Pinus slyvestris 'Aurea'

Pinus slyvestris ‘Aurea’

Prominent to the south of the Rock Garden is Pinus sylvestris ‘Aurea’, the golden Scots pine, described by Rock Garden Supervisor John Mitchell as a classic addition to the winter landscape.

Not that ‘winter’ is the most appropriate title this week – yesterday, the 28th, we made the first cut of the lawns this season, and as if to confirm temperatures are rising and spring is on the way, the brown scales on the rhubarb buds have burst revealing the promise of growth, not to mention the makings of a good pudding.

A grafted scion onto P. sylvestris, the cultivar ‘Aurea’ relies on a prolonged freezing spell to bring out the intense yellow pigments during winter. Close inspection of the needles reveals the deepest yellow at the needle tips shading to light green at their base. From early April, depending on air temperature, the yellow colour reverts to a shade of green until the following winter.

Cross section of Pinus sylvestris 'Aurea'

Cross section of Pinus sylvestris ‘Aurea’

Obtained from Dicksons nurseries of Chester in 1907, this initially slow-to-establish cultivar of our only native pine is now 7 metres in height with a proportionate good spread. The image shows a cross section of stem with the closely spaced annual rings, denoting the slowness of growth each year. The resinous sap is visible spreading over the cut surface. With age, the trunk develops deeply fissured bark and takes on the orange glow of the mature Scots pine.

In the 19th century, Chester became famous for horticulture. The development of the railways contributed to this growth. The ability to supply industrial Liverpool and Manchester resulted in the amalgamation in the 1880s of two family firms, F&A Dickson and James Dickson and Sons, resulting in 400 acres of land in production. At this time they were possibly the largest plant growers and producers in Britain.

fissured bark of a mature Pinus sylvestrisInformation gleaned from the accession cards in the plant records office records this specimen as having been planted in February 1939 in the Rock Garden – presumably it had been grown on in the nursery since its accession in 1907.

A younger specimen is established in the east valley of the Rock Garden. Planted in 1963, it is now in its 45th year of growth and has a misleading stature as it cascades down from the rock above which it is planted.

A young graft of Pinus sylvestris in the nursery

A young graft of Pinus sylvestris in the nursery

As can be seen from the image, a selection of young grafts are growing in the nursery. These were grafted in 2007 by students from the School of Horticulture. As with all plants it is important to have a diverse age range of material where planting and growing space permits. This also allows the students to select good scion material from the growing plant – an important means of determining future plant selection.