The Chilean Myrtle & The Head Gardeners’ Son

Luma apiculata in the Chilean Borders at Nymans

Luma apiculata in the Chilean Borders at Nymans

Although the dazzling display of the Summer Borders is taking centre stage within the Walled Garden here at Nymans right now, there is much more to that area than just our amazing annuals. The prime example of this are the Chilean plants which fill the inner borders of the Walled Garden, and are aptly named the Chilean Borders. Nymans has an extraordinary collection of Chilean plants, despite the massive distance between South America and Sussex! Chilean plants grow remarkably well here due in part to our fertile soil and sheltered conditions within the walls. Through a long association with the country and the skilled cultivation work of our team we now have over 100 different species of Chilean plants thriving outside in Nymans Garden.

The largest of our four Cilean Myrtle plants

The largest of our four Chilean Myrtle plants

One of the stars of our Chilean collection right now is Luma apiculata, or Chilean Myrtle. These large evergreen shrubs not only show off with their older branches clothed with a cinnamon and cream coloured bark, but also with their aromatic white flowers which adorn the stems in great numbers. Later on in the year these flowers will be replaced by masses of dark purple berries. These hardy plants thrive in either full Sun or partial shade and tolerate east, south or west-facing aspects, not particularly fussy whether that spot is sheltered or exposed. They also aren’t overly particular about the soil type they put their roots into. Although The Chilean Myrtle grows along water currents in the Valdivian temperate rain forests in Chile, it romps away in soil that is predominately chalk, clay, sand or loam, no matter whether the pH is acidic, alkaline or neutral. They are also generally pest and disease-free and requite little pruning so what’s not to like?

As you can see they're very popular with the bees too!

As you can see they’re very popular with the bees too!

And here is some of that delicious bark in a little more detail

And here is some of that delicious bark in a little more detail

Reaching up to 8 – 12 metres in height with an ultimate spread wider than 8 metres, they can take anywhere from 20 – 50 years to actually reach this size however. Also known as Orange Wood or Shortleaf Stopper, the main areas to find these slow-growing plants in their native habitat are on the Quetrihué Peninsula and on Isla Victoria on the Nahuel Huapi Lake. The most notable Chilean myrtle forest of the Los Arrayanes National Park covers 20 ha of the Quetrihué Peninsula, where the cinnamon-coloured myrtles leave almost no space for other trees. Outside of Chile they are quite rare however so we are lucky here at Nymans to have four specimens in our Chilean Borders. The edible fruit is appreciated in Chile and Argentina while the delicately scented flowers are important for honey production in South America. The Chilean myrtle also has medicinal uses for the Mapuche people of Chile (‘Mapuche’ being the local translation for ‘myrtles’).

Harold Comber 1897 - 1969

Harold Comber
1897 – 1969

The largest of our Chilean Myrtles is known here as one of our Comber Originals. This means that it is one of the actual plants brought back from Chile by celebrated plant hunter Harold Frederick Comber. The eldest child and only son of James Comber, who was Head Gardener here at Nymans to Ludwig Messel from 1895 to 1953, Harold was actually born at Nymans. Initially working in the gardens at Nymans under his father, Harold eventually went to study at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, where he lead plant hunting expeditions to Chile and Argentina, one in 1925-26 and the other in 1926-27. The areas selected were carefully chosen where the climate was considered to be similar to most areas of Britain. His collections were of great interest and during the late 1920’s and early 30’s, many receiving awards from the RHS. In total he brought back around 1200 species from South America, some of which were sent straight to Nymans. Comber also had several plants named after him including Escallonia × stricta ‘Harold Comber’ and Gaultheria leucocarpa ‘Harold Comber’.

Another comber plants here at Nymans is this Weinmannia trichosperma

Another Comber plant here at Nymans is this Weinmannia trichosperma

Nymans has one of best collections of Chilean Plants growing outside in the UK, in fact the second largest in Britain after only Edinburgh Botanic Garden. The collection is both historic and current with venerable old plants collected by Harold Comber growing alongside new arrivals from the Darwin Initiative or Edinburgh’s Martin Gardner’s introductions. The majority of our plants come from Central and Southern regions of Chile, an area recently classified as the ‘Chilean Winter Rainfall- Valdivian Forests Biodiversity Hotspot’. This area covers 40% of Chile’s landmass, stretching south of the Atacama desert. The Weinmannia shown above was collected by Comber in July 1927 and is a typically Chilean shrub – understated and elegant. Comber gives us an insight into the intricate and painstaking nature of seed collecting when we wrote “I should be able to get plenty of seeds of Weinemannia this year, We have a big axe!”.

Berberis valdiviana

Berberis valdiviana

Another Comber find, this Berberis valdiviana was collected on 28th April 1927 and should dispel any snobbery about Berberis as it is one of the finest shrubs in cultivation. Comber was excited to discover it: “Our first camp near the far Western end of Lago Lalog was a success in that we found a new Berberis which will oust Berberis darwinii if it proves hardy and amenable to cultivation. It is a loose, evergreen shrub of vigorous habit, and here in the middle of November is covered with large warm apricot coloured flowers and rosettes of leaves bearing 5-10 stalked blooms”.

This Persea lingue may not look that impressive at first glance but it is actually a Champion Tree as the tallest in the UK

This Persea lingue may not look that impressive at first glance but it is actually a Champion Tree as the tallest in the UK

Collected by Comber May 1926 Persea lingue is a relative of avocado. Our specimen however comes from the Edinburgh Botanical Garden collection. Harold was obviously a hardy individual as his account of his sleeping arrangements at this time reads “The open air life is suiting me well, and although at 6000 ft it is very cold at night and windy. I slept quite comfortably outside with two blankets and a canvas, better than in the tent where the noise does not permit sleep!”

The Chilean Borders at Nymans, like much of the garden, is an exciting area that is constantly evolving in line with the historical spirit of experimentation here. The development of these borders will involve thinning-out or removing non-Chilean plants and replacing them with new plants
propagated from our current stock, or grown from seed obtained from botanic gardens such as Edinburgh where much research and conservation work relating to Chilean flora is currently on-going. There is plenty of interest throughout the borders right now including…

...this stunning huge clump of Lobellia tupa...

…this stunning huge clump of Lobellia tupa

...the mix of pink seed heads and red berries  of the Amomyrtis luma...

…the mix of pink seed heads and red berries of the Amomyrtis luma

...and the unusual jewel-like white berries on our Azara serrata shrubs

…and the unusual jewel-like white berries on our Azara serrata shrubs

So the next time you’re in the Walled Garden at Nymans and you fancy a change of pace from the bright colours of the Summer Borders, why not take a few steps over to South America and experience the charms of our Chilean Borders?

To make sure you don’t miss anything that is going on here at Nymans, don’t forget you can interact with us on both Twitter and Facebook as well as finding out all the important visitor information via our official website.

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2 Comments

Filed under Garden History, Plants and Planting

2 responses to “The Chilean Myrtle & The Head Gardeners’ Son

  1. jasper

    Excellent article Jamie, keep em coming!

    Like

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