Look out for Rhododendron siderophyllum planted at the bottom of the Chinese hillside. A small plant with evergreen leaves that give off an aromatic smell when touched or following a rainstorm. Flowers are a pink bud opening pink and fading to white. The tubular corolla opens out to spread petals and stamens of uneven length. A change from the large trusses of blooms often associated with the genus Rhododendron at this time of year. Collected on hillsides near Kunming, Yunnan, China at 2300m.
A first flowering at RBGE for Iris zaprjagajewii one of the dwarf Juno Iris. Collected by members of the alpine and rock garden team on an expedition to Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan. A white flowered species with delicate black pencil like lines and a yellow stripe on the falls. By way of contrast, Iris popovii is as colourful and showy an Iris as you will find in any of the sections of the genus. Also in the Juno section this plant is again found in the Pamir mountain range at 2400m, endemic to one area of the mountains where it is scarce. The flower is predominantly a light purple shade through the petals with the addition of a bright orange crest on the falls which resembles a cockerel’s comb. The tips of the falls terminating with a splash of red.
A fine specimen is Rhododendron hunnewellianum, planted by the laundry building near Inverleith House. Best seen from the pathway and lawn nearby as it is a top heavy plant, towering six meters with a mass of blooms covering its evergreen canopy. The flower trusses open from a light pink to a delicate pink/white. The inner side of the upper petals speckled a darker pink. Prominent flower parts with the style extending out to the parameter of the petals. It was introduced from SW China by Earnest Wilson in 1908. The species name hunnewellianum is after Horatio Hollis Hunnewell and his family, in true American fashion, railroad financier and amateur botanist.
Flowering in many gardens is Prunus cerasifera or one of its many forms. A welcome reminder that spring is arriving. A native to the Caucasus and now found growing in many gardens throughout the country. Flower colour is variable from white through pink to purple. This variability is also seen in the foliage, which colours depending on cultivar from green to a dark purple; hence the name “Purple Plum”. The plant in the Garden is a wide headed specimen found growing in the south west corner.
A lot of plants have caught my eye during the past decade while compiling a weekly profile on a seasonal plant of interest. Below are the consistently reliable ones. These are the plants that whatever the seasonal weather, will flower, produce fruit or give exceptional foliage interest. These are the ten to fill your garden with and appreciate for their resilience and growth.
January: Vinca difformis – Myriad white flowers covering a tight tangle of evergreen shoots
February: Galanthus spp. and cultivars, carpets of Snowdrops through borders and woodland.
An image is attached of G. nivalis ‘Sandersii’ growing in the frames within the alpine yard. The Sandersii group of Snowdrops are known for their yellow ovary and yellow tips to the inner tepals. This collection of bulbs is particularly fine, the colouration resembling free range egg yolk.
March: Iris histrioides – Plant tightly and appreciate the vivid blue of these flowers
April: Magnolia campbellii and the cultivar ‘Charles Raffill’ – Superb trees covered in impressive pink blooms
May: Syringa x persica – Scent and compact form make this a choice specimen
June: The deciduous Azaleas – Select a cultivar that suits your colour scheme
July: Lilium formosana var. pricei – compact, impressive flower trumpet and a heady fragrance
August: Desfontainia spinosa – A Chilean native with hanging tubular red and yellow flowers
September: Anemone x hybrid – A classic cottage garden favorite
October: Cimicifuga simplex- Long musty scented spikes of starry shaped white flowers
November: Ginkgo biloba – Golden yellow foliage covers the tree, dropping as a golden carpet
December: Helleborus foetidus – An evergreen perennial providing flower on the shortest day.
So to planting, there is always room in the garden for new planting. We are now at the start of a fresh growing season. The garden centres are filling with a wide array of plants in prime condition. Better still, visit a nursery and talk to the growers, don’t be tempted by short term planting it is too early in the season for that. Look at woody material; shrubs and trees. Make a wise selection and think of the decades of pleasure a £30 – £40 investment will give both you and your neighborhood. Don’t balk at the price, use your wealth to support our industry, this is an investment in your garden, our environment.
Prepare the soil well, incorporate organic matter and remove any large stones. For container grown plants, remove the pot and roughen up the edges and base of the compost root ball. This helps the new roots grow out into the border soil. Set the plant in the planting hole so that the top of the compost root ball is lightly covered with soil when you back fill. Firm and grade the soil in the border to a finished level.
Water gently, flicking some water over the shoots, leaves and stems to freshen up the plant. After all, it has been on a journey.
In the first year water all new plantings during dry spells and keep competing vegetation clear from the base of and around the plant.
Primula allionii seen in pots in the traditional alpine house and colonising the tufa wall in the modern structure too. Also worth a mention is Saxifraga dinnikii alba. Flowering for the first time in the tufa. Once the roots are established in the planting pockets flowering should be assured.
Amongst the array of fine spring flowering bulbs in the alpine house is a pot of Erythronium grandiflorum ssp. grandiflorum. A native of western North America found growing in woodland where the soil retains moisture the year round. Growth rises from an elongated bulb, fresh green foliage and a yellow cluster of dropped petals envelop protruding white anthers. Just one of many spring bulbs providing an early show of colour.
Think remnants as you get out into the garden to tidy up now the days are longer. Birds are looking about for pieces of vegetation to use as nesting material. Do not be too tidy with the rake when scraping it through the lawn. Herbaceous leaves that have lain through the winter are now shredded and ideal as nest lining. The dead leaves soft with indumentum on Phlomis, are perfect as a lining for the egg laying. In the vegetable plot, last year’s Strawberry foliage and dry brown stalks of Rocket will be carried off nest-ward. But more than anything, birds need hedges to construct their nests in. If you are contemplating a boundary division, choose plants to grow a living hedge, not a fence. The pleasure of increased bird life in the garden will add to the enjoyment of the garden. Hedges also add to the natural corridor that enables birds, mammals and insects to move through an area forming local hotspots of biodiversity.
Arabis purpurea is a mat forming evergreen of loose habit. Interestingly the seed was collected from a plant growing on a dark shady dry bank in Cyprus. Here, situated open to the sun and flowering well. The long stalks hold four petalled flowers of a delicate pink with an equally delicate scent. Gradually the individual flowers open around the centre of the terminal whorl of buds. Once flowered and if the seeds are not needed, clip over to refresh the foliage or this species will outgrow its space. It also becomes woody at the base and left too long develops much dead dry leaf at the centre. The growing leaves are covered in a mat of fine white hairs giving a grey appearance to the foliage.
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.