An excellent meeting last Sunday meant that we finished our season on a high note. All the elements of an HPS event were there: a super speaker, a really good plant sale, an interesting display, a delicious tea and the added bonus of the Seedling Swap.
Our speaker, Sue Marshall of Iris of Sissinghurst, gave us a most entertaining and informative talk. She explained how she fell in love with iris and developed her nursery, which is no longer in Sissinghurst but not too far away in Marden. We also heard about the iris heritage we have in Kent with breeders still at work today bringing us stunning new varieties, many with evocative titles. Sue is very keen for people to grow these irises so, if you’d like to give some of them a try, take a look at her website to see what’s available.
The plant sales table was absolutely weighed down with fabulous plants. They were all well grown, well presented and at very good prices. You could have planted up a whole border with what was on offer. I did my best to make a dent in the selection and went home with some lovely plants that, hopefully, I will enjoy this summer.
The plant display was well supported but not quite as well as the sales. At this time of year flowering shrubs, often perfumed, are a feature of gardens and we had an akebia, two lilacs, a viburnum and a choisya to prove the point.
Syringa pubescens subsp. patula (syn. S. velutina) has fragrant pink flowers on a 2 metre-high shrub. S. protolaciniata is a small to medium shrub from western China, which has pink flowers, cut leaves and is happy on chalk and, of course, has a lovely perfume.
Viburnum ‘Pragense’ is a hybrid between V. rhytidophyllum and V. utile. According to the member who brought it, it is one of the best of all viburnums, is evergreen, drought-tolerant and hardy.
Akebia quinata is a vigorous climber and we had the form with clusters of chocolate-scented, creamy-white flowers with purple centres. A lovely plant that I had certainly never seen before.
The choisya we had was C. ‘Aztec Pearl’. The plant that used to be most commonly grown was C. ternata, a medium sized evergreen shrub native to Mexico, with leaves divided into three wide leaflets and clusters of white flowers. C. x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’ is a hybrid between C. ternata and C. arizonica, raised by Hilliers in 1982, with much finer leaves composed of 3-5 slender leaflets and larger, pink-flushed white flowers.
Another hybrid, C. x dewitteana ‘White Dazzler’, is smaller, at just over a metre, and has even more finely divided leaves. There is also a gold-leaved form of C. ternata and several other newer cultivars.
When I was looking for information on correas for my blog in March I found that it was in the rue family, Rutaceae. This family was only familiar to me from growing Ruta graveolens, a Mediterranean sub shrub usually grown for its attractive foliage. A quick scan down the list of family members threw up a few surprises. Some names were vaguely familiar but, of the 148 genera, just seven were known to me: Choisya, Correa (thanks to our plant display), Cneorum (don’t ask!) Dictamnus (my son did try setting fire to one once), Ruta, Skimmia and Citrus. Citrus? I don’t think I’d ever thought what family oranges and lemons might belong to but it’s amazing what you find out once you start looking. As we know, Choisya has the common name Mexican Orange Blossom. I always thought this was because it came from Mexico and smelled like orange blossom but now I know there is a much stronger link between the two. The leaves also smell of rue when bruised.
We also had plants of a somewhat smaller stature. There were three bergenias: Bergenia ‘Ballawley’, which has tall, bright magenta flowers and probably the largest leaves of all the cultivars; B, ciliata, which is deciduous but develops very large hairy leaves and has pale pink flowers; and B. ‘Beethoven’, with white flowers fading to pink, held in red calyxes and which, for me, is the best cultivar there is. Discussion amongst members seemed to suggest that this year has been a very good one for begenias.
There were also three dicentras on show: Dicentra formosa ‘Langtrees, which has glaucous foliage and white flowers; D.f. ‘Furse’s form’, also with glaucous foliage but pink flowers; and another anonymous cultivar with pink flowers and pale green foliage. We don’t see or read much about dicentras; I wonder why.
Corydalis is another member, along with Dicentra, of the family Papaveraceae. Corydalis ochroleuca is a lovely self seeder, which puts itself in all the right places and is easily removed from where it’s not wanted. It’s about 25cm high with light green, ferny leaves and white flowers with a yellow throat.
A member had put together in a vase some stems of an early-flowering nepeta with a gold-leaved euonymus and a thermopsis. The first two are well known but I found it hard to find information on thermopsis. I did find an article on the Horticulture Week website describing a long list of species and quoting this from Rosy Hardy. “Thermopsis are an underused plant in the UK. You need to be careful to select plants that are clump-forming and not the ones that will rampage, that is unless you have the area for this, such as a wild garden.” Could this be the reason why they’re not widely grown?
We had Thermopsis villosa on the display with the delightful common name, Carolina lupin, because it’s native to North Carolina and Georgia, in the USA.
Cotswold Garden Flowers don’t actually sell any thermopsis but describe T. villosa, “Long heads of bright yellow flowers May-Aug, 85cm. Easy and utterly non invasive.” They give it a Bob’s score of 8. Finally, I found this in the Marchant’s Hardy Plants catalogue describing T. villosa. “A first rate pea relative, clump forming and long lived. The soft toned lemon yellow flowers are at their bonniest in May, held on dark stems. A post flowering flush of growth maintains its freshness the season long. 1m.” Anyone thinking of growing this plant will be reassured by such a recommendation from Graham Gough. However, if I’m wrong and you’re growing thermopsis without any problem, add a comment to the end of the post and let us all know.
We had two contributions that need pot culture in a cold greenhouse. Iris schachtii is from central Turkey where it grows in dry rocky places in full sun. It has small, grey-green leaves and flowers with purple and yellow petals with fine dark markings and needs a dryish rest in summer. Leucocoryne ‘Andes’ drew a great deal of interest and admiration with its unusual purple and red flowers. With the common name Glory of the Sun, it comes from dry, rocky areas in Chile and, again, needs a dry summer rest.
I will finish with the grass that is the first to flower in the new season – Ampelodesmos mauritanicus. And, amazingly, it keeps its flower heads right through the winter until you have to cut them down as the new ones start into growth. I first saw it at The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens & Arboretum and then grew it from seed. All references that I have found sing its praises and John Grimshaw made it his Plant of the Year in 2016. It is native to the Mediterranean region and forms a mound of evergreen foliage from which rise tall pale stems, to about 2 metres, carrying long drooping flower heads, which are pale green flushed purple at first but fade to beige. Admittedly, it is quite large so does need space but, until it gets too big for my garden, it is a beautiful thing that I can appreciate all year long.
And if all that wasn’t enough we then had our Seedling Swap where we were able to choose from a wide variety of seedlings grown by fellow members. There were perennials, annuals, shrubs, grasses, even vegetables and members went away with lots of little pots of great potential.
Thank you to everyone who made our Amazing April meeting possible: those who carried out all the preparations; members who brought plants for sale and for the display and seedlings for the Seedling Swap; people who prepared the tea and helped with the washing up; and, last but not least, everyone who came to enjoy the meeting and had a jolly good time.