Mar 012016

Plants are sending out growth as we approach spring. This is the last opportunity to complete any formative pruning. Take the opportunity to manage your plant collection and develop frameworks for the coming growing season before cuts bleed with the flow of sap.

Viburnum fresh growth

Viburnum fresh growth

Rose fresh shoot

Rose fresh shoot

Paeony emerging

Paeony emerging

Apr 092013

With leaves unfurling and flower buds poised to burst Viburnum buddlejifolium is an open growing wide spreading semi evergreen shrub native to Central China. In its present stage of development the red colouration of the tightly packed flower buds contrasts against the sepals, covered in white hairs. A highly attractive combination, not improved upon as full bloom stage is reached.

The new leaves are covered in brown felty indumentum on their undersides. Lanceolate in shape these are always produced opposite one another on the shoot. In the wild growing in its optimum range of 1000 – 2000 metres as forest understory vegetation through the Province of Hubei these sprawling shrubs can reach five metres in height with as much, if not greater spread.

Viburnum buddlejifolium. Photo by Tony Garn

Viburnum buddlejifolium

Viburnum buddlejifolium. Photo by Tony Garn

Viburnum buddlejifolium


Mar 122013

This plant is worth a closer look as the buds expand and the embryo foliage emerges from tight buds. Specimens of Viburnum furcatum are planted near the upper woodland garden. The fresh young leaves are covered in brown felt and exhibit distinct structural venation; as worthy as any scented blossom in attracting passing attention. The older wood, pock marked with lenticels, the young shoot covered in white down. It was collected as seed from a two metre high deciduous plant near, Amori Prefecture, Honshu in Japan. There it was growing as understory in Fagus crenata woodland with Sasa kurilensis at 880m.

Viburnum furcatum. Photo by Tony Garn

Viburnum furcatum

Viburnum furcatum. Photo by Tony Garn

Viburnum furcatum

Viburnum furcatum. photo by Tony Garn

Viburnum furcatum

Dec 282011
Euryops chrysanthemoides. Photo by Tony Garn

Euryops chrysanthemoides

Following the coldest and snowiest December (2010) on record, the respite from fresh snow over the New Year period lasted until 6.00pm on the evening of January 7th. Yes, at 7.30am on the 8th January, we were snowploughing the Garden’s roads again. Over the New Year the weather had been dry and the temperature a few degrees above freezing. With the snow melting there were signs of emerging Snowdrops. Frosty nights and crunchy snow underfoot then returned.

The Hamamelis were the main survivors sending out bloom as the lingering snow of the coldest winter, since the snowdrifts of winter 1962-3, melted. The paper thin petals contain minimum water compared to those of the Viburnum x bodnantense hybrids which were slaughtered by the devastating cold. So, as gardeners, we were pleased to see temperatures rising and appreciate the lengthening days as spring unfolded.

The lawns were slow into growth and just as the clocks were about to change and the longer evenings arrive a spell of dry settled weather commenced. This added to the slow recovery of the lawns. We eventually made the first cut on the 4th April, the latest date to commence mowing for the 24 years I have kept these records. In contrast, the Beech hedge leafed out from the 10th April, the earliest date I have recorded.

In the middle of April a mature specimen of Staphyllea pinnata flowered profusely. This was the first time this tree had flowered so noticeably, covered in pendulous racemes of creamy white blossom. This was just one, among many, of the tree species that flowered this year; outdoing previous year’s displays.

Easter became a pink season due to the amount of ornamental Cherry blossom; the traditional Easter Daffodil had flowered and faded.

Woody material continued to flower profusely into mid summer.

Early June saw gale force winds batter the tree collection. As the collection was in full leaf there was significant damage with limbs torn down and a couple of small trees uprooted.

The longest day again disappointed, rainfall and cloud cover. Not a sight of the sun. Just to keep it in perspective there was a frost on June 10th recording – 0.58C

The weekend commencing Friday July 8th saw torrential storms with thunder and lightening. Silt washed down and blocked drains and a lightening strike disabled the alarm panel controlling the fire alarms and climate controls for the glasshouses. Some areas of Edinburgh experienced flash floods with consequential damage. In total over the three days 43.6mm of rainfall was recorded falling in the Garden. That compares to 112.6mm throughout July 2010.

Storm damage to rock garden path. Photo by Tony Garn

Storm damage to rock garden path

Summer was a wash out, cloud, torrential rain and when the sun made brief appearances it was of a burning intensity that sent those follicly challenged dashing for the sun cream. Home grown tomatoes did not have the sweetness of previous sun drenched years and spinach grew like rhubarb.

During August the lawns puddled and squelched as footsteps were placed on them. Mowing became a challenge due to the weight of the machines running over the lawns. Interestingly, seedlings of Plantago major ‘Rubrifolia’ appeared in the lawns. These easily spotted weeds have originated from the red leaved parent colony in the demonstration garden. They had not been noticed as a lawn weed at RBGE in seasons past. Here at the Garden we keep an eye on invasive species and an initiative to look through the Gardens database of living plants and reduce or de-access those plants which are deemed to be invasive is underway.

September arrived with early signs of autumn colour. There was sporadic flowering in many woody species, probably caused by the cold summer and low light levels. The plants confused into believing they had gone through winter and it was now spring and the season to send out flowering shoots. At the garden we were of the opinion we lived through a continual winter this year.

The last few days of September saw a period of warm sunny weather that was all too brief but most welcome. Visitor numbers peaked as the Edinburgh populace strolled through the green space.

It brought its own horticultural problems as the temperature in poly tunnels rose and humidity increased. The foliage of potatoes planted for a Christmas day lunch succumbed to fungal infection and mildew was found on salad leaves.

Ventilation, good air circulation and less water splash is the key to preventing these outbreaks.

The afternoon of 19th October became colder and on the morning of the 20th we had the first frost (-1.58oC ) whitening the lawns. This; coincidentally, is the same date as the first frost of 2010.

November continued mild; the Gardens’ weather station recorded the highest daily temperature in Scotland according to the Lothian’s area of the Met office, 17.2oC on Thursday 3rd November.

One of the downsides of the continuing mild weather are the midges. The team at Benmore were plagued into the tail end of the year. Highly unusual for the midge population to be active so late into the year.

Storm force wind heralded the start of December. The Garden closed twice due to the gales this month and a fall of snow melted overnight as we were reaching the shortest day. A benign end to the year, birds attempting the dawn chorus as we walk to work, cloud cover trapping the warmth, only a few days of frost and the incessant rain. One plant that is taking advantage of this mild weather is Euryops chrysanthemoides, this native South African is flowering with profusion in a sheltered corner of the back yard.

In conclusion, it has been a year that has shown extremes of weather stretching the limits of horticultural practices. One word of advice, the snowdrop and daffodil foliage is well advanced; take the opportunity to work through the borders now, any delay and your boots will crush these spring flowers.

Wrap up warmly and enjoy the New Year celebrations.

Best wishes for 2012.

Feb 132009

Viburnum betulifolium is a strong growing deciduous shrub. It is laden with bright red berries, ideal bird food. The shiny surface must act as a visual deterrent as most are uneaten. These remain on the plant late into the winter; only rarely do I see birds pecking away at the berries. It could be that they are waiting for the conversion of the starch content to sugar to make them more palatable.

A vigorous plant sending out from its base sturdy shoots. These easily reach 2.5m in length forming thickets in secondary forest where they are found in Yunnan Province, China.

Viburnum betulifolium

Viburnum betulifolium

Viburnum betulifolium

Viburnum betulifolium

Jan 192009
Viburnum grandiflorum. Photo by Tony Garn

Viburnum grandiflorum

At elongated bud stage the petals of Viburnum grandiflorum have the shape and intensity of colour of a red lipstick. Holding an exceptional heady fragrance the tubular corolla fades to rose then white on ageing. The dominant silvery lichen growing profusely on the shoots is a mixture of two closely-related species: Physcia adscendens and Physcia tenella. The yellow lichen is Xanthoria parietina.

A stout plant with stocky growth this deciduous shrub produces clusters of flowers from terminal buds.

The plant in the border to the south of the Queen Mothers Memorial Garden is covered in silvery lichen. Raised from a plant collected by Roland Cooper growing amongst Conifers and Rhododendron at c. 4000m in the Thimpu region of Bhutan.

Cooper was funded on this and other trips by A.K.Bulley, a Liverpool cotton trader of great wealth. He also funded other plant collectors to mainly temperate regions of Asia for 20 years from 1904.

Viburnum grandiflorum. Photo by Tony Garn

Viburnum grandiflorum

On return the seeds from these expeditions were distributed to many gardens and collections through Britain. Bulley, in 1911, founded the seed firm Bees which put much new material into cultivation through private gardens in Britain. His garden on the Wirral was gifted to Liverpool University becoming known as Ness Botanic Garden. Cooper went on to be superintendent of Maymyo Botanic Garden, Burma in 1921. In 1930 he joined the staff of RBGE as assistant curator, promoted to curator in 1934 remaining here until retirement in 1950.

There are two other specimens of V. grandiflorum growing in the garden. Neither matches Cooper’s collection for intensity of flower colour. In 1915 Ludlow Sherriff & Hicks collected seed at a lower elevation c.3000 metres also in Bhutan. In 1985 Ron McBeath collected in India, from Himachal Pradesh at 650m. In this area V. grandiflorum was a common shrub growing with Quercus and Pinus.

Apr 112008
Parrotiopsis jacquemontiana

Parrotiopsis jacquemontiana

The deciduous woody shrub Parrotiopsis jacquemontiana is a member of the Hamamelidaceae family and hails from the Himalayas. Plants are found growing in the north-west frontier province of Pakistan on west facing slopes with scree at 2700 to 2980 metres.

The terminal brown felted buds open slowly to reveal the conglomerate mass of flowers, of which the yellow anthers are prominent. Further opening of the bracts reveals the inner white colour. The combined flowering gives a light appearance to the mass of twigs. At this time the new leaves are forcing through at the corners of the flowers. Planted near the road edge within the Hamamelis collection, the twiggy mass is flowering well this year. The individual flowers are relatively attractive but don’t expect the seductive scent that the Hamamelis plants provided. It’s not a thing of beauty when in flower but will attract the botanically interested.

Viburnum carlesii 'Aurora'

Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’

For a delightful scent and showy blooms, walk over to the Demonstration Garden, here Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’ is changing from tight red bud to open white blooms. The scent thrown out from the rounded cymes by a mature plant on a warm day is exceptional.

The species is native to Korea and Japan’s Tsushima Island, in the Korean Strait from where seed was sent to Slieve Donard Nursery in Northern Ireland. Here Leslie Slinger selected out seedlings and introduced ‘Aurora’ to the trade in 1958. It received a well deserved Award of Garden Merit from the RHS in 1984.

Our plant is a very good form, displaying a mass of flowers. In bud, they are carmine red and on opening they’re white tinged pink. Within some of the individual flowers the anthers are prominent, on others subtended. The stigma lies at the base of the tube red in colour.

Leaf growth and development is well advanced, highlighting the flower colour. The plant has a rounded shape with vigorous water shoots arising from its centre.

Jul 112007
  • Chordospartum stevensonii

    Chordospartum stevensonii

    Chordospartium stevensonii a woody Legume from South Island, N.Z. The pink bands of tiny flowers have a delicate scent. Growing by the South facing wall next to the Chilean Area & the Linnaeus Monument

  • Lilium regale three clumps straggling the pathway to the Queen Mother’s Memorial garden, leaning into the light. Muted red buds open white and have a heavy perfume, intensifying as the day warms up
  • Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ . A fine group with dense lilac flower spikes is growing in the demonstration garden
  • Three hybrid tea roses in the Queen Mother’s Memorial garden, ‘Princess Alexandra’, ‘Golden Jubilee’, ‘Diamond Jubilee’
  • Philadelphus x purpureo-maculatus ‘Sybille’ Large white flowers growing in demonstation garden
  • Viburnum henryi is awash with creamy white panicles of flowers, these scent the corner of the wall and path to the east of the Orchid house. A native of Central China, look out for the fruit in autumn
  • Nepeta ‘Six Hills Hybrid’, middle of the herbaceous border release essential oils as the temperature rises.