Plant of the Month Archives 2016

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ - K Keeton

December 2016

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’

Until recently known as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis – (the taxonomists are still in debate as to its correct placement), the Nootka cypress is a native of North America from Alaska down the western coastline to Oregon, possibly one of the longest-lived trees in the cloud forests. It was discovered by Archibald Menzies in 1793, around the Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. It was introduced to the U.K. in 1851 when John Jeffrey sent the seed from Vancouver Island.
Located in the lower section of Area H in the Gardens, the pendulous form of this tree is a cultivar discovered in 1884, with graceful branchlets hanging vertically. The blue-green cones have a recurved, pointed flap at the centre of each scale, and take 2 years to mature.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Silver Feather' - S Turner

November 2016

Miscanthus sinensis
‘Silver Feather’

Although there is a long tradition of using M. sinensis in Japanese gardens and decorative arts, and it was introduced to western gardens over a hundred years ago, it is only in the last 25 years that its many cultivars (along with numerous species of grasses and sedges) have become very popular here. Native throughout Eastern Asia, in East North America there have been problems of invasiveness, but mostly the cultivars are sterile. On the western Main Border above the fountain in SBG a large dense clump of M. sinensis ‘Silver Feather’ makes a fine accent plant, the foliage swaying in the faintest breeze and the 2m high silky flowers changing to light plumes of seeds as November progresses.

Acer 'Sango-kaku' - K Keeton

October 2016

Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’

One of the earliest Japanese maples to ‘colour up’ is the Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’, which is situated amongst the weigelas in the Plant Heritage bed (area G on downloadable map) and cannot be missed, as you walk up from the bottom of the Gardens as it is close to the path.
The maples were first introduced to this country from Japan in 1820, and some varieties come from China and Korea. They have a long history of cultivation and a great number of cultivars of different colour and formhave been produced. They are deciduous trees, rarely growing more than 20 ft. high with palmate leaves, five or seven lobed. The leaves have a delicate ferny look with brilliant colouring in the autumn from rich gold to deepest blood-red. The form ‘Sango-kaku’ (also known as the Coral Bark Maple) has brilliant gold-toned foliage in the autumn and coral red branches which are displayed bare in winter.

Cynara cardunculus

September 2016

Cynara cardunculus

As well as the dazzling carpet bedding in front of the Pavilions and in the Victorian garden, some striking plants bring splashes of colour to the Main Borders, above the fountain. For the first time in several years C. cardunculus (Cardoon) is free of disfiguring blackfly and is a magnet for bees. Closely related to the Globe Artichoke, it was introduced from the west Mediterranean in 1658.

Leptospermum lanigerum

August 2016

Leptospermum lanigerum

Sited in a sheltered area of the Rock and Water Garden (area H on downloadable map), this beautiful evergreen shrub/small tree can be found in full flower. Surprisingly it is native to Tasmania and S.E. Australia where it can be found in coastal areas and low mountains. Introduced in 1774 this species is hardier than expected, with its silky hairy leaves in multitudes, giving a soft grey appearance to the bush. It has long, feathery, drooping branches with masses of small white flowers a good food source for bees buzzing all around. It is in the same family as the myrtle with seed encased in woody capsules which needs fire to open the capsule, allowing seeds to be released for germination.

Rhododendron decorum

July 2016

Rhododendron decorum

It is little wonder that Hillier wrote that R. decorum was a must for every collection. A small tree of compact habit, it is evergreen with 15cm dark green leaves. The rosy, crumpled flower buds turn shell-pink, then open into wide frilly white funnels with greenish throats. The blooms are in lax trusses of 7 large flowers which are most fragrant. This beautiful plant grows in the middle of the Asia Garden (Area N), and is an eye-catching sight from the Malus Lawn (below the Mediterranean Garden). Wilson introduced R. decorum from China around 1901.


June 2016

National Collection of Weigelas

Sheffield Botanical Gardens holds the National Collection of Weigelas, a deciduous shrub closely related to the Diervilla genus which is also held by Sheffield. Both are in the family Caprifoliaceae. The genus is named after the German scientist Christian Ehrenfried Weigel (1748-1831). The first species to be collected, Weigela florida, was found by the Scottish plant hunter Robert Fortune in 1845. Originally the plants were distributed in North China, Korea and Manchuria. Following the opening of Japan to Westerners, several Weigela species were discovered in the 1850s and 1860s. The flowers range from white, pink, red and yellow, and the plants are smothered in blooms.
The Collection was set up in 1984 and moved to its present position at the lower end of the East Lawn in 2004/2005. The range of shrubs continues to grow, as modern cultivars are continually being produced, initially in France and Holland, and more recently from Canada.
Link to the Sheffield Botanical Gardens National Collections for more details.

Stachyurus praecox

May 2016

Paeonia mlokosewitschii

One of the highlights of the Four Seasons Garden (area A) in May is Paeonia mlokosewitschii (for an obvious reason commonly referred to as Molly the Witch). From the fat red buds pushing through the soil in late winter the maroon stems slowly unfurl the soft, glaucous-green leaves, followed by gradually swelling flower buds. These open into the loveliest delicate yellow petals with a mass of golden stamens within. The foliage continues to look good through the summer, sometimes with sparkling raindrops which are held on the surface. Later in the season the plant produces a further show when the seed pods burst open to reveal the astonishing fuchsia pink lining with shiny black seeds. This is a plant to enjoy for many months of the year.
In its native Caucasus Mountains, it grows in hornbeam, oak and beech forests and although it grows well in full sun it is best in a little shade. The Polish botanist, Ludwik Mlokosiewicz, came upon the plant in 1897 and it was introduced to cultivation in Britain in 1908. In 1929 the RHS bestowed the Award of Merit on it.

Stachyurus praecox

April 2016

Stachyurus praecox

At this time of year the Gardens are burgeoning with blossoms and new growth, and there is something of beauty to be seen around every corner. For something very special and unusual, head down to the Robert Marnock Garden (area K on the downloadable map). The deciduous shrub, Stachyurus praecox, stands in the first bed as you enter this rather special, sheltered garden. Over the past few years this plant has grown in height and width, and this year is showing its full beauty with its stiffly pendent racemes drooping, with cup-shaped pale yellow flowers. Introduced from Japan in 1864, stachys meaning 'ear of corn' in Greek, and oura 'a tail', from the form of the racemes of these shrubs. Praecox meaning 'very early'. E.A. Bowles wrote about this shrub 'developed into pretty hanging tails like threaded Cowslips, and were charming…' This plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Euphorbia mellifera

March 2016

Euphorbia mellifera

Euphorbia mellifera - a very handsome shrubby plant with striking foliage all year round, which came into flower several weeks earlier than usual. The narrow leaves grow in whorls round the stalk, each finely edged in maroon with a pale midriff. With a rosy brown flower head atop each stalk and the stalks forming a dome 2m wide and tall, a most pleasing patterned effect is created. As the flowers develop they produce a wonderful strong honey scent (common name is Honey Spurge) and last for many weeks. E.mellifera will grow in a variety of situations, with size of plant and leaf depending on warmth and humidity (it does not like to dry out); in its native Canary Islands it will grow to 5m with 30cm leaves. It is easily spotted on the bottom terrace of the Mediterranean Garden.

Correa 'Marian's Marvel'

February 2016

Correa 'Marian's Marvel'

The cultivar, Correa 'Marian's Marvel', is surely the star of the winter show in the Australia bed of the Mediterranean Climate Garden.This evergreen shrub first arose in the garden of Marion Beek, South Australia in the 1980s. It is a cross between Correa reflexa and C. backhouseana. The genus Correa was first discovered in South Australia and Tasmania at the beginning of the 19th century by a Portuguese botanist Abbe Correa.
These shrubs, often referred to as the Australian fuchsia, are said to be tender. We are very lucky that we have such sheltered microclimate in this part of the in Gardens and that the last three winters, since they were planted, have been so mild.

Sycopsis sinensis

January 2016

Sycopsis sinensis

Along with witch hazel (Hamamelis) and Persian ironwood (Parrotia) this unusual member of the Hamamelidaceae flowers profusely in winter, and also has no petals but subtly coloured stamens with glowing red anthers within brown bracts. It is a shapely, upright shrub, densely clothed in dark evergreen, ovate leaves. Ernest 'Chinese' Wilson introduced S. sinensis (the only species in cultivation of 7 in the genus) in 1901 for the Veitch nurseries, and it was given the old Award of Merit in 1926. Wilson found it at 4,000ft in Central China. This interesting plant grows alongside beautifully scented Daphne bholua on the left of the path at the entrance to the Bearpit.

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