Monday, 5 June 2017

Gardens at Preston Capes

Sunday, 4 June, 2017: Open Gardens Day at Preston Capes and Little Preston. This is a lovely village and daughter settlement near Woodford Halse, in the west of Northamptonshire. Five gardens were open to the public but heavy rain curtailed our visit. Fortunately we were able to have a good look around City Cottage, the lovely house and garden of Mrs Gavin Cowan. It contains a real plantsman's (perhaps I should say plantswoman's) selection of plants, and to do justice to the riches would take an excessive amount of space.
An attractive spurge caught my attention, but as I approached it I realised that it was nothing of the sort. It was Roseroot, Sedum rosea. It is a distinctive plant and was once placed in a separate genus as Rhodiola rosea (and is still listed as such by many nurseries). It is a native of Britain and is found on rocks and on sea cliffs - and I must have a specimen! 
Roseroot looked, from a distance, like a prostrate Euphorbia.
Preston Capes. 4 June, 2017
Equally attractive and only a few paces away were some patches of Mountain Avens,  Dryas octopetala. This too is a British native but is more or less confined to limestone, rare in England but frequent in some parts of north-west Scotland. Its flowers are lovely and the leaves, like those of a tiny oak, are also attractive. The leaf shape is the basis for the Latin generic name, for a dryad was a nymph for whom the oak was sacred.
Moutain avens, Dryas octopetala, (although this flower appears to only
have seven petals. Preston Capes, Northants. 4 June, 2017
But in some ways it is the fruiting heads that are of greatest botanical interest. Each fruit, technically an achene, ends in a long plumose tail like the Pasque Flower and Traveller's Joy, but whereas these two plants belong to the buttercup Family, Ranunculaceae, Mountain Avens is a member of the Rose Family, Rosaceae.
The feathery achenes of Mountain Avens. Preston Capes. 4 June, 2017

In the same flower bed was Italian Toadflax, Cymbalaria pallida. This is like a form of Kenilworth Ivy, Cymbalaria muralis but is not only larger in all its parts but does not have the invasive tendencies of the latter. I rarely see it and in fact the last time I saw it was on the walls of a ruined church in the Peloponnese; surely it deserves to be grown more often. If Cymbalarias resemble tiny snapdragons, Antirrhinum species, it is because they are closely related, both being members of the Plantaginaceae family.
Like a large plant of Kenilworth Ivy, this is Cymbalaria pallida.
Preston Capes, Northants. 4 June, 2017
The fescues, Festuca species, form an extremely difficult group of grasses given to hybridisation and much confusion. I recently saw a species known as Festuca glauca 'Beyond Blue' for sale in a garden centre at £40 per plant. In fact there was, as elsewhere in the garden, no label and I think that the plant here at City Cottage could equally have been a form of Festuca amethystina.
Some kind of fescue crowns this stone head. City Cottage, Preston Capes.
4 June, 2017
Whatever the species it was being wittily used to provide hair for a stone head, causing much comment and amusement from other garden visitors.
We moved on to The Manor. It was not a plantsman's garden but offered compensation with splendid views across a rolling, very rural landscape.
The views, looking out from The Manor, were impressive.
Preston Capes. 4 June, 2017
I also had a surprise. Being a nosy person I moved to one side a piece of wood on a garden wall and disturbed a specimen of the woodlouse Porcellio spinicornis. There are very few records of this fairly large species from Northamptonshire but, let's be honest, there are very few people recording these curious crustaceans. It tends to be associated with mortar around the bases of old walls.
The rather handsome woodlouse, Porcellio spinicornis,
Preston Capes, Northamptonshire. 4 June, 2017
Rain was threatening and we made our way back to the car, but there was time to photograph an old tree stump with impressive outgrowths of a bracket fungus. It was in a garden so I could hardly intrude and examine details of the structure but I am confident that it was the Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus.

Meripilus giganteus? I am no mycologist but I think this is correct.
Preston Capes, Northants. 4 June, 2017
Sure enough, shortly after parking up at Little Preston the rain came down - heavily. We consoled ourselves at Old West Farm with tea and gargantuan pieces of cake.

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