Agapanthus, to my mind, are one of the stars of the mid to late summer garden. Native to South Africa, they are no strangers to our shores, having been grown at Hampton Court as early as 1692*, but for much of the intervening period, they have been deemed only suitable as greenhouse specimens. However, there are many hardy varieties, particularly those that are deciduous.
Many years ago I managed to germinate some seeds of ‘Headbourne Hybrids’ – one of the most common, and hardy forms – and grew them on in a pot until they reached flowering size. Lulled in to a false sense of security following a few mild winters, I left the pot outside and in the following ‘bad’ winter, like many other people I lost them. Although they are a hardy form, I think we must have had a very wet spell followed by freezing temperatures, which is the ‘death knell’ for so many pot grown plants.
Having heard Steve Hickman from Hoyland Plant Centre, one of the National Collection Holders of Agapanthus, speak about their capabilities as a border plant, I decided to give them a try and they have done very well ever since, seeding themselves about, as can be seen in this image. (fig1) All the advice is that, to grow in the ground, they need well drained, moisture retentive soil, conditions that it is deemed much easier to provide if the bulbs are grown in pots, but mine seem to thrive in the open ground.
We are always told that Agapanthus flower better if ‘pot bound’. Of course, in open ground they are hardly likely to become pot bound, but Steve Hickman’s recommendation is that, when planting a pot of Agapanthus in the garden, assuming that they are in a plastic pot, cut the bottom out of the pot but leave the sides; that way, the roots can get out into the soil but the bulbs will still feel congested, so start to flower. When the clump has become too big for the pot it will split the plastic, but the bulbs will have got used to flowering.
Agapanthus usually come in shades of blue and white; there are a number of varieties with ‘purple’ in their name but they appear to be hard to tell apart from many of the very dark blue forms. At this year’s Tatton Park Flower Show a new variety was exhibited, ‘Poppin Purple’, which would appear to be a truer purple.
There are a number of forms with variegated foliage, ‘Silver Moon’ being one of them, (fig 2) and many named varieties. My own personal favourite is ‘Navy Blue’ which, as the name suggests has a very dark blue flower, and grows to 60-80cms, Another form that comes highly recommended is ‘Lapis Lazuli’ – a compact variety that grows to 40-60coms. (fig 3).
In the past I have struggled to keep the white varieties but now, thanks to two very generous HPS friends, I have some growing well. Blue and white flowering plants go with almost any other colour, but I think that the blue forms associate particularly well with orange and yellow flowered plants. Here they are seen growing with Crocosmias ‘Limpopo’ AGM to the left and ‘Okavango’ to the right. (fig 4).
With thanks to Peter Williams for images 2 & 3, and reference to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine*
There are many reasons to grow Astrantias. I have chosen them as the plant of the month for July but they can be in flower from May to October so any Spring/ Summer month would do really! They will grow in a wide variety of conditions, taking soils from moist to quite dry. They are equally happy growing on chalk or clay soils, thriving in shade or in sun providing there is moisture at the root. As an added bonus, they’re resistant to attacks from slugs and snails. What is not to love!
Astrantias (also known as Hattie’s pincushion or masterwort) have been found in British gardens since Tudor times. Their pincushion heads of cream, pink and green flowers, surrounded by papery green-tipped bracts, were once collected from the wild for medicinal use, but later on became established in cottage gardens, becoming showier as plantsmen and women selected stronger and more colourful forms.
Most plants encountered will be forms of Astrantia major, but more spreading is Astrantia maxima with its larger heads of sugary pink with flatter, broader bracts.
However this one is not sterile and will likely set seed and flower for a shorter time as a consequence. Unfortunately I only discovered this after I had cut my plants back, expecting it to rebloom just like the other Astrantias in the garden!
Here it grows with Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ as a backdrop.
Astrantia major ssp. involucrata ‘Shaggy’ is a variety notable for having flowers that are both large and pure white, tinted green on the edge of each ray floret. It is much desired but plants sold as ‘Shaggy’ often aren’t. The real thing can be told by the twisted nature of the extra-long bracts. Each is deeply cut, with a nipped-in middle. Like other cottage garden Astrantias, the flowers are good for cutting. Unlike Astrantia maxima, ‘Shaggy’ can be rejuvenated by cutting back close to the ground to give a second flush of flowers.
Astrantia major ‘Sunningdale Variegated’ is a yellow variegated leaf form originating in 1966.The leaves form a dense mound which appear in the spring garden. Each leaf is generously margined with a yellow border which whitens first with age and then turns green later in the summer so that the plant appears non-variegated. The flowers are white, tinted green with a slight hint of pink. It is one of the tallest of the Astrantia major cultivars. In my garden it grows in a sunny position as well as in dappled shade under a Callicarpa shrub.
Astrantia ‘Buckland’ is probably my favourite astrantia as I have it growing in several places. It comes into bloom earlier than the other cultivars in my garden but as the flowers are sterile it continues to flower until well into October. Each flower of Astrantia ‘Buckland’ is relatively flat with bracts that are white, tinged green at the tip, surrounding the pale pink flowers. As the older flowers start to lose their colour I prune out those flowering stems, leaving the newer ones in place. Before long another lot of flowering stems will appear giving a wonderful continuity of flowering.
Astrantia ‘Roma’ is a lovely mid pink cultivar that starts flowering in June and continues throughout July. The bracts that surround the central flowers are lighter than the tight central pincushion, giving it a two-tone effect.
My final selection is Astrantia major Gill Richardson Group.
The plant itself is named after the Lincolnshire Plantswoman Gill Richardson, an admirer and grower of Astrantia for which she gave seed from her collection to the Norfolk Nurseryman John Metcalf. He selected a dark red form which he introduced at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2004. For a more intense colour it is best grown in as much light as possible, although I grow it on a partly shaded bank amid dark leaved Heucheras and alongside Persicaria ‘Pink Elephant’.
Astrantias can be divided in spring. Lift the plant with a garden fork and pull the plant apart. Replant straightaway or pot divisions on.
You can also grow Astrantias from seed. Carol Klein collects seed in autumn and sows immediately on to damp compost, covering with a layer of grit. The seeds may germinate straightaway but if not, she then leaves them outside over winter, as the cold breaks the dormancy of the seed. In spring, the seedlings should appear.
The family is Paeoniaceae. The sole genus is Paeonia. Paeony or Peony is a recent corruption of the Latin name. Paeon was a Greek mythological figure who discovered peonies growing on Mount Olympus.
In Medieval times peonies had great medicinal value, the roots and seeds were used for many illnesses, they were a great cure all!
The first two species introduced to Britain by the Romans were Peony officinalis and Peony mascula. There are around 33 species at the present time.
Peonies are derided for their short flowering time, but I think their garden worth is increased by their superb foliage as it emerges in Spring. This is often bright red and most species have divided leaves – some very finely, as in Peony tenuifolia, often called the fern leaved peony.
The first to flower in my garden is the Peony cambessedesii or Majorcan Peony. By the common name, it is not reliable for hardiness. Hence, I have one in a pot and a second planted on a scree bed with its back to a wall of rocks.
The next to flower is Peony daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii, otherwise known as Molly the Witch! This is an easy tall, probably 80cms, plant with bluish green leaves.
Peony daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii are easy from seed. The picture below shows seed sown in Autumn 2019 on the right and seed sown in 2020 on the left, taken this month. Who knows what the offspring will look like!
Peony wittmanniana is one of my more recent additions with pale pink to white single bowl shaped flowers.
There is then a positive flurry of flowering.
Peony officinalis, the common peony with its dark green leaves and in my case it has very double flowers, this is a long lasting peony. I know that this clump is well over 30 years old. It is obviously a very easy one to grow.
At the same time Peony officinalis ‘Anemoniflora Rosea’ which is slightly shorter in stature but has yellow edged staminodes in a single bowl shaped flower.
If you prefer a white Peony, there is Peony emodi, the ‘Early Windflower’ it has single nodding heads with yellow/gold stamens. This is also known as the Himalayan Peony, growing in Kashmir, N.Pakistan and Afghanistan at high altitude.
Species peonies work well in the garden, seen here with Geum ‘Bell Bank’
Tree peonies flower here at the same time as the herbaceous peonies, this is the red Peony delavayi, which can grow to 2 metres and is really a deciduous shrub – as is the yellow version .
Another one flowering at present is Peony anomala.
This is a short plant, maybe 50cms, with well dissected leaflets but not as fine as tenuifolia.
There is a short wait in the flowering time now for Peony veitchii var. woodwardii. This is a short plant – maybe 30cms. I grow this on a wall top and its nodding pink flowers, several to a stem, can be looked into. It has deeply cut leaves and has started self seeding in the border.
The garden interest of these peonies has already spanned from April foliage to the end of May and I still have the main lactiflora season to start!
There is a slight overlap now as the lactifloras take over, but that is a story for another year!
Tulipa sprengeri, or Sprenger’s tulip, is a wild tulip from Turkey and is the latest to flower, usually in late May and June. Introduced to Europe by the German gardener Mühlendorff in 1892, it is named after Carl Sprenger, who published a description of the plant, although the first scientific description was produced by J. Gilbert Baker in 1894 in The Gardener’s Chronicle. So many were lifted and spread throughout Europe that it was thought to be extinct in the wild but, as it is grown in many botanic gardens, the Atatürk Arboretum in Istanbul has initiated a reintroduction project in co-operation with Kew Gardens.
They are elegant plants around 30cms in height with bright red flowers, the outer petals being flushed with yellow. Although they are said to require well drained soil they do well in my garden in a reasonably moist area – see image. I cannot remember how long it is since I first planted a very small quantity of bulbs, but they have self-seeded prolifically. Each year I attempt to lift some and pot them up, but it is not easy to do as the bulbs go very deep and often I am just left holding a flower stem that has detached itself from the bulb.
The Group was fortunate to visit the garden of Helen and Michael Myers on a bright sunny but bracing April day. Fairview’s garden has been developed over 45 years and it is an amazing collection of spring beauties.
Michael told us that he moved into the house with his parents when he was 11 and that was the start of a garden journey, probably quite unlike any other.
He works in horticultural education at Craven College and Ripon Walled Garden now, and over the years some of the West Yorks HPS members have benefitted from his tutoring through the RHS exams and through Plant Heritage courses too. He lectures gardening enthusiasts and our group has enjoyed 3 or 4 different talks from him – his presence always means a crowded meeting room!
Michael very clearly and generously disperses knowledge to anyone who asks him a question – I am sure he was glad to see the back of us all on Saturday, so he could rest his voice!
Helen and Michael have travelled extensively through Europe on botanising treks and there are a number of interesting and unique plants in their garden that have come home with them. They are very successful at, and have a passion for, sowing from seed. Their passion encompasses many genera – galanthus, corydalis, cardamine, hellebores, hepaticas, pleione, spring bulbs of many types – and examples are all grown to thrill at Fairview.
The garden is on a challenging site – a steep hillside snuggled on its longest boundary by huge old trees. This next door tree- and rock-scape is quite ‘Lord of the Rings’, very shady and clothed in moss. An additional ‘field’ was taken on some years ago, and in that lowest area a lovely wildlife pond and a formal sunny area have been developed. There are terraces up to the house, all developed with different styles and plantings. Each has a seating area, creating a friendly feeling across the garden.
As you walk back up towards the house, the terraces make their own personalities known.
At the top of the plot are the greenhouses and polytunnels, sand plunge beds, troughs and pots galore.
Not content with the garden proper, Michael and Helen have also beautified the roadside verges, which were looking marvellous with an absolute carpet of hellebores in one section while further along bulbs were the stars of the show.
A big thank you to the Myers for having our group visit Fairview. It was such a lovely morning and the garden was buzzing with enthusiastic gardeners and bees.
I thoroughly recommend checking out Michael’s posts on social media: on Instagram it’s ‘snowdropman’; on Facebook it’s ‘Michael Myers’. It’s well worth following him to boost your own knowledge from his seasonal posts.
We live very close to Harewood and when our children were much younger we visited regularly, mainly for the very exciting playground. It is possibly 10 years since we last visited, so I was interested to see how it had changed and I thought WY HPS might like to share some of our visit.
These two ‘rogue’ daffodils caught my eye as guardians of the miniatures covering the bankside next to the hill path from house down to the lake and cascade. There were pollen beetles inside some of the coronas.
The Himalayan Garden was evidently having a spring-clean with redevelopment of the bog garden being underway. Not sure if this was due to its age or if the recent storms had inflicted damage. There were signs of tree damage across the grounds.
With the sun out the drumstick primulas were doing a roaring trade in bees and butterflies.
A forest of crispy brown Osmunda regalis stems looked very stately. Adjacent to this section of the bog garden was the most floriferous pink camellia, looking at peak perfection against the blue sky.
Sitting on one of the bog garden seats, we were intrigued by the spidery red ‘flowers’ of a tree that was just coming into leaf. Can anyone identify it for me? From a distance it was a haze of orangey-red.
Continuing up the hill from here we glimpsed the Nepalese stupa festooned in prayer flags.
Nearby was a magnolia with branches sculpted by the wind and light into a waveform pattern and a bit further along the woodland path we spied a very beautifully marked and delicately coloured rhododendron flower.
The walled garden was just being brought back to life with a young gardener sowing seeds directly into the newly weeded and mulched beds. Interesting to see they are trialling hemp fabric as a soil warmer and weed suppressant.
The lakeside was carpeted in Petasites, not easy to see in the photo but look carefully in the foreground for the brownish flower stalks.
Walking back from the walled garden we noticed a rich red carpet of rhododendron petals that were lit up by sunlight. The bark of these rhododendrons has interesting colours and patterns, which contrasts with their strangely gaunt growth habit.
Back up to the House, the parterre garden was immaculate and must have been tended throughout the pandemic. I was stopped in my tracks when I came to the display of topiary in a sea of Muscari and golden grass, maybe Ophiopogon japonicus? Against the dazzlingly blue sky it was breathtaking, and I thought an inspired combination using Muscari, a bulb that some consider a thug, with the shining golden grass.
The sphinx sisters were still guarding each corner of the house, each living under a variegated holly as prickly as their claws are sharp. I always admire the carving of their plaits but avoid their spooky staring eyes. The holly was interesting in its leaf colour – there are a lot of plain yellow leaves amongst the green/golden.
A new woodland development project up near the Church, the Sylvascope Treehouse, was really interesting and will be worth re-visiting as the seasons cycle through. Surrounding the church are some really lovely old trees. Sadly some of them were fallen, presumably after February’s three devastating storms. Those storms, following on from two years of pandemic, area compounding disaster for our large historic gardens. No ‘instant gardening’ can help recovery in these settings – replacing giant trees and re-starting gardening programmes on presumably diminished budgets, will take much time.
Happily Harewood appears to be moving forward in a positive vein. The Sylvascope Treehouse project, part of the Harewood 2022 Biennial, is at the centre of a project to prove the importance of woodland management. It is a really positive new element of the Harewood estate, and a happy way to end our pleasant afternoon visit.
Glaucidium palmatum Siebold & Zucc. – Japanese wood poppy
by Peter Williams
Of the numerous truly beautiful Japanese native plants, Glaucidium palmatum is considered by many shade and woodland gardeners to be the ‘fairest of them all’.
Fig.1 – Glaucidium palmatum flowering in April
Despite its common name, the Japanese wood poppy is not in the poppy family and its true lineage has been the subject of controversy for decades. It has been ‘in and out’ of the Ranunculaceae, and when ‘out’ it has been considered to be a member of the Papaveraceae, the Paeoniaceae, the Podophyllaceae or the sole representative of its own family, the Glaucidiaceae. Modern genetic analysis has ended the controversy and confirmed that it is a primitive member of the Ranunculaceae and the genus Glaucidium has just one species – palmatum.
Glaucidiumpalmatum is endemic to central and northern Japan and is found mainly in mountainous regions of Hokkaido and Honshu where it grows in montane and sub-alpine forests. It is considered to be a vulnerable species in Japan because of historic plant collecting and habitat disturbance and is listed in the Hokkaido Red Book of endangered organisms.
Fig.2 – G. palmatum growing on Mount Higashidate, Honshu
Fig.3 – A pair of shoots emerging in late March with leaves protected by a sheath
G. palmatum is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial that breaks winter dormancy in late March when fat buds appear at the soil surface
The shoots rapidly expand to give pairs of pale-green, maple-like leaves that in mature specimens are wrapped protectively around large, single, pale lilac flower buds that open in April and May. Like many members of the Ranunculaceae, the coloured petaloid structures are sepals and petals are totally absent.
Fig.4 – Newly opened flowers
A white form, var. leucanthemum, was first described in 1910 and is available in commerce (and is even more expensive that the standard lilac form!). It was initially grown as an alpine glasshouses subject although it is just as hardy as the lilac form and fares just as well outdoors.
Glaucidium can be a tricky plant to grow and requires at least partial shade and cool or cold growing conditions to simulate its natural montane habitat. The advice from the Japanese grower Matsuzaki published in The Gardener’s Chronicle in 1925 suggested it should be planted in soil “with plenty of humus” in a half-shaded position.
My initial plants came from a Japanese nursery (Yuzawa Engei on Hokkaido) and I grow them in a north-facing bed that receives just a little afternoon sunshine. It seems to be important to ensure that the plants are not shaded by adjacent plants. In this respect Glaucidium seems to have very similar light/shade requirements to its close relative Anemonopsis japonica and another Japanese woodland beauty, Pteridophyllum racemosum. I grow all three species in close proximity in an infertile, sandy acid soil that is largely free of slugs – a pest that is often suggested to be ‘very partial’ to this trio of lovely woodlanders.
The flowers of G. palmatum are probably self-fertile but I cannot be sure because I planted three specimens in one location and they may be cross pollinating. Seed are freely produced in a very distinctive bilobed fruit that becomes woody before seed release. The seed themselves look quite like lily seed and require a cold winter period to break dormancy. Seed sown in autumn will usually germinate in spring and flowering sized plants produced in about three years.
Fig.7 A group of developing shoots in late March 2022
Having been fortunate enough to have grown these wonderful plants for a few years, early spring is always an anxious time because I so much want them to have successfully overwintered. I looked for evidence of life yesterday (28th March 2022) and was pleased to see that all was well as plump buds were emerging through the leaf litter for all members of my little colony of Japanese wood poppies.
Images courtesy of Peter Williams other than Fig 2:
As the 2022 snowdrop season draws to a close it is wonderful to have photos from my NGS Snowdrop Open Day visit to ‘The Poplars’, in Sutton-on-Trent. Located 7 miles north of Newark, the garden has been developed over 45 years by Sue and Graham Goodwin-King. The weather was unpredictable but at just over an hour’s drive I chanced it, and what a joy it was.
A most elegant repurposing of an old metal bathtub, landscaped to mimic a woodland scene. The snowdrop cultivars illustrated different forms such as the Trym type at the rear (outers that flare out, each with a green basal mark) at the right front a snowdrop with green inner and outer petals. All of the snowdrops and many other plants in the garden are meticulously labelled, a boon for those ‘who need to know what it is’!
The garden entrance lures you via displays of potted snowdrops, towards a covered sales area from where you turn into two courtyard areas overlooked by the rear conservatory. The path guides you round to a large lawned area opening out from the original front door of the house, past a small secluded alley that has been turned into a beautiful fernery, full of spring beauties including snowdrops of course.
In this shady alleyway along one side of the house a naturalistic shade border has been created and filled with beautiful plants. The wall climbers no doubt look fabulous as the year progresses.
The rectangular lawn is bounded with beds of roses and on one side there is an imposing columned walkway with pergola that must be a marvellous sight when the climbing roses are at their peak.
The formal main lawn with colonnaded walk to the left. The clipped cubes are a great companion to the winter display of snowdrops (above photo at left) and then in summer to the riot of colourful plants seen below left. Below right is a tall clump, Galanthus elwesii hybrid ‘Reverend Hailstone’, which is growing in the left hand border. The jungle hut roof is visible above the far hedge.
From here you move into a secluded seating area in a shady area of ferns and hellebores, guarded by an owl sculpture. The garden is full of sculpture, all beautifully placed as are the many pots of feature plants that are scattered throughout.
Above is the black and white garden, with guardian owl, just out of shot on the right. The seating area is very meditative.
A productive vegetable garden proves too good to ignore – isn’t it great to nose your way through someone else’s vege plot to work out what they do the same and differently to you? Next is an amazing mini woodland walk, entrancing with mature daphnes, clumps and swathes of snowdrops, arums, ferns and other plants that were tantalisingly just emerging. The photo below left shows one of many beautifully marked arums, while the photo at right is a striking black and white conjunction on the edge of the woodland area.
Contrary to garden lore, Graham says the daphnes are really strong growers in their garden. As well as collecting daphne cultivars he has grown many from cuttings over the years. The specimens were certainly impressive and even on a windy February day the fragrance was evident.
Behind this charming bird is a variegated daphne; other specimens in the garden were much bigger and all were dispersing perfume that was evident despite the wind.
Moving back towards the house you spy a quirky ‘jungle hut’ cunningly built into a mature tree. Adjacent to this is a really beautifully styled Japanese gravel garden (photo below). With a pond and interesting pine specimens this area entices you to stop and sit to take in all the features. Even in showery February!
Then back to the courtyard areas – two distinctive themed areas, the larger centred round what Graham called a bottle well (to do with the shape of the brickwork) they had discovered and restored (photo below – you can just see the flowering Acacia dealbata on the left against the sky and, at right, the tetrapanax topped with furry brown buds). Running water and a gentle wind chime provides charming background music.
This is the summer exotics garden (pictured above), filled with cannas and bananas for summer enjoyment. Catching the eye in February (photo below) was a mimosa (Acacia dealbata) that looked beautiful with fresh leaves and tiny yellow pompom flowers – but was less of a favourite with Sue and Graham as it has proved over-vigorous, suckering around the area, which seemed amazing. Another sight to behold was the tetrapanax with its brown furry knobbly buds at the top of tall thin fissured trunks.
The smaller courtyard area had a different feel altogether with a dining table surrounded by beautifully placed pots of galanthus contrasting with exotic flowering Correa reflexa ‘Marian’s Marvel’ while an exquisite camellia flower (Camellia japonica ‘Adelina Patti’ confirms Graham) adorned the house wall.
The Correa reflexa ‘Marian’s Marvel’ covered in flower at right in full view from the outdoor dining table.
This is Camellia japonica ‘Adelina Patti’ with perfect bud and flower, growing on the house wall.
The Yellow Book description of Sue and Graham’s garden says it is: ‘a mature ½ acre garden on the site of a Victorian flower nursery with charming sitting places and over 400 snowdrop varieties in early spring for the galanthophiles. The snowdrops are planted out around the garden and flower from November into early April. In February they will be joined by many kinds of spring bulbs and winter-flowering shrubs. Companion plantings include primulas, arums, dwarf iris and over 100 varieties of fern. There will also be displays of snowdrops in pots and troughs, showing the very wide range of flower shapes and colours as well as differences in foliage. Nine species are represented plus numerous hybrid forms.
Galanthus nivalis ‘Warei’
Galanthus plicatus ‘Diggory’.
Via the HPS Galanthus Group talk by Lyn Miles we heard that Graham and Sue’s displays of snowdrops were meticulously labelled. I was particularly keen to see this in the hopes that it would increase my knowledge of the details that differentiate the snowdrop species. I was not disappointed! The labelling system in both pots and the garden is really impressive with species and hybrid name plus evidence of the Goodwin-King’s own numbering system. What organisation!
The snowdrops in the rose garden and woodland walk areas in particular struck me as quite tall in plump clumps. Perhaps because of their more southerly location compared to my home turf of Yorkshire? Or perhaps because they are well established and grown in fertile soil? Admirably beautiful, whatever the reason.
This enclosed seating area is between the Japanese-style garden and the woodland walk garden. I found it a good spot to take a breather after viewing the many different snowdrops in the woodland area.
The photo below shows one small part of the woodland garden, with various winter treasures.
A final thought about this garden. It is impressive because, in spite of the many years that the Goodwin-King’s have gardened here, they have continually re-developed it. And even though they have amassed a huge snowdrop collection, snowdrops are not their only gardening passion. With an expansive collection of natives and exotics, it is obvious that they have boundless enthusiasm for plants and the skills to make them at home in their marvellous garden.