Bergenia ‘Balbithan’

Bergenia ‘Balbithan’

One of the contributions to our plant display in February was just two leaves of Bergenia ‘Balbithan’ brought by Karin Proudfoot. The accompanying description told us that she had bought it at Great Comp last year but could find nothing else about it except that it is listed by The Plantsman’s Preference nursery. She added that it is a good doer with upright, well-coloured foliage, impervious to extreme weather.

I definitely liked the look of this plant and wanted to know more. We found out about Balbithan House in Scotland and Mary McMurtrie, who lived and gardened there, but we couldn’t confirm a link. I contacted William Dyson at Great Comp to see if he had more information. “Not guilty,” he said, “I don’t grow it.” Back to Karin, who explained that she had bought it at the Great Comp Snowdrop Sensation from one of the visiting nurseries. Purely by chance I found a list of the nurseries that had attended that event. I discounted all those that I knew were selling snowdrops, which left me with just a couple of possibilities.

At the first one I called I only got an answering machine but my second try, to Rose Cottage Plants in Essex, was much more productive. I spoke to Jack Barnard, the charming and very helpful owner. I explained my predicament and he was very understanding but his is a bulb nursery and he doesn’t grow bergenias. Just as I was about to ring off I remembered something that Karin had told me; the stall where she bought it was across the bottom of the courtyard at Great Comp. Might this help identify the nursery? “Oh, that was Joe Sharman.” I knew Joe was there, (well, he wasn’t, he was in Germany but his snowdrops were) but his stall was at the side and, as far as I could remember, only had snowdrops. Jack explained that another nursery had offered to house Joe’s non-snowdrop plants so this was looking promising. A phone call to Tim Fuller at The Plantsman’s Preference confirmed the source as Joe Sharman of Monksilver Nursery. Bingo!

I left Joe an email message and, true to his word, he rang me back one evening soon afterwards and, yes, he did grow Bergenia ‘Balbithan’. “Can you tell me any more about it?” I enquired. He explained that he had visited Angela Whinfield of Snape Cottage in Bourton, Dorset, where he saw the bergenia and, being an experienced plantsman, realized what a good plant it was. He must have been given a division, which he has propagated and distributed to discerning gardeners. Angela had had it from Mary McMurtrie of Balbithan House. We had the link!

Mary McMurtrie was a Scottish botanical artist and horticulturalist. She wrote and illustrated several books of wild flowers and became internationally recognised for her botanical art.

She was born Mary Margaret Mitchell in 1902 in Skene, Aberdeenshire. After leaving school she became one of the first female students at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. She married Rev John McMurtrie in 1924 and the couple had four children but he died in 1949 leaving her to raise the youngest two children alone. She used her love of gardening to set up a nursery in the garden of the house that she bought in Aberdeen. It became a thriving business. In 1960 she bought the 16th century Balbithan House in Kintore in Aberdeenshire. She restored the house, transformed the garden and opened a nursery, which she ran until into her 80s. She also became a well respected botanical artist, exhibiting her watercolour paintings locally, in Scotland, at the Royal Horticultural Society in London and internationally. She published several books of illustrations and was invited to illustrate a number of other publications. She completed the illustrations for her last book, Old Cottage Pinks, shortly before her death on 1 November 2003 at the age of 101.

In her obituary published in The Scotsman, she was described as, “a delightful person, totally devoted to botany, flowers and her family, and extraordinarily modest. She was remarkably unassuming but a gifted painter.”

So, there we have it. I really like knowing the history of a plant, the person who raised it or first selected it and all the small details. For me it makes a plant special and adds greatly to my enjoyment.

However, despite all my sleuthing I didn’t actually have a plant. I had aranged with Joe to bring one to the plant fair at Great Dixter. “So long as it’s not cancelled,” I said. This was at the time when everything was being called off because of the Atlantic storms raging across the country. “A volcano is the only thing that will keep me from going to Dixter,” he assured me. Who can possibly have imagined that the volcano would take the form of a pandemic with us all staying at home and all events cancelled?

But I’ve had good news! Joe has been in touch and arranged to send me plants in the post. How about that? In years to come, when the plants are thriving, as I’m sure they will, I’ll be able to think about their history and all those people who have played a part in me being able to enjoy them.

Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’

Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’

I took some stems of Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’ to our February meeting and was reminded that, although I had had this plant for a long time, I had never found out how it got this name or any more about it.

I can remember hearing about it from Jack Elliott. He was a very good judge of plants and if he said something was good you knew it probably would be. He wrote in his ‘Bulbs for the Rock Garden’ published in 1995, “‘Alberto Castillo’ is an excellent recent introduction with larger, more glaucous leaves and larger flowers of pristine white. In a brief experience of it, it has increased well and been undamaged by winter weather.”

It was found by Alberto Castillo, owner of Ezeiza Botanical Garden, in an abandoned garden in Buenos Aires in the early 1980s and was introduced to Britain by Broadleigh Gardens of Somerset in 1992. Jack Elliott must have been one of the first to grow it in this country.

When it was introduced it was named I. uniflorum ‘Alberto Castillo’ but has now lost its species attribution. Compared to the species, it has larger bulbs, heavier textured and more glaucous leaves, and larger, more substantial flowers. The flowers are about 4cm across, pure white with a yellowish-green throat, the segments having a darker midrib. My experience is that it is more clump-forming and doesn’t wander over vaste areas as some other forms tend to do.

I greatly enjoy ‘Alberto Castillo’. It flowers as the snowdrops are fading so forms a bridge between them and the huge range of spring flowers still to come. What else does this genus have to offer?

Ipheion uniflorum, spring starflower, in the family Alliaceae, is the only species in general cultivation. It is native to Argentina and Uruguay and was introduced to Britain in 1820. It is a bulbous perennial, which, in late autumn, produces narrow leaves that smell of onions when bruised, followed in spring by solitary, upward-facing, scented flowers on stems up to 20cm. The flowers are star-shaped and each of the six segments has a line of darker colour down the centre. Described as pale blue, they are often said to be wishy-washy so named cultivars with stronger colour are more often grown.

Ipheion uniflorum ‘Wisley Blue’named after the RHS garden, has flowers of clear lilac-blue.

Ipheion uniflorum ‘Froyle Mill’ This cultivar has a rather lovely story.

Writing in The Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society in 1982, Mrs. D. Taylor-Smith extols the virtues of Ipheion uniflorum. It has great merit, she says, is easy to grow, hardy and flowers for two to three months, increases prodigiously and has beautiful flowers.
She then tells of a plant collecting expedition to the Nepalese Himalayas in 1973 that she and her husband joined. They found one or two exciting plants but in that inaccessible area anything can happen. On the trek, her husband nearly lost his life. “The search for rare plants can have great joys but also cost dearly”, she wrote.
The story continued a few months after their return home. Passing a large clump of Ipheion uniflorum ‘Wisley Blue’ in full flower in her garden she noticed one flower of a deep violet-purple. Hardly able to believe her eyes, she rushed indoors and phoned Patrick Synge. With great excitement she told him what she had seen. After a long pause he asked if she really meant violet-purple. After being assured that that was correct, he told her to dig it up and pot it up because it could be an important new addition to the colour range. How right he was!
In 1975 she showed it under the name Ipheion uniflorum ‘Froyle Mill’, which was the name of their house at the time. It then received the RHS Award of Merit when shown at Vincent Square in 1981.
She concluded, “Having flown half round the world and climbed to 4250m. in the Himalayas and nearly lost my husband there, all for the sake of new, rare plants, to find a very exciting new flower in our own garden was an amazing and subtle twist of fate.”

It was awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit and is now available from many nurseries throughout the country.

Ipheion uniflorum ‘Charlotte Bishop’ was a chance seedling that appeared amongst a long-established clump of the selection ‘Wisley Blue’ in the Kent garden of John Clark. The flowers are pale pink with a darker pink centre line.

Ipheion ‘Rolf Fiedler’ was grown from two or three bulbs given to Brian Halliwell of Kew by Rolf Fiedler when they both attended the ‘Alpines 1981 Conference’. It was originally identified as Ipheion uniflorum but was superior to any other form in cultivation so was given the cultivar name ‘Rolf Fiedler’ and has now had the species attribution removed. There is some disagreement as to whether or not it belongs to this species or another one altogether but there is no disagreement that this is a fabulous plant and well worth growing.
The leaves are broader and more grey than other forms. The floral parts are also broader and oval, of a pure sky blue, fading to a white throat with a dark line on each. It is also sweetly scented. However, it would seem that it might be less hardy than other forms and a little more difficult to grow.

Ipheion ‘Jessie’ was raised from seed of ‘Rolf Fielder by Tony Hall at Kew and named for his late sister, Jessie. It is similar to its parent but has a much deeper blue colour. 

Ipheion ‘Tessa’ A new form released in 2011, it has dark pink flowers with a darker midrib.

They should all be grown in sun or light deciduous shade in a well drained, sheltered position. They can be propagated by division of the bulbs during their dormant period in summer or by seed – you might even find an exciting new cultivar!

Having found out so much about ipheion I went to have a look at my small patch, the name of which I don’t know but might well be ‘Wisley Blue’. As I studied the flowers, I realized, not for the first time, that looking closely brings rewards. I understood the structure of the flower and, even though very small, its great beauty. And then I noticed that some flowers on the edge of the clump were paler in colour, almost white with purplish midribs. Admittedly, not good enough to send me dashing for the phone but interesting, nevertheless. Perhaps I will save seed and see what I get and, certainly, I will search out some other forms to add to my collection. But most of all I will enjoy the flowers of this South American native that’s found a home in our gardens.


What’s your favourite snowdrop?

What’s your favourite snowdrop?

Nearly everyone loves snowdrops, whether in white drifts or up close in detail. Two even found their way into our Top 30 that we compiled a couple of years ago.

We have members who have become more and more interested in growing snowdrops, intrigued by the small differences between the many hundreds of cultivars and the human stories that go with them. Before the flowers disappear until next season we have asked them for their particular favourites this year.

Karin Proudfoot

‘Natalie Garton’,  so good I bought it twice!

What a dilemma – especially difficult because, as the snowdrop season progresses, a number of ‘favourites’ come and go.  Among the earlier ones, ‘Gemini ex PC’ stands out, and real whoppers like ‘Yvonne Hay’, Fred’s Giant’ and (with local interest) ‘Gravesend Giant’, followed by the later-flowering ‘Big Boy’.  Then there are those with conspicuously marked flowers, in particular ‘South Hayes’ and ‘Trumps’ (a much better do-er than ‘Trym’).

But it is one of the later-flowering G. elwesii hybrids that catches my eye year after year.  ‘Natalie Garton’ has the typical broad glaucous elwesii leaves, and large, substantial flowers with well-rounded outer petals, held well above the foliage, that really stand out in the garden.  It is also very vigorous and quickly forms good-sized clumps.  It’s named for Natalie Garton who died in 1996, and used to distribute it from her garden at Ramsden, Oxfordshire, but I know nothing more about her.

Galanthus ‘Natalie Garton’

I originally bought it from Avon Bulbs, only to succumb to its charms again a few years later at an HPS Galanthus Group Day, having quite forgotten that I already had it.

I think that says it all!

Elizabeth Cairns

Our love of snowdrops arose because they cheer us up so much when winter’s cold dankness and gloom seems to be interminable. They are the essence of hope and renewal. For this reason the autumn flowerers such as Galanthus reginae-olgae and Peter Gatehouse bloom too soon to be of use. But those that are in flower in December just around the shortest day are especially precious. Even on the most dismal winter day I can’t resist venturing out to check their progress. 

Three Ships is lovely but my absolute favourite is Mrs McNamara. Tall and beautiful with impressive large leaves she is always in flower by Christmas. She multiplies most generously forming a substantial clump in as little as three or four years. She was apparently named after Dylan Thomas’ mother-in-law and this poetic connection adds to her charm.

Galanthus ‘Mrs. McNamara’

Anne Smith

So, Ginny asked, ‘What is your favourite snowdrop?’ So difficult to answer! According to my husband they are all white flowers with bits of green. Not strictly true but perhaps he has a point. Why do we get so excited about snowdrops? I think it is because they are the harbingers of spring. A promise of things to come in the depths of winter, when the days are dark and dingy.

A snowdrop carpet at Welford Park

Back to the original question. My favourite? – this varies, so perhaps I am fickle. I love sheets of Galanthus nivalis, such as the spectacular display at Welford Park, naturalised under beech trees. I have fond memories of naturalised G. nivalis in woods near my grandmother’s cottage.

I love ‘Dionysus’ a double which is lovely from above with twin green spots on the base of the outer segments. ‘Augustus’ is a robust plicatus with seersucker globular flowers. ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ is a neat prolific double. Another ‘Lady’,  ‘Lady Elphinstone’ is a double with a ‘scrambled egg’ centre. ‘Mrs McNamara’ named after Dylan Thomas’ mother in law, is an early flowerer out before Christmas and lasting for about six weeks.

‘Bertram Anderson’ for all its apparent vulnerability, has stood up proudly in adverse weather and winds. ‘South Hayes’ has a lovely shape like a pixie hat, inner segments with a large green mark across the segment and edged with a narrow white border. ‘E A Bowles’ is a lovely pure white poculiform flower whereas ‘Diggory’ has seersucker petals forming a globular flower. ’Grumpy’ makes me smile, with its markings looking like a grumpy face. All of the above do well in my garden, which is on clay. I have much more trouble growing the ‘yellow’ forms which I find need better drainage.

As I said so much choice! Which would I recommend? I think the ones which do well in your soil and bulk up well. One of the first ones I bought was ‘Straffan’, an old Irish variety from 1858. It is apparently the third oldest cultivar grown. It has stood the test of time, as has ‘S. Arnott’ with its honey scent. My favourite, if I only had to pick one? Oh dear, I can’t make up my mind! Ok, if pushed, ‘S. Arnott’ because it is prolific, honey scented and a ‘good doer’.

However ask me again and it will have changed.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’

Sue Robinson

Galanthus plicatus ‘Diggory’

Basically, I love all my snowdrops and especially those in flower at the time. ‘Lady Elphinstone’ is a favourite. I love its butter yellow inners. ‘Three Ships’ is great mainly because it is usually out at Christmas and the earliest of mine to flower. I love the seersucker effect flowers of ‘Diggory’ and ‘Trymposter’ is a good ‘Trym’ seedling. ‘E. A Bowles’ is a nice poculiform and stands out well in the borders and ‘Green of Hearts’ is special.

I could go on!

Ginny Oakes

My favourite snowdrop this year? Is it possible to choose just one? Should it be an old variety that I’ve known for years or a brand new one that’s suddenly taken my fancy? Could it be ‘Yvonne Hay’, which is new to me? It’s very large in all its parts so certainly grabs attention. Or could it be the small and delicate double ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’, which is so lovely viewed from above with the tiny sinus marks visible between the narrow outer segments?

However, I’m afraid I won’t be picking either of them because my absolute favourite is Galanthus plicatus ‘Percy Picton’. It has bulked up well, is very floriferous and the blooms last well and don’t seem to be spoiled by wind and rain. But it is the way the flowers are held on very long pedicels, on tall scapes well above the foliage that I find so attractive. It has a certain poise and, amongst all the other snowdrops I grow, a unique presence.

It’s a gem and I love it!

Galanthus plicatus ‘Percy Picton’

Many thanks to all our contributors for sharing your favourite snowdrops with us. 

Fab Feb

Fab Feb

We’re certainly NOT having a very fab February, are we? It was, therefore, something of a relief to get away from the wind and rain to spend time amongst friends for some plant chat at our meeting last week.

Our speaker Philip Oostenbrink was excellent, explaining the history of the gardens at Canterbury Cathedral as well as describing how they are now and his plans for the future.

Thank you to members who braved the elements to pick something for the display. As you can see it was much appreciated.

We didn’t have as many coloured stems as we hoped but one member brought stems of Tilia platyphyllos ‘Rubra’. These were cut during the regular pruning of some pleached limes so show the bright colour of new growths, in this case a beautiful deep reddish brown. (Apologies for the background curtain but you get the gist!) I haven’t heard of limes being use for winter colour before but this was the second example I’ve seen in as many weeks. The first was on my visit to the Sir Harold Hillier Garden, where I saw Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’. It looked to me that these trees were going to be pollarded to encourage coloured new growth and to keep them small.

Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’ at the Sir Harold Hillier Garden

At the other end of the scale, a plant with tiny flowers, Xenoscapa fistulosa, from south west Africa  – Namibia and Northern and Western Cape, South Africa – drew a great deal of attention. They must be the smallest flowers of any of the Iridaceae species. but have quite a strong perfume – I thought they smelled like bluebells. It grows from small corms, which go dormant in summer, and needs the protection of a cold greenhouse.

More colour was provided by a stunning double pink camellia and a bowl ofbeautiful hellebores, some in shades of yellow and others, both double and single, in dark purples. How I would love to have a collection like that.

Inevitably, we had snowdrops – it was February after all – and Galanthus ‘Big Boy’ was singled out for most comment. White was repeated in Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’.

Another member had brought leaves of Bergenia ‘Balbithan’. They were a beautiful rich red, even more stunning when they catch the sun. A small plant, bought at a plant fair, has bulked up very well but we haven’t been able to find out any more about it. However, the ‘Kent Group Sleuths’ are on the case and we will let you know if and when we find out more. If any members have any more information do please let us know.

Bergenia ‘Balbithan’

I hope you have enjoyed finding out about some of the plants our fellow members are growing and many thanks to all the contributors for bringing their plants to show us.

Sir Harold Hillier Garden

Sir Harold Hillier Garden

I recently visited the Sir Harold Hillier Garden in Hampshire to see the Winter Garden and was lucky to have one of the very few lovely days we’ve had this winter. The garden is very impressive – not as awsome as, say, Anglesey Abbey, where there are large plantings of winter colour, but it has many more different and unusual plants and, what’s more, they were nearly all labelled! There was quite enough to keep me, and my camera, happy for some hours


You are greeted at the entrance by a planting of white-bark birches amidst a red and gold sea of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’.

The theme continues with various cultivars of Cornus alba, sericea and sanguinea around the garden.
Cornus sanguinea is our native common dogwood, a plant of chalk soils, with greenish, red-flushed stems and rich purple autumn colour. It grows in most of Europe and western Asia.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Cornus sanguinea ‘Magic Flame’

Cornus sanguinea ‘Green Light’

Cornus sanguinea ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’

By far the most popular cultivar is, of course, C.s. ‘Midwinter Fire’, which found its way into our Top 30. See more about it here. C.s. ‘Green Light’ is more subtle in its colouring and would appeal to those who find the bright colours a bit garish. The RHS website tells us this is an accepted name but I couldn’t find any more details. C.s. ‘Magic Flame’ is very well named for its bare winter stems coloured orange-yellow with bright red tips. It has the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. C.s. ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’ has also received this accolade and is said to be one of the best cultivars for vigour and winter colour. It has orange-red flushed stems and I certainly have never seen a brighter one.

Cornus sericea, red osier dogwood, comes from north America. It is a vigorous, suckering shrub with dark red winter stems but is rarely grown in gardens, gardeners preferring its cultivars. The one I noticed was C.s. ‘Bud’s Yellow’, which has yellow-green stems – somewhat unusual, I thought.

Cornus alba, from Asia, is also a vigorous shrub with red winter shoots. It has many cultivars and it was C.a. ‘Sibirica’, with bright red stems, that greeted me at the entrance.

Cornus sericea ‘Bud’s Yellow’

And now I have a bit of a problem. These two look very similar but had different labels. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out much about either. Cornus alba  Red Gnome is the preferred name for this plant, described as being of compact growth to about 1.2m, which seems reasonable considering its name, with foliage that colours well in the autumn. Cornus sanguinea ‘Viridissima’ is an accepted name but I couldn’t find any other details. I like them both, for their colour and their cross-stemmed texture so will be looking out for them. Does anyone grow either or know anything more? Do please add a comment below to let us know.

Cornus alba Red Gnome (‘Regnzam’)

Cornus sanguinea ‘Viridissima’

Salix is another genus that provides winter colour and I noticed two very different cultivars. The first, Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’, has bright gold stems – vitellina means ‘like the yolk of an egg’. The other, Salix ‘Blackskin’, a name only tentatively accepted by the RHS, has very dark stems, which look good with a light background as here againt pale grasses.

Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’

Salix ‘Blackskin’

White can also be very striking in the garden. I saw three different species of Rubus, all from Asia, with prickly stems covered with white, waxy bloom.
R. cockburnianus is a strong-growing species with arching stems. This one is the cultivar ‘Goldenvale’, which has fern-like yellow leaves in the summer.
R. biflorus is semi-erect species with especially white stems.
R. thibetanus is another semi-erect species with purplish stems covered with white bloom.
They all have the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit and need considerable space so can be seen at their best in a large garden like the Hillier Garden. 

Rubus cockburnianus ‘Goldenvale’ with Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

Rubus cockburnianus ‘Goldenvale’ with Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

Rubus biflorus

Rubus thibetanus

There are also many birches with white bark and I particlarly admired a fine Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Jermyns’, which is a form selected and named at the Hillier Nursery.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Jermyns’

And, if we’re thinking about white, we can’t ignore snowdrops. There weren’t many in the garden but I did notice an unusual one, Galanthus ‘Mrs. W.M. George’, which was named after the wife of the Head Gardener at the Hillier Nursery. It’s a beautiful, strong, tall and very robust-looking cultivar. 

Galanthus ‘Mrs. W.M. George’

Getting back to colour, several plants stood out because of their red colouring.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’

Camellia sasanqua ‘Crimson King’

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Rubin’

Nandina domestica Obsessed (‘Seika’)

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’ is a very common plant, disliked by many, but who can argue with this beautiful red colouring picked out by the winter sunshine?
Camellia sasanqua was introduced from Japan and has many cultivars, most of which do not do very well outside in this country. However, ‘Crimson King’ bucks this trend and is one of the most reliable and prolific flowering. Small, single, fragrant flowers are scattered over a large open shrub. It has the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit and I thought it was a wonderful sight.
Most of the hamamelis were over but Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Rubin’ was still stunning so I wasn’t surprised to find it had been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. It forms a rounded shrub or small tree with leaves that colour yellow and orange in autumn but is only slightly scented so, even in the sunshine, I didn’t get a waft of perfume.
Nandina domestica has often been recommended by members but I don’t have one. Having seen this one showing such a glorious winter colour, which could be seen from some distance, I will certainly rectify the ommision. N.d. ‘Seika’ is a compact form, reaching about 75cm, which can be grown in sun or partial shade in a well-drained border or in a pot. I look forward to finding one.

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’

Sarcococca hookeriana var. hookeriana ‘Ghorepani’

The other thing we look for in the winter garden is perfume and I certainly found it in these two shrubs. Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is another plant raised at the Hillier Nursery. It is very popular with our members and was placed at No. 2 in our Top 30. You can see all about it here.
I noticed the sarcococca from quite a distance for its fragrance and distinctive flowers. There is a post in our blog about sarcococca here but it doesn’t include this cultivar. According to the Sarcococca National Collection holder, it was named after the village in Nepal where it was discovered by plantsman Christopher Grey-Wilson in 2000. It will grow to about 1m in height and needs a well-drained soil in shade. It has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit. I think it too will have to be added to the wants list.

There were so many more plants: hellebores, bamboos, ash, conifers, magnolia, tilia, prunus, mahonia oak – the list goes on and on. I really enjoyed my visit to a very interesting garden and hope you like sharing it with me.

You can see a gallery of all the images here.

The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

Jeanette Lerwill reports on our meeting in November 2019 when Val Bourne talked about The Winter Garden.


It’s always good to have a talk from a fellow HPS member, and a very longstanding one at that. Val joined the HPS in 1970, initially to take advantage of free seeds for a garden she was creating; her Yorkshire roots made her thrifty so free seeds were very welcome. She has made many friends through the organisation and, despite being hard of hearing since birth, she became a teacher, garden writer and all round garden guru.

A move in 2004 from Hook Norton to Spring Cottage, Cold Aston, in the Cotswolds, with its one-third of an acre of garden meant a change of soil and weather conditions. A harsh climate makes it cold, windy and wet – already this winter they have had 2 inches of snow and it’s only November.

Val described her style as ‘shoehorn gardening’, tending to be totally overplanted and containing too many flowers! This is something I think most of us can identify with when you love plants. The garden is also organic and she describes it as a ‘living jigsaw’ (also the title of her latest book).

Val mentioned the importance of seasonal light in the Northern Hemisphere, which backlights grasses and tall perennials. The perception of colour also changes in softer light, and low sun picks up detail, making her in love with her garden and particularly keen to maximise these natural enhancements. Unlike many gardeners, who try to provide year round interest all around the garden, Val has borders that peak in each of the four seasons.

In the garden generally Val uses few trees, there is a woodland area at the bottom of the garden which she feels, if she were planning the garden now, she would move to the top due to the poor drainage at the bottom of the slope. Trees are needed to add scale, shelter and shade. She particularly likes Betula ermanii ‘Grayswood Hill’ with its pinkish bark, which is underplanted with ophiopogon, cyclamen and eranthis. To add structure to the winter garden there are colourful stems of Rubus thibetanus, Salix alba ‘Britzensis’ (which are both pollarded), Cornus alba and C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’. This last cornus is not cut to ground like C. alba but is trimmed by around a third each year. Evergreen shrubs such as box are also used, and are topiarised into balls and chickens. These were all grown from cuttings, and a tip Val passed on was to use four or five cuttings to make a box ball as they fill out much more quickly, although she suggested using only one for a pyramid. Val also believes that box pyramids are less susceptible to blight than box balls, possibly due to wind movement, blowing away the spores. Although there are evergreen shrubs for structure, with sarcococca and skimmia in containers, Val admits to not having progressed to conifers yet! Evergreen ferns such as Polystichum setiferum (Divisilobum Group) ‘Herrenhausen’ and polypodium are used to introduce texture in part shaded areas. For early scent she recommends Lonicera x purpusii.

As the site slopes away the spring garden is sited at bottom of the garden. Hellebores, purchased from her good friend John Massey, include some of Rodney Davey’s ‘ladies’, namely Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’, H. ’Molly’s White’ and H. ’Penny’s Pink’. Snowdrops are a great love, but not the expensive rare ones; she is particularly keen on the Greatorex doubles with mostly Shakespearean names, and the pixie hat-shaped Galanthus ‘South Hayes’ which she finds easy. Other favourites are G. ‘Viridapice’, G. ‘Augustus’ and G. ‘Blewbury Tart’. The spring garden is also home to winter aconites, Cyclamen coum and Narcissus ‘Cedric Morris’, which can flower as early as mid-November. Iris unguicularis are not far behind, and a particular recommendation is I. u. ‘Walter Butt’, which has large flowers and, if picked in bud, will open in the warmth when brought inside. Another particular favourite of the spring garden is Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’, which was introduced by Bob Brown and named after his wife. 

Iris unguicularis

Galanthus plicatus Augustus’

In the south-facing summer border Val grows oriental poppies, with Papaver orientale ‘Karine’ being a particular favourite, although most of her stock was lost due to mildew. She then went on to describe her autumn planting, which is around the edge of the garden and includes grasses, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, along with Kniphofia rooperi and perovskia, which surprised her by its ability to cope with the harsh conditions. However, grasses such as pennisetum and also penstemons do not seem able to cope, due to the high rainfall.

To help plants which require somewhat drier conditions, Val places rocks around plantings of salvias and Stipa tenuissima. The rocks reflect heat up on to the plants.

Little mention of colour was made during her talk, although Val believes red to be of particular value in the winter garden and seems to ‘pull’ all other colours together. Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ and the hips of roses being favourites.

It was very interesting to hear first-hand the experiences of such a knowledgeable hardy planter, gardening in what sound like quite inhospitable circumstances.

Jeanette Lerwill

Late Summer Colour

Late Summer Colour

A report by Robert Lines on our meeting in October 2019 when Derry Watkins spoke on ‘Late Summer Colour’ 

A fine and dry afternoon displaying some good autumn colour provided an appropriate backdrop to Derry’s talk. She started by saying that although the arrival of spring rightly galvanises all keen gardeners into action, the potential downside is that gardens that bloom in April, May or June can become rather drab by the summer. As summer is a great time to be in and to enjoy the garden, her message was to make sure it was colourful! To this end, Derry professed a liking for plants that bloom from June onwards and into autumn. As illustration, she devoted her talk to the attributes of about 60 plants taken from her garden.

I have to say that I was impressed by her wide selection and sharp slides but unfortunately space limits a description of them all, so I have picked a number of plants that particularly appealed to me.

Heptacodium miconioides, a favourite tree of Derry’s. Elegant drooping leaves and fragrant white flowers certainly catch the attention, but after petal fall at first frosts the calyxes remain and turn gradually to burgundy. Furthermore, in winter some of the young branches turn red and, as a bonus, scarlet berries are occasionally produced. See image above.
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’ (to 5ft). Described as a handsome self-supporting plant that has elegant white spires of flowers in midsummer, then dark seed heads that last through the winter.
Romneya coulteri or California Tree Poppy (to 5ft) with large white flowers in July and August. It likes poor soil but is prone to flop! Can be invasive once established and resents root disturbance.
Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’. Derry commented that this was her favourite phlox – fragrant blue lilac flowers that really stand out in the evening light, flowering from July to September.
Thalictrum delavayi ‘Splendide’. Clouds of purple flowers on burgundy stems from a lacy mass of green foliage. July, 4-5ft.
Selinum wallichianum. Blooms in late summer with large white umbels and purple flushed leaves, to 4ft.
Hesperantha (formerly Schizostylis) coccinea ‘Major’ (crimson flag lily). A great plant for the autumn producing large red flowers on stiff stems. Likes sunny positions in moist soil.
Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’. Rich blue flowers in branched panicles from early to mid-autumn, 4ft. Derry pointed out that, like the phlox, the flowers really glow in the low autumn light.
Crocosmia paniculata ‘Cally Sword’. Grown for its form and foliage with huge pleated leaves and heads of orange flowers, 5ft. Good for a mid-border location.
Amsonia illustris. The light blue flowers in open panicles are produced in late spring and early summer, but its real beauty is revealed in the autumn, when the leaves turn to gold.
Hylotelephium (formerly Sedum) ‘Red Cauli’. Magnificent raspberry-red flowers on arching purple-red stems in late summer, attractive purple-grey foliage. Height 1ft, spread 2ft. What’s not to like!

Although Derry focused on late summer colour, she did mention some plants that provide interest during the winter months:

Corydalis temulifolia ‘Chocolate Stars’. Derry’s favourite winter foliage plant – green summer leaves turn chocolatey then red in spring, while striking dusty-violet flowers appear from February to May. Good in any aspect.
Arum italicum subsp. italicum ’Marmoratum’. Dormant in the summer, but from September produces up to 18inch-long spear-shaped, mid-green, cream-veined leaves that last all winter. White spathes emerge in the spring, followed by red berries if planted in a sunny position.

This was an engaging talk, much appreciated by the audience, and supported with a great range of plants for sale from Derry’s nursery.

David Way honoured with a snowdrop

David Way honoured with a snowdrop

David Way, one of our founding and most distinguished members, died last October. We published an obituary in the Winter 2019 Newsletter, which is reproduced on this website here.

He was a very keen galanthophile so it was a pleasure to see the news in the latest edition of The Hardy Plant Society Galanthus Group Newsletter that he has a new snowdrop named for him. Lyn Miles, Editor of the Galanthus Group Newsletter, and Margaret and David MacLennan, holders of the National Collection, are pleased to have their article reproduced here.


A new naming from the National Collection (Scientific) of Margaret and David MacLennan.

Members of the HPS Snowdrop Group will  be familiar with the erudite contributions of the late David Way to this Newsletter and other publications on many aspects of snowdrop cultivation. David and Anke were early contacts as we sought to build up our National Collection and provided much encouragement and useful advice.  They also generously let us have a number of David’s finds including his now well known ‘Hunton’ series – the elwesii, ‘Hunton Giant’, and two nivalis, ‘Early Bird’ and ‘Early Riser’.

In 2011 David also gave us an unnamed G. elwesii which he described in a letter  as “a large flowered green tipped selection with highly glaucous leaves and a very distinctive appearance.”  In cultivation with us it proved to be a good grower with darkish green/glaucous leaves with an almost prostrate to slightly arching habit and an erect inflorescence of some presence, about 15 cms high.  The substantial single marked flower with 6 – 8 light green lines on the outers was favourably commented on by visitors and we felt that it was distinct enough from other green tipped elwesiis to merit naming.  Anke kindly consented to its being named for David and it has now been registered with the KAVB as Galanthus elwesii ‘David Way’.

It would be difficult to think of a better way to honour David’s memory. Galanthus elwesii ‘David Way’ certainly looks to be a wonderful plant and one that many of us will want to add to our collections one day.

Lyn Miles added, “The snowdrop looks super – David would have approved!”