Having enjoyed several visits in recent years to Kew, I recently bought a book called “The Plant Hunters”, by Musgrave, Gardner and Musgrave. (There are several books with that title). It is the story of several of the most legendary botanical explorers, who brought back exotic plants previously unknown in Europe and England, including many that I saw this summer in The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Fascinating!
Hundreds of thousands of us enjoy gardening and visiting famous parks and gardens. Yet few of us, as we admire the beautiful and diverse range of plants around us, stop to wonder where they come from, and fewer still think about how these plants came to be here in the first place.
How many of us, for example, know that the explorer who found over 300 rhododendron species was one of two survivors of a party attacked in a rebellious uprising and had an escape worthy of a member of the Special Forces; that the man responsible for establishing the tea industry in India single-handedly fought a gun battle with pirates while running a high fever; that the plant hunter who introduced many conifers to our landscape was gored to death by a bull; or that the discovery of the Himalayan rhododendrons resulted in a kingdom being annexed into the British Empire?
I haven’t posted here in a while because I have been traveling in the UK with my family. We visited many beautiful gardens, but one of my favorites was The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Heligan is an old estate that once had hundreds of acres of formal, informal and tropical gardens, maintained by a staff of twenty-two. After World War I, when many of the workers did not return from the war, the estate slowly declined. The gardens were abandoned by the 1970s, while the main house was sold and divided into private apartments.
In 1990, a man named Tim Smit (who later created the Eden Project) was shown the property by one of its owners, a descendant of the Tremayne family that had owned Heligan for 400 years. The property was held in a trust for him and his sister. They hacked their way through brambles and old hedges to find the remaining original garden structures and landscaping. The work they did over decades to restore the gardens, install sculptures and make Heligan a unique destination for visitors is described in Tim Smit’s book, The Lost Gardens of Heligan. This week’s Saturday Snippet is taken from that book:
We had cut our way through dense clumps of invasive bamboo, drawn towards a perfectly formed palm that stood sentinel at the entrance to what was obviously a walled garden. John Nelson and I were on another of our explorations, venturing deeper into the gardens each time. Today we were excited; somehow we knew it was going to be a special day. You can feel these things.
Once inside, we paused for a moment. There was a sense that we were trespassing, that we had come upon a secret shrine. In the gloaming we could see dozens of trees growing thickly together, woven into a solid mass by an extremely vigorous climbing plant that covered everything like a furry blanket. We had never seen anything like this before. Under the trees we could make out shapes at once familiar and other-worldly. This was clearly the area of the garden where the real work had taken place.
I spent the whole month of May posting about lily of the valley-based fragrances on my other blog, Serenity Now, in a series I called “May Muguet Marathon.” While I was doing that and reading a lot online about lilies of the valley, I came across a variety I have long wanted to try in my own garden, Convallaria majalis “Bordeaux.” It was on sale, so of course I bought 40 pips! My teenaged son helped me create a new planting bed for them by spreading many cubic feet of mushroom compost on top of the clayish soil between several old azaleas and the base of our house’s front terrace, a partly shaded area that is well-watered by our in-ground sprinkler system. He turned it in for me; I hope this will provide a suitable habitat! Lilies of the valley do not become invasive here in the South as they do further north; in fact, sometimes they struggle. Fingers crossed that “Bordeaux” finds a happy home here!
I also bought some pips of Convallaria majalis “Prolificans”, which many sellers describe as “double-flowered”, but it is not a true double flower, as can be seen in this photo:
Rather, it has clusters of tiny, single flowers that dangle together from the main stalk, creating the look of double flowers. The true double-flowered lily of the valley is “Flore Pleno”:
I hope my new lilies of the valley find themselves happy in their new home and spread profusely! I would welcome what plant-hunter Reginald Farrer described as “the worst of all delicious weeds when it thrives.”
I love this post from Bois de Jasmin about making potpourri and scenting closets and drawers with lily of the valley! Sadly, I cannot grow it in such abundance here that I can try this out. But my sister who lives in New England has a huge patch of lilies of the valley outside her house where they grow like weeds, so maybe I can get some from her next time I am there in May.
David Austin Roses won another gold medal at the recent Chelsea Flower Show, and founder David Austin was honored with a visit from HRH Queen Elizabeth II. The Shropshire Star notes that both the Queen and Mr. Austin turn 90 this year and had a “good chat” about that milestone. What lovely faces and smiles they both have!
GRACE KELLY, PARIS IN THE SPRING TIME AND THE “WORST OF ALL DELICIOUS” WEEDS
Convallaria majalis var. rosea after the rain
On the wooden table outside our kitchen door I have a terracotta pot of the most elegant pink lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis var. rosea. The pot was given to me as a precious container of newly planted bulbs by my friend the painter, Charlotte Verity . The gift was important as it was a memento of an extraordinary year Charlotte spent as Artist in Residence at The Garden Museum in London in 2010. Here in the shadow of the ruddy castellated walls of neighbouring Lambeth Palace, Charlotte spent a year painting in Tradescant’s Garden – the knot garden created in 1981 by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury around the important tomb of the Seventeenth Century plant hunters.
I haven’t posted Saturday Snippets in a while because of the onslaught of spring gardening “opportunities”! Here’s a short, partial rundown: dozens of Ajuga “Chocolate Chip” planted as groundcovers on a new berm alongside the patio/drainage area we had built last fall, with stones interplanted with Ajuga Metallica Crispa. At least fifteen heucherellas planted under the young Japanese maples we planted last fall in a new “grove” to replace the messy undergrowth in a small sideyard under a huge old water oak. New statue and birdbath also in place. Major pruning back of magnolia hedge in back garden, to edge of mixed shrub and perennial border. New deciduous azalea “Fragrant Star” planted and protected from curious, digging dog. Experimental planting of anemone sylvestris under old azaleas; also protected from curious, digging dog. New heucheras still in process of being planted, including two lovely Heuchera “Purple Mountain Majesty”. To be planted: “Berry Supreme” and “Frosted Violet.”
Today’s chores, in addition to the usual weeding, spraying, watering: plant in containers two new Itoh peonies, bought for half-price from local nursery: “Takara” and “Julia Rose.” Plant nine new Hosta “Blue Mouse Ears” and Japanese painted ferns (they are gorgeous together — try it!). Plant nine new Phlox “David” in sunny border. Plant second “Black Diamond” crape myrtle into pot that matches the first one’s new home. Deadhead David Austin rose “Teasing Georgia”. Spread organic tree fertilizer under recently pruned oak tree. Plant more ceratostigma plumbaginoides under established Japanese maple “Filigree”, the idea being that the leadwort’s red autumn leaves and blue flowers will complement the fall colors of the maple. Finish replanting doorstep containers with summer plants.
However, if I really get a lot done, I will likely treat myself to a field trip to see the new Chihuly exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and that will be worth all the effort!
‘Blue Mouse Ears’, the 2008 Hosta of the Year, is the mouse ears hosta that started it all, shown here with its adorable, well-proportioned flowers.
It is mini hosta time at Carolyn’s Shade Garden where mouse ears hostas are definitely the customer favorite. What’s not to love? Whether you go for the clever mouse-themed names, the round and rubbery, slug resistant leaves, the useful mini to small size, the perfectly symmetrical, elegant habit, the large variety of beautiful leaf colors, the pixie-like, proportionate flowers, or their general gardenworthiness, you can’t go wrong with mouse ears.
Nursery News: You are welcome to shop at the nursery any time by appointment. The 2016 Mini Hosta Catalogue is now on line here, and we are taking orders. Our third open house sale, featuring hostas, miniature hostas, ferns, epimediums, and hardy geraniums, will be held on Saturday, May 7, from 10 am to…