Tag Archives: Horticulture

The Harold Comber Collection

We are very proud to announce that Nymans Estate has been awarded Plant Heritage status for its Harold Comber Collection. Harold Comber was the son of the first Head Gardener, James Comber, and he collected plants in the Andes and Tasmania in the mid-1920’s.

Harold Comber

Harold Comber

The collection consists of 60 taxa that are either the original plants he collected, or propagated from those originals. His legacy plays an important role at Nymans as we endeavour to maintain the collection as well as add to it.

Chilean Border - August 2013 (2)

Desfontainea spinosa

A form of Desfontainea (pictured above) was collected by Harold in Chile and it is our job to make sure we propagate such plants so they can always be seen at Nymans, and also to make available a stock of such plants to the wider horticultural community.

Myrceugenia leptospermoides 3

Myrceugenia leptospermoides

We also aim to build on this legacy by introducing newly collected plants from these countries. The Chilean plant above came to us via Martin Gardiner of Edinburgh Botanic Garden. This plant is endangered in it’s native habitat.

Weinmannia trichosperma 2

Weinmannia trichosperma

Weinmannia is another Chilean plant, rare in cultivation, that thrives in the shelter of our Walled Garden. Last year we created a new border for Chilean plants in the Walled Garden and we have some new plants to add  to our collection this year including Escallonia x stricta ‘Harold Comber’ and Luma apiculata ‘Nana’ which was a gift from Plant Heritage.

Jon Keen, Gardener.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Botany, Chilean Plants, Garden History, Plant collections, Plants and Planting, Tasmanian Plants, Uncategorized

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.

4 Comments

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

The Most Magnificent Magnolia?

Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta in all its glory!

Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta in all its glory!

You might expect the months of Spring and early Summer would be the time when Magnolias are putting on their best show, but some also look fantastic during Autumn too, like the one we’re going to be looking at in this week’s blog. Our Magnolia sargentiana var robusta tree can be found just past the Italian Loggia building at the far end of the garden but it is certainly worth taking a walk to go and see right now, as the pictures throughout this article will no doubt show.

These are the stunning blooms that can be seen earlier in the year...

These are the stunning blooms that can be seen earlier in the year…

It is these pendulous pink seed pods that are the main attraction right now

…but it is these pendulous pink seed pods that are the main attraction right now

Magnolias are amongst the most primitive of flowering plants and there are around 100 species of Magnolia which grow wild in southeast Asia, in southeastern North America, and in high land areas in the north of South America. All can make good garden plants but they are naturally dependent on climate and conditions. Here at Nymans, our Magnolias seem to thrive nicely, especially this particular one which has reached a grand old height in its current spot, achieving a great shape and form in the process.

Those seed pods in a little more detail

Those seed pods in a little more detail

Magnolia sargentiana was discovered in 1903 by Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson, in the hamlet of Yin-Kou, west of Wa-shan, in the western Sechuan province of China. According to Wilson this was the largest of the Chinese magnolias. In 1908 he returned to Yin-Kow to find that the tall tree had been cut down but he managed to collect seed of other Magnolia sargentiana from the surrounding area, and during that same expedition, he collected seed of the variety robusta. It was named in 1913 by Rehder and Wilson after Charles Sargent – the Director of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston from where Wilson had been sent. The name ‘robusta’ refers to the flowers which are larger and more showy then the standard species, reaching up to 9″ across when fully expanded in some cases.

Here you can see a pod where some seeds have been produced after pollination while others haven't

Here you can see a pod where some seeds have been produced after pollination while others haven’t

They are also sitting side by side with the buds of next year's blooms

They are also sitting side by side with the buds of next year’s blooms

There are some years when this Magnolia doesn’t flower too well, perhaps because the tree is exhausted after a prolific flowering spell the previous year. This year just gone was a great year for blooms on our tree though, as you can see by the number and size of seed pods, but judging by the flower buds already present, hopefully next year will buck the trend and be another corker too! The pointed buds of Magnolia sargentiana var robusta, like many Magnolias, are covered with attractive silky hairs and are also enclosed in leathery bracts to protect the flowers within.

Only Smarties have the answer!

Only Smarties have the answer!

It is not just the seed pods and flower buds that are winning over our visitors at this time of year however. As you can see from the above picture, the pods themselves are starting to split open to reveal masses of orange Smartie-like seeds inside. To maximise their ripening potential these little jewels hang from the seed pods on thin white umbilicus strands as you can see from the pictures below:

Here is the seed dangling from the pod...

Here is the seed dangling from the pod…

...and here is one that has fallen onto the path edging below

…and here is one that has fallen onto the path edging below

Our tree is thought to be a ‘Wilson Original’ in that it was grown from the first batch of seeds that the great plant hunter sent to this country from his expedition, and then planted here at Nymans in the very early 1920’s. It is also important to Nymans because it is one of the parent plants that brought about Magnolia ‘Anne Rosse’, Anne being the grand daughter of Ludwig Messel who purchased Nymans in 1890.

Here are the seeds beginning to emerge from their pods...

Here are the seeds beginning to emerge from their pods…

...and here is the empty pod once a seed has ripened and fallen

…and here is the empty pod once a seed has ripened and fallen

With so many huge seed pods hanging from the tree, more than the gardeners here can remember seeing for quite some years, we are a little worried that any high winds might be too much for the boughs to handle and may cause them to break or snap off. Luckily that hasn’t been a problem so far though and fingers crossed that it won’t. We think the reason behind the high number of flowers and pods this year may be down to all of the rainfall we experienced last Autumn and Winter combined with good weather for pollinating insects in the Spring and Summer. The tree certainly seems in fine fettle right now, especially when you consider it is nearly 100 years old, as the picture below goes to show:

The inner branches of the tree are well adorned in vigorous, healthy new shoots like this one

The inner branches of the tree are well adorned in vigorous, healthy new shoots like this one

So the next time you come and visit us here at Nymans, make sure you make your way down to the far end of the gardens and see our stunning Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta tree for yourself. I promise you won’t be disappointed! 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, simple click the ‘Follow’ button at the top of this page and carry out the instructions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden History, Plants and Planting

The Nymans Plant School

Last week's Nymans 'plant ident' set up in the gardeners' mess room

Last week’s ‘plant ident’, set up in the gardeners’ mess room

As well as being a Grade II listed garden with a fantastic history behind it, Nymans is also rated by Roy Lancaster as having a plant collection that is in the top five of gardens open to the public in England. We are therefore rightly very proud of that huge collection of very rare plants and because of that we try and make sure our staff and volunteers have as much knowledge of those plants as possible so that we can pass that information on to our visitors. With this in mind, each week a senior member of the garden team chooses a selection of plants that the rest of them team must try and identify and then learn a little bit more about. As you can see from the above picture, cuttings from each plant are placed in water on the window sill of the garden mess room for each set of ‘contestants’ to have a go at! In this week’s blog we thought we’d show you the plant choices from last week so that you can join in for yourselves at home. All of the plants in this ‘plant ident’ can be found in the Walled Garden so you won’t have to walk far to see all of them quite quickly if you pay us a visit…

Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana

Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana

Also known as the Handkerchief Tree, Dove Tree or Ghost Tree, Davidia involucrata was once considered to be the Holy Grail of exotic flora. Scottish plant hunter Augustine Henry first found a single tree in China, sending a preserved example back to Kew, but when another great plant hunter, Ernest Henry Wilson, was dispatched by the Veitch nursery in 1899 to bring back specimens, he found that it had been felled for building purposes! He later found a grove of the trees overhanging a sheer drop but still managed to collect some material. In 1901 his ship was wrecked on the journey home but Wilson managed heroically to save the Davidia specimens!

The fruit of the Handkerchief Tree

The fruit of the Handkerchief Tree

This tree is obviously usually know for the large white floral bracts in late Spring but at the moment lots of our visitors are interested in the hanging fruit too. Each fruit contains 6–10 seeds, which germinate erratically, while the trees themselves may need 10–20 years to flower. Native to south central and south west China, Davidia is named after Father Armand David, a French missionary and keen naturalist who lived in that region. The species name involucrata means ‘ring of bracts’.

Albizia julibrissin 'Rosea'

Albizia julibrissin ‘Rosea’

Also known as the Persian Silk Tree, this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it beauty is currently flowering well in the Walled Garden, something it doesn’t necessarily do every year. Native to southwest and eastern Asia, it has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). The Genus was named after Italian nobleman Filippo Albizzi, who introduced the tree to Europe in the mid 18th century. The species name julibrissin is a corruption of the Persian word for ‘silk flower’.

The intricate foliage of the Persian Silk Tree

The intricate foliage of the Persian Silk Tree

Another name for this plant is the Sleeping Tree. This is because the leaves slowly close up when it is dark or sometimes during heavy rain storms. This is obviously in response to light levels, the flowers also being more prolific at the top of the tree. This ‘Rosea’ cultivar is much more frost hardy then the generic form of the tree and therefore much better suited to the climate down here in Sussex.

Cornus kousa 'Madame Butterfly'

Cornus kousa ‘Madame Butterfly’

Native to Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan, Cornus kousa is more commonly known as Chinese Dogwood. Some dogwoods are grown for their brightly coloured stems in Winter but these larger types bloom profusely in late Spring and through the Summer with large showy bracts surrounding the inconspicuous flowers. As we head into Autumn however, it is their fruit which is catching all the attention. These compound berries are actually quite sweet to taste if you can remove the flesh from the rough skin and are sometimes even used to make wine. There are plenty of other forms of Cornus here at Nymans. In fact in the Walled Garden alone you will also find the following:

Cornus 'Gloria Birkett'

Cornus ‘Gloria Birkett’

Cornus kousa 'Centennial' with the Nymans Baby Arch beyond

Cornus kousa ‘Centennial’ with the Nymans Baby Arch beyond

Flowering Cornus trees had many uses for early European settlers in the United States. The wood is shock-resistant, is able to withstand abrasion, and wears smoothly under friction. This wood was therefore used for the likes of barrel hoops, bobbins, farm implements, golf club heads, hayforks, knitting needles, mallet heads, pulleys, rake teeth, rolling pins, sledge runners, splitting wedges, tool handles, weaving shuttles, wheel cogs, and wheel hubs! The powdered bark was used as toothpaste, while both the inner bark and the root bark were used as an antiseptic. The outer bark contains cornine, betalic acid, gallic acid, tannic acid, verberalin, and verbenalosida, and so many physicians made medicines it. They were listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1894 and in the National Formulary from 1916 to 1936.

Jovellana violacea

Jovellana violacea

Also known as the Slipper flower or the Teacup Flower, this unusual rarity from Chile hides away at the far end of the Walled Garden here at Nymans but it really is worth seeking out. It was brought back from Edinburgh Botanical Gardens by our head propagator Charlene a few years ago and she plans to take cuttings to make lots of new plants this Autumn. This herbaceous perennial is in the Calceolaria family but the leaves when crushed produce a very strong spicy mint fragrance. This South American stunner is similar to the slightly more common Jovellana punctata, although that particular plant has white flowers instead of pink.

Colletia cruciata

Colletia cruciata

This rare South American oddity is one of the spikiest, spiniest plants you are ever likely to see and you certainly wouldn’t want to fall into a thicket of it! The large flat section are actually modified stems with the leaves themselves being very small and insignificant and only forming on new growth. The white flowers begin to arrive in early Autumn, and while also small, are heavily scented of vanilla, but just go careful of the spines if you try and give them a sniff!

Guess what the common name of this plant is!

Guess what the common name of this plant is!

As you can see from the picture above, the very apt common name of Colletia cruciata is the Jetplane Plant! Other names include the Anchor Plant or the Crucifixion Thorn. With the flattened stems being able to catch more sunlight and the thorns stopping predators from eating the plant, Colletia cruciata has adapted very well to survive in a variety of conditions. While it is accustomed to arid climates, it can tolerate regular rainfall if grown in fast-draining soil such as that here at Nymans.

Luma apiculata

Luma apiculata

The final plant choice from last week should need no introduction to regular readers of this blog. The Chilean Myrtle was featured heavily in a post we produced back in mid August but if you missed it you can play catch up by clicking here. To summarise it quickly for you here, Luma apiculata, previously known as Myrtus apiculata, is native to the central Andes between Chile and Argentina and is covered in fragrant white flowers in Summer, which are very popular with bees, and then deep purple berries in Autumn. Our largest Chilean Myrtle, the stunning stems of which you can see above, was brought back from South America by celebrated plant hunter Harold Comber who also happened to be the son of James Comber, the first Head Gardener at Nymans!

Here are those flowers we were talking about...

Here are those flowers we were talking about…

...and here are the berries

…and here are the berries

So the next time you come and see us here at Nymans, make sure you explore the Walled Garden fully on your way around the gardens and see how many of these six plants you can spot. Watch out though, if one of the gardeners see you they might just test you on them! 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, simple click the ‘Follow’ button at the top of this page and carry out the instructions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Plants and Planting

Salivating Over Salvias

The corner of the Salvia bed here at Nymans

The corner of the Salvia bed here at Nymans

Over the last three or four years, the garden team here at Nymans have been busy building up our collection of Salvias. This is of course in keeping with Leonard Messel’s fascination with collecting plants and other possessions, but the most important reason is for their more obvious aesthetic qualities. From a purely gardening standpoint, adding more ornamental Salvias to our horticultural displays is a bit of a no-brainer, as these stunning plants add so much colour in late Summer in such a huge range of shades and forms. They are also pretty drought tolerant, which suits the low watering policy at Nymans, as well as being relatively low maintenance plants that mostly just get on and do their flowering without too much input from us gardeners. In this week’s Nymans Garden Blog we’ll show you some of our star Salvias and let you know where you can find them the next time you visit us.

Salvia 'Hot Lips' is sometimes referred to as the Nymans Salvia!

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ is sometimes referred to as the Nymans Salvia!

The widely recognised link between Nymans and Salvias in very recent times stems from perhaps one single variety: Salvia ‘Hot Lips’. One of the most talked about and popular of the modern Salvias, when we started growing this around the gardens a few years ago we had so many inquiries about it that we started to make it available for sale to our visitors. And it is on the back of that one plant that our extremely popular nursery scheme of growing plants purely for sale in the Nymans Plant Centre initially took off. We still grow it here today but it is important to note that there is so much more to the Nymans Salvia collection than that one variety, as you will see below.

Salvia involucrata 'Bethellii', or Roseleaf Sage, is a herbaceous perennial from Mexico

Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’, or Roseleaf Sage, is a herbaceous perennial from Mexico

The best place to see the Nymans Salvias is in the corner beds surrounding the Rose Garden. Currently containing around twenty different types of Salvia in a huge range of colours, this has the be the part of the garden for all Salviaholics to head to first. As Summer starts to wane and some plants are beginning to be past their best, most Salvias are just hitting their stride. Whether you like soft muted whites and blues or hot pinks and reds, there is certain to be a Salvia in this area for any discerning eye. But rather than go on about them at great length, why don’t we just let the pictures do the talking and show some of our favourites to you instead? Click on the pictures for a bigger, better view…

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' is a borderline-hardy, vigorous hybrid that blooms from early Summer right through to November in good conditions

Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ is a borderline-hardy, vigorous hybrid that blooms from early Summer right through to November in good conditions

Salvia microphylla 'Wild Watermelon' is one of the best small-leaved Salvias, thriving in dry conditions.  The big bottom 'lip' makes this variety really stand out

Salvia microphylla ‘Wild Watermelon’ (or Baby Sage) is one of the best small-leaved Salvias, thriving in dry conditions. The big bottom ‘lip’ makes this variety really stand out

Salvia 'Waverley' is a fast growing, continual flowering plant of American origin that provides a ready supply of cut flowers and acts as a butterfly and bee attractant too

Salvia ‘Waverley’ is a fast growing, continual flowering plant of American origin that provides a ready supply of cut flowers and acts as a butterfly and bee attractant too

Bog Sage, or Salvia uliginosa (meaning 'of the marshes')  was described and named by botanist George Bentham and will survive most UK Winters

Bog Sage, or Salvia uliginosa (meaning ‘of the marshes’) was described and named by botanist George Bentham and will survive most UK Winters

Salvia microphylla 'Trebah Lilac White' has very aromatic stiff foliage and fragrant blooms

Salvia microphylla ‘Trebah Lilac White’ has very aromatic stiff foliage and fragrant blooms

Salvia curviflora, also known as the Tubular Bells Salvia, almost never wilts but is best known for its curved lower petal

Salvia curviflora, also known as the Tubular Bells Salvia, almost never wilts but is best known for its curved lower petal

This Salvia discolor is known as the Andean Silver-Leaf Sage.  It will produce almost black-blue flowers from beneath the white bracts later in the year

This Salvia discolor is known as the Andean Silver-Leaf Sage. It will produce almost black-blue flowers from beneath the white bracts later in the year

The reason that so many of these Salvias thrive so well in this part of the garden is for a variety of reasons. Firstly, this area is bathed in full sun for much of the day and is also backed by a tall Yew hedge that provides plenty of shelter. Furthermore the sandy soil here means that the well-drained conditions that these plants love is also well catered for. The beds and borders in this section are looked after by Ness, one of our gardeners here, and she plans to add even more new varieties to this scheme next year. For now though, let’s have a look at some of the other Salvias in this corner of Nymans that are strutting their stuff right now…

Salvia patens is a tender, tuberous rooted tender perennial from Mexico that has soft, hairy petals and leaves

Salvia patens is a tuberous rooted tender perennial from Mexico that has soft, hairy petals and leaves…

S. patens 'Cambridge Blue' is a variant on the species with a lighter, more delicate shade of blue

… while S. patens ‘Cambridge Blue’ is a variant on the species with a lighter, more delicate shade of blue

Salvia 'Silas Dyson' is a shrubby perennial Salvia that was raised and named at Dyson Nurseries in nearby Kent

Salvia ‘Silas Dyson’ is a shrubby perennial Salvia that was raised and named at Dyson Nurseries in nearby Kent

Salvia microphylla  'Trelissick Creamy Yellow' is a tall woody Salvia with a perfect built-in colour combination!  Named after the National Trust property in Cornwall

Salvia microphylla ‘Trelissick Creamy Yellow’ is a tall woody Salvia with a perfect built-in colour combination! Named after the National Trust property in Cornwall

Salvia 'Amistad' is such a new plant that the breeders have only just applied for breeding rights.  "Amistad" is Spanish for friendship, perhaps a comment on how well the flowers and foliage combine

Salvia ‘Amistad’ is such a new plant that the breeders have only just applied for breeding rights. “Amistad” is Spanish for friendship, perhaps a comment on how well the flowers and foliage combine

Salvia microphylla 'Pink Blush' is bushy, spreading sub-shrub that looks great at the front of a border

Salvia microphylla ‘Pink Blush’ is bushy, spreading sub-shrub that looks great at the front of a border

Salvia guaranitica 'Blue Enigma' is also known as the Anise Scented Sage.  Give it a sniff and find out why...

Salvia guaranitica ‘Blue Enigma’ is also known as the Anise Scented Sage. Give it a sniff and find out why…

Salvia is the largest genus of plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae, with nearly 1000 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. Within the Lamiaceae family itself, Salvia is member of the tribe Mentheae within the subfamily Nepetoideae and is one of several plants commonly referred to as sage. Salvias are distributed throughout the Old World and the Americas, with three distinct regions of diversity: Central and South America (approximately 500 species), Central Asia and Mediterranean (in the region of 250 species) and Eastern Asia (around 90 species). The defining characteristic of Salvias is their unusual pollination mechanism. It consists of two stamens (instead of the typical four). When a pollinator probes a flower for nectar, a lever causes the stamens to move and the pollen to be deposited on the pollinator. When the pollinator withdraws from the flower, the lever returns the stamens to their original position. The lever of most Salvia species is not specialized for a single pollinator, as some plants are, but instead is generic and selected to be easily released by many bird and bee pollinators of varying shapes and sizes.

New Salvias being grown from cuttings in our glass houses

New Salvias being grown from cuttings in our glass houses

The name Salvia derives from the Latin salvere which means “to feel well and healthy”. The verb is also related to salus which translates as “health, well-being, prosperity or salvation”. These both refer to the plant’s historic healing properties and is most likely linked to the sage herb. Pliny the Elder was the first author known to describe a plant called “Salvia” by the Romans, likely describing the type species for the genus, Salvia officinalis. Here at Nymans we don’t use our Salvias medicinally but you can view more of the ornamental varieties in our Summer Borders (more of which you can read about in this previous blog entry) including the following…

This Salvia horminum 'Pink Swan' also comes in white and purple versions.  The interesting parts of this Salvia are actually the bracts, the flowers being very small and insignificant

This Salvia horminum ‘Pink Swan’ also comes in white and purple versions. The interesting, coloured ‘petals’ are actually the bracts, the flowers themselves being very small and insignificant

Salvia farinacea comes in shades of purple and silvery white.  The stiff stems make great cut flowers.

Salvia farinacea comes in shades of purple and silvery white. The stiff stems make great cut flowers.

These Salvia 'Lighthouse Red' plants may look small but that's only because they have only just been planted to replace early Summer flowering annuals that have already gone over

These Salvia ‘Lighthouse Red’ plants may look small but that’s because they have only just been planted to replace early Summer flowering annuals that have already gone over

Hopefully this blog has whetted your appetite for coming and seeing our Salvias for yourself very soon. There is plenty more to see elsewhere in the gardens at Nymans of course if Salvias aren’t your thing however! 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.

2 Comments

Filed under Plants and Planting

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Garden History, Plants and Planting

South Africa – Closer Than You Think!

South African flavour under the bright blue skies of Nymans

South African flavour under the bright blue skies of Nymans

In last week’s blog we showed you the Summer Borders, arguably the most colourful part of the gardens here at Nymans right now. Well, running them a close second is surely the South Africa bed, found beyond the house near the Loggia building. The South African bed is a celebration of the plants of the region, making great use of herbaceous perennials, bulbs, daisies and annuals to give maximum colour, playful textures and rhythmic patterns together with bold drifts. In keeping with the Messel family style it aims to have a theatrical element too. The South African Bed is an experiment in hardiness, with the aim to try and have fun, testing new plants whilst increasing the South African collection at Nymans.

The bed in its previous incarnation...

The bed in its previous incarnation…

...before it was cleared ready for planting

…before it was cleared ready for planting

The South African Bed was designed by one of our current gardeners Kirstin Kelly whilst she was training here back in 2011 as part of the Historical Botanical Gardens Bursary scheme. The clearing of the old bed was done that Winter with the initial planting taking place in late Summer the following year. Tweaks obviously still continue to be carried out now, with tasks like direct seed sowing done on an annual basis.

Kirstin starts to plant out her design...

Kirstin starts to plant out her design…

...with the first stage of planting in the early infant border finished in August 2012

…with the first stage of planting in the early infant border finished in September 2012

The planting scheme is a combination of two important elements of the heritage at Nymans. The bed was always known historically as the Wild Garden, with records of a wild flower meadow in the area. Staying true to the wild theme we planted a new meadow with a twist, whereby the bed was made up only of South African plants. This reinstates the second historical element – a South African plant collection. The Messels were great collectors of rare and unusual plants and a large important South African collection was amongst them.

Gorgeous soft pinks of these Watsonia hybrids counter-balance the hot colours elsewhere

Gorgeous soft pinks of these Watsonia hybrids counter-balance the hot colours elsewhere

Other floral highlights include this Berkheya purpurea ‘Zulu Warrior’

Other floral highlights include this Berkheya purpurea ‘Zulu Warrior’…

... and these stunning Eucomis bicolor show-stoppers

… and these awesome Eucomis bicolor show-stoppers

This year our South African Meadow has been basking in all its glory under the sunshine and blue skies of our long hot Summer. The bed is a real beneficiary of this heatwave and after the mild Winter it certainly hit the ground running with plants such as Melianthus major surviving the frost and growing bigger than 5 ft 6 inch Kirstin herself who planted them! The wonderfully gaudy apricots, oranges and pinks of the Watsonia Hybrids have also been a dazzling success, keeping their foliage thorough Winter for a vital head start in Spring.

It's not all about the flowers in this border.  The foliage of this Melianthus major is stunning too.

It’s not all about the flowers in this border. The foliage of this Melianthus major is stunning too.

The South African Bed, also known here as ‘The Wild Bed’, is now the grand old age of two years old and is really filling out nicely. We’re very pleased with our work but if you’re undertaking a similar scheme yourself there are a couple of things to bear in mind. When planting a new bed don’t be in doubt when you read plant information that gives potential final height and spread. They really will grow as tall and as wide as the information states, given the right growing conditions of course. When it also states that they self-seed prolifically, take it from us, they really do! The meadow is now billowing with hot coloured plants and soft textured grasses. There is a river of orange daisies (Dimorphotheca aurantiaca) running thorough accents of Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia ‘Nobilis’) as well as tussocks of reeds (Elegia tectorum) for added texture. We like to think of it as a treasure chest of fun colour combinations and rare and unusual plants, some of which we’ll talk you through below…

Seeing the colours beyond through this Elegia tectorum reed is a great way of revealing the plants gradually.

Seeing the colours beyond through this Elegia tectorum reed is a great way of revealing the plants gradually.

Known as the Thatching Reed, Elegia tectorum is grown in South Africa as a roofing material. This reed like plant comes from a family of plants known as Restios, and it is grown here for its attractive evergreen foliage. Elegia tectorum forms tufted clumps of stunning deep green spikes patterned with brown flower bracts. They flower in Autumn and form attractive seed heads that enjoy a mild and breezy climate. We have situated our plants where the bed undulates down as they like a moisture retentive soil. It is only hardy to -8c however and requires Winter protection in the form of horticultural fleece.

Even the bees love our Red Hot Pokers!

Even the bees love our South African Bed!

Known as Red Hot Pokers or Torch Lillys, plants such as Kniphofia uvaria ‘Nobilis’ (as seen above) have been out of fashion of late but really deserve a bit of a come-back in our opinion. The ones seen here are evergreen perennials producing spikes of vibrant orange flowers from Summer onwards. They are dazzling, flamboyant and architectural. Growing up 2.5 meters high they produce upright accents in this low planting scheme that shout for your attention. Loved by visitors and insects alike, Kniphofia are really useful vertical flowers that come in all sorts of colours from bright reds to jade green, apricots and corral pinks, giving plenty of options to choose from.

Pennesitum villosum 'Cream Falls'

Pennesitum villosum ‘Cream Falls’

Pennesitum villosum, or Feathertop Grass, is one of the easiest, most attractive and supremely tactile grasses to grow. Brilliant white, ‘rabbit-tail’ spikes are produced in abundance from these bushy, clump-forming deciduous plants. ‘Cream Falls’ is highly eye-catching as the spikes catch the breeze, adding movement and texture to the border. These grasses are quick to flower and often used as an annual, although strictly they are a perennial. They are not fully hardy however and so may not make it through our Winters but they are likely to self-seed to perform again the following year though. They should flower from July right through to September, reaching about 45cm high.

These South African Daisies really 'zing' at the front of the border

These South African Daisies really ‘zing’ at the front of the border

Dimorphotheca aurantiaca, also known as African Daisy, Star of the Veld or Cape Marigold, grows to about a foot high, with a dense mass of aromatic leaves, topped in summer by bright orange blooms with a brown centre. It used to be included in the genus Osteospermum, and is still sometimes referred to by that name. These fantastic annuals are easy to grow and flower up to 9 weeks in the Summer months, direct sown here in large drifts to mimic their natural habit in South Africa.

South Africa in Sussex!

South Africa in Sussex!

If you want to include some South African plants in your own garden scheme and some of ours sound a little too exotic for your tastes, don’t forget that the likes of Agapanthus, Crocosmia, Nerines and Pelargoniums are also from that part of the World. Either way, make sure you come and see our South African bed here at Nymans soon. Along with the sub-tropical planting on the Terrace which is full of drama and big leaves and even bigger colours, and not forgetting the vibrant colours of our Summer Borders as seen in our previous blog, we invite you to come along and enjoy the dazzling fruits of our Summer. Just don’t forget your sun glasses!

2 Comments

Filed under Plants and Planting