I have nearly completed the third article in the series ‘Plant of the Month’. In July I will focus on border phlox. When I decided on the topic I naively thought that it would be a short article; little did I realise until I started to research the subject, that the history of phlox breeding stretches over 150 years. The names of some of the early plantsmen keep recurring, whether it be peonies, phlox or helenium (the topic for August).
In each of the articles I have referred to the present RHS Plant Finder to confirm the correct name and whether the species or cultivar has an Award of Garden Merit (AGM). If there has been a discrepancy between the RHS listing and the HPS image label, I have deferred to the RHS listing.
My starting point for writing is always the numerous books adorning my shelves, and then I start an internet search. In my professional life I used the internet on a regular basis to update my knowledge, but always took a critical approach when appraising information. I hope to maintain this stance when writing these articles. There are some informative North American sites and published articles in the gardening sections of national newspapers and garden magazines.
However, a certain amount of scepticism is essential. An entry in the ‘Biographies in Ornamental Horticulture’ describes Roy Lancaster as follows: ‘British woody plant expert affiliated with Hillier Nursery. He has named many woody and herbaceous cultivars.’ This compares with half a page dedicated to Margery Fish and other distinguished plantsmen and gardeners.
I am always reminded on my walks that many of our favourite garden plants originate from wild species. I regularly walk the dog around the field just down from my house. For many years the grass has been left uncut. First to make an impressive appearance are the buttercups (Ranunculus repens). They flower about a week later than those in one of the nearby fields but this may be due to the fact that there is more shade. There are cowslips (Primula veris) and yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and many different grasses.
I recently spotted a common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) with a spire of pale pink, two lipped flowers lined and blotched with dark purple and with narrow dark spotted leaves. I spent some time photographing the flowers one evening, with the dog in tow. I am sure he thought I had lost the plot as I tried to get a close-up image that was in focus.
As a result of researching the ‘Plant of the Month’ I have become more discerning when buying plants. Last weekend I decided to visit some nurseries. I shop in Otley on a regular basis and have passed the entrance to ‘Courtyard Planters’ many times but have never explored what lies behind the passageway. I was impressed by the choice and quality of plants available. The herbaceous plants are raised from stock plants at the nursery on East Busk Lane. I treated myself to three ‘regal’ phlox and ‘Otley Purple’ which were bred by Fred Simpson, who lived and worked in Otley.
I then decided to venture eastward to York and beyond. Apart from the usual slow traffic on the A64, I think after 20 years of living in West Yorkshire I have now ‘sussed’ the road system around York. A few years ago I visited Cow Close Cottage (NGS) and they had a notice to say that they had sourced many of their plants from RV Roger near Pickering. It is a traditional nursery which sells open ground perennials between November and March each year. They also sell containerised plants. They had a good selection of plants and I bought another phlox and a peony.
On the way back I made a slight detour to visit Stillingfleet Lodge. The nursery is well stocked with perennials all propagated on site; they specialise in Geraniums and Pulmonaria, but there were many other genus on sale. There were some good phlox and peonies. Surrounding the house there are themed cottage gardens. I liked the information boards which highlighted what was in flower. I stopped off in the cafe to have a cup of tea and a piece of cake before heading back home.
On Sunday I decided to go back east to visit Breezy Knees. This garden is situated in the middle of arable farming land. In the mid 1990’s the owners planted a belt of trees to provide some shelter. As the trees matured they started to develop the garden. It first opened in 2006 and has been gradually developed over the intervening years. Now covering 20 acres it is one of the largest gardens in the North of England with over 6,000 different varieties of plants. There are a number of ‘garden rooms’. Most are planted to provide interest throughout the year. I was impressed by the ‘Phlox and Daylily Garden’. There were between 30 and 40 different species of peonies; unfortunately they had suffered from the heavy downpour the previous evening. The June and Cottage gardens were looking good, as was the raised garden with an amazing display of Alstroemeria. The labelling throughout the garden was good. There is a well stocked nursery; the plants are bought in as plug-plants and grown on but are well tended. One of the staff was working in the nursery checking the plants and removing damaged stems.
I had intended to visit Newby Hall this month but have not had the time. I visited the garden once many years ago when I had dogs number one and two (now sadly no longer) in tow. On checking the website I note that dogs are no longer welcome in the garden, so number three dog will have to stay at home. That is probably a relief to both of us as I am always vigilant with a dog in tow, and probably much to his relief as I stop yet again to take a photograph!
I have published a page titled ‘WYHPS Holiday to Norfolk’. Click here for the link. I will be doing live updates on the holiday on a daily basis and to encourage active participation from members I suggest that the topic is: ‘What image sums up today’s gardens?’ followed by a short description (in one or two sentences). I will upload images emailed to me on a regular basis and include them in the ‘live report’.
Finally, I have now edited all the images on the website so that with ‘one click’ the images open and enlarge in a new tab / page. This means that you do not have to press the ‘go back’ arrow, but you will need to remember to close the windows!
Web Manager West Yorkshire Hardy Plant Society Group.