There will, of course, be a full obituary in the Winter Newsletter.
There will, of course, be a full obituary in the Winter Newsletter.
To mark the HPS Kent group’s 30th Anniversary in 2018 we asked our members to vote for their personal Top 5 plants. This was not restricted to herbaceous perennials but could encompass the whole range of plants from trees, shrubs, perennials to bulbs and corms. This proved to be a very interesting exercise and quite a challenge. The main remark from our members was how difficult it was to come up with a definitive Top 5 and that it was liable to change daily! The other taxing problem was to think about plants from other seasons of the year and not to focus on the current season when deciding the Top 5.
Once the votes were in a list of the final Top 30 was compiled and we then published the list one at a time on the website with a short description and information. Number 1 was unveiled at our April meeting.
Here is a gallery of all the plants in the Top 30 in one place.
And so we come to Number 1. The plant that has been chosen by more members than any other to be in their Top 5 ‘Couldn’t-Do-Without Plants’ is – Cyclamen coum.
It might be small in stature – it is the smallest plant in our Top 30 – but it’s certainly big on character. It flowers during the harshest part of the year and puts up with wind, rain, snow and frost. It can survive being covered in snow for weeks and quickly throws off the effects of frost as soon as the temperature rises. It provides welcome colour at the dullest time, in glorious drifts if you have the room to let it spread.
The leaves are kidney-shaped to rounded or heart-shaped and can be plain green or marbled with silver. The flowers are variously described as dumpy, tubby, chubby or squat – I think we get the picture! – with almost round petals. They range in colour from white, through pink to magenta with a blotch at the base of each lobe and a paler ‘eye’. The leaves appear in the autumn and are fully developed before winter sets in. The buds nestle under the leaves for many weeks and then expand to bloom in the new year. It is happy in partial shade in a well-drained soil under deciduous shrubs and trees.
Cyclamen coum grows in the wild around the Black Sea, from Bulgaria through northern Turkey to the Caucasus Mountains, with a southern outlier in south-east Turkey south to Lebanon and Israel. It is very variable in the wild, with many subtle variations of flower and leaf size and colour across its range.
In cultivation it also covers a wide range of forms, some of which have been selected and named for a particular characteristic. So we can choose silver, pewter or plain leaves, crimson, magenta or pure white flowers and just about anything in between. And they will self sow. Generally, they don’t self-pollinate so Graham Rice advises buying two plants as near identical as possible so that, when they cross, the seedlings are most likely to be similar. Assuming, of course, that that is what you want. You might prefer a tapestry of different colours and patterns, in which case, you can put distinctly different forms together and watch what happens.
And so to the name – Cyclamen coum. We saw in our Top 30 Number 11, Cyclamen hederifolium, that cyclamen is from the Greek, kyklos, circle. Most references state that coum means, from the island of Cos in the Aegean Sea. However, Cyclamen coum does not grow on Cos! How did this error occur? Apparently, coum can also mean ‘from Coa’. Coa was the name used for the eastern area of Celicia, an ancient region in what is now eastern Turkey, where, importantly, Cyclamen coum does grow.
Cyclamen coum is one of the treasures of the winter garden that no one should be without and, obviously, our members agree wholeheartedly. They have put this at the very top of our Top 30.
It is February and I am visiting the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. The sun is shining and, although there is rain forecast for later, the sky is blue with a few white clouds. I could not have wished for a better day. As I walk towards the Winter Garden I detect a slight scent on the air, which makes me catch my breath. When I arrive at the entrance I stop. There are large bushes of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ in full bloom on either side. I close my eyes and take a deep breath of that glorious perfume.
Why is it so difficult to describe a scent or to be able to conjure it in your mind? If you think about a rose you can visualize any of the many roses you have seen. If someone says delphinium, you can picture those wonderful blue spires. But imagining a perfume seems impossible. However, just one whiff of a certain smell can transport you back to a particular place and time, unlocking memories you thought were lost. But, try, if you can, to remember how it feels to take in that daphne fragrance.
Daphne was the Greek name for the bay tree or laurel, Laurus nobilis, and was later transferred to this genus, which is in the family Thymeleaeceae. Daphne bholua is a deciduous or evergreen shrub from the Himalaya, with sweetly scented flowers, deep reddish-mauve in bud, opening white in January and February. Its hardiness and whether or not the leaves fall varies according to altitude. D. b. ‘Gurkha’ is a very hardy deciduous form collected by Major Tom Spring-Smyth at 3,200m in east Nepal in 1962. Again, it is very richly scented and this introduction greatly increased the popularity of the species. The plant that our members have voted to second place is Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’. This very hardy form originated as a seedling of ‘Gurkha’, raised at the Hillier Nurseries by their propagator, Alan Postill, in 1982. It is evergreen or semi-evergreen, flowering when in full leave with blooms that are larger than those of ‘Gurkha’ but with an equally powerful fragrance.
Unfortunately, I don’t grow this plant and must visit other gardens to get an annual fix, so I envy our members who have the pleasure, all through the winter, of having it very close at hand. They rate it very highly, so highly, in fact, that it’s reached Number 2 in our Top 30.
Stipa gigantea, commonly known as golden oats, is in the family Poaceae. It is the largest stipa but, by no means, a giant grass. It is, however, a giant in its beauty and the spectacle it makes in the garden. Narrow leaves form a low evergreen mound about 60 cm high. It blooms in early summer, the huge, golden open panicles held high on stems to about 2 m tall. After flowering the panicles fade slightly in colour but remain looking great right into the winter when the stems can be cut down. The name Stipa is from the Greek, stuppe meaning tow, alluding to the flaxen appearance of the feathery awns of the original species, tow being the coarse and broken part of flax or hemp prepared for spinning. It gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
Stipa gigantea looks good in many positions in the garden but particularly placed either side of a pathway, entrance or garden feature, where it can provide a highlight without being overpowering. This quality can also be used to good effect when it’s planted where it can be seen through, allowing glimpses of the garden beyond.
It can be found growing wild in Spain, Portugal and Morocco on dry, rocky hillsides so needs similar conditions in the garden, a well-drained soil in a sunny position. Being evergreen it does not require cutting back annually as we do with grasses such as miscanthus. Combing through to remove old foliage and trimming the leaves a little, as well as cutting out the old flowering stems, should be all that’s necessary to keep a clump looking good.
Then you can sit back and enjoy this spectacular plant that members rate very highly. It is the only grass in our Top 30, which is quite a responsibility. But I think this giant is up to the task!
I think everyone knows about Geranium ‘Rozanne’ by now but I’ve often wondered where it came from. It arose in 1989 as a seedling in the Somerset garden of Donald and Rozanne Waterer, the parents being the early-flowering G. himalayense and the later and freely-flowering G. wallichianum ‘Buxton’s Variety’. The Waterers were keen gardeners and knew that it was special. It was a stronger grower, with larger leaves and flowers and came back the following year, flowering non-stop from June until the first hard frosts in November. Taking advice from Graham Stuart Thomas they contacted Adrian Bloom in 1991 to see if he would trial and introduce it. Over the years it has exceeded expectations, proving to be hardy, heat-tolerant and long-flowering. And I think it must be in every garden in the land.
It forms a mound of lobed and divided foliage before the flowers appear. The bowl-shaped flowers are blue to violet-blue, depending on age and exposure to sunlight, with a white centre, and appear from early summer to the first frosts. G. ‘Rozanne’ will grow well on a variety of soils, in sun or partial shade where it is not too dry. When grown well it can reach 60 to 90 cm in height and about 1m across.
On the Bressingham Gardens website, Adrian Bloom suggests various ways to grow Geranium ‘Rozanne’, in containers, hanging baskets, window-boxes, as flowering ground cover or try it as a ‘river’. A what? A river? What a brilliant idea! Given enough space and the right setting I can imagine how fabulous that would be. Adrian says he has produced them here and in other parts of the world. If you have the room and fancy making one make sure you invite us all to see it!
Whether we have one or two plants or a whole river, we know that Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is deserving of its place at Number 4 in our Top 30.