Sunday, 15 July 2018

Gardens galore - with amendment


Chris and I are just back from a three-day trip with the Boddington and District Garden Society. The bulk of the organising was done by 'Pom' Boddington and she can feel proud of the way everything went.
We were to be based at the George Hotel in Colchester but took in a couple of gardens on the way.

Day 1

Our first call was to the very interesting 'Kathy Brown's Garden' at Stevington, not far from Bedford. We were offered a tour but several people, Chris and I included, wandered off, feeling that the our guide, 'Mr Kathy Brown', was a little - let's be kind here - loquacious. Not being, it seems, a gardener, he said very little about some of the very interesting plants to be seen. For example, he and his wife (they claimed to do virtually all the gardening themselves) had planted some thirty to forty specimens of Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, yet barely a mention was made of this species, thought to have been long extinct and known only from fossils, remarkably discovered in China growing near to the Yangtze in 1944. It is beautiful, fast-growing and is, unusually for a conifer, deciduous.

Dawn Redwoods had been liberally planted in Kathy Brown's Garden.
13 July, 2018
On the subject of conifers, perhaps the most memorable plant was a lovely weeping cedar which I believe to be (nothing I found was labelled) a weeping Atlas Cedar, Cedrus atlantica. The usual weeping form is 'pendula glauca' but this specimen had little glaucous about it. It would look rather nice in our own garden and, for a mere £600...
This weeping cedar was much admired by the group.
As is sometimes the case, the most notable plant seen on this visit was noted shortly after leaving the garden. As we strolled back to the bus we passed a stunning Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa bignonoides, (the 'Indian' referred to being the native North American). It is quite common of course, but I cannot recall seeing, in flower, a finer specimen.
The spectacular flowers of an Indian Bean Tree in Stevington, Beds.
13 July, 2018

It was then on to Saffron Walden where we visited Bridge End Garden. It was a little disappointing but I will not be over-critical as it has only recently been restored after years of neglect, largely relying on charitable work and funding. At its best it is probably stunning but is currently desperately parched after weeks without significant rain.
Chris and I strolled into the lovely little town of Saffron Walden in search of a coffee as we were also parched; the Eight Bells tavern supplied our needs.Again the most interesting plant, for me, was not in the 'target' garden. In a small enclosure at the front of the town's imposing church was a fine specimen of the Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos. Its flowers were over but the large, flat, twisted pods remained. In truth the flowers are not impressive but the pods are a notable feature.
The curious pods of the Honey Locust Tree. Saffron Walden, Essex
12 July, 2018
We were running short of time and some of the party confessed to feeling weary so we gave Langthorn's Plantery, near Great Dunmow, a miss and made for Colchester.

Day 2

Beth Chatto, who died this May, created a wonderful garden near to the village of Elmstead Market, in Essex. Chris and I had been there some six years ago but it had been a day of heavy rain. Even so, it had been a memorable visit and so we were keen to go there again. Conditions could hardly have been more different and even some of the specially selected plants in her famous gravel garden were showing signs of stress.
Rue, Ruta graveolens, was coping well and I was pleased to see it - don't ask me why.
Ruta stinkyolens graveolens in Beth Chatto's gravel garden.
13 July, 2018
The specific epithet, graveolens, simply means 'strongly scented', but the smell is not really evident unless the leaves are brushed or rubbed and then you realise that 'strongly scented' is barely an adequate term: 'foul' is the word which springs to mind. The plant is related to oranges and other citrus fruits and gives the family its name, Rutaceae.
Arums do not often find a place in the garden, being curious rather than beautiful, so I was pleased to find the rarely-seen Arisarum tortuosum , with its remarkably twisted spadix, trying to hide beneath some shrubs.
I don't think I'd bother growing it but it is a talking point. The Whipcord
Cobra Lily in Beth Chatto's garden. 13 July, 2018
It is sometime given the rather absurd name of Whipcord Cobra Lily and hails from alpine pastures in the Himalayas. As I say, curious rather than beautiful.
Speaking of curious plants, Podophyllum versipelle, in the strange form of  known as 'Spotty Dotty' was also occupying a shady border. With luck it will produce its equally strange flowers. If you have a problem spot involving dry shade, it could be worth a try.
Podophyllum versipelle 'Spotty Dotty' is another plant liable to promote
conversation. Beth Chatto's Garden. 13 July, 2018
One of the loveliest of our native plants is the Flowering Rush, Butomus umbellatus, and I am surprised it is not grown more often. Apparently there is a huge clump in some flooded gravel pits near Wellingborough but I have only ever found it growing beside the Oxford Canal between Cropredy and Banbury, i.e. in Oxfordshire.

Flowering Rush, beautiful but needing to be curbed.
Beth Chatto's Garden, 13 July, 2018
Here beside a large lake in Beth Chatto's garden it looked superb. It can become invasive, perhaps explaining why it is not more widely planted. I kept finding new delights and would doubtless have found more, but it was time to move on.
The R.H.S. Gardens at Hyde Hall occupy a huge spread near Chelmsford, opened 25 years ago yet far from finished. It was a blisteringly hot afternoon so Chris and I limited ourselves to only a little of the 360 acres. Like all the other gardens it was suffering from the heat and drought so many of the plants were not at their best although a Cork Oak, Quercus suber, seemed perfectly happy.

This cork oak was probably feeling at home in the baking heat.
Hyde Hall, 13 July, 2018
As Chris and I approached this tree a lovely White Admiral*, Limenitis camilla, flitted around and eventually settled on a patch of bare earth. In pristine condition this butterfly has black and white wings; this specimen was clearly a few days old and the black had faded to brown, but it was still a striking insect.
Beautiful but beginning to show wear and tear, a White Admiral* rests
on bare soil at Hyde Hall. 13 July, 2018
The females lay their eggs on honeysuckle and it is an enigmatic species, having spread steadily across southern Britain from the 1920's but has more recently begun to decline, for reasons not yet understood.

Day 3

Time to set off for home but there was time to fit in one more visit, the Gibberd Garden near Harlow. Our coach could not get to the entrance so we had a half-mile walk along a lane, very dusty due to extensive building going on nearby.
The Gibberd Garden has problems. A great deal of money needs to be spent on it - money which simply isn't there. It also has problems with three rather nasty weeds. The Giant Hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, has been almost eradicated via herbicides but I spotted a few specimens still surviving in a secluded spot. It is notorious for the blistering that can result from contact with the bristly stems. Our own native Hogweed, H. sphondylium can have a similar though less severe effect on people with sensitive skin (and yet it is edible when fried almost to the point of caramelisation).
Japanese Knotweed, Fallopia japonica, is also present and to remove this will be far more of a problem.
The third 'problem' involves Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens balsamifera. In fact this beautiful annual need not cause difficulties if it is securely confined to a limited area, but once it escapes into watercourses its explosive seed capsules cause it to spread far and wide, growing vigorously and choking native species. It was present in our garden in Byfield some years ago but we were able to rid ourselves of it within a couple of seasons.
It is much visited by bees and the lovely flowers, with their rather cloying smell, create a beautiful sight in the right setting.
Policeman's Helmet, Indian Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera has a
variety of names. Gibberd Gardens, 14 July, 2018
Despite these problems the gardens held two plants which I found exceptionally attractive. The first had me scratching my head: I vaguely recalled having seen it before but what the heck was it? The penny eventually dropped and I remembered it was Grevillea juniperina, a shrub from New South Wales which I thought would be too tender for this area. It is sometimes called the Prickly Spider-flower. Lovely for a greenhouse but very risky outside, although, with climate warming...
Theoretically tender, Grevillea juniperina seemed happy enough.
Gibberd Gardens, 14 July, 2018
The second was a majestic tree with lovely cones. I make no claim to be an expert so when I say it is the Bhutan Pine, Pinus wallichiana, don't quote me! Despite its name it is by no means confined to Bhutan but may be found from Pakistan to China - and Essex!

A dead ringer for the Bhutan Pine. Gibberd Gardens, near Harlow.
14 July, 2018

I suspect that when we climbed back on our coach for the journey home we were content to go. Personally, although I am not very extrovert, I had got to know several garden club members to whom I had barely spoken before and counted myself lucky to be a member of such a pleasant group. Tresco Gardens, anyone?


I am not a butterfly expert and ought to know better than jump to conclusions. The 'White Admiral' referred to was nothing of the sort; it was a Purple Emperor. The photographs I examined on line showed the brilliantly-coloured males but what I had seen at Hyde Hall was the relatively drab female, something I had never seen before.

No comments:

Post a Comment