Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Sheffield Botanical Gardens: national plant collection of Sarcococca

S. confusa flowers and berries

Friends of the Botanical Gardens Sheffield gave a talk on Sarcococca a couple of weeks ago. Here are a few notes from my slightly delayed write up.

Sheffield holds the national collection of Sarcococca (Plant Heritage), also known as Christmas Box or Sweet Box. It is an evergreen shrub that is particularly notable for it's amazing fragrance in winter. In fact it's one of those plants many people have smelt, but not known where the fragrance has come from.

The talk was jointly given by the Garden's curator Ian Turner, and John Stirling who set up the collection in 2008. For detailed information on individual varieties, and better photos,* follow the links below to John's Sarcococca website.

There are about 20 species of Sarcococca and the derive from the Himalayas and East Asia, with the possibility of one, S. Conzatti, from Central America (this is still to be clarified). Ian suggested that the best scent comes from S. confusa, S. ruscifolia and S. hookeriana var. humilis. He also said that S. ruscifolia, although not as big as S. confusa, can be trimmed and turned into a hedge. So a possible replacement for those of you affected by box blight.

Most varieties of Sarcococca have three stigmas, though S. hookeriana var.digyna has two, and a majority of varieties end up with black berries, with S. ruscifolia only displaying red berries. John mentioned that only one variety has little or no fragrance, that being S. saligna.

From a cultivation perspective, Sarcococca prefer part shade to full shade, a dream for those of us with north-facing borders. They will also tolerate full sun, and deepest shade too. Ideally humus rich, free draining soil, though I have found that S. confusa to do well in a part of my garden that is boggy, i.e. not free draining. I got the overall feeling that there isn't a garden in which Sarcococca wouldn't grow. And you can grow them successfully in containers too. Sarcococca are slower growing shrubs, and from planting will take a season to establish. Otherwise they require little care other than an occasional mulch.

A large shrub of S. confusa

 S. confusa flowers and berries. The berry clearly shows the remains of the three stigmas.

Soon to flower,  S. ghorepani

S. wallichii with the flowers gone over. I rather like the leaf markings.

 A large shrub of S. hookeriana var. digyna

 The beautiful flowers and stems of S. hookeriana var. digyna

This is just a few of the Sarcococca that can been seen at Sheffield Botanical Gardens. In-depth detail for many of the varieties can be found on the Sarcococca website. Of course, the best way to enjoy Sarcococca is to visit Sheffield Botanical Gardens in winter and into early spring. When you get to the gate, just follow your nose.

*Sarcococca is a hard plant for an amateur to photograph on a rather windy day.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Gardening with ME: gardening in your head

Sometimes I garden in my head.

There are times when I simply have no energy to garden. I don't mean no energy for a few days. I mean no energy for weeks. Throughout January and into February I was unable to do any gardening. Not only was the ME bad, but the cold was triggering terrible pain, so the combination of both meant I had to stay inside and just look out the window into the garden.

When I first found that ME was interfering with my ability to garden, I would think about gardening but would get really frustrated and depressed that I couldn't actually be out there in the garden. You don't get over ME quickly, and you don't want to feel like this on an ongoing basis; it just gets you into a downward spiral.

So I started to explore gardening in my head. I try to put aside the frustrations and instead visualise being in the garden. I'm out there, it's the middle of summer, I'm picking broad beans and the first sweet peas. There I am weeding. I love weeding - it's kind of a zen-like activity to me. I totally zone out and am just in the moment. It's very mindful.

Sometimes when I am gardening in my head, I can get quite carried away. Instead of fantasy fiction, it's fantasy gardening. I let the visualisation process run wild and can see the garden as it will be one day. The bespoke greenhouse on the garage wall filled with salads and greens in winter, young seedlings in spring, a hothouse for my aubergines in summer, propagating cuttings in autumn. The vegetable beds are overflowing with food to harvest and I find that even though my garden is small, I have an over abundance of courgettes and pumpkins; my friends won't answer the door when they see I have yet more to give away. The back border is sunny with sunflowers, rudbeckia, stipa gigantia, cornflowers and poppies and there is a constant hum of bees collecting pollen. The alpines on my alpine wall are bursting with flowers and flow down the wall; the ferns in the long shady border offer cool relief to the eyes in the middle of summer. I'm sitting in the garden with friends, laughing, enjoying life.

And when I 'wake' up from gardening in my head, I find I am smiling, and physically feeling happy. I'm not frustrated about what I cannot do, but hopeful about the future I see in the garden.

Gardening in your head does have a practical element. I've been visualising my new bog garden, what I might move around, what plants I might add, how it will look etc. I had decided to put in a pond in the bog garden, which I mentioned in my January end of month view. But having visualised this in my head and visualised doing the tasks and realised just how much work it would require, I've changed my mind. I can move and add plants one at a time and feel comfortable with this amount of planned work. As I also mentioned in my early January post Gardening with ME: planning the kitchen garden year, I have to be careful where I use my 'gardening spoons', and I do have plenty of plans that will keep me busy in the kitchen garden. So for now I won't be adding a pond to the bog garden. But I'll continue to garden with it in my head.

Of course I'd rather actually be in the garden. But when you have ME, you have frequently have to accept that you cannot do what you want to do. So I garden in my head.

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Tim over at Notes of Nature has joined in with the #GardeningWithME meme, and latest post is on ensuring you have the right clothes and tools when gardening with ME. Do visit his post Getting Comfortable.

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I welcome your comments and thoughts. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, link to this post in your blog, and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.

About Gardening with ME

Twitter hashtag: #GardeningWithME

Recent Gardening with ME posts...
  Gardening with ME: planning the kitchen garden year
  Gardening with ME: sowing broad beans via micro-tasking

Monday, 9 February 2015

Garden visit: Colesbourne Park snowdrops

It's snowdrop time and this year Kevin and I visited the snowdrops Colesbourne Park in Gloucestershire, with our friends Kate & J-P. We were blessed with beautiful weather, and Colesbourne has a great collection with labels that enables you to get up close so you can notice the subtle differences between varieties of this favourite winter flower.

What follows are photos of some of the snowdrops I saw and which will hopefully give you an indication of these differences.

G. Elwesii, named for Henry John Elwes who 'discovered' it in Turkey and who lived at Colesbourne Park

Contrasting G. Elwesii, taller, at the back, and G. Nivalis, the common snowdrop, in front.

G. Ophelia

G. Elewesii Mrs McNamara

G. Hill Poƫ

G. Lapwing, which I was very taken with. The markings made me giggle as I thought they looked like skull and crossbones!

G. Wasp

G. St Annes

G. Lord Lieutenant

G. nivalis Viridapice

And, a carpet of snowdrops.

G. nivalis and eranthis hyemalis

I picked up Galanthus Lapwing, of which i was particularly taken and at £15 was the most expensive snowdrop I've ever bought. I'm putting this in a pot to see if I can bulk it up over a couple of years, before planting it out. I also obtained the double Galanthus, Titania, and Iris histrioides 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'.

I noticed them selling Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus 'Bagpuize Virginia', of which I have about 15 now, for £20 each! I had no idea they were worth that much. For me they are a happy reminder of regularly visits to my favourite Oxfordshire snowdrop garden at Kingston Bagpuize.

Colesbourne Park will be open for three more weekends for the 2015 snowdrop season if  you would like to get up close and spot the differences between them yourself.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

End of month view: January 2015

Welcome to the first End of Month View for 2015. I've decided that this year, rather than discussing the whole garden each month as I did in 2014, I'm going to focus solely on the Long Shady Border. I feel to some degree I neglected this border last year and I know that I'm not entirely happy with it. So I want to see if focusing on it as my end of month view for the year might help me think though how to edit and develop it.

The Long Shady Border - the facts
This runs along the north-facing fence on the right side of the garden. This is 11.2m long x .80cms wide, and includes the Damson Border which is behind the sleeper wall at the top end of the garden.

Garden layout - Long Shady Border on the right

From November to February the full length of the border gets no direct sun. Then during March and April, as the sun starts to get higher in the sky, part of the border starts getting more sun, first starting down near the conservatory, then over this period extending over more of the border until by the end of April the whole border getting some full sun for part of the day From May-August, the whole border gets full morning sun for approximately 4 hours per day. The light then works backwards (ie. compared to March & April) in September and October.

I've broken the whole border down into the 3 subsections, conservatory end, mid border and back border in order to help me with the type of planting. So part sun/part shade plants in the conservatory and mid border, to full shade going towards the back border The latter can get a bit mossy.

So whilst it is predominantly a Shady Border, hence the name, this isn't straight-forward and means that I need to find plants that are happy in shade, but don't mind a blast of sun at times. But...

Yes, there is yet one more factor. Part of the border is very susceptible to flooding. This is the area around the edge of the Cornus Border from the bird feeder to the fence, and extends for about 1.5 metres back towards the conservatory. The rest of the conservatory end to the large bamboo planter can be a damper, but any flooding from further up in the border seems to drain away fairly quickly in this section.

Part of the boggy area, May 2014. 

I've added all this detail as it is important to be clear about all the factors that impact on different parts of the border. It is essential to take these into consideration as I think about how I am going to develop the border over the coming year.

The following few photos from last year give you some idea of how the border was looking. Giving it is a long thin border, it's not the easiest to photograph whole, so I tend to only have pictures of it in sections.

Looking from the conservatory end, July 2014

From the boggy area back towards the conservatory, August 2014

From the mid border looking towards the back, August 2014

Back border, September 2014

Looking from the Back border down towards the conservatory, June 2014, prior to
reworking it, removing the Darmera peltata, adding the Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'

Damson border, June 2014

Some thoughts on developing the border in 2015
First, what do and don't I like about the Long Shady Border? I am really happy with the trees, the Damson, Morello Cherry and Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood', plus Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin' which is a climber, not sure you would class it as a tree. Speaking of climbers, I'm also happy with the Hedera colchica 'Sulphur Heart' in the Damson border. I also love many of the ferns and perennials throughout the border. I'm just not sure they are working together as well as they could.

I'm most definitely not happy about the section that gets boggy. I've umm-ed and ahh-ed over whether to turn this section into a bog garden, and was finally convinced to do so after seeing the bog garden episode of Garden Revival a couple of weeks ago. I've decided to embrace the bog. Some of the plants in this section are happy in boggy conditions but the area needs editing. I'd like to add some ferns, and some height if possible.

I've also decided to add a small pond. I originally wanted to put in a pond, but for some reason changed my mind. I have no idea why. So it's going back in and I'm going to build it into the new bog garden. I do need to think about how I'm going to do this as I think it will need to be slightly raised. This is because I don't want the plants I put in it, and hopefully wildlife to come, doesn't get washed away when the area floods.

Pretty, but I need more colour in the second half of the year

I definitely would like to add more colour to the border. Being in shade, woodland plants are of course most suitable, so I need to add more to complement the plants and bulbs already there: pulmonarias, astrantias (pink and white), omphalodes, bluebells, fritillaries, anemones. I have quite a few epimediums which also have lovely flowers. But as you can see, most of these flowers come into the first half of the year, so I need to think what colour can be added to the second half.

Sarcococca confusa flowering now

And if its not asking to much, I'd like to add more height whilst climbing plants and the Morello cherry take their time to grow. It just feels a bit flat at the moment.

There you have it. The Long Shady Border as it is. Thoughts? Challenges? Mmmm. I'll be looking forward to receiving your ideas to help me develop and grow the border in 2015.

The border now, in snow

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End of month view is hosted by Helen Johnstone, aka @patientgardener. Visit Helen's blog for her January 2015 EOMV and links to other bloggers EOMV posts.