Tag Archives: Plants

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.

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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.

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

Structure, Stems, Seedheads and Scent

Winter! A difficult season for us gardeners. Shortened days, cold weather and lots of tidying. A time of year when it’s easy to miss the beauty of the garden whilst scurrying around wrapped up like an eskimo trying to keep warm. You have to look closely to see the beauty of the garden in winter – it’s all in the detail. 

The bones of the garden really become apparent at this time of year; you start to fully appreciate the Messel family’s design of the garden. Structural hedging and tree placements come into their own, the pivotal nature of the cedar of Lebanon as a key view point down the central axis of the garden becomes a prominent feature.

Morning sunrise behind the Cedrus libani

Morning sunrise behind the Cedrus libani

We have a plethora of hedging around the garden which frames views and vistas as well as defining areas. These are enhanced with a light frost or flurry of snow and some winter sun showing the clean lines us gardeners aim to achieve throughout the hedge cutting season.

Light snow enhances the structure of the Toleberone hedging

Light snow enhances the structure of the Toblerone hedging

The cutting down of the summer borders allows the walled garden to be viewed as whole with the awakening of the bulbs brave enough to face the cold weather as they break through the frosty ground preparing themselves for our Spring display.

Galanthus coming up in the Walled Garden

Galanthus coming up in the Walled Garden

The bold planting of the many Cornus stems are a bright cheery burst of colour with the winter sun shining behind them at an otherwise dull time of year.

Cornus 'Midwinter Fire'

Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’

The many other stems around the garden which are often overlooked when there is abundance of other things to see are worth hunting out. The attractive peeling papery chestnut bark of the Acer griseum, the snakebark stripes of the Acer davidii, the shining white bark of the Betula utilis var ‘Jaqumontii’, and the beautiful shiny peeling bark of the Prunus serrula. Winter is their moment to shine and shout ‘look at me’.

Acer griseum

Acer griseum

Seedheads left up over winter bring a structural accent to borders as well as providing a much needed habitat for the bugs and food for birds. Compliment these with ornamental grasses and it will provide some much needed winter interest to any garden.

seedheads

photo

Wafts of scented Daphne bhoula, Sarcococca confusa and Lonicera fragrantissima float on the breeze whilst walking around the garden; these heavy scents are typical of winter flowering plants trying to attract as many pollinators as possible at a time when they are at a low. A slightly more unusual winter scented plant to try in your garden would be Osmanthus delavayi ‘Pearly Gates’

Osmanthus delavayi ‘Pearly Gates’

Osmanthus delavayi ‘Pearly Gates’

When next having a winter walk around Nymans look out for the four winter S’s and appreciate the more subtle tones of winter.

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Rose Garden Re-Boot

The Rose Garden at Nymans, as seen in 2007

The Rose Garden at Nymans, as seen in 2007

The Rose Garden here at Nymans is no doubt one of the important feature areas of the garden, but it is also a part of the garden that has been constantly changing and evolving over the years. But why write a blog now about an area that was at its best back in the height of Summer, I hear you ask? Well, this year is no different in terms of the continued development of the Rose Garden and we’d like to talk you through some of the latest tweaks and changes that are happening here right now, as well as some of the history of this part of the garden and how that affects our decisions today. If you have roses in your own garden we’ll also give you a few hints and tips about what to do with them at this time of year. When should you prune? What should you do with your climbers? Read on for more advice below…..

The then latest incarnation of the Rose Garden being officially opened back in the early 1990's, overseen by family member Alistair Buchanan.

The then latest incarnation of the Rose Garden being officially opened back in the early 1990’s, overseen by family member Alistair Buchanan.

The story of roses at Nymans began as an early major plant collection that was started in the 1920s. Consisting of old roses, this collection was planted in a rose garden, originally called the Tank Garden (because of the water tank in the centre) adjacent to some Shrub Houses, near where our nursery now resides. This area was a former frameyard and the layout was planned by Maud Messel. Maud and her husband Leonard Messel collected the roses from nurseries, neighbours and friends, to form a large, important collection of early, historic roses, some also coming as gifts from gardens in England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France. This plant collection was added to between 1949 and 1950 again by Maud with the help of James Comber, the first head gardener at Nymans.

Maud Messel (1875 - 1960)

Maud Messel
(1875 – 1960)

The next step in the development of the Rose Garden came in the 1960s when Leonard and Maud’s daughter Lady Anne Rosse redesigned the planting with help from Graham Stuart Thomas, an English horticulturalist and garden designer, best known for his work with roses, his restoration and stewardship of over 100 National Trust gardens and for writing 19 books on gardening. In the early 1990’s the Rose Garden was again re-designed, this time by Dutch garden designer and Chelsea medal winner Isabelle van Groeningen. Her design ethos was to create a small, enclosed intimate cottage-style garden. This was an important part of the Nymans history as the Rose Garden suddenly became the first area of the garden to be designed by a non-family member. The new design considerably reduced the size of the original garden. The beds you see today filled with the likes of Salvias, Fuchsias and Hydrangeas on the outside of the surrounding yew hedge, used to be contained within the Rose Garden itself. The old tank in the centre was replaced by a bronze fountain, in the form of a rose, designed by Vivien Rhys Pryce, an English sculptor. At this time a decision was also made to remove Miss Muriel’s Rockery, which was located in the centre of the previous incarnation of the Rose Garden but was in very poor condition.

The Rose Garden being completely re-designed back in 1992

The Rose Garden being completely re-designed back in 1992

The fountain sculpture doing what is does best

The fountain sculpture doing what is does best

Over the last couple of weeks we have been making continued steps to improve the Rose Garden for our visitors while also making sure we retain the historical importance of the various changes that the area has gone through over the years. One decision we have made is to increase the edge planting in here, meaning that the Rose Garden doesn’t just contain roses, but also other suitable plants as well. We have chosen cottage garden-style plants that will extend the interest in colours that will sit harmoniously with the palette of the roses themselves. Already present were Nepeta faasenii (which replaced the ‘Six Hills Giant’ variety that was too vigorous) and Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’. We have added 100 Geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’ around the sunnier side of the outer ring and another 100 Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’ along the slightly shadier side. Next, along some of the edges of the inner beds we planted 140 Lavandula angustifolia ‘Twickle Purple’. This pretty dwarf English Lavender is also heavily scented which only adds another string to its botanical bow.

Here are some of the new edging plants sitting securely in our quarantine area...

Here are some of the new edging plants sitting securely in our quarantine area…

...and here are the lavenders ready to be transported to the Rose Garden.  Some of you might be pleased to know that 140 10cm pots of lavender fit exactly into the back of our electric buggy!

…and here are the lavenders ready to be transported to the Rose Garden. Some of you might be pleased to know that 140 10cm pots of lavender fit exactly into the back of our electric buggy!

The new plants were then laid out at the correct spacing for the border length...

The new plants were then laid out at the correct spacing for the border length…

...before teams of volunteers got stuck in to the actual planting

…before teams of volunteers got stuck in to the actual planting

340 empty pots later, the job was finished!

340 empty pots later, the job was finished!

We have also just ordered over 180 new rose plants for the Rose Garden. Some of the older plants are past their best and need replacing while in other beds there are gaps that need filling to really pack the place with colour and scent. We have chosen old rose varieties that would have been available to the Messel family during their time here at Nymans but that also either repeat flower or display continuous flowering. We have also made sure that they are scented and that they offer some disease resistance too. A recent historical report has also revealed that yellow roses have no historical significance at Nymans, so although we won’t be removing the existing yellow-flowering plants, we won’t be introducing any more. Virtually every other colour of rose should be catered for though! These new plants will be planted over the dormant season and will hopefully be putting on their first show next Summer.

One of the new varieties, Rosa 'Gruss an Anchen' This aptly German rose was introduced in 1909, repeats well and has a sweet fragrance

One of the new varieties, Rosa ‘Gruss an Anchen’
This aptly German rose was introduced in 1909, repeats well and has a sweet fragrance

The other aspects of rose care that are currently taking up our time here in the garden at Nymans include wind rock pruning and tieing in our climbing roses. We will be shortening the stems of tall bush roses to stop the plants being battered during Winter gales, as this can loosen and damage the roots. Although not essential at this stage because the ‘proper’ pruning will be done in February time, it is best to try to cut the stems just above an outward-facing bud wherever possible. It is also a good idea to thin out the heads of standard roses as their rounded lollipop heads can catch the wind and even snap off completely in a severe storm. Climbing roses can be pruned at any time from now until the end of Winter, ideally cutting out the really old stems and training in new shoots to replace them. If you can train the newer shoots to be as horizontal as possible, that will stress the plant (in a good way!), encouraging it to produce more blooms. Just make sure the end of the stem isn’t lower than where it originated from or you will experience die-back. It’s also a good opportunity to remove the 3 D’s too: dead, diseased and damaged wood. Finish by shortening side shoots by about two-thirds. It is these shoots that will provide next year’s blooms. Finally, it is also very important to collect fallen leaves from around roses to reduce the risk of fungal diseases such as black spot carrying over to next season via spores that will re-infect via rain splash.

Spot the difference!

Spot the difference!

Before I finish, here’s an interesting rose fact for you. Did you know that there is no such thing as a rose with thorns? This is because, botanically speaking, roses have prickles and not thorns. Thorns are modified branches or stems, whereas prickles are extensions of the cortex and epidermis and are comparable to hairs. So, that big hit song that American rock band Poison had with ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ was a complete lie! Whether you like that song or not, make sure you come and visit us here at Nymans again soon and keep a check on our progress as we continue the development and improvement of our Rose Garden. 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.

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Awesome Autumn!

Acer + Hydrangea = Nymans in Autumn

Acer + Hydrangea = Nymans in Autumn

Nymans is often referred to as a garden for all seasons, but for many of our vistors and indeed members of the garden team, Autumn is perhaps the favourite of them all. The showy blooms of Summer may well have faded into memory but the kaleidoscope of colour at this time of year never ceases to dazzle and excite. Whether it’s the fiery foliage tones or the beautiful fruits that adorn the trees that you’re after, Nymans should certainly be top of your list of places to visit soon. In this week’s blog we’ll take you through some of the highlights that await you…

The view from the formal gardens to the Arboretum

The view from the formal gardens to the Arboretum

And here it is in some more detail

And here it is in some more detail

Perhaps the most obvious place to start looking for turning leaf colour is in our Arboretum and even if you can’t make the journey through there, you can still take most of it in from the Prospect look-out which the Messel family designed for just such a thing. The deeper you get into this part of the estate the more examples of leaf colour you’ll find but one of the feature trees there at the moment is this beauty:

Carya ovata Also known as the Shagbark Hickory, the golden leaves on this tree are stunning...

Carya ovata
Also known as the Shagbark Hickory, the golden leaves on this tree are stunning…

...and they look just as attractive as their make their transition from green to yellow

…and they look just as attractive as their make their transition from green to yellow

Before we really get stuck in to some of the amazing Autumn leaf colour here at Nymans, it is worth taking a minute to find out why the leaves of trees all over the World turn from green to shades of yellow, orange and red each year. Plants make food to grow via photosynthesis, converting carbon dioxide and water into sugars using the energy in sunlight. This energy is captured by a green pigment in the leaves and stems of the plant, called chlorophyll. In Winter, with less sunlight, chlorophyll is not produced, but still remaining is the crucial chemical pigment behind leaves turning yellow – carotene. Also the main pigment in carrots, this yellow pigment is always present in the leaves but it isn’t visible until the production of chlorophyll slows in Autumn. Low temperatures also destroy chlorophyll so cold nights quicken the yellowing of leaves. As a tree prepares to shed its leaves in preparation for Winter, a layer of cells form across the base of each leaf stalk which restricts the movement of sugars back into the body of the tree. Concentrated in the leaf, sugars react with proteins in the cell sap to produce anthocyanin, a purply red pigment. It is the combination therefore of carotene and anthocyanain that produces the wonderful colours that we see on our trees every year.

Carotene is clearly the dominant pigment in the leaves of this Carya cordiformis (or Bitternut Hickory)...

Carotene is clearly the dominant pigment in the leaves of this Carya cordiformis (or Bitternut Hickory)…

..and it also looks absolutely stunning against the bright blue Sussex sky!

..and it also looks absolutely stunning against the bright blue Sussex sky!

They say that a picture speaks a thousand words so it’s probably best if I shut up for a moment and let our foliage photographs do the talking! Click on any of the images in this blog for a bigger better view…

This Euonymus alatus near the Prospect is covered in pinky purple leaves...

This Euonymus alatus (Winged Spindle bush) near the Prospect is covered in pinky purple leaves…

...while this Cornus controversa at the other end of the garden near the entrance, is slowly turning a lovely orange colour

…while this Cornus controversa (aka the Wedding Cake Tree) at the other end of the garden near the entrance, is slowly turning a lovely orange colour

This Rhus typhina near the Quarry Pit also has interesting furry stems

This Rhus typhina, also known as the Staghorn Sumac, can be found near the Quarry Pit and also has interesting furry stems

One of the classic trees for Autumn foliage colour is the Liquidambar styraciflua, or Sweet Gum tree

One of the classic trees for Autumn foliage colour is the Liquidambar styraciflua, or Sweet Gum tree

And this Parrotia persica, commonly known as the Persian Ironwood, isn't too shabby either!

And this Parrotia persica, commonly known as the Persian Ironwood, isn’t too shabby either!

You can't go too far wrong with an Acer tree when it comes to Autumn.  This Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' in the Pinetum for example, is one of the first to do its thing

You can’t go too far wrong with an Acer tree when it comes to Autumn leaf colour. This Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ in the Pinetum for example, is one of the first to do its thing

Also in the Pinetum, this Acer palmatum 'Akegarsu' has pure blood red leaves...

Also in the Pinetum, this A. palmatum ‘Akegarsu’ has pure blood red leaves…

...while our 'Bloodgood' Acer adds red winged seed pods to the mix

…while our ‘Bloodgood’ Acer adds red winged seed pods to the mix

In the Top Garden, this Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium', or Full Moon Acer, looks great no matter which angle you view it from!

In the Top Garden, this A. japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, or Full Moon Acer, looks great no matter which angle you view it from!

Down in the Rock Garden meanwhile, A. palmatum Dissectum Group, in the right light looks like it might be on fire!

Down in the Rock Garden meanwhile, A. palmatum Dissectum Group, in the right light looks like it might be on fire!

Enkianthus are another great group of plants to check out at this time of the year.  Like most Acers this E. perulatus is also native to Japan

Enkianthus are another great group of plants to check out at this time of the year. Like most Acers, this E. perulatus from the Heather Garden is also native to Japan

While as the name suggests, Enkianthus chinensis hails from from another area of Asia!

While as the name suggests, Enkianthus chinensis hails from from another area of Asia!

Leaves don't have to stay on their trees to look good either.  This thick carpet of Acer and Tulip Tree leaves has an Autumnal charm of its own too

Leaves don’t have to stay on their trees to look good either. This thick carpet of Acer and Tulip Tree leaves has an Autumnal charm of its own too

It’s not all just about the foliage however here in the Nymans gardens in the Autumn. After many of our plants have spent all Summer happily flowering away, if they’re pollinated, those flowers soon produce fruits and seed pods in a wide variety of shapes and colours. Perhaps not as easy to spot as a tree covered in brightly coloured leaves, these beautiful berries and fantastic fruits are well worth seeking out however. Here are some of the picks of the bunch…

This Sorbus 'Leonard Messel' is obviously a very important tree here at Nymans, as it is named after the son of the original owner Ludwig Messel

This Sorbus ‘Leonard Messel’ is obviously a very important tree here at Nymans, as it is named after the son of the original owner Ludwig Messel. You can find it near the Prospect

Judging by the berries alone, you might think this is another Sorbus, or Mountain Ash.  This pale yellow berries belong to a Stranvaesia davidiana 'Fruto Luteo'.  This is actually a type of Photinia and is sometimes referred to as the Christmas Berry.  See if you can spot it along Winter Walk

Judging by the berries alone, you might think this is another Sorbus, or Mountain Ash. These pale yellow berries belong to our Stranvaesia davidiana ‘Fruto Luteo’ however. This is actually a type of Photinia and is sometimes referred to as the Christmas Berry. See if you can spot it along Winter Walk

If pink or yellow berries aren't you're thing, how about the orange fruits on this Cotoneaster franchetii var sternianus?

If pink or yellow berries aren’t you’re thing, how about the orange fruits on this Cotoneaster franchetii var sternianus?

If you head to Holly Corner at the far end of the gardens you'll see many varieties of holly.  Some aren't ftuiting yet but this Ilex aquifolium 'Aurifodinia' is clearly ahead of the game!

If you head to Holly Corner at the far end of the gardens you’ll see many varieties of holly. Some aren’t fruiting yet but this variegated Ilex aquifolium ‘Aurifodinia’ is clearly ahead of the game!

In the Top Garden behind the June Borders, you 'll find this Berberis wilsoniae shrub.  The berries are successionally turning from white...

In the Top Garden behind the June Borders, you ‘ll find this Berberis wilsoniae shrub. Native to China, its berries are successionally turning from white…

...through coral pink...

…through coral pink…

...to a deep pink, almost red colour

…to a deep pink, almost red colour

Perhaps some of the more unusual Autumn fruit here at Nymans, these Euonymus grandiflorus f. salicifolius are very photogenic so make sure you bring your camera!

Perhaps some of the more unusual Autumn fruit here at Nymans, these Euonymus grandiflorus f. salicifolius seed pods are very photogenic so make sure you bring your camera!

Anyone who read our blog from a couple of weeks ago on the Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta tree near the Tennis Lawn could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps that tree would win the award for most interesting Autumn fruit here at Nymans. Well, we think we might have found a contender for the crown and it’s another Magnolia:

Magnolia hypoleuca

Magnolia hypoleuca

What do you reckon? Also often called Magnolia obovata and commonly referred to as the Japanese Bigleaf or Japanese Whitebark, this tree is heavily associated with the Kurile Islands off Japan where it was first discovered. Earlier in the year you would have seen it covered in large creamy, scented flowers that can reach up to 20cm in diameter. Even at this time of the year though there are still plenty of other flowers to feast your eyes on here, as this last set of photos only goes to show…

Persicaria affinis 'Superba' combines blooms with colour leaves and is also a big hit with the bees too

Persicaria affinis ‘Superba’ combines pretty blooms with mesmerising leaf colour and is also a big hit with the bees too!

Surprisingly some of our Rhododendrons have decided to flower again, such as this rare R. cerasinum.  Originally from Tibet, it was first described in 1931

Surprisingly some of our Rhododendrons have decided to flower again, such as this rare R. cerasinum. Originally from Tibet, it was first described in 1931. We are obviously hoping that a second flowering this year won’t affect the blooms for next year

There is still time to catch these Hesperantha flowers in the Rock Garden...

There is still time to catch these Hesperantha flowers in the Rock Garden…

...which is also where you'll find this Daphne transatlantica bush

…which is also where you’ll find this Daphne transatlantica bush

Autumn crocuses are also beginning to pop up everywhere...

Autumn crocuses are also beginning to pop up everywhere…

...and as long as the frosts hold off you'll still be able to see plenty of Salvias, Dahlias and Fuchsias like this 'Voltaire' variety

…and as long as the frosts hold off you’ll still be able to see plenty of Salvias, Dahlias and Fuchsias like this ‘Voltaire’ variety which can be found near the Forecourt

Hopefully this little picture show has whetted your appetite to come and see the Autumn extravaganza here at Nymans for yourself very soon. As the weather appears to be staying mild for a while, now is the perfect time to snap a few pictures of your own too. 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.

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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.

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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.

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