Tag Archives: history

Workin’ On The Wild Side

Every February the garden team escapes from the lawns and borders of the formal garden and heads off into the woods and the wild garden to coppice hazel (Corylus avellana). Ditching secateurs and spades we take up pruning saws and loppers to cut hundreds of pea-sticks which we’ll use as plant supports in our garden borders; hazel  branches are the ideal material .

Volunteer Wendy cutting pea-sticks

Volunteer Wendy cutting pea-sticks

So how do we coppice a pea-stick? Coppicing is a traditional term for cutting a tree or shrub down to ground level, or a low framework, in order to let the plant re-generate. The branches are naturally fan-shaped and with a little pruning to size are perfect for peas to grow through, hence the name, but can also be used as natural plant supports for tall annual and perennial plants in the border. Look-out for future blogs where you will see us placing the pea-sticks in the borders.

 Wendy with freshly cut pea-stick

Wendy with freshly cut pea-stick

This year we have the benefit of a new battery-powered chainsaw. This is much less noisy than a petrol chainsaw and less disruptive to the tranquility of the woodland setting so much so that while we were there we enjoyed the cries of two buzzards circling overhead and the occasional rat-a-tat-tat-ing of a woodpecker. 

The chainsaw doesn’t use forest fuels or emit any fumes and in future we’re hoping to re-charge it with solar panels as we already do with our battery-powered hedge-trimmers. . Nor is there any waste created because any material the Garden Team cannot use as  pea-sticks will be taken up by the Woods Team to make all manner of products in their workshop. Woodland products are available to buy from the Plant Centre all year round and surplus pea-sticks  are available from spring onwards.

Coppicing Hazel with a battery powered chainsaw.

Coppicing Hazel with a battery powered chainsaw.

Another benefit of coppicing is that it lets light into the forest floor providing an opportunity for our native flora to flourish. You can expect to see primroses (Primula vulgaris), celandine (Ficaria verna), wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) and our coveted English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) re-colonise the ground as the hazel re-generates. It’ll be at least seven years before we return to this same spot in the woods to repeat the cycle.

Rest and recuperation for staff and volunteers.

Rest and recuperation for staff and volunteers.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Botany, Garden History, Garden jobs, Plants and Planting, Winter interest

Festive Flora

20141210_092901

Christmas comes but once a year and here at Nymans we are in full swing with our Yuletide celebrations. The gardens obviously play a key role in these festivities and some of our plants that have specific connections to Christmas are currently taking a particular starring role. The Christmas tree itself is obviously one of those horticultural holiday plants but in this week’s blog I’ll also show you some of our more interesting holly and ivy specimens as well as some festive flora that you may be less familiar with.

Holly Corner The most festive part of the garden?

Holly Corner
The most festive part of the garden?

Right at the far end of the gardens here at Nymans you will find a spot we call Holly Corner. Although it affords some amazing views out over the Arboretum, the wider estate and beyond, during most of the year you may not find too many visitors dwelling here for too long when there are so many other beautiful botanic delights elsewhere. December however is when Holly Corner really starts to come into its own. Filled with a huge variety of hollies, including some quite rare examples, now is a great time to come and admire their berries and foliage. Here are some of the highlights…

This gorgeous variegated tree for instance is absolutely laden with fruits...

This gorgeous variegated Ilex aquifolium ‘Aurifodina’ tree for instance is absolutely laden with fruits…

...while the yellow berries on Ilex aquifolium 'Bacciflava' are very unusual

…while the yellow berries on Ilex aquifolium ‘Bacciflava’ are incredibly striking

The leaves on this Ilex aquifolium 'Scotica' are even thornier than the usual holly tree...

The leaves on this Ilex aquifolium ‘Scotica’, also known as the Hedgehog Holly for obvious reasons, are even thornier than your average holly tree with spines on the leaf blade itself…

...while this 'Ferox Argentea' specimen adds a lovely, subtle gilt edge

…while this ‘Ferox Argentea’ specimen adds a lovely, subtle gilt edge

Traditional Christmas carols celebrate the holly and the ivy, but their use as winter decorations predates the Christian festival. The practice of ornamenting the home with holly began with the Romans, who regarded it as an omen of good fortune and a symbol of immortality. As early Christians adopted the practice of decorating with the plant, holly took on religious associations – namely that the spiky leaves represented Christ’s crown of thorns, and the red berries his blood. In fact in Scandinavia holly is still widely known as the Christ Thorn. So intrinsically liked with the Yuletide season is the holly that in some parts of Britain holly was formerly referred to merely as ‘Christmas’, while in pre-Victorian times ‘Christmas trees’ actually meant holly bushes. Early verses of the famous carol hints at holly being a male plant and ivy being female. In some pre-Christian celebrations, a boy would be dressed in a suit of holly leaves (ouch!) and a girl similarly in ivy, to parade around the village, bringing Mother Nature through the darkest part of the year to re-emerge for another year’s fertility come the Spring.

The berries on this Ilex kingiana in the Walled Garden turn a range of beautiful colours as they age

The berries on this Ilex kingiana in the Walled Garden turn a range of beautiful scarlet and purple colours as they age

Holly Corner isn’t the only place where you can find some interesting holly plants, as the above picture of our rare Ilex kingiana holly tree from the Himalayan region goes to show. Introduced to the UK by Sir Joseph Hooker in 1880, this corking holly has impressively large leathery leaves, which are spiny in young plants, as well as larger than normal berries.

The famous holly tubes at Nymans are currently being used as part of our Christmas Trail as you can see here.  Each column is actually made up of several plants.

The famous holly tubes at Nymans are currently being used as part of our Christmas Trail as you can see here. Each column is actually made up of several plants.

Holly was often brought into the house at Christmas to protect the home from malevolent faeries. Whichever of prickly-leaved or smooth-leaved holly was brought into the house first dictated whether the husband or wife respectively were to rule the household for the coming year! Incidentally, were you aware that the prickliness of a holly leaf usually decreases as you go higher up the tree? In Celtic mythology the Holly King was said to rule over the half of the year from the Summer to the Winter solstice, at which time the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule for the time until the Summer solstice again. The Holly King was depicted as a powerful giant of a man covered in holly leaves and branches, and wielding a holly bush as a club. He may well have been the same archetype on which the Green Knight of Arthurian legend was based, and to whose challenge Gawain rose during the Round Table’s Christmas celebrations.

Holly also makes a great hedge of course, like this whopper lit with Christmas lights near the Book Shop

Holly also makes a great hedge of course, like this whopper lit with Christmas lights near the Book Shop

Did you know that not all hollies are evergreen? Over the road in the Wild Garden we have a fantastic example of a deciduous holly where the bright red berries are thrown into sharp relief by the naked twigs and stems. Native to eastern parts of North America this holly boasts a wide range of common names including Black Alder Winterberry, Brook Alder, Canada holly, Coralberry, Deciduous Winterberry, False alder, Fever bush, Inkberry, Michigan Holly, Possumhaw and Swamp Holly! Whatever you call it, have a look at the picture below to see what to look for when you next venture into our Wild Garden…

Ilex verticillata

Ilex verticillata

The other headline plant from that famous old Christmas carol is of course the humble ivy. While we are not over-run with rare ivy plants here at Nymans, there is one in particular that I would like to draw your attention to. Along the Top Border which runs behind the shop and restaurant area is a type of holly that grows as a compact shrub. At the moment, as you’ll see in the pictures below, it is covered in statuesque fruits which are actually a great source of late season nectar to a wide range of garden insects.

The Top Border ivy...

The Top Border ivy…

...and those fruits in close-up

…and those fruits in close-up

Of course, throughout the garden you'll also find plenty of wild-growing holly like this one romping away up a tree near the Pinetum

Of course, throughout the garden you’ll also find plenty of attractive wild-growing holly like this one romping away up a tree near the Pinetum

The fact that ivy, like some hollies, stayed green throughout the year led some to believe it had magical properties and led to its use as home decor during the Christmas period. It symbolized eternal life, rebirth and the coming Spring season. In some cultures, ivy was also a symbol of marriage and friendship, perhaps due to its tendency to cling. In ancient Rome, ivy was associated with Bacchus (known as Dionysus in Greek mythology), god of wine and revelry, again connected to the Christmas festivities! Though not as popular as holly, ivy was still used in Yuletide festivals held during Winter by many cultures. For a period however, ivy was banished as festive decor by Christians due to its ability to grow in shade, which led to its association with secrecy and debauchery and therefore the devil. Nevertheless, the custom of decorating with holly and ivy during Christian holidays was eventually accepted and obviously still stands today.

One of our many Christmas trees can be found in the Forecourt, ably assisted by four Bay Trees!

One of our many Christmas trees can be found in the Forecourt, ably assisted by four Bay Trees!

Here at Nymans this year we have covered numerous Christmas trees with hundreds of metres of festive lights, both inside the house and out in the gardens. There are lit trees by the roadside, near the main entrance building, in the Tea Garden, and as you can see from the picture above, in the Forecourt garden. Why not see how many you can spot when you visit us over the Christmas period? The history of a decorated Christmas tree can be traced back to the ancient Romans who decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia, a winter festival in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture. An evergreen, the Paradise tree, was also decorated with apples as a symbol of the feast of Adam and Eve held on December 24th during the middle ages. Sixteenth century folklore credited Martin Luther (the German friar, Catholic priest and professor of theology) as being the first to decorate an indoor tree. After a walk through a forest of evergreens with shining stars overhead, Luther is said to have tried to describe the experience to his family and showed them by bringing a tree into their home and decorating it with candles. The oldest actual record of a decorated Christmas tree however came from a 1605 diary found in Strasburg, France. The tree was decorated with paper roses, apples and candies. In 1834, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was credited with bringing the first British Christmas tree to Windsor Castle for the Royal Family.

If you head down to the Pinetum you'll find plenty of natural Christmas trees too, like this Abies bornmuelleriana, or Turkish Fir...

If you head down to the Pinetum you’ll find plenty of natural ‘Christmas’ trees too, like this Abies bornmuelleriana, or Turkish Fir…

...and this stunning blue Picea pungens 'Koster'

…and this stunning blue Picea pungens ‘Koster’

The Pinetum is a great place to walk through to spot some more Christmas-shaped conifers and you can find more information on this part of the Nymans gardens by taking a peek at this previous blog entry. If you carry on down to the Nymans woodland you might also be able to find our hidden Christmas tree that has been fully decorated by our woods team. And if you’re really lucky you may even be able to spot some mistletoe in the tree tops and ‘complete’ the festive set! Having said that however, there are some other Christmas-related plants here at Nymans that might not be so obvious at first glance. Did you know, for example, that Rosemary has plenty of Crimbo connections? As well as reportedly being the Virgin Mary’s favourite plant, it is also known as the Remembrance Herb and was used at Christmas in the Middle Ages as this is the time that Christians remember the birth of Jesus. In the late 1700s a special Christmas Rosemary Service was started in Ripon Cathedral School where a red apple, with a sprig of Rosemary in the top of it, was sold by the school boys and the members of the congregation for 2p, 4p or 6p, depending on the size of apple! You’ll find our rosemary plants here at Nymans down in the Rock Garden and in the Forecourt, including one which smells festively of gingerbread! In the following set of pictures though I’ll take you through some of our other Xmas star plants that you can find doing their festive thing right now…

Sarcococca, like this one here in the Top Garden, is commonly known as Christmas Box.  The flowers may not look like much but the scent is stunning!

Sarcococca sp., like this one here in the Top Garden, is commonly known as Christmas Box. The flowers may not look like much but the scent is stunning!

This variety along Winter Walk even has its berries on show too.

This variety along Winter Walk even has its berries on show too.

Hellebores are often called the Christmas Rose because they flower at this time of the year.  These Helleborus foetidus for example are also found along Winter Walk...

Hellebores are often called the Christmas Rose because they flower at this time of the year. These Helleborus foetidus for example are also found along Winter Walk…

...while these 'Party Dress Group' types are about to burst into flower near the cafe

…while these ‘Party Dress Group’ types are about to burst into flower near the cafe

Another plant sometimes referred to as the Christmas Rose is the Hydrangea.  This group along the outer borders of the Rose Garden are flanked by some cracking Cornus stems in the opposite bed

Another plant sometimes referred to as the Christmas Rose is the Hydrangea. This group along the outer borders of the Rose Garden are flanked by some cracking coloured Cornus stems in the opposite bed

What has this red-flowered Camellia got to do with Christmas I hear you ask?

What has this red-flowered Camellia got to do with Christmas I hear you ask?

Well, it is named Camellia x vernalis 'Yuletide' because it reliably flowers during the holiday season

Well, it is named Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’ because it reliably flowers during the holiday season

Of course, there are plenty of other plants that have Christmas connotations throughout the World, but those that flower in the hotter countries of the Southern hemisphere wouldn’t be suitable for doing the same thing in the cold Winter climate of Sussex! In Israel however, the olive tree is very popular at this time of year, with branches being given as symbols of peace on Christmas Day, and here at Nymans we even have a series of olive trees growing in terracotta containers in our Tea Garden! And that really does complete our set of Christmas plants. Make sure you pop in over the next few weeks and check them all out for yourselves. We will be open every day apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day so we hope to see you soon. Of course, there is plenty more to see and do here at all times of the year so to make sure you keep up to date with all that is going on 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. If you want to be alerted by email when each new Nymans Garden Blog is published, simply click the ‘Follow’ button at the top of this page and carry out the instructions.

Happy Christmas from everyone here at Nymans!

1 Comment

Filed under Garden History, Plants and Planting

Hail To The Heathers

The Heather Garden at Nymans

The Heath Garden at Nymans

There are not many UK gardens that have areas which truely offer visual interest to the visitor during every month and season of the year but here at Nymans we do actually have such a place. The Heath Garden can be found at the furthest point from the main entrance to Nymans but it really is worth the journey to get there. Planted originally around 1902 when the idea of having heathers in a garden in this country was something very new indeed, our heather garden was one of the first of its kind in Britain, and is still lovingly maintained to this day by the team here, and our Head Gardener Philip Holmes in particular.

The heathers here are planted in large drifts, in-keeping with the style in other parts of the gardens at Nymans

The heathers here are planted in large drifts, in-keeping with the style in other parts of the gardens at Nymans

Ludwig Messel was keen to introduce as many different species of heather as possible when he first began designing the Heath Garden, cultivars not being available at the time. In the pioneering, experimental spirit that the Messels had when it came to horticulture, Ludwig really threw himself into collecting plants, with heathers and conifers being right at the forefront of that obsession. Some of this passion for amassing such a large collection came from rivalries with other local gardens and gardeners. In fact, the Messel family often used to swap plants with other local land owners, each in turn trying to offer something new and rare to the other while still keeping choice specimens for themselves!

Even when only budding and not fully in flower, the heathers have a zingy colour to them

Even when only budding and not fully in flower, the heathers have a zingy colour to them

Most of the current crop of heathers here have been added since the big storm of 1987 that caused so much damage to Nymans and many other gardens across the south of England. We still try to add a few new varieties every year too, keeping that tradition of collecting plants going. We are rightly proud that there will be heathers in flower during every month of the year. During Winter and Spring you will find the likes of the Erica carnea and Erica darleyensis types in flower for instance. In Spring and Summer it will be the Daboecia heathers that will be stealing the show, and as Summer carries on into Autumn the Erica vagans and Calluna vulgaris cultivars for instance take their turn in the spotlight. The Winter-flowering heathers are generally found on the outskirts of the beds whilst the Summer varieties sit in the centres.

Erica cinerea 'Lilac Time' is another star of the show as we head into Autumn

Erica cinerea ‘Lilac Time’ is another horticultural heather highlight as we head into Autumn

The soil in this part of the garden, like much of Nymans, is an acidic sandy loam. Despite being in the acid-loving Ericaceae family, not all heathers thrive only in acidic soil. Some will tolerate neutral to alkaline soils too. Here at Nymans however they all seem to be perfectly happy in our soil and also, being pretty tough and hardy, able to cope well in this exposed spot. Elsewhere in the gardens you will also find quite a display of heathers along the Winter Walk. The specimens here, such as Erica carnea ‘Isabell’ or Erica x darleyensis ‘Kramer’s Rote’ for instance, are all exclusive to this area and won’t be found in the Heath Garden itself.

The sharp grass paths really offset the heather beds

The sharp grass paths really offset the heather beds

Not only are cultivated heathers very attractive all the year round, they are also incredibly popular with bees especially commonly found buzzing around the bulbous blooms. Anyone who has ever tried heather honey will testify that this can only be a good thing! Heather plants are also fairly low maintenance and relatively pest and disease-free. Winter-flowering heathers are not trimmed after flowering while the Summer-flowering types are simply trimmed in Spring to create soft hummocks which reflect the soft rolling hills of the Sussex downs beyond the Nymans garden boundary fence.

One of the many Calluna vulgaris heathers flowering in the Heath Garden right now

One of the many Calluna vulgaris heathers flowering in the Heath Garden right now

There is one bed within the Heath Garden here that is filled with heathers that have a Sussex connection. There are some groups of plants named after areas of Sussex like Calluna vulgaris ‘Crowborough Beacon’ for example and also some named after people associated with the Nymans county such as Calluna vulgaris ‘Edith Godbolt’. This is a very floriferous heather that was named after Mrs Godbolt who originally discovered it growing in her garden in East Sussex. Calluna vulgaris is the native heather and a common sight in upland areas where it benefits a range of wildlife. It has also been equally beneficial to plant breeders, giving rise to myriad cultivars, which provide a huge range of foliage and flower colours.

Morning dew catching on a spider's web in the Heath Garden

Morning dew catching on a spider’s web in the Heath Garden

Heathers are historically quite interesting within the British Isles. A drink has been known to have been made from them for many centuries in Scotland, and archaeologists have found traces of a fermented drink made of heather flowers on a 3,000 year old Neolithic shard of pottery on the Isle of Rum. The idea that white heather is lucky was popularised by the Victorians and their love of Scottish traditions. In 1884 Queen Victoria herself wrote about her servant Mr Brown, who “espied a piece of white heather, and jumped off to pick it. No Highlander would pass by it without picking it, for it was considered to bring good luck.” White heather’s luck may have been attributed to it because of its scarcity, in a similar way that four-leaf clovers brought other Celts good luck. Other suggestions include the more romantic notion that white heather grows above the final resting places of faeries, or the idea white heather grew on patches of battle ground where no blood had been shed.

The Heath Garden looks out over the parkland, often grazed by local cattle

The Heath Garden looks out over the parkland, often grazed by local cattle

Historically, heather was also put to many practical uses. Long leggy stems could be used for durable thatching while a yellow dye was derived from some heather plants. Strong ropes which withstood the effects of seawater were twisted from it and it was also gathered together in bundles to make a variety of brooms. In fact, the Genus name Calluna is derived from the Greek ‘kalluna’, meaning ‘to brush’. On the Isle of Lewis, a particular kind of garden hoe had two rows of wooden teeth followed by a row of heather to smooth the soil behind it. In the Highlands the medicinal properties of an infusion of heather tops were used to treat coughs and colds and to soothe the nerves, while heather tea and ointments were used to treat arthritis and rheumatism. The soporific aroma from the dried flowers was also put to use to make heather mattresses, flowers uppermost and leaning slightly towards the pillow end. In the 16th century James VI’s tutor George Buchanan wrote that a heather bed was “so pleasant, that it may vie in softness with the finest down, while in salubrity it far exceeds it and restores strength to fatigued nerves, so that those who lie down languid and weary in the evening, arise in the morning vigorous and sprightly.” We have plenty of heather beds here at Nymans but not the sort the King was referring to!

Berberis georgeii is one of a number of non-heather plants to be found in this part of the Nymans garden

Berberis georgeii is one of a number of non-heather plants to be found in this part of the Nymans garden

As you can see from the picture above, the Heath Garden at Nymans is not only filled with heathers, but also plenty of other botanic gems to increase the interest even more. Planted in the middle of the beds and in amongst the feature plants are things which combine well with heathers such as coloured stems on shrubs like Dogwood (Cornus sp.) and trees such as Betula utilis and Prunus serrula (Tibetan Cherry). There are also tall ornamental grasses which provide a good contrast of form, dwarf conifers such as the beautiful blue Abies pictured below and low-growing ericaceous shrubs such as Rhododendron racemosum ‘Forrest’s Dwarf’ for instance. There is even one of our Champion Trees growing in one of the heather beds. Hakea lissosperma, the tree which is the largest of its kind in the UK, is a James Comber original collection and hails from Tasmania and south east Australia.

Abies concolor 'Compacta'

Abies concolor ‘Compacta’

Hopefully this has piqued your appetite to come and have a look at the heathers in our Heath Garden here at Nymans sometime soon. Of course, there is plenty more to see and do here at all times of the year so to make sure you keep up to date with all that is going on here, 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. If you want to be alerted by email when each new Nymans Garden Blog is published, simple click the ‘Follow’ button at the top of this page and carry out the instructions.

4 Comments

Filed under Garden History, Plants and Planting