Plant of the Month Archives 2015

Euryops virgineus

December 2015

Euryops virgineus

The Gardens in December have a particular beauty with the tracery of the bare branches of deciduous trees and the conifers coming into their own, giving structure to the scene. But it is nevertheless a pleasure to come upon a bright showy shrub such as this Euryops virgineus. Endemic to South Africa, largely in coastal areas from the Eastern to the Western Cape, the common name, Honey Bush, refers to the pleasant scent, while Euryops comes from the Greek meaning large eye. The stiff stems are densely clothed in neat green leaves, ending in masses of tiny, daisy-like flowerheads, bright yellow.

Mahonia x media

November 2015

Mahonia x media ‘Lionel Fortescue'

Mahonia x media ‘Lionel Fortescue', found at the bottom of the Asian Garden (area N on the downloadable map), is a very fine architectural evergreen shrub, with spine-toothed dark green leathery leaves, The yellow flowers are beautifully fragrant, produced from November to February in long racemes. The flowers are followed by deep bluish purple fruit much loved, particularly by blackbirds.
This plant is a cross between two mahonias from different areas in the world. Mahonia japonica, whose origin is uncertain, but long cultivated in Japan, and thought to have been introduced to this country in mid 19th century. Mahonia oiwakensis subsp. lomariifolia, the other parent, is a native of Burma and Western China, and was introduced in the 1930s.
Much hybridisation was performed both in Ireland and this country in the 20th century, and particularly by Lionel Fortescue, a former Eton schoolmaster, who moved to the Garden House, in Buckland Monachoram, Devon. Some 200 seedlings were raised from this cross, of which five were retained. Sir Eric Savill of Savill Garden, Windsor selected one which was later named ‘Lionel Fortescue’. Another hybrid was named 'Buckland'. These plants can make a fine addition to the winter garden for anyone with room to grow them.

Luma apiculata

October 2015

Luma apiculata

On warm autumn days it is pleasurable to wander off from the main walkways in the Botanical Gardens to enjoy some peace and quiet (only disturbed by the pupils in the nearby school!) Growing along the sheltered wall in Osborn’s Field (area J on the map) is a fine collection of tender plants. Half-way down the border, stands a fine large shrub, Luma apiculata, abundantly covered with beautiful, white fragrant flowers. The bees are in heaven!
Very similar to Myrtus communis, the common myrtle, which possibly originated from Persia and Afghanistan, the Luma comes from Chile and Argentina, introduced in 1844. It flowers later than the common myrtle, and has the advantage of displaying beautiful cinnamon-coloured stems as it matures. The outer bark peels off in patches, exposing the beautiful, cream coloured inner surface in older plants. It is an evergreen, very leafy shrub, growing up to 3 – 4 m. against a sunny wall. The abundant flowers are followed by red and black fruits which are edible and sweet.

Kirengeshoma palmata

September 2015

Kirengeshoma palmata

The maple-like foliage makes a handsome display in summer. The opposite leaves are borne on slender but strong deep maroon stems. As they reach 4ft, the leaves become small and from their axils flowering stems appear. The fat yellow buds unfurl from hazelnut-like calyces to form 1½ inch long shuttlecock-shaped flowers with thick waxy petals.The weight of the flowers causes the stems to arch and dip elegantly. Unlike most woodland plants, K. palmata flowers from late August through September, making it especially desirable in a shady spot. It prefers humus-rich, moist, well drained soil which must be lime free.
A member of the Hydrangeaceae, the plant has been recorded in cultivation in the UK for over a hundred years. Although awarded the RHS 'Award of Garden Merit' K. palmata is not often seen. It is rare even where it grows in the wild on some of the Japanese islands.The name is a latinised version of the Japanese, meaning lotus-blossom hat. In SBG, follow the path into the Woodland Garden below the steps behind the fountain to find well developed clumps near the Hamamelis collection.

Mediterrnean Garden

August 2015

The Mediterranean Garden - Chile Section

The Mediterranean Climate Garden (area L) has been one of the most exciting transformations over the past two years. The plants from the area of Chile are looking particularly colourful at present enjoying a free-draining, south facing, terrace situation.
Lobelia tupa is a very vigorous, upright perennial normally seen growing on sandy hills near the sea. The plant itself if rather coarse, but redeems itself with the striking many flowered; erect racemes of tubular scarlet flowers. The stems can reach 2.5 m. – a real giant of a plant. Some of its neighbours sharing the sunny spot are Francoa sonchifolia, Verbena rigida and Fasicularia bicolour.

Pterocarya rhoifolia

July 2015

Pterocarya rhoifolia

At the top of the Thompson Road drive, the Indian Horse Chestnut (Aesculus indica 'Sydney Pearce') continues its stunning florescence. Nearby, with the cut-leaved alder (Alder glutinosa 'Laciniata') in between, Pterocarya rhoifolia - Japanese Wing Nut - is putting on growth at its typically impressive rate. Introduced in 1888, it is rarely seen in the UK, no doubt being one of the Gardens' 'fine and rare trees' noted by Dr Owen Johnson of the Tree Register of the British Isles.
The leaflets of the large pinnate leaves are long and tapering, becoming clear yellow in autumn; the 25cm strings of pendent flowers dangle from the branches through the summer before developing winged nuts. Walnut trees are closely related and have the same characteristic chambered pith in the twigs which can be seen when cut obliquely. As one of Japan's largest trees, P. rhoifolia thrives in damp places, and in SBG it grows in an area which is noticeably slow to drain.

Echium pininana

June 2015

Echium pininana

The group of echiums in the Mediterranean climate garden (area L on the map), would be better at home in the Canary Islands. The plant is a native of La Palma where it can be seen growing in the laurel forests flowering from April to July. These plants originated, amazingly enough from the Peace Gardens in Sheffield, where they were taken as seedlings from their ‘mother plant’ to the Botanical Gardens. We have been fortunate not to have had hard frosts which would have surely killed them.
These plants are biennial, the leaves appearing in the first year, the flowers the next, and after flowering the plant dies. These are spectacular plants with massive spikes of lavender-blue funnel-shaped flowers. The plants soar up to 10 ft (3 m) or more in height. The flowers may be recognizable as our native, Viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare, which is widespread throughout the UK, but most common in the south and east.

Rhododendron 'Loderi King George'

May 2015

Rhododendron 'Loderi King George'

The exquisite scent of R. 'Loderi King George' may first alert you to its presence on the left of the little glade which leads into the Bearpit.
The Loderi Group of hardy evergreen rhododendrons were raised by Sir Edmund Loder at Leonardslee Estate, Sussex, at the beginning of the 20th century, when he crossed R. fortunei with R. griffithianum. 'King George' is widely thought to be the best of these hybrids, with huge trusses of lily-like flowers, rose pink in bud and becoming pure white with a touch of green in the throat. The papery reddish-brown bark peels attractively.
This most spectacular of rhododendrons is ideal in a public garden where it can be enjoyed by the many who could not accommodate it in their own garden; at Caerhays in Cornwall, the Tree Register have recorded one at 25ft. The specimen here was a Gardens' restoration planting, and is thriving well.

Magnolia x soulangeana

April 2015

Magnolia x soulangeana

Magnolia x soulangeana is a hybrid raised in the garden of Soulange-Bodin at Fromont, near Paris, from seed borne by Magnolia denudata fertilised by pollen of Magnolia liliiflora. The plant first flowered in 1826, and has since become the most popular of all magnolias in European gardens. Magnolia denudata originated from China and was introduced in 1789. Magnolia liliiflora was found in Japan in 1790, but is thought to have originated in China. The flowers appear during April before the leaves. The flowers are large, tulip-shaped, white, stained rose-purple at the base. There are a number of cultivars, all of which have the useful habit of flowering when young.

Rhododendron 'Praecox'

March 2015

Rhododendron ‘Praecox’

On the first bed on the left, as you enter the Botanical Gardens from the Botanical Road turnstile entrance, can be seen one of the loveliest rhododendrons. It is Rhododendron ‘Praecox’, one of the first rhododendrons to flower, hence the name praecox, meaning ‘very early’.
It has an interesting history dating back to 1853 when a nurseryman named Isaac Davies, from Wavertree, nr Liverpool, crossed two rhododendrons - Rhododendron ciliatum, an evergreen shrub, discovered by Joseph Hooker in the Himalayas in 1850, and Rhododendron dauricum, a native of Russia, and growing in English gardens since 1760. This produced a fine compact shrub with early flowers of purplish crimson in bud, and funnel-shaped flowers of rosy purple when fully out.

Iris unguicularis

Febuary 2015

Iris unguicularis

30 steps inside Thompson Road entrance (Area V), on the right, you will easily find one of winter’s true treasures: the exquisite Iris unguicularis (Algerian iris). From clumps of rather tough, grassy leaves emerge the single buds, successively over several months (starting earlier than usual this year). The delicate, finely-veined lavender flowers produce a sweet scent when warmed by winter sun. This dry, sunny spot suits these Mediterranean natives.

Sarcococca wallichii

January 2015

Sarcococca wallichii

Sarcococcas, also referred to as sweet box and by the appropriately seasonal name, Christmas box, were first introduced to Britain as far back as the early part of the 19th century from China, but it was well into the second half of the 20th century before these small evergreen shrubs became widely cultivated. Sarcoccoca wallichii first collected as long ago as 1821, did not make its way into cultivation until 1994, when the plants were introduced from Darjeeling. This plant may grow much taller, but does possess the characteristic young green stems of the genus with the yellow-tipped, white flowers. Flowering commences in the autumn through the winter. The fruit is purple-black. Species of this shrub are still being collected by modern day plant hunters and being introduced to this country for our pleasure.



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