An apt name for a flower that bursts into colour at the start of the growing season. Iris ‘Vivacious Beginnings’ is one of several cultivars new to the alpine house this season. For the second week; seasonal plants of interest highlights the diversity of colour within the alpine house. The team working to cultivate these plants are producing a much admired display that is constantly replenished from the growing frames. One specimen deserving mention is Dionysia afghanica, looking literally like a perfect miniature pin cushion, covered with light mauve flowers. This plant requires substrate drainage and a cool root zone to succeed in cultivation. Here grown in a terracotta pot within a second, larger, pot. Native to North West Afghanistan where it grows through limestone and enjoys shade provided by the cliff faces from the intense sun.
The sand bench within the alpine house contains a swathe of colour. Spring bulbs in full bloom are always a welcome show after the winter.
Yellow, the predominant colour, with Narcissus pseudonarcissus the first of the large trumpet Daffodils to bloom.
Lonicera caerulea var. glabrescens; sparse to flower and when it does, the terminal and auxiliary cluster are small and relatively insignificant. This is a late winter flowering multi growth shrub of deciduous habit where growth becomes a criss-cross of shoots.
It has flowered through from early January into February. The cold frosty nights have not damaged the small creamy white flowers.
The species is widely distributed geographically through the northern hemisphere and consequently exhibits many variants. Several of these wild growing varieties have been described and named, of which this is one. Plants are found growing within deciduous forest areas, reaching around 2+ metres in height.
Unfortunately Bean in his book , “Trees and shrubs hardy in the British Isles” notes “it has little or no merit for gardens but is interesting botanically.” Where better a place to cultivate than in a botanic garden? The botanical interest lies in the make-up of the ovaries that give rise to the pair of flowers.
Deep loamy clay soil suits this bulbous Iris presently in flower in the alpine house. With the proviso that when watering none should fall on the foliage.
Collected last year within the Hazrati-Sho range in Tajikistan where it grew at 2015m with Allium, Eremurus, Rosa as associated flora in lush vegetation
A variable species in flower colour, Iris nicolai has a large flower; purple, white, yellow and splashes of deep red velvet on the falls. Quite exquisite with the early sun striking the colours through the alpine house glass.
Days are lengthening and the soil is warming. At this time of year be aware of the weed population shooting up and flowering. Catch the winter “keepers” now. Many are flowering and others are holding embryo seed pods. Once the sun gains strength the weed population develops. There are exceptions to the, hoe all; control all, theory. Emerging bees are glad of a
nectar sink where they can take on board much needed fuel after the winter. Lamium album and L. purpureum are two self seeders that merit avoidance when wielding the hoe. These vigorous growers have square stems which hold lipped white flowers held tight in to the stem at the leaf axil. These flowers are beneficial to all emerging insects so protect a patch in your garden.
Helleborus orientalis found growing through southern Europe and into SW Asia. Seed to grow this plant was collected in Georgia from a plant growing with Primula sp. on a grassy slope overshadowed with mature Picea and Carpinus sp.
The foliage is infected with the black markings of an often seen fungal disease, Hellebore leaf spot, Microsphaeropsis hellebori. If these spots affect stems then collapse is inevitable. Where possible pick out affected leaves and other parts.
The spores are spread in water so this wet January has seen a definite spread on Hellebores.
The flowers of H.orientalis are hung slightly downwards from the stalk and open from pink bud to white with blush pink. The stalks reach a height of 250mm, young leaves have a waxy feel.
Carpeting the ground beneath Picea orientalis are the remains of cones that have been stripped of seed by the Gardens grey squirrel population. They have systematically worked their way up the tree foraging for all available cones. Standing beneath is like watching snow falling so fast and thorough is the stripping of the cone.
The grey squirrel is a native of North America, the Picea from SW Asia, both growing here in Europe.
Duchesnea indica carries an interesting berry resembling a miniature strawberry. This invasive stoloniferous ground covering plant was introduced from Taiwan where it was growing in sub-tropical rainforest. Quite happy colonising an area of shaded ground within the F beds near Inverleith House. Coping with sub-zero temperatures and a dry root zone.
The flower stalk rises up from the trifoliate leaves; the foliage is also very similar to the true strawberry, Fragaria hybrid. Yellow petals, short lived, surround a mass of yellow anthers fading to reveal the aggregate fruit made of many achenes. At present out of season sporadic flowering and fruiting is occurring. The main flowering season being late spring.
Where this plant is grown it is preferred to keep it within bounds. Fork out the runners and seedlings as they extend beyond the area originally planted.
On the peat walls is a specimen of Gaultheria semi-infera native to western China and the Eastern Himalaya; where it was found growing at 2900metres in the Arun valley on a degraded hillside in amongst Rhododendron and Bamboo forest. In cultivation choose a position of semi shade where the soil will not dry out for establishment and best growth.
The young wood is a vermillion red colour with evergreen leaves that have roughly serrated edges and attractive venation. Fruits range from light to darker purple in colour and are full of fleshy pulp which holds the seeds protectively.
The forecast New Year’s Day storm did not materialise, allowing the Castle fireworks to herald in the start of 2014 with a great colourful spectacle. Storms blew in during the following days resulting in the Garden closing on Friday 3rd. One casualty of the high winds has been squirrel drays; I have never seen so many fallen to the ground. Despite the storms the relatively mild weather continued, yet on the night of the 5th a frost slipped in and whitened the lawns.
With only sporadic frosts through November/December 2013 to mid-January 2014 it was not surprising that tomatoes remaining on the vine in the lean to glasshouse on the west facing wall of the Fletcher Building were still edible.
As the weather forecasters said “January was an unseasonably mild month”. We took a picking of spinach from unprotected overwintered plants at home.
Here in the Garden mowing continued through the winter. Machines were out in both December 2013 and January 2014 topping the sward to maintain the appearance of fine turf!
Edinburgh’s rainfall was below average and consequently we did not suffer from the flooding events occurring in other parts of the country which dominated the news through all of January. In retrospect the most benign winter I have experienced. Very few days of frost and only a smidging of snow here in Edinburgh. We used very little salt and grit on the garden roads this winter.
The second week in March saw a settled dry spell with sunshine, just coinciding with the Cornus mas flowering. The heat from the sun bringing out the scent from this deciduous multi-branched small tree. The previous weekend English strawberries were on sale in the supermarkets; a week earlier than last year.
Dawn on Monday 24th March introduced the whitest and coldest frost of the winter, just as the Camellias and Rhododendrons commenced flowering. The early bright sun took the colour out of the petals as the thaw was so rapid. Having said that we experienced the best season in memory for Rhododendron blossom due to the mild winter weather and no frosts to speak of during the later peak flowering season.
Laburnum trees were laden with golden chains this May. In addition, leaving the garden on Friday 16th May with the sun shining and the temperature just touching 21oc the scent from the long pendulous flower trusses of the Wisteria, another member of the family Leguminosae, growing against the south facing wall in the yard was filling the air. Flowers were observed on other woody species such as Rhaphiolepis x delacourii, an evergreen shrub that previously had not been known to bloom so prolifically in the Garden.
Rhubarb however did not appreciate the weather with less growth and the consequent crumbles on the dining table were fewer than from the lush repeated growth of rhubarb stalks during the cooler, wetter spring of 2013.
This was the warmest spring in Scotland on record with the month of May and the previous 5 months all above the average temperature.
Sudden torrential rainstorms of May were followed by sunshine, and long evenings with bright light.
June and the short torrential rain storms continued. However an anticyclone sat to the NW of Scotland and gave us a week of heat and stillness for midsummer. As usual the Garden remained open until 10.30pm on the longest day and we were inundated with visitors, queues formed to walk through the Front Range. Visitors enjoyed the evening with acrobats in the trees and stilt walkers on the ground.
The smell of creosote liquefying from old wooden sleepers stored in the nursery was an indicator of the heat rising and settling in the mid 20’s. Bees were everywhere, taking advantage of the prime flowering season.
The Poppy meadow cultivated on the front lawn as a memorial to the 100 years since Britain entered the First World War in 1914 was well admired. The meadow also attracted masses of pollinating insects. Flowers continued to be produced on the Cornflower until the frosts of the second week of December.
By mid-August the weather had changed, a drop in temperature and even a warning of the risk of hypothermia for walkers and climbers from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. In the Garden, suddenly, it was topcoat weather.
September was one of the driest for decades, autumn colours commenced early due to the dry soil around the root zones. From the 20th September the Conkers started falling, an exceptionally plentiful crop this year likewise of Beech mast. These distinctive shaped nuts plumped up well. They have a good taste if you can be bothered to split the husk open. Yet, the Sweet Chestnuts were, as usual, their small insignificant shells with no filling. No opportunity for a roasting from our trees. Michaelmas Daisies have also appreciated the September weather. Very little rain fell to spoil the colour of these composites.
Opening the south facing metal clad shed doors mid-morning at the tail end of September, I burnt my hand; the heat from the sun had been so intense, absorbing into the metal.
On the morning of 2nd October the air felt much cooler, even traces of a ground frost on the front lawn where cool air had accumulated during the night. A plant that I remember as winter flowering during the 1970’s; Viburnum x bodnantense was not only providing a good show of colour at this early date but also exuding a powerful scent in the cooler air.
Snow fell overnight on the 7/8th December giving the Pentland Hills a covering. With freezing temperatures at the Garden we had a covering of ice on the paths but no snow. The “weather bomb” that caused disruption on the west coast resulted in the Garden closing for one and a half days over the 9/10th December. We opened on the 11th having checked the garden for damage to the tree collection only to experience heavy wet snow falling. All is not in retreat though; the white buds of Galanthus ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ are evident amongst ground foliage and leaf litter.
It will be interesting to see if the bedding Geraniums still flowering at the back door survives into spring. These are the 2013 plants that suffered no die back last winter and have flowered complacently for 19 months.
Best wishes for 2015. Remember gardens are to be enjoyed for each of the twelve months of the year so plan and plant well for seasonal interest. To make the most of this; wear appropriate warm and waterproof clothing as the prevailing weather conditions dictate. As illustrated by the attached image of a storm blowing through the Garden from the west.