Update June 13
The Merton Border is looking absolutely stunning at the moment as more and more plants come into flower and the insects are loving it. The border is a must see on your visit (see the bottom of this page for just a selction of flowers that are out at the moment) If there was just one plant you should make a detour to see it is the calla lily in the Bog Garden, Zantedeschia aethiopica, forming a magnificent clump of architectural bright green leaves and superb white flowers with a prominent yellow spadix. Loved by flower arrangers and a horticultural statement in any garden, provided you can give it the damp conditions it requires.
Beginning of June
It is difficult to choose just a few things of interest when there is a garden full of plants with medicinal, functional and asthetic qualities, amongst many others, that could keep you spell-bound for weeks. But this is our small selection for the beginning of June.
Nymphaea x daubenyana (Lily House)
This is considered to be the first water lily hybrid ever, the result of a cross between Nymphaea micrantha and Nymphaea caerulea that occurred in the water lily tank at the Oxford Botanic Garden. It is not known if Professor Daubeny (1795-1867), the Sherardian Professor of the Garden, crossed this hybrid deliberately or if it happened accidentally. One curious feature of the water lily is its viviparous leaves, that is to say that a young plant arises at the junction of the leaf and its stalk. If this were to be separated from the parent plant and planted it would form a new, independent plant. Incidentally, Oxford's water lily tank and glasshouse were constructed by Daubeny in order to compete with the Duke of Devonshire's glasshouse at Chatsworth where he had first seen VIctoria amazonica flowering. Daubeny was so impressed that he wanted to do the same in Oxford and in 1851 the Garden successfully flowered Victoria amazonica, for which Daubeny charged the viewing Public the princely sum of one shilling We now grow a different species, Victoria cruziana, in this tank, but more of this plant later in the year.
Euphorbia stygiana, E. mellifera and E. x pasteurii
This is a tale of conservation and hybridisation. E. stygiana, an oceanic island endemic, is only found naturally in the Azores and is endangered in the wild due to its inability to regenerate in its natural habitat. The Oxford Botanic Garden took a lead role in propagating this species, as part of an ex situ conservation programme, to bulk it up in order to prevent its extinction. E. mellifera is found in the Canary Islands and under normal circumstances the two species would not meet. However, in a garden setting they have indeed met up and exchanged DNA, the result being E. x pasteurii, a plant with immense hybrid vigour. The three species can be seen growing side-by-side in the family beds, with the vigorous offspring separating its parents. E. x pasteurii is a garden-worthy plant and is now available widely in the trade. However, beware! The promiscuity of euphorbias is such that E. x pasteurii is already back-crossing with both of its parent plants and there is a great deal of variation within the 'species'.
Euphorbia mellifera, E.stygiana and E. x pasteurii
Aesculus indica (Indian horse chestnut)
Native to the lower slopes of the north-west Himalaya and introduced to Britain in 1851 by Colonel Henry Bunbury, a friend of Sir Joseph Hooker (Director of Kew from 1865-1885),who planted seeds of this plant in his family's Suffolk Garden. It is similar to the common horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), from which we get our conkers, but slightly smaller in stature. In the Oxford Botanic Garden it is still sufficiently small enough that the beautiful spikes of pinkish-white flowers can be admired. In northern India its seeds are dried and ground into a bitter flour, called tattawakher. The bitterness is caused by saponins, which are rinsed out by thoroughly washing the flour during its preparation. The flour is often mixed with wheat flour to make chapatis and also to make a halwa (Indian sweetmeat) and sometimes is served as a dalia, (a type of porridge or gruel) during fasting periods. However please don't try this at home, since, unless prepared correctly, the seeds actually contain a toxin called aesculin, which is poisonous to humans and many other animals. The Indian horse chestnut is also used in traditional Indian medicine, for the treatment of some skin diseases, rheumatism, as an astringent, acrid and narcotic, and in the relief of headaches.
Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree)
One of only two species in the genus Liriodendron, L.tulipifera is also know by a number of common names in its native eastern North America; tulip tree, tulip poplar, whitewood, fiddle-tree, and yellow poplar. It is the tallest eastern hardwood, often growing up to 50m in the forests of the Appalachian Mountains and often without limbs until it reaches a height of 25-30m. This, combined with its fast-growing nature and its inherent strength makes the tulip tree a very valuable timber tree. At the moment our tree is covered in nectar-laden, pale green tulip-like flowers with an orange band on the petals, but you have to look closely to see them nestled amongst the attractive lobed leaves. Have a close look at the flowers and you can actually see that they are similar to magnolia flowers with their prominent, fleshy stamens and they are indeed members of the same family, Magnoliaceae.
As the year progresses the soil on the Merton Border has almost disappeared under the plants. The North American and European sections are looking particularly good with the scarlet oriental poppies (Papaver orientalis
), bright pink phloxes (Phlox pilosa
), euphorbias (E.nicaensis, polychroma and cyparissias
), flax (Linum narbonense
), penstemons (Penstemon ovata
) etc. etc. The South African section has not fared quite so well with the periodic flooding that this area has undergone but plans are afoot to bulk up this area with species that are more tolerant of our climate. It is evident, however, that the majority of last year's plants have done exactly what they should have done in this kind of border - they have seeded themselves around. In order for visitors to identify these plants in the general melee of the border we are attempting to keep up with the flowers and provide identification sheets on an A-board situated next to the borders. These are replicated here just to show the variety of plants currently in flower on the Merton Border. To see a film on the development of this border click here
and for more information on the Merton Border click here.