Garden borders are looking 'tired'; municipal plantings will soon be grubbed up. But I would be proved wrong.

Together with our friends Ann and John, Chris and I set off on a rather grey Saturday morning to Oxford, with the aforementioned gardens as our main target. I drove to the park and ride at Water Eaton and we got the bus to the city centre. Neither Ann nor John had been to the very interesting covered market so we made a point of passing through there en route.

After coffee at Patisserie Valerie in High Street we continued our walk in ever-improving weather to arrive in quite sunny conditions.

The blaze of colour which met us was remarkable.

A lovely border of herbaceous perennials at Oxford Botanic Gardens. 4 October, 2015

I was expecting the bulk of the colour to come from Michaelmas Daisies; certainly they played a big part in the display but there was so much more.

Stipa arundinacea? Certainly a grass to covet.
Oxford Univ. Botanic Gardens. 4 October, 2015

Ann was very taken by this lovely grass, with its pinky-red stems. We couldn't find a label but it may have been a form of Stipa arundinacea called 'Scirocco'. It would have been at home near the front of any border, whereas...

Cor, what a whopper! How often have I heard those words!
Oxford University Botanic Gardens. 4 October, 2015

...this Gunnera manicata is not only huge but demands wet conditions. Despite coming from South America, e.g. Brazil, it is reasonably hardy. Known as the Giant Rhubarb it is in fact unrelated to our garden vegetable. Most definitely not a plant for the border!

Ladies of leisure at Oxford. 4 October, 2015

Chris and Ann took a five minute break while I wandered off to have another look at an oddity which had caught my eye.

Hiding away. A broomrape at Oxford University Botanic
Gardens. 4 October, 2015

Almost hidden beneath an unnamed shrub was a broomrape, probably a species of Orobanche. These parasites really need close examination with a lens before an identification can be made, but I could hardly start picking flowers! Nevertheless I suspect it could have been Orobanche ramosa. The bed consisted of members of the tomato family, Solanaceae, and O. ramosa is known to parasitise tomatoes, tobacco and so on.
Orobanche ramosa?As a parasite the plant
 lacks all green parts. 4 October, 2015

The word 'ramosa' refers to a branching habit. A close-up shows no obvious branching but I am not inclined to change my mind.


Looking tropical but quite tough. Akebia quinata at
Oxford University Botanic Gardens. 4 October, 2015

Another plant admired by Ann was Akebia quinata. It is a hardy climber for a sunny wall (and grows perfectly well in Byfield) but here it was being used, very cleverly, for trailing over the edge of large urns. The plant is sometimes called the Chocolate Vine.

Castor Oil Plant. Oxford. 4 October, 2015

Quite commonplace plants were often shoulder-to-shoulder with rarities. Here the well-known Castor Oil Plant, Ricinus communis, is happy in a border. It is a member of the Euphorbia family, but strikingly different from the spurges. Despite producing ricin, said to be deadly in even minute amounts, it is a great favourite of mine. Quite frequently it is found on waste ground in Mediterranean countries where it can form a disappointingly untidy shrub. 

Like small plums. Cornelian Cherry in fruit.
Oxford. 4 October, 2015

The Cornelian Cherry, Cornus mas, ought to be more widely planted, although I admit it is best in a fairly large garden. Not only are the flowers attractive but the fruits are interesting too. It is not a cherry at all but is often used in the eastern Mediterranean for jams and pie fillings. Here is was fruiting in abundance.

Speaking of pies, a picnic had been carefully prepared and, by common consent, it was now due. Our chatter was interrupted by much crunching and sighing.

A lingering flower on Magnolia grandiflora.
Oxford, 4 October, 2015

We sat beneath a fine specimen of Magnolia grandiflora and, as is often the case, the occasional, snow-white flower was still to be seen.

And we gazed across to a tree which had me puzzled. Surely it was a Service Tree, but those huge fruits...

It was a Service Tree; to be more precise it was Sorbus domestica, var. pomifera. As a youth I had understood that the word 'service' indicated that the fruits were used in the brewing of ale (cf. the Spanish word cervesa - beer) - but I was wrong. The Latin sorbus means 'reddish-brown' and came to us in medieval Britain as the now-obsolete word syrfe. As for 'pomifera' - it means 'apple-bearing', and certainly the large fruits have in the past been eaten.

The rather uncommon Ptelea trifoliata. Even if I had a huge
garden I'd hesitate to grow it. Oxford, 4 October, 2015
A tree with elm-like fruits turned out to be Ptelea trifoliata. It's leaves are not unlike those of Choisya which, like Ptelea, is a member of the Orange Family, Rutaceae. It was curious rather than beautiful, but the flowers had gone, so perhaps I'm being unfair. For reasons unclear to me, it is sometimes called the Hop Tree (although perhaps the cone-like bunches of hops look vaguely similar).

I could go on, but a quick visit to the greenhouses was called for. A Stag's Horn Fern was doing well but was unfortunately unlabelled. There are several of these Platycerium species; my best guess is that it was P. wallichii.

Nearby, and suspending from roof girders, was a Pitcher Plant. Again, frustratingly, it was unlabelled, and the genus contains a large number of species.  The 'pitchers' contain a tempting fluid, encouraging insects to enter and take their fill. But it doesn't quite work out like that, and the corpses dissolve in the fluid, making a range of nutrients available to the plants which could otherwise struggle.

Fron the southern U.S.A. Yucca gloriosa. Oxford.
4 October, 2015

It was time to go - but I cannot leave without showing this lovely yucca plant. Yet again it was unlabelled but it is undoubtedly Yucca gloriosa, and the name is certainly justified, for it is glorious.

So, notwithstanding our combined ages of around 300 years, we strode briskly back to Oxford just in time for a bus.

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