Another taste of the Drakensberg

Another taste of the Drakensberg

This article was first published in our newsletter in summer 2010. It is the second article describing a trip made in February 2010. You can find the first article ‘A Taste of the Drakensburg’ here.

 shrubs with altitude

by Karin Proudfoot

The summit of Ben Nevis is not noted for its tree and shrub population. Yet at the same altitude (1,344m) in the Drakensberg there is a wealth of woody plants large and small, even up to 2,500m above sea level. Alright, so the climate is very different, with high summer rainfall and higher average temperatures, but the average for the warmest month is just 22ºC, while winter can bring snow and frost to the peaks, and strong winds. Even so, it was only when we went up into Lesotho, at an altitude of around 3,000m, that the landscape took on the bleak and treeless appearance that we associate with mountains, where only tough alpine plants survive. Below that level, it was the overwhelming greenness that struck me, something I had not expected.

 The commonest trees are proteas (as might be expected in South Africa), chiefly Protea caffra and silver-leaved Protea roupelliae, which can grow to 7m tall on mountainsides up to 2,400m, where we found their attractively gnarled shapes could be relied on to add a picturesque foreground feature to our endless photographs of mountain views. Other species are the shorter-growing Protea subvestita, whose narrow flowers have beautiful pink bracts edged with long silky hairs, and Protea dracomontana, a low shrubby variety.

Protea roupelliae

Protea subvestita

On more familiar ground, we spotted a shrub which was identified, after much debate as to whether it was a buddleja or a salvia, as Buddleja salviifolia (thus satisfying both camps), with long, velvety leaves, white below, flowering in August to October. I was disappointed not to find the slightly smaller Buddleja loricata, which I grow, and which is supposed to occur in the same region. A more familiar friend was Phygelius capensis, spotted on our first day growing alongside a mountain stream, rather different from the sunny well-drained site often recommended by gardening books. A very pretty indigofera, I. hedyantha, was a regular sighting; it grows 60-90cm tall, with soft red flowers held above the dainty foliage. There was even a bramble, Rubus ludwigii, alongside the mountain paths, somewhat superior to our native version, with thornless stems and attractive pinnate leaves with deeply serrated edges to the leaflets, which are white beneath. However the fruits did not look at all appetising, being small with a whitish bloom.

A more unexpected find was a group of tree ferns, Cyathea dregei, usually associated with New Zealand, but also indigenous to the Drakensberg. They made an exotic sight growing in rolling grassland below Cathedral Peak. Also surprising were some grey-leaved shrublets, of the type normally associated with hot, dry spots, here revelling in moisture. These included Sopubia cana, with narrow silver leaves and bright pink flowers, parasitic on grasses, and Lotononis galpinii, with small rounded silver foliage and violet-blue flowers.

There were inevitably other attractive shrubs which I have been unable to identify from my photographs, such as an evergreen with long clusters of small green and red berries, and a deciduous shrub with lobed, heavily veined leaves, the young ones being a rich dark red edged with green.

I had expected to see kniphofias, eucomis, agapanthus and other herbaceous plants, but to find so many different shrubs came as a complete surprise, as did the wonderful grasses, a whole new subject in themselves.

Click here to enjoy a gallery of these plants and the beautiful South African landscape.

Some grasses grown from seed

Some grasses grown from seed

Some grasses grown from seed

by Virginia Oakes

In April 2006 we had our first ever Seedling Swap. It was a great success and much enjoyed by everyone who attended. Three members gave presentations on different aspects of growing from seed and this is a transcript of one of them. (more…)

Snowdrop mania – a very modern phenomenon

Snowdrop mania – a very modern phenomenon

Snowdrop mania – a very modern phenomenon

by Virginia Oakes

Snowdrop mania – is it a healthy obsession or utter madness?

 

Leucoium bulbosum praecox minus – Timely flouring bulbous Violet

“The first of these bulbous Violets riseth out of the ground, with two small leaves flat and crested, of an overworne greene colour, betweene the which riseth up a small and tender stalke of two hands high; at the top whereof commeth forth of a skinny hood a small white floure of the bignesse of a Violet, compact of six leaves, three bigger, and three lesser, tipped at the points with a light greene: the smaller are fashioned into the vulgar forme of a heart, and pretily edged about with greene; the other three leaves are longer, and sharpe pointed. The whole floure hangeth downe his head, by reason of the weake foot stalke whereon it groweth. The root is small, white, and bulbous.”

Sound familiar? This is the description in Gerard’s Herbal of 1597, presumably of Galanthus nivalis. There is some doubt as to whether or not it is native to the British Isles – Gerard writes ” These plants do grow wilde in Italy and the places adjacent. Notwithstanding our London gardens have taken possession of most of them many yeares past.” There is little mention of snowdrops in early herbals and they weren’t recorded as growing wild in Britain until 1770’s, when they were found in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.

Interest grew in the nineteenth century and in 1879 the Gardener’s Chronicle mentions four species and nine forms of G. nivalis. By the time of the RHS Snowdrop Conference in 1891 there were seven or eight species in cultivation and over firty cultivars. When E.A. Bowles wrote in 1918 this number had dwindled to 25, a loss thought to have been due to an outbreak of disease. In Sir Frederick Stern’s Snowdrops and Snowflakes (1956) Bowles lists 137 named snowdrops but many were already extinct or lost. In the Alpine Garden Society’s Encyclopaedia of Alpines, published in 1993, 108 cultivars are listed. Snowdrops by Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis and John Grimshaw, published in 2001, covers more than 500 cultivars.

Many people dismiss galanthophilia as nonsense – a snowdrop is a snowdrop and that’s that, and not a very interesting that, at that! They were even known as Death’s Flower since, in several counties in England, it was thought unlucky to bring snowdrops into the house.

 

Snowdrops en masse with winter aconites

But the more one looks at this delicate white flower the more one notices. At first glance identical twins look the same but the more carefully you look and the better you get to know them the more the individuality of each one stands out. And so it is with snowdrops. Close inspection brings enormous rewards as each little difference becomes apparent. Here are just a few of the many forms you may come across. None of them is rare – you might see them at one of the many snowdrop events that have sprung up across the country.
Galanthus ‘Magnet’
Raised by James Allen in 1888, this snowdrop is unusual in its long and slender pedicel, which holds the flower away from spathe. This causes the flower to swing in the slightest breeze making this variety recognizable even from a distance.

Galanthus ‘Merlin’
Another very well known variety. It has rounded flowers with deep green marks on the inner segments extending to the base and a large, round ovary.

Galanthus ‘Magnet’

Galanthus ‘Merlin’

Galanthus nivalis ‘Viridapice’
It would seem that this name has been applied to many different clones with varying degrees of green markings on their outer segments. Lots of room for discussion – there’s nothing galanthophiles like better!

Galanthus woronowii is unusual in that it has wide, green, shiny leaves rather than the glaucous ones of most other species. It is becoming more popular and easier to obtain.

Galanthus nivalis ‘Viridapice’

Galanthus woronowii

After the snowdrops – celandines

After the snowdrops – celandines

After the snowdrops – celandines

by David Andrews

Snowdrops, it seems, engender either love or a strange apathy – white blobs to some, to others their subtle variations a source of endless fascination. But when their season draws to a close a new one will begin for the connoisseurs of the lesser celandine who eagerly inspect their seedlings to see what new delights this year may bring.
Ranunculus ficaria is an easy plant to grow and the wild form occurs in abundance in damp places in sun or semi-shade but flowering better in sun (but not baked in summer). As with many plants, variations in the natural population occur and have been selected, with reference to a double form dating from the 16th century, but in recent years there seems to have been an explosion of new selections.

My Plant Finder for 1987 has 14 entries under R. ficaria but of course this does not mean that’s all there were. By 1992-1993 this had increased to 23, to 99 in 2002-2003 and today in the on-line version, 112 entries are listed. And this is omitting several worthy forms that I know of.
Are all these new names justified? As with snowdrops I rather doubt it but the ‘Ranuncophile’ will look for variation in leaf markings, which may include silver, bronze or near-black and variegation, as well as leaf shape. Flowers come in different sizes and petal shape; the colour of the upper surface can range from near-white through shades of yellow to orange while the reverse may be shades of green, grey, purple or bronze. In some flowers the petals are almost entirely deep green. Flowers may be single, semi or fully double or ‘anemone centred.’ Clearly the number of permutations possible is huge.
My favourites? It is difficult to choose but one which is very popular which I don’t much care for is ‘Brazen Hussey’ with bright yellow flowers and dark bronze leaves. However, during the previous decade this has crossed with other flower colours giving rise to what I think are much more attractive plants. ‘Coppernob’ combines the bronze leaf with the orange flower of var. aurantiacus (a cross which also occurred spontaneously in my own garden and I prefer my own seedlings.) The striking combination of bronze leaf with white to cream flowers is represented by ‘Crawshay Cream’, ‘Hyde Hall’ and ‘Deborah Jope’.
For doubles, ‘Ken Aslet’ is an excellent double white while ‘Elan’, whose double cream petals have a dark grey-green reverse, and ‘Damerham’, whose double yellow flowers have a strong, green central boss, are forms I would not be without.
There are so many but perhaps my favourite of all, not available through any nursery I know of, is ‘White Claw’, a single with narrow, pointed petals, creamy white inside but strong purple on the reverse.
What of the future? Obviously there are gaps in the list of possible combinations. Where is the bronze-leaved double orange or the bronze-leaved double white – and how about the purple anemone centred flower with variegated leaves? I shall be on my knees in the celandine patch again this spring; the genes are there – dream on.

 

Winter into Spring

Winter into Spring

Winter into spring

by Tim Ingram

Winter turning into spring is one of the most evocative and wonderful times in the garden. Some of the earliest flowers are the hellebores which begin to grow through milder spells in the height of winter, and can be had in flower from December right through to April or even May. These are plants of great substance and character in the garden (more…)

Confessions of a snowdrop addict

Confessions of a snowdrop addict

This article was written some years ago but it is still just as relevant today and well worth reading again. Snowdrops seem as popular as ever and this article gives some insight into one person’s obsession with the little white flowers known as Galanthus.

CONFESSIONS OF A SNOWDROP ADDICT

by Sue Clayton

‘The secret of being happy is being obsessed by something’– David Bellamy

What non-amorous obsession could possibly lead a gardener to contemplate spending a couple of nights in February at a motel on Junction 5 of the M54? What led the startled owner of an isolated rectory to find a well-known East Anglian nursery owner prostrate on the frozen February ground and one hundred total strangers rampaging through his garden?

The clue, of course, lies in the month – February – when the small but growing population of galanthophiles gallivants around the country in an obsessive search for the object of their desires, the snowdrop. The M54 motel hosted the ten-yearly Galanthus Study Weekend in Shropshire. The nursery owner was Wol Staines of Glen Chantry, angling for the best shot of the balloon-like Galanthus ‘Diggory’ during the Norfolk Galanthus Gala.

My personal obsession took root quietly about fifteen years ago. As a hater of winter, I suppose it was inevitable that I would look for winter flowers to help me endure the depressing grey days. Snowdrops had long been favourites but then I began to notice that my favourite bulb nursery, Broadleigh Gardens, listed several named cultivars and that there were some differences in flowering times. By chance, probably because it was among the cheapest, I started with G. ‘Atkinsii’, discovered by James Allen and named after James Atkins, a Gloucestershire gardener who distributed it from his garden in Painswick. My choice was fortunate because I later learnt that it had several useful characteristics. It is a tall, slender, vigorous hybrid which increases reliably, apparently vegetatively rather than seed. Most importantly, it flowers about a month before G. nivalis.

Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’

Galanthus elwesii ‘Peter Gatehouse’

In such a short article I can only touch on a few of the many species and cultivars so I will concentrate on more of the early flowering forms. It is now December and there have been no frosts in my garden in East Kent since mid-October. This is unprecedented and increasing numbers of snowdrop ‘noses’ have been showing since late October. Unfortunately, slugs and snails are also delighting in global warming and, reluctantly, I have had to resort to using Sluggit to protect the emerging tips. Sadly, I was too late to save the buds of my newly acquired and hugely anticipated G. ‘Remember, Remember’ (syn. ‘November Merlin’) which had been on course to flower by 5th November as promised. It is described as having a deep green shaded inner segment, reminiscent of G. ‘Merlin’.

At the November 2000 meeting of the HPS Kent Group I first saw a beautiful pot of G. elwesii ‘Peter Gatehouse’ in flower, exhibited by David Andrews. Galanthophiles are prone to many sins and I immediately coveted it. It did not appear in any of the literature so I was really excited to find Graham Gough selling it a few months later. A small group came into flower in the garden on 13th November this year. It has a good green, scissor-shaped inner mark, with the colour fading towards the ovary and greyish leaves. Graham only knows that it was named for a Peter Gatehouse of Tenterden. It is nice to have a ‘Kentish’ snowdrop and I wonder if any members can add any further details about Mr Gatehouse.

Galanthus ‘Merlin’

Galanthus ‘Lavinia’

Another early beauty is G. ‘Three Ships’, so named by John Morley because it never fails to ‘come sailing in on Christmas Day’. In this extraordinarily mild year it is a month early.  ‘Merlin’ is a legendary snowdrop with entirely green inner segments. A James Allen seedling, it is strong growing, multiplying very well and flowering in mid-January. G. ‘Tubby Merlin’, raised by E.B. Anderson, is a charming smaller version, honey scented and slightly later. Of the doubles, G. ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ just beats G. ‘Lavinia’ into bloom in mid-January but many growers find the latter shy flowering and have destroyed their stocks. These are just the curtain raisers for the main snowdrop season but with witch hazel and wintersweet, they play an essential part in my winter survival kit.

 

 

All images courtesy of Mark Smyth.

Trees and shrubs from seed

Trees and shrubs from seed

The second talk given at our first Seedling Swap in April 2006 dealt with the pleasures and principles – and the few pitfalls – of growing trees and shrubs from seed. Jeremy Spon’s infectious enthusiasm comes across in print, just as it did in his talk. (more…)

Bulbs from seed

Bulbs from seed

In the third article based on the talks given at the Seedling Swap in April 2006, Gill Regan shares with us the hard-won secrets of growing bulbs from seed. The many striking photographs that accompanied her talk showed that, after early setbacks, she has clearly discovered a successful formula.

(more…)

A Purple Patch

A Purple Patch

A purple patch – a period of success or good fortune

 What better way can there be to spend a bleak mid-winter afternoon than mulling over last years gardening successes – and failures – and looking forward in anticipation to what might be achieved in the coming year? It was on just such an occasion that I came across these shots (more…)