Looking Good in April
Danby Arch and Scilla siberica
Update April 23rd, 2014
Things are beginning to change rapidly in the Garden and plants that were looking good at the beginning of the month are being replaced by other sights such as the orchard trees in flower in the Lower Garden. However this most recent update is devoted to some stunning displays in the Glasshouses. In the Lily House is the showy Crinum maritimum, growing in the pond itself and in the Palm House is the curious, green flower of Deherainia smaragdina in the wonderfully named family of Theophrastaceae. This latter plant is also well known to the staff for its 'cheesy feet' smell!
Crinum maritimum in the Lily House Deherainia smaragdina in the Palm House
The Alpine House is particularly floriferous at the moment with pleiones, fritillaries and members of the Arum family. The member of the Araceae that deserves top mention is the Helicodiceros muscivorus, or dead horse arum. The common name perhaps says it all.
Arisaema sikokianum Pleione pricei
Helicodiceros muscivorus (dead horse arum)
Update April 11th, 2014
Whilst the scillas under the Metasequoia may be past their best, the erythroniums in the Lower Garden look stunning and are obviously very happy with their lot since they are gradually finding their way across the Rock Garden. Things to look at for at the moment are the stunning display of tulips in the Herbaceous Border and the increasing array of plants beginning to flower in the Merton Border.
Tulips on the Herbaceous Border
Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque flower)
Towards the end of March the carpet of azure blue scillas (Scilla siberica) under the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) were putting on a fabulous display (remember to look at their blue pollen). They are still continuing to stop people in their tracks but there will be other notable carpets of spring flowers later this month. Underneath the foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa) the fresh green leaves of the trout (!!) lily or Erythronium 'Pagoda' carpet the ground. The flower is actually a lot more beautiful than its common name would suggest, with nodding yellow flowers and reflexed petals. These will be out in the next couple of weeks and will be stunning. Related to these are the dog's tooth violets or Erythronium dens-canis which can be found in the Wilderness Bed.
Erythronium 'Pagoda' (trout lily) Erythronium dens-canis (dog's tooth violet)
Another plant over by the Medicinal Beds that is currently smothered in flowers is the Magnolia x soulangeana, with its magenta-stained, creamy flowers. There is a fantastic view of Magdalen Tower with this Magnolia in the foreground if you walk to the extreme north-west corner of the Walled Garden. This Magnolia, along with many others, flowers before the leaves emerge making it look 'like a Las Vegas chorus girl, all legs and sequinned" to quote Monty Don (The Observer, 31st March 2002).
Magnolia x soulangeana
Before long this Magnolia will be joined by the more diminutive and less blousy M. stellata, on the other side of the Medicinal Beds from the M. x soulangeana. The flowers of this species are much smaller, more delicate versions of M. x soulangeana and, as the species name suggests, star-like.
Something a little less delicate but none-the-less intriguing is the skunk cabbage, Lysichiton americanus, in the Bog Garden. Another plant whose flowers precede its leaves, the bright yellow single 'petal' or spathe curl around the central stem of male and female flowers or spadix. Related to the Arum purpureospathum mentioned in February, the skunk cabbage is another member of the Araceae whose members rely on flies and beetles for pollination. This would explain the rather rank smell normally associated with this genus. Another trick that many members of this family possess is the ability to heat up the spadix in order to enhance the scent and attract its pollinators. This ability to generate heat is rather rare in plants and is more normally associated with animals.
Lysichiton americanus (skunk cabbage)
A number of other members of this family can be found elsewhere in the Garden such as the Alpine House (Arum purpureospathum) and also the Lily House where you will find the floating water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes). In this latter plant however the flower is rather small and tucked away between the leaves.
Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce)
In the Conservatory the air is still filled with the heavenly scent of Jasminum polyanthum but this is joined by the scented, waxy-white flowers of the citrus trees, Citrus myrtifolia 'Chinotto' and Citrus medica (citron). Curiously members of this genus both flower and fruit at the same time, or rather the fruit you can see now is that which is formed from the flowers of last year and they have not yet fallen from the tree. Look closely at Citrus x paradisi (grapefruit) and you can see the tiny grapefruit beginning to swell as the flowers die.
Citrus myrtifolia 'Chinotto'
Citrus medica (citron) Citrus x paradisi (grapefruit)
Also in the Conservatory is the highly scented Chinese jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), an evergreen climber that will survive in a sheltered spot outside but is much happier grown inside. All in all, your olfactory senses will be assailed as soon as you enter the Conservatory. Another gem elsewhere in the glasshouses, in the corridor between the Arid House and Palm House, is the Australian purple coral pea (Hardenbergia violacea), a climbing evergreen member of the pea family (Fabaceae). This is a woody stemmed, evergreen climber with numerous clusters of deep purple pea-like flowers. Whilst tender in this country, in Australia there are a number of varieties that are available as popular garden plants - a good example of horticulture using native plants rather than potentially invasive non-native plants.
Trachelospermum asiaticum (Chinese jasmine) Hardenbergia violacea (Australian purple coral pea)
And finally in the Merton Border, having been allowed to seed themselves around the plants have now been cut down and already there are signs of colour and the promise yet to come. In the European sections of the border the Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), so called because it flowers around the Easter period, is beginning to flower with its exquisite softly hairy, bell-shaped, purple flowers over clumps of finely dissected leaves. This may be the only plant in flower on the Merton Border at the moment but it is perhaps an appropriate one to be showing its colours first since it is rare in the UK and has been the subject of a reintroduction programme in the Chilterns. How much more fitting could this be in a Garden where plant conservation is high on its agenda?
Merton Border and Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque flower)