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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Saturday, 30 January 2010

An Extraordinary Stroke of Luck

We have had a stroke of unbelievable luck, and as such we have been in and out of the house checking if it has really happened.
Normally such erratic behavior is the precursor to a batch of rare seed being sown and the time leading up to their germination.  However this is no plant and as such this is a blog which as a rule I rarely make.  
Recently whilst returning from a client we stopped in Minchinhampton for lunch and a stretch of the legs, in a shop window quite by chance, we discovered an advert offering a 1979 2cv6 for sale.  

Almost immediately I was carried away thinking about it, a sign I decided as I was born in 1979 and we had  had a 2cv before.  A 1984 special in bright red which we loved unconditionally but we were forced, reluctantly, to sell it.  We had always missed our 2cv and always  imagined owning one again.
The 1979 model is the first of the modern 2cv, complete with the body we all love and having the 6 window openings.

Over the past few days whilst top dressing and working on various projects we have began talking tentatively about the 2cv.  Our comical conversations would start along the lines of, ‘If I link the social characteristics of the space by creating unified street furniture could you imagine driving to Paris in it with the roof rolled down?’ or ‘Have you printed all the labels for the woronowii and how many crates do you think we could put in the 2cv if we took it with us when we give a talk?’  More and more the conversation left the real world and centered on the world of the 2cv.  We decided to go and view it on Friday afternoon.

The advert told very little of its condition or history, and the gentleman we met on a windy street in the cotswolds was slightly erratic to say the least.  He told us how he had owned it for 20 years and used it everyday.  He had replaced the chassis, a wise precaution to old age sagging.  We sat in every seat and felt quite comfortable, it seemed the wire hooks and rubbers which keep you upright were in good condition.
The old man rolled the roof back and even with a biting wind we felt rather excited at the thought of driving off in it, leaving the luxury of my mothers ultra modern volvo behind us.

A test drive did not take place, we had seen, and heard enough and asked if he would be happy to sell it to us.  Luckily for us he liked us and agreed so now we are the extremely happy owners, once again, of this little piece of motoring history, a dare I say it rather economical icon.
We have already begun to make plans of a trip through France into Italy for this August and several weekend trips to Cornwall & Suffolk.
I know this is a plant blog but I feel we will have many plant hunting trips and journeys of horticultural discovery in our new little car.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

One Year On

Swimming my lengths this morning at the gym I realised the past year has been a long journey in many ways but in reality a small time of a few months and I thought it would be interesting to look at the changes over the course of a year at our nursery.

We took over the nursery at the Rococo Garden last December and opened eagerly but knowing we wanted to do a lot more with the site over time.

(The Entrance to the Nursery January 2010)

During the closed period, November & December we ordered new tables from StageCraft and laid ton’s of hoggin, all by hand, a job which is much more satisfying retrospectively.

We incorporated a new show border, greenhouse, new signage and working areas.  To add to the tables we bought last year we purchased a further 8 and plan for a further 10 mid-season. 

Overall we are pleased with the shape the nursery has taken and since the Garden opened on 10th January we have seen a steady flow of customers, both new and old who have been very complimentary.

All this change means we can continue to trial plants in the borders and increase the number of plants we grow.  We will be going to a number of plant fairs this year which is really exciting.  One thing we are still undecided on is the creation of a paper catalogue, we keep an up to date on-line encyclopaedia, but I often wonder that there is something very magical about a paper plant catalogue and the ability to dream gardens into creation from them.

Every time we stop for a tea break we seem to sit and gaze out over our collection of plants which we have seen in most cases from seed to 2 ltr plant, we never stop feeling very lucky to have our nursery at the Rococo Garden, its a business, an escapism, a joy and an intrinsic part of our plant hoarding characters.

(The potted Snowdrops  - January 2010)

(Our dogs - January 2010)

(Buxus Balls - January 2010)

(Primula 'Lady Greer' & Scilla - January 2010)

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


Taking my last post about Snowdrops I have created using a great application called wordle this word montage.

I hope you like it.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Galanthus (A New Kind of Mania)

With January reaching the midway point and the mornings begin to lighten, I thought I should make mention of a particular plant which like the tulips a couple of centuries prior, drives people almost insane.  I have to add that after merrily labeling 1400 pots of them I am feeling a touch insane, for all the wrong reasons.

Galanthus is a relatively small genus of about 20 species, predominantly flowering in Spring although Galanthus cilicicus, native to Turkey, flowers in the Autumn.

(Photo:Galanthus ciliicus)
Although many think of Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, as our native snowdrop it is actually only native to mainland Europe having been introduced to the United Kingdom in the early 16th Century.  G. nivalis has given rise to a number of really good double varieties including G. nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ with is large almost fluffy doubled flowers with green edges to the inner petals.

There are over 500 available snowdrop cultivars which must be the inspiration for many a collecting galanthophile, further inspiration must be the lists of snowdrop cultivars which are lost, waiting in a long neglected garden to be re-discovered in the same way as Rosa ‘Souvenir Du Docteur Jamain’.

Some of the most notable species I like, and grow are:

(Photo: Galanthus plicatus)
Galanthus plicatus, the Crimean snowdrop is a tall early flowering form with long green leaves and big flowers.  An exceptionally good form which is hard to come by is Galanthus plicatus ‘byzantinus’, its absolutely spectacular with huge ovoid petals which bear two markings and broad grey-green leaves. 

Snowdrops seem to have a history with the Cotswolds, take Galanthus elwesii, the famous Collesbourne snowdrop and Galanthus atkinsii  collected by John Atkin's in the late victorian period in Southern Italy and named G. imperator.  Atkins may well have planted many at the Rococo Garden, it must have one of the largest naturalistic plantings of them but it was not until the early 1930's that the name atkinsii was applied.  Many refer to this as one of the most striking snowdrops.   The Royal Horticultural Society have award G. elwesii, & G. nivalis with their Award of Garden Merit.

(Photo: Galanthus elwesii)
The Giant snowdrop, Galanthus woronowii, has been grown in the United Kingdom for roughly 100 years and is native to N. E. Turkey through to Southern Russia.  Naturally occurring in woodlands, ditches and grassy meadows it forms a basal rosette of chunky rich green leaves which are waxy to the touch and single stems of delicate white flowers which are fairly large and bear small green markings on the inner petals.

In the nursery we grow and sell in limited numbers Galanthus ‘Magnet‘  a dramatic hybrid  with long slender pedicels hanging on heavy flowers.  

(Photo: Galanthus Lynn Sales)
Being very large like a parachute they tend to catch in the slightest breeze, which when planted through a skeletal woodland looks enchanting.  In fewer numbers we also propagate the rare Galanthus ‘Lynn Sales’ named after it’s discoverer who lived locally to the Rococo Garden in Cirencester.  Lynn Sales is a tall growing variety with pure white large flowers which appear earlier and are much fatter than Galanthus atkinsii

(Photo: Galanthus woronowii)
Other varieties I particularly like and hanker after include Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’ this might be the snowdrop which might at first put you off but most growers can’t keep up with demand.  A rare yellow form of Galanthus plicatus it is fairly vigorous and makes handsome clumps.  I think its best grown on its own where its colour can be enjoyed for its own merits and the white snowdrops are not smudged by the yellow colourings.  

Galanthus hippolyta is an almost perfectly formed double snowdrop with very large flowers held high on tall sturdy stems.  The inner petal segments are so neatly arranged they appear to have been sliced with a surgical blade.  This really is a very special snowdrop and its rarity seems odd compared with its merits.

Another lovely and slightly rare double form is Galanthus ‘Lady Elphinstone’, its a form of Galanthus nivalis, but with yellow markings.  The markings have a habit of turning green in the same season but seem to revert back.  (Photo: Galanthus 'Lady Elphinstone)

(Photo: Galanthus Magnet)
Everyone knows the best time to lift bulbs is when they are in the green, however snowdrops multiply by producing bulb-lets which can be removed when the clump is lifted.  Species Galanthus will also come true from seed and the more rare and unusual varieties are generally propagated by means of ‘twin-scaling’.  

Snowdrops have a substance called galantamine in them, as do narcissus, which is a useful substance in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.  Some scholar’s also say that the magical herb moly in Homer’s Odyssey is actually a snowdrop.

(Galanthus n. Flore Pleno)
I will leave the last word with the home of Galanthus n. ‘Atkinsii’ & ‘elwesii’, the Rococo Garden Painswick, they have a new blog and have asked me to make a guest blog there in the future.   

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Snowdrop Family

For those of you who know that our nursery and design business is based at the Rococo Garden Painswick, which is 928ft above sea level, and yes covered in snow currently, you will also know that the Rococo Garden is famous for its snowdrops.  The woodlands dating back to the 18th Century are covered in the 1000’s.  There are some unusual varieties with the first plantings taking in place in the Victorian period.

(Photo: The View From Painswick Beacon)
Before I post about snowdrop’s and the current craze for them I wanted to talk about the family of plants they belong to, Amaryillidaceae, and at first glance they don’t share to much in common with Amarylllis, the genus the family takes its name from.  In fact there are sixty genera and across the world 800 species which belong to this group.  

Some of them are well known, from Narcissus, Crinum, Clivia, Leucojum, Nerine, Eucharis and Sternbergia.  The family is therefore mainly bulbous, although Clivia is tuberous (a rare occurrence in the family) and they are often deciduous in habit.  The most diverse range of genera belonging to the family is found in Peru, where you will find treasures such as Clianthus

(Photo: Clianthus variegatus)
These bulbous perennials, the size of a golf ball produce long rich green strap like leaves and on Clianthus variegatus, produce clusters of hanging ivory flowers with green petals.  They prefer pot culture in the United Kingdom, protection from frost, humus rich soils and partial shade.  A slightly more brash, and somewhat boring orange can be found in the flower of Clianthus coccineus.  Another Peruvian native you will find in many alpine houses is Zephyranthes, these little bulbs produce open starry flowers in a range of colours.  Zephyranthes primulina, native to Mexico,  can be found flowering from April until October when grown in cultivation.  In the wild it needs a drought to flower which is a shame as its soft lemon flowers are both delicate and cheering to look at.

(Photo:Zephyranthes primulina)
Amaryillidaceae was first described, or grouped scientifically by French naturalist Jean Henri Jaume Saint-Hilaire in 1805. The name Amaryllis comes from descriptions, by Theocritus, Virgil and Ovid of a beautiful sheperdess.  The family is closely related to Alliums, Alliaceae and Agapanthus, Agapanthaceae.

(Photo:Heamanthus albiflos)
A South African genus I quite like the history of is Haemanthus.  First described by Linnaeus in 1753, they are a genus of about 22 species.  The genus was illustrated in 1797 in a series of paintings made at the Schonbrunn, bring it to popular attention.
Heamanthus albiflos in one of the most famous, being an evergreen bulb extremely tolerant of neglect.  In its natural habit it prefers cool shady coastal spots.  Sitting high in the soil up to half of the bulb can be exposed and green.  The leaves are produced in pairs and may be covered in tiny soft hairs and occasionally has yellow spots on the underneath.  It produces two leaves annually.  Perhaps the most unusual aspect are the flowers looking more like artists brushes dipped in golden paint.  These are produced from April to July.  In the United Kingdom this is generally grown as a houseplant, which it quite enjoys or in a heated conservatory.  It will produce offsets which are best removed after the flowering period.

These warm climate bulbs almost make me forget that the countryside around me is covered in a thick layer of snow.  However being a gardener the snow becomes very quickly, a beautiful nuisance.  After a long cold winter I am eager for the signs of spring and the burst of buds.  Even the robin’s, blue-tit’s and woodpecker at the nursery are rather hoping for an improvement in the current conditions.


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