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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Sunday, 28 February 2010

Retrospectively February

February - I shall remember you as a month of bitter cold and snow.  Having said that the snow at the nursery last week came as a total surprise as I had been working in Hampshire, which was a fantastically enjoyable experience, but under glorious sunshine.   
I did spend a day as an invited speaker at Vincent Square and even there through the windows of the horticultural halls  I could see a mixture of driving rain and sleet descending on London.
Its hard to think about plants during such dreary weather especially if you cannot get outside to see them.  This is such a pity as February had some wonderful plants to offer us.
At the Rococo Garden, in between the showers, I have been cataloguing the different Galanthus in the garden on behalf of the Trust.  Amongst the varieties in the garden I found pleasingly large collections of :
Galanthus atkinsii - Named after John Atkins who lived on the Painswick estate. 
Galanthus atkinsii ‘James Backhouse’ - The charming irregular form which is my current favorite.
Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ - Lovely large blunt outer petals slightly lifted.
Galanthus ‘Lynn’ - Most people agree this is superior to G. atkinsii, being larger and hanging beautifully.
Galanthus ‘John Sales’ - slim and understated.
Although some clumps are small, the garden has one of the United Kingdoms largest natural plantings of both G. nivalis and more dramatic on sight, G. atkinsii.
Of course February is also one of the best month’s for Witch-hazel, and outside of species collections in Botanic Gardens one of the most stunning collections can be found at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens just outside of Romsey.
(Picture: Hamamelis sp)
I first fell for the subtle charms of the witch hazel whilst studying horticultural taxonomy at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and I have found it an endlessly interesting genus ever since.
The horticultural name means, ‘together with fruit’ as the fruit, flowers and next years leaf buds all appear on the branch simultaneously, quite unusual in the plant world.  For a long time the Persian Ironwood was treated as a Hamemelis, but it is now known in its own right as Parrotia persica.
One of my favorite yellow flowering species is Hamamelis virginiana which is native to North America predominantly from Nova Scotia to Minnesota.  Like all Hamamelis it makes a stunning deciduous large shrub.  The branches whilst not horizontal do produce a distinct inverted vase shape with time.  The flowers are pale yellow to intense butter yellow with a wonderful fragrance.  The bark and leaves were used by native Americans in the treatment of external inflammations. I am also very found of Hamamelis virginiana var. mexicana, it just looks special. 
(Picture: Hamamelis virginiana)
Hamamelis virginiana  is most likely the origin of Pond’s Cream.  A healing cream invented by a scientist called Theron T. Pond in around 1846.  Pond extracted a tea from Witch Hazel with which he could heal small cuts and ailments.  
In 1925 Queen Marie of Romania visited the United States and enjoyed the product so much she wrote to the Ponds company requesting more supplies, the letter was used as a precursor to the modern day ‘Celebrity’ endorsement in an advertising campaign.  Pond’s today is owned by Unilever.
(Picture: Hamemalis vernalis)
Another American species I am fond of is Hamemalis vernalis, often occurring with H. virginiana it does not cross pollinate and hybridise and can be easily identified as it flowers in Late winter.  Also the leaves are dark green with a glaucose underside and most tellingly the flowers are bright red to orange.  This species has a number of popular cultivars selected from it including H. ‘Red Imp’ which has strong red petals with orange tips.
Many of us will know Hamamelis mollis, this genus is native to China, particularly in the East.  H. mollis with its golden autumn colourings was first introduced to the United Kingdom in 1879 by Charles Maries and the form H. mollis ‘Coombe Wood’  which has a more spreading habit and larger than average flowers is the form he originally brought back.  Later H. mollis  was also introduced by Ernest Wilson and the form H. mollis ‘Jermyns Gold’ is believed to be one of the forms he brought back in 1918. 
Crossed with Hamamelis japonica to form Hamamelis x intermedia, it has gone on to produce some of the most well loved garden Witch Hazels.
(Photo: Hamamelis japonica)
After spending so much time talking about Witch Hazel it may come as a surprise that I don’t have a single plant in my garden.  I claim as an excuse the fact that we are scaling down our garden and collection of plants in an attempt to move but rest assured when space allows they will make a welcome appearance.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Creating a Garden on 3 t's

At last the sun has shone down on the garden at Painswick and the snowdrops are looking stunning.  I have to admit I have a new favorite in the form of Galanthus atkinsii ‘James BackHouse‘ its abnormal growth habit makes it look rather quite jolly and indifferent to the perfection of other types such as G. ‘Magnet’.

(Photo: The 3 Counties Showground)
I Travelled to the 3 Counties Agricultural Society Show Ground last week and was struck by the rich brown colours of the hedgerows, I wondered if against the moody backdrop of the overcast Malvern Hills the foreground colour’s were enlivened, seeming to almost leap out at us along the way.  It would be naughty of me to spoil the surprises in store for Spring Gardening Show visitor’s this year, but I can say it is very exciting.  I also notice the large number of Wellingtonia, or correctly named, Sequoiadendron giganteum around Eastnor Castle. 

Sequoiadendron giganteum is the sole species of the genus and one of 3 species which make up the group of plants known as redwoods.  All in Cupressaceae, the others are, Seqouia sempervirens & the rather beautiful Metasequoia glyptostroboides.  Growing to a towering average height of 280ft, 85m in the English landscape with the sun behind them Sequoiadendron giganteum dominate in an electrifyingly prehistoric way.  The oldest recorded specimen is 3500 years old and on average each tree bears 11,000 cones dispersing 400,000 seed annually.  In 1853 John Lindley gave the tree its invalid name of Wellingtonia gigantea.  Wellingtonia had already been given to Wellingtonia arnottiana, in a different floral family.  

(Photo: Sequoiadendron giganteum)
Wellingtonia is the most common name for this plant in England but sadly it was not the last, in 1854 Joseph Decaisne renamed the tree as Sequoia gigantea but again this name was invalid for the same taxonomic reasons and later in the same year it was renamed as Washingtonia californica, which you will guess was invalid as the name Washingtonia applies to a genus of palms.  This naming process carried on until 1939 when it was final given its current name.  Sequoiadendron first appeared in Britain in 1853 and spread through Europe from then.  The great plant collector William Lobb collected a large amount of seed in 1853 for the Veitch Nursery.  In England it is a fast growing tree, reaching at Benmore, Scotland 177ft, 54m in 150 years.
(Photo: Sequoiadendron giganteum immature cone)
That is my first T, my second was an amusing encounter I had in Thomas Cook, not very plant orientated you may say, but I was actually trying to book flights for a plant observation and seed collecting trip we are beginning to organise.  There is a lot of, and rightly so, paperwork and planning needed to ensure we are doing things correctly.  I digress.  So I approach a sun kissed lady and asked if she knew about direct flights to Tel Aviv from the United Kingdom, to which she replied ‘No I don’t know really, its not a beach destination is it?’  Suffice to say we are now flying British Airways.
My last T for this imaginary garden of T's is slightly tenuous but is linked by travel and my writing if not person are travelling abroad this month.

(Photo: January's Garden Design Magazine Issue Cover)
From now until June I will be publishing a series of posts mostly relating to elements I am including in a Show Garden I will be creating at Chelsea Flower Show this year.  I have been invited to do this by the editorial team at Garden Design Magazine.  This is a fantastic American gardening magazine which has a great content formula not to mention their annual awards for design projects.  The online portion of the magazine is also fantastically interesting with a huge mix of content.
You can read my first contribution here.


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