Plant of the Month March 2019: Chaenomeles

Chaenomeles are members of the Rosaceae family. They are native to Japan, Korea, China, Bhutan, and Burma. These plants are related to the quince (Cydonia oblonga) and the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis). The word chaenomeles comes from the Greek chaino melon meaning ‘gaping apple’; the fruit are both decorative and edible once cooked. Raw fruit are extremely astringent. The fruit is very high in vitamin C and pectin so is ideal for making preserves; the word marmalade comes from the Portuguese word for quince, marmelo.

Although all quince species have flowers, gardeners often refer to these species as ‘flowering quince’, since Chaenomeles are grown ornamentally for their flowers, not for their fruits. These plants have also been called ‘Japanese quince’, and the name ‘japonica’ (referring to C. japonica) was widely used for these plants in the 19th and 20th centuries, although this common name is not particularly distinctive, since ‘japonica’ is a specific epithet shared by many other plants. 

Joseph Banks introduced the shrub as Pyrus japonica now known as Chaenomeles speciosa at the end of the 18th century. It was a native of China but had been cultivated for years in Japan. 

Chaenomeles japonica was introduced a century later. It grew wild in Japan and was introduced to this country by a Bristol nursery, W Maule & Son. It is small and suckering, less useful in the garden than the descendants of C. speciosa; it has scarlet flowers that are followed by very pretty round, scented, orange fruit. 

There are three species within the genus; the Chinese C. cathayensis, the Japanese C. japonica and C. speciosa which is found in China and Korea. C. cathayensis is native to western China and has the largest fruit of the genus, pear-shaped, 10–15 cm long and 6–9 cm wide. The flowers are usually white or pink. The leaves are 7–14 cm long. C. japonica (Maule’s quince or Japanese quince) is native to Japan, and has small fruit, apple-shaped, 3–4 cm in diameter. The flowers are usually red but can be white or pink. The leaves are 3–5 cm long. C. speciosa (Chinese flowering quince; syn. C. laganaria, Cydonia lagenaria, Cydonia speciosa, Pyrus japonica) is native to China and Korea, and has hard green apple-shaped fruit 5–6 cm in diameter. 

There are four main hybrids available and many cultivars. The most common C. × superba is a hybrid of C. speciosa × C. japonica, while C. × vilmoriniana is a hybrid of C. speciosa × C. cathayensis, and C. × clarkiana is a hybrid of C. japonica × C. cathayensis. The hybrid C. × californica is a tri-species hybrid (C. × superba × C. cathayensis). The most commonly cultivated Chaenomeles referred to as ‘japonica’ are actually the hybrids C. × superba and C. speciosa; C. japonica itself is not as commonly grown. 

Numerous named cultivars of all of these hybrids are available and have become popular ornamental shrubs in parts of Europe and North America, grown both for their bright flowers and as a spiny barrier. The flowers are 3–4.5 cm diameter, with five petals; the range in flower colour is from white through pink and apricot to red and scarlet and come in single, double and semi-double forms. Flowering is in late winter or early spring. The leaves are alternately arranged, simple, and have a serrated margin. The fruit is a pome with five carpels; it ripens in late autumn. Some cultivars grow up to 2 m tall, but others are much smaller and creeping.

C. speciosa‘Moerloosei’ AGM, is sometimes called ‘Apple Blossom’. It has large white flowers that are coral pink in bud, and they open a couple of months sooner than any apple tree. C. speciosa ‘Nivalis’ has pure white flowers best seen against a dark hedge or a brick wall. Both of these are large. On a wall they will reach 2m quite quickly and in the open they make big spreading bushes. C. speciosa ‘Geisha Girl’ (d) AGM has semi-double salmon-pink flowers, and forms a dwarf shrub. C. speciosa‘Simonii’ (d) has blood red, semi-double flowers with a dwarf spreading habit.

The hybrids between C. speciosa and C. japonica are more biddable. The best forms have the brilliance of their japonica parent. C. × superba ‘Rowallane’ AGM has been around since the early years of the last century and it is still a good plant with big bright-red flowers. C. × superba ‘Crimson and Gold’ AGM is a darker red with a gold middle. It is inclined to sucker but makes a good hedge. The Victorian C. × superba ‘Knap Hill Scarlet’ has flame red blooms with orange tones. C. × superba‘Nicoline’ AGM has scarlet flowers followed by fragrant yellow fruits. C. × superba ‘Pink Lady’ AGM has clear pink flowers opening from darker buds. C. × superba‘Lemon and Lime’ has pale greenish-yellow flowers fading to creamy white. C. x superba ‘Cameo’ (d) is a fairly new cultivar and not unlike ‘Geisha Girl’, but the semi-double flowers are a little darker, a peachy pink. It flowers slightly later than most others and the flowers make a particularly effective contrast to the fresh green of the new leaves.

Chaenomeles are relatively trouble free but flower buds may be damaged by hard frosts and are sometimes affected with aphid and brown scale, and the brown-tail and the leaf-miner. In the worst-case scenario, like other members of the Rosaceae family, it is susceptible to the serious bacteria disease fireblight.

Chaenomelescan be grown in the open as a bush on any fertile soil. They prefer neutral conditions but can cope with lime. Grit should be added to heavy clay soils. They can be grown in sun or shade but flower better in sun. They also bear more flowers as well-trained wall shrubs, such as fans or espaliers. Once the horizontal framework is established, prune the side growths back to a couple of buds in summer.

The three species can be grown from seed, sown in autumn, but cultivars will not come true using this method and are best propagated vegetatively. This can be achieved by taking softwood or greenwood cuttings throughout the summer.

Good companion plants include hellebores in shadier spots, and the scented tazetta daffodil Narcissus‘Geranium’ in full sun or part shade. Chaenomeles are good planted with Clematis alpina. ‘Willy’ is a good small-flowered pink partner for C. speciosa ‘Moerloosei’ AGM. ‘Frances Rivis’ is larger and blue. Under the strong reds, the green golds of Euphorbia robbiaeor the slightly more tender E. characias‘Portuguese Velvet’ look good.

Page image: Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Moerloosei’ AGM (Image courtesy of HPS image library)

Plant of the Month February 2019: Sarcocca

Sarcococca (sweet box or Christmas box) is a genus of 11 species of flowering plants in the box family Buxaceae, native to eastern and southeast Asia and the Himalayas. They are slow-growing, monoecious, evergreen shrubs with leaves which are borne alternately. They are grown for their sweet honey scented flowers in winter. The fruit is a red or black drupe containing 1–3 seeds. They are tolerant of shade. The genus name Sarcococca comes from the Greek for ‘fleshy berry’, referring to the fruit. 

Sarcococcas are not new to British gardens. The first to be introduced was S. hookeriana var. hookeriana, was discovered by Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker around 1825. It forms a compact suckering shrub up to 60cm tall, forming a neat clump of glossy, elliptic leaves, with small clusters of very fragrant creamy-white flowers with crimson anthers, followed by black berries. S. hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’ AGM, has slender tapering shiny green leaves flushed bronze, and produces sweetly fragranced white flowers tinged bright pink at the base, which are borne on reddish stems. The flowers of these two small shrubs are a little pinker than the rest; the habit of S. digyna is more restrained than S. confusa and S. ruscifolia. 

S. wallichii was discovered on the Singalila ridge near Darjeeling in 1821 by Nathaniel Wallich, described in 1916 by Otto Staph, but did not enter into British cultivation until 1994. 

In 1980 Roy Lancaster collected and subsequently introduced S. ruscifolia v. chinensis from Yunnan in China. It has flowers all the way up the stem, followed by red berries. One form  S. ruscifolia v. chinensis‘ Dragon Gate’ AGM was found growing at the entrance to the Dragon Gate temple, and is particularly good, flowering heavily and not getting too large at 1.5m.

S. confusa AGM has upright, green arching stems which grow from the ground to form a thick bush reaching a height of 2m. They have small, glossy dark green leaves. In late winter tiny but very fragrant flowers appear in the leaf axils. The flowers are followed by black berries that may persist the until the next flowering season. They prefer shade and do not require pruning.

S. humilis is the smallest species. It forms a compact bush and suckers freely, but this is easily controlled by pulling up the shoots. It grows to a height of 60 cm and a spread of 80 cm.

Sarcococca can tolerate pollution, can be grown in pots, and being evergreen create all year-round interest. They will survive dry shade, and they will grow in full sun provided the soil is moist; in drier conditions the leaves can turn yellow. They are very low maintenance, needing little to no regular pruning. If you need to prune out dead wood do it in mid to late spring.

The National Collection of Sarcococca is held by City of Sheffield Botanic Garden

Page image: Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna (Image courtesy of HPS image library)

Plant of the Month January 2019: Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’

Daphne is a genus of between 70 and 95 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs in the family Thymelaeaceae, native to Asia, Europe and north Africa. They are noted for their scented flowers and brightly coloured berries. Most have alternate leaves, and all have tubular, reflexed, scented flowers which are carried in clusters.  

Many species flower in late winter or very early spring. Daphne bholua originates in Nepal in the eastern Himalayas, hence its common name of Nepalese paper plant and its hardiness. It forms an upright growing evergreen shrub with leathery mid-green oval leaves. Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ AGM was raised at Hillier Nurseries by propagator Alan Postill and named for his wife. It was lost to cultivation for several years but is now available by micro-propagation. It produces clusters of pretty, intensely fragrant flowers which are pink on the outside and white within. The fragrance is powerful, sweet and delicious, even on cold days. It makes an ideal shrub for the small garden because it is slow growing and flowers during the late winter from when most other plants are dormant. Average height 1.8m.

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ AGM require fertile, moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. It hates being transplanted and should only be pruned when absolutely necessary, to control size and shape. Old plants are subject to virus and produce little or no foliage; when this occurs, they are best replaced.

Page image: Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ AGM (Image courtesy of HPS image library)

Plant of the Month July 2018: Phlox paniculata

Phlox paniculata are often regarded as a quintessential English garden plant, with their soft, open heads of lightly scented flowers. However, P. paniculata is a native of North America. It was introduced to England by the Quaker botanist John Bartram (1699-1777) of Philadelphia. Phlox is the Greek for flame.

Phlox are a genus of the Polemoniacaea family, native to the eastern and central United States and eastern Canada. Phlox are a large genus of 67 species of mostly perennials with a few annuals and shrubs. The species classed as ‘border Phlox’ include P. paniculata and P. maculata, which are from riverside habitats and produce large corymbs of flowers (a flower cluster whose lower stalks are proportionally longer so that the flowers form a flat or slightly convex head, and in which the outer flowers open first) in midsummer, with oval or lance-shaped leaves. For more information on the different kinds of inflorescence click here  for the RHS School Gardening Spotter Guide. 

The first serious phlox breeder was Wilhelm Pfitzer who introduced P. paniculata ‘Europa’ in 1910. Early hybridisation of P. paniculata took place mostly in France; Victor Lemoine was a well-known French plantsman who introduced a number of cultivars. Two are still listed in the RHS plant finder: P. paniculata ‘Iris’ (1890) and P. paniculata ‘Eclaireur’ (1892).

George Arends was basically a hybridiser and experimented with crossing P. paniculata with other species. In 1912 he began producing his first Phlox x arendsii, crossing the early flowering P. paniculata with the low-growing woodland P. divaricata, the result being a more compact plant which retained the impressive flowering of P. paniculata. Among his first were P. x arendsii ‘Helene’, named for his wife. Although most of these early hybrids have since been superseded, the name x arendsii is still conferred to plants of the same parent species. The original hybrid bred in the 1920s is available today as P. x arendsii ‘Anya,’ which has magenta pink flowers. His great granddaughter, Anja Maubach still runs the nursery he established in the 1930’s.

Phlox became popular in the UK in the 1880’s, when they were bred as a cut flower. They became popular for garden use in late Victorian and Edwardian gardens and were a great favourite of Gertrude Jekyll. By 1917 there were 584 named selections. H J Jones was a pioneering Phlox breeder in the UK in the early 1900’s. He bred a number of cultivars which are still available today, including P. paniculata ‘A.E. Amos’ (1924) with deep raspberry-red eyed bright red flowers which fade in sun and P. paniculata ‘Mrs A.E. Jeans’ (1922) which has pink flowers with a darker eye.

New Dutch selections include P. x arendsii ‘Luc’s Lilac’ and the Spring Pearl Series (‘Miss Jill’, ‘Miss Karen’, ‘Miss Margie’ and ‘Miss Mary’), named for the office staff at the De Vroomen company, and with white, dark pink, lilac-blue, and rosy-red flowers, respectively.

Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s, Karl Foester, a prominent German plant breeder, introduced a number of cultivars which are still available today. In 1934 he introduced the salmon-pink P. paniculata ‘Eva Foerster’ AGM. In the 1940’s he introduced the lavender P. paniculata ‘Amethyst’ (1940) and P. paniculata ‘Schneerausch’ (1949) which has big thick creamy white flowers from shadowy slate lilac buds. In the 1950’s he introduced the pale pink P. paniculata ‘Rosa Pastell’ AGM (1951), P. paniculata ‘Prospero’ AGM (1956) with fragrant, white-eyed, light lilac-purple flowers with pale-edged petals, and P. paniculata ‘Violetta Gloriosa’ (1956) with pale lilac flowers and a large white centre. One of his last introductions in 1964 was the purple P. paniculata ‘Dusterlohe’ (synonym ‘Nicky’).

Karl Foester is reputed to have delivered the memorable judgement that ‘a garden without phlox is not only a sheer mistake but a sin against summer.’

Karl Foerster developed the concept of ‘wilderness garden art’ in his garden in Potsdam-Bornim which is a short train ride from Berlin. Click here to read more about his garden.

Bonne Ruys founded the Moerheim Nursery in the east of the Netherlands in 1888, specialising in perennials. The business became the most notable nursery in Europe for perennials in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1937, he bred Ppaniculata ‘Frau Alfred von Mauthner’ (synonym Ppaniculata ‘Spitfire’) which has brilliant cherry-red flowers, and leaves that have a dark red tinge to them. Other cultivars available today include Ppaniculata ‘Wilhelm Kesselring’ (1923) with blue-lilac flowers with pale cream blazing, and a hint of red-magenta in the eye, and Ppaniculata ‘Caroline van den Berg’ (1927) with lavender flowers with a deeper eye. (Ppaniculata ‘Caroline van den Berg’ was an HPS conservation plant in 2008.) Ruys also introduced two white cultivars, Ppaniculata ‘Rembrant’ (1900) and Ppaniculata ‘Mia Ruys’ (1922). Ppaniculata ‘Milly van Hoboken’ (1922) has delicate pink flowers.

His daughter, Wilhelmina Jacoba Moussault-Ruys was a Dutch landscape and garden architect. Her gardening legacy is maintained in the Dutch town of Dedemsvaart, home of the Tuinen Mien Ruys, which contains 30 inspirational gardens. Along with Piet Oudolf, she is considered to be a leader in the ‘New Perennial Movement.’ Click here for a link to the gardens.

There has been a long tradition of breeding Phlox cultivars in Russia. P. paniculata ‘Uspekh’ AGM (synonym ‘Laura’) was bred by P. Gaganov in 1937.

The high point of phlox breeding in this country occurred after WW II when a local grower from Otley, Fred Simpson and Capt. Bertram Symons-Jeune of Windsor began serious efforts to produce modern varieties for British gardens and many of their cultivars are still available today.

In 1913, Fred Simpson, started a poultry business developing quality strains of hens on what is now the site of Steven Smith’s Garden Centre in Otley. Twenty-one years later as his health failed, he turned his attention to horticulture and he developed an interest in breeding better strains of perennial plants. These included the world-famous Otley Korean Chrysanthemums and the Lupin ‘Otley Yellow’, but it was his work with herbaceous Phlox paniculata which was most successful. He introduced the regal strain which included cultivars named after royal residences, including P. paniculata ‘Windsor’ which has bright salmon pink flowers with cerise-pink eyes, and P. paniculata ‘Sandringham’ which has cyclamen pink flowers with dark eyes. Courtyard Planters in Otley propagate several of Fred Simpson’s cultivars on behalf of ‘Otley in Bloom’. P. paniculata ‘Otley Choice’ and P. paniculata ‘Otley Purple’ are still listed in the RHS Plant Finder.

Captain Bertram Hanmer Bunbury (B.H.B.) Symons-Jeune, was a notable rock gardener, designer, and breeder of phlox, selected mostly for flower size and colour, and for vigour. Between 1940 and 1960 he supplied ten varieties per year to James Baker’s Boningale Nursery near Wolverhampton, which is now a wholesale nursery. They include P. paniculata ’Eventide’ (1947) has mauve-purple, scented flowers. Other cultivars include P. paniculata ‘Vintage Wine’ (1957), a dark leaved variety with royal purple-red flowers; P. paniculata ‘Othello’ (1959) which has large heads of claret-red flowers with a light fragrance; its shoots and leaves are dark green flushed with purple. Another cultivar is the highly fragrant P. paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’ (1967) which has very fragrant crimson-eyed, white-pink flowers.

Alan Bloom (1906 – 2005) developed his nursery in the grounds of Bressingham Hall. Perennials were historically grown in deep borders against a wall or fence, as favoured by the gardening stalwarts William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. Plants struggle to grow in the part shade, become leggy and require staking. Alan Bloom started to grow perennials in island beds and noticed that they were sturdier as a result, and that the weeding of the beds was also easier! Influenced by Karl Foester, he developed a number of Phlox cultivars including P. paniculata ‘Mother of Pearl’ AGM (1954), with slightly cupped white flowers suffused with pink. He also discovered the distinctive P. paniculata ‘Norah Leigh’ AGM (1957), which has variegated white-splashed leaves and soft-pink flowers, growing in Norah Leigh’s Broadwell Manor garden in Gloucestershire, but it is a much older plant having grown in Munich Botanical Garden for more than 80 years. The violet coloured P. paniculata ‘Franz Schubert’ AGM (1980) was one of his last introductions.

In the early 1990’s Piet Oudolf the Dutch plantsman and landscape gardener, produced some lovely blue cultivars, including the lavender-blue P. paniculata ‘Blue Evening’ and the indigo P. paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’, which is one of the earliest of the phlox to flower; the quality of its blue colour changes throughout the day, at dawn and dusk it is a magical watery blue, and then at midday, it is almost pink. Another Dutchman, Coen Jansen bred P. paniculata ‘Utopia’ in the 1990’s.

The pale pink P. paniculata ‘Monica Lynden-Bell’ AGM (1970) was found as a seedling in Lynden-Bell’s Hampshire garden and popularised by Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers.

P. paniculata ‘David’ is a recent American introduction. This was found as a chance seedling close to the Brandywine River Museum, in Pennsylvania in 1991, and developed for the florist trade. It is tall, healthy and late-flowering, replacing in many ways the old stalwart, P. paniculata ‘Mt. Fuji’, long considered to be the best white phlox.

By the 1970’s, interest in growing Phlox paniculata appeared to wane. There was a perception that they were difficult to grow and suffered from disease including the dual problems of mildew and eelworm, which can disfigure phlox plants.  Mildew can be controlled by good air round the plants and consistent moisture in the soil, maintained by mulching around the roots.  Newer cultivars are bred for mildew resistance. Eelworm, although incurable, is much less prevalent that historically because nursery stock has been cleaned up and resistant new varieties introduced. When it does strike, the stems of the affected plants should be destroyed and replaced with new plants propagated from root cuttings (the roots do not host the pest).  Phlox can be divided in autumn or spring. Many Phlox are grown as containerised plants which should be planted out as soon as possible as they are not particularly happy in pots.

Over the intervening years when interest in phlox dropped off, many cultivars remained in gardens, but the names of many were gradually forgotten, and many varieties lost all together.  The great gardener and writer, Christopher Lloyd, once wrote that he wished to get the real names for some of the old-fashioned stalwarts including his P. paniculata‘Doghouse Pink’ (from Doghouse Farm, on Stone Street, Canterbury, originally a pub, The Dog). He described it as being full of charm with its two shades of soft pink. He also described a ‘Long Border Mauve’ which grew in the Dixter Long Border since before he was born, which has a penetrating colour that shows brilliantly from a distance.

Today Dutch, German and Russian nurserymen continue to produce excellent new plants. The newer introductions include the pink and white P. paniculata ‘Peppermint Twist’,

and the delicate pink and yellow P. paniculata ‘Sherbert Cocktail’. Phlox should usually be regarded as a mid-border plant, as even well-grown specimens often lose their lower leaves by the time they flower.  The exceptions to this rule are some of the new strains of dwarf phlox being developed in Holland for pot or front of border use.  One such group is the Flame Phlox series, which includes an endless selection of colour choices on compact, well-flowering plants.

The RHS undertook a trial of Phlox between 2011 and 2013. It is interesting to read the report and to learn what criteria the plants had to meet to achieve an Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Some species had their AGM rescinded. Click here to read more.

The German plantsman, Hartmut Rieger published a photographic journal ‘A journey through my garden…’ on the internet in 2005 and added to it until his death in 2013. The data for Phlox and Helenium species are based on measurements and observations he made in his garden; he also recorded the original breeder. Click here for the link.

Another interesting link is to a Lithuanian nursery which specialises in Phlox and Day Lilies. There is a gallery of about 1200 Phlox species many of them bred in Russia. The website is in English! Click here for the link.

The National Collection of Phlox paniculata is held by Leeds City Council at Temple Newsam Estate.

Page image: Phlox paniculata ‘Mother of Pearl’ AGM (Image courtesy of HPS image library)

Plant of the Month and more……

I have nearly completed the third article in the series ‘Plant of the Month’. In July I will focus on border phlox. When I decided on the topic I naively thought that it would be a short article; little did I realise until I started to research the subject, that the history of phlox breeding stretches over 150 years. The names of some of the early plantsmen keep recurring, whether it be peonies, phlox or helenium (the topic for August).

In each of the articles I have referred to the present RHS Plant Finder to confirm the correct name and whether the species or cultivar has an Award of Garden Merit (AGM). If there has been a discrepancy between the RHS listing and the HPS image label, I have deferred to the RHS listing.

My starting point for writing is always the numerous books adorning my shelves, and then I start an internet search. In my professional life I used the internet on a regular basis to update my knowledge, but always took a critical approach when appraising information. I hope to maintain this stance when writing these articles. There are some informative North American sites and published articles in the gardening sections of national newspapers and garden magazines.

However, a certain amount of scepticism is essential. An entry in the ‘Biographies in Ornamental Horticulture’ describes Roy Lancaster as follows: ‘British woody plant expert affiliated with Hillier Nursery. He has named many woody and herbaceous cultivars.’ This compares with half a page dedicated to Margery Fish and other distinguished plantsmen and gardeners.

I am always reminded on my walks that many of our favourite garden plants originate from wild species. I regularly walk the dog around the field just down from my house. For many years the grass has been left uncut. First to make an impressive appearance are the buttercups (Ranunculus repens). They flower about a week later than those in one of the nearby fields but this may be due to the fact that there is more shade. There are cowslips (Primula veris) and yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and many different grasses.

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

I recently spotted a common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) with a spire of pale pink, two lipped flowers lined and blotched with dark purple and with narrow dark spotted leaves. I spent some time photographing the flowers one evening, with the dog in tow. I am sure he thought I had lost the plot as I tried to get a close-up image that was in focus.

 

 

 

 

 

As a result of researching the ‘Plant of the Month’ I have become more discerning when buying plants. Last weekend I decided to visit some nurseries. I shop in Otley on a regular basis and have passed the entrance to ‘Courtyard Planters’ many times but have never explored what lies behind the passageway. I was impressed by the choice and quality of plants available. The herbaceous plants are raised from stock plants at the nursery on East Busk Lane. I treated myself to three ‘regal’ phlox and ‘Otley Purple’ which were bred by Fred Simpson, who lived and worked in Otley.

I then decided to venture eastward to York and beyond. Apart from the usual slow traffic on the A64, I think after 20 years of living in West Yorkshire I have now ‘sussed’ the road system around York. A few years ago I visited Cow Close Cottage (NGS) and they had a notice to say that they had sourced many of their plants from RV Roger near Pickering. It is a traditional nursery which sells open ground perennials between November and March each year. They also sell containerised plants. They had a good selection of plants and I bought another phlox and a peony.

On the way back I made a slight detour to visit Stillingfleet Lodge. The nursery is well stocked with perennials all propagated on site; they specialise in Geraniums and Pulmonaria, but there were many other genus on sale. There were some good phlox and peonies. Surrounding the house there are themed cottage gardens. I liked the information boards which highlighted what was in flower. I stopped off in the cafe to have a cup of tea and a piece of cake before heading back home.

On Sunday I decided to go back east to visit Breezy Knees. This garden is situated in the middle of arable farming land. In the mid 1990’s the owners planted a belt of trees to provide some shelter. As the trees matured they started to develop the garden. It first opened in 2006 and has been gradually developed over the intervening years. Now covering 20 acres it is one of the largest gardens in the North of England with over 6,000 different varieties of plants. There are a number of ‘garden rooms’. Most are planted to provide interest throughout the year. I was impressed by the ‘Phlox and Daylily Garden’. There were between 30 and 40 different species of peonies; unfortunately they had suffered from the heavy downpour the previous evening. The June and Cottage gardens were looking good, as was the raised garden with an amazing display of Alstroemeria. The labelling throughout the garden was good. There is a well stocked nursery; the plants are bought in as plug-plants and grown on but are well tended. One of the staff was working in the nursery checking the plants and removing damaged stems.

I had intended to visit Newby Hall this month but have not had the time. I  visited the garden once many years ago when I had dogs number one and two (now sadly no longer) in tow. On checking the website I note that dogs are no longer welcome in the garden, so number three dog will have to stay at home. That is probably a relief to both of us as I am always vigilant with a dog in tow, and probably much to his relief as I stop yet again to take a photograph!

I have published a page titled ‘WYHPS Holiday to Norfolk’. Click here for the link. I will be doing live updates on the holiday on a daily basis and to encourage active participation from members I suggest that the topic is: ‘What image sums up today’s gardens?’ followed by a short description (in one or two sentences). I will upload images emailed to me on a regular basis and include them in the ‘live report’.

Finally, I have now edited all the images on the website so that with ‘one click’ the images open and enlarge in a new tab / page.  This means that you do not have to press the ‘go back’ arrow, but you will need to remember to close the windows!

Jane Orton

Web Manager West Yorkshire Hardy Plant Society Group.

Plant of the Month June 2018: Peonies

The peony is a flowering plant in the genus Paeonia, the only genus in the family Paeoniaceae. They are native to Asia, Europe and Western North America. They are amongst the most popular of all perennial plants, with their large blooms which are fragrant, and the added bonus of hardiness. Their flowering period is from early May to the end of June. I always think that they herald the start of summer. The stimulus for the emergence of new growth in February is the increase in day length, which is in contrast to irises which respond to increasing warmth.

Peonies are grown for their great range of colours and flower types, their fragrance, and relative freedom from pests and diseases. From the turn of the year, when the bronzy-red new shoots emerge in the company of snowdrops and winter aconites, through to the interesting seed pods and coloured leaves of autumn, peonies are indispensable in the garden.

They are named after Paeon, physician to the Greek gods. The old European species, P. officinalis, introduced here by the Romans, was used for its medicinal properties, which included a cure for jaundice, kidney pains, epilepsy, prevention of nightmares and the treatment of depression. In the 18th century, peony roots were recommended for weak hearts or stomachs.

Peonies have been grown in the UK since the fifteenth century and are a firm favourite in the English garden. P. officinalis and P. officinalis ‘Rubra Plena’ AGM, have been cottage garden favourites since the 17th century. Some will happily live for 60-100 years; each year getting stronger and flowering more profusely.

In the mid-19th century a trio of French nurserymen, Jacques Calot, Auguste Dessert and Felix Crousse, and an Englishman, James Kelway, started cross-breeding P. officinalis and the wild Chinese species, P. lactiflora, and created a whole new race of hybrids with big powder puff flowers. In 1856, Calot introduced P.lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ AGM, a double peony with creamy white flowers which are sweetly scented.

Peony breeding was subsequently carried out by Kelways of Somerset between 1880 and 1920, and the nursery is still going strong today, and they exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Show. Click here for a link to their website.

They were followed by another Frenchman, Victor Lemoine, who in 1906 bred the famous pink double P. lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ AGM. Today, the Dutch grow this in vast numbers for the cut-flower market.

Many peonies are fragrant; in some the scent is light, and in others the scent is only released after the flowers have been cut and placed in a vase. Scent also depends on the time of day, and a warm position. Good scented varieties include P. ‘Claire de Lune’ and P. lactiflora ‘Krinkled White’ .

P. lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’ AGM, which has white flowers with flecks of crimson near the centre, also has a good scent.

As interest in peonies grew, more wild species were introduced into English gardens. These include from the Caucasus, P. mlokosewitschii AGM, otherwise known as ‘Molly the Witch’. It has pale single lemon-sherbet coloured flowers over bronze-grey foliage.

It flowers early in late April, but not so early as P. tenuifolia, a beautiful species, also from the Caucasus, with fine thread-like foliage and blood red single flowers. P. ‘Early Windflower’, a cross between two species, (P. emodi x P. veitchii) emerges early, with intricately dissected foliage of deep, burnished bronze. It has single white blooms with a central boss of gold.

There are somewhere between 35 and 50 different species of peony belonging to the genus Paeonia. However, most of these botanical species grow wild in Asia, southern Europe, or western North America and very few are culivated and sold commercially; these include P. veitchii, P. mlokosewitschii, P.officinalis, and P. tenuifolia.

P. lactiflora is an herbaceous peony, which is native to central and eastern Asia and Northern China where it has been cultivated for about 1,600 years. There are at least 3,000 registered cultivars of P. lactiflora. Most of the peonies sold commercially are either cultivars of P. lactiflora, or else hybrids, with some of its genes. Historically, most varieties of peony sold were cultivars of P. lactiflora but often do not have strong enough stems to hold the large blossoms upright and need staking.

During the 1920’s Professor Saunders, working in New York, began crossing different species peonies which grow in the wild from the Mediterranean, up through Turkey, Iran into Russia and across from northern India into China and down into Japan. The flowers are almost always single.

The resulting hybrids carry the best characteristics of their wild relatives; they are hardy, early to flower and have beautiful foliage. The colour range of the flowers is broader than that of P. lactiflora, which is limited to white, red and pink. Hybrid peonies flowers can very dark red through to the palest pink and pure white, as well as soft creamy yellow through to coral and apricot. The leaves are often large, bright green and glossy.

The flowers are usually carried on strong thick stems, which means the blooms will not fall over, and do not require staking. P. lactiflora ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ has red single flowers, which last up to ten days. As the flowers age, the petals get bigger and fade to deep pink. P. lactiflora × officinalis ‘Red Charm’ has double red flowers that are long-lasting. The blooms form a domed ball of serrated petals within large guard petals and are held on stiff stems. P. ‘Avant Garde’ has single pink flowers.

Tree peonies (P. rockii) have woody stems that lose their leaves in autumn, but the woody stems stay intact.  They tend to bloom earlier and with larger flowers than the herbaceous peony. Tree peonies are long-lived, hardy deciduous shrubs provided they are grown in a suitable spot. P. delavayi var. delavayi f. lutea is a yellow tree peony.

Until recently the only peonies to produce yellow flowers were those of woody tree peonies, such as P. lutea, or the fleetingly beautiful herbaceous peony P. mlokosewitschii AGM. The successful crossing of tree and herbaceous peonies by a Japanese plant breeder, Mr Toichi Itoh, produced intersectional (Itoh) hybrids, truly yellow, double-flowered herbaceous peonies. He started work in 1948, and crossed the white herbaceous P.lactiflora ‘Kakoden’ and yellow hybrid tree peony, Paeonia x lemoinei. After thousands of crosses he raised just 36 yellow seedlings which bloomed in 1964, with double, yellow blooms. Dr Itoh never saw his achievement as be died in 1956. His hybrids were in danger of disappearing until Louis Smirnow introduced them into North America. In 1974 six were introduced with names like ‘Yellow Crown’ and ‘Yellow Emperor’.

Another well-known intersectional peony is P.‘Bartzella’. Intersectionals grow like herbaceous peonies, short and mounding, but they also have short woody, tree peony-like stems. These plants have the lovely leaf form of the tree peonies but die to the ground in the winter like herbaceous peonies. They are valued because they are available in colours that traditional peonies do not produce, in particular, more intense shades of yellow, peach, and coral such as P. ‘Copper Kettle’.

Of the different types of peonies, intersectional peonies have the best characteristics of all. The flowers and foliage are in perfect proportion to one another, taking the best from each of the parents, the tree (woody) and herbaceous peony. They bloom same time as herbaceous peonies from early to late June, but because they have so many buds they in bloom for longer, for up to 3 weeks or more. The flowers are big, and generally semi-double. The blooms are sterile, but the large furry empty seedpods, are very attractive. At night each flower closes up for protection helping it to last longer. A bloom can last as long as 5 days, with many lower side buds. Overall an intersectional peony can be in flower for up to 4 weeks, some 2 weeks longer than other types of peonies.

Peony flower forms are usually measured in rows of petals.

Single flowers have a single or possibly two rows of petals, often 5-12 petals total with a ring of golden stamens surrounding thick carpels. An example is P. cambessedesii AGM, also known as the Majorcan peony.

Semi-double flowers have three or more rows of petals, sometimes irregularly shaped petaloids/stamens mixed with petaloids, sometimes distinct stamen-and-carpel centre, such as the red P. lactiflora ‘Buckeye Belle’ an American hybrid, first bred in 1956 and currently a favourite with garden designers.

The ‘Lotus Form’ is a semi-double with curved, cupped petals creating a lotus-shaped bloom such as P. ‘Coral Charm’ AGM.

The Japanese Form’ is a semi-double have outer ‘guard’ petals but the majority of the stamens have been converted into narrow stamenoids which are petal-like. The stamen often retain their golden colour. The name of ‘Japanese’ is somewhat misleading as the varieties of this class are not necessarily of Japanese origin; but are admired by the Japanese.

An example of a Japanese peony is P. lactiflora ‘Lotus Queen’. with the stamens morphed into a large cluster of stamenoids, or very thin petals.

In the late 1940s, Dutch breeders introduced a peony that was half way between the double and the single, the so-called ‘anemone-flowered’ peony. In this, the stamens in the centre ruffle themselves up into semi-petals, often of a different colour to the surrounding proper petals. P. lactiflora ‘Bowl of Beauty’ AGM is one of the best of this kind, with bright pink petals curling round a froth of cream in the centre.

Double flowers have lots of petals and form a ‘powder-puff’ or domed crown. The ‘Rose Form’ is a double that opens on a flat plane like an old-fashioned rose, such as P. lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’ AGM.

The ‘bomb double’, is considered a type of double. Typically, the centre segments form a nice, round ball, sitting on top of a lower ring of ‘guard’ petals, which are sometimes of a different colour, (the word ‘bomb’ probably comes from ‘bombe’ which is the name of a round, frozen desert popular after World War I). P. lactiflora × officinalis ‘Red Charm’ is an example of this flower form. Doubles last longer in flower than singles but are more difficult to stake and keep the right way up in a rainstorm.

Peonies also provide colour in late summer and early autumn as the leaves start to turn colour. Usually by late August, they change from green to soft green and yellow, then red and finally shrivelling to brown. The widest range of autumn colours can be found on herbaceous peonies. The intersectional varieties (such as P. ‘Morning Lilac’) providing a strong, dignified show of orange, red, green and purple foliage whilst the remainder of the garden is in decline. After they have changed colour the foliage curls up and withers to a dull brown. They are a useful over wintering place for good insects such as ladybirds. However, this can make plants to susceptible to peony wilt.

Peonies will grow in most soils as long as they are not wet, including clay soils. They require a sunny or partially shaded site. Most herbaceous peonies grow to about 80-90cm tall and about 60-80cm wide. They take time to mature over 3-5 years.

Peonies are wildlife friendly and resistant to attack from slugs and snails, and rabbits. Ants are sometimes seen on the flower buds, but they are not harmful and disappear as the buds start to open.

Species herbaceous and tree peonies are self-fertile and, in the absence of other peony species, will produce seed true to type. They will, however, easily cross with other peonies and so unless the species is isolated, hybrids may well occur. Cultivars and hybrids, are usually sterile. Peony seeds need to be exposed to two chilling periods with a warm spell between them. The seeds are doubly dormant; this means the root emerges after the first chilling period but the stem and leaves only appear after the second winter. The seedlings can take up to five years to reach flowering size.

Propagation is by careful division of root stock in autumn. It is best to plant bare-rooted peonies with at least 3-5 ‘eyes’ or buds in autumn, planting them with the crown no more that 2.5-5cm below the surface. Most tree peonies especially named cultivars, are grafted on herbaceous peony rootstock. The graft union should be about 15cm below the soil level. Deep planting encourages the grafted plant to form its own roots, which reduces suckering from the herbaceous rootstock and prevents the rootstock becoming dominant.

Many peonies need staking in early spring before growth is too far advanced. Peonies will survive the harshest English winter (they are hardy to about -20C) and actually flower better following a cold winter.

The HPS publishes a booklet ‘Peonies’ by Gail Harland. Click here for link.

The National Collection of Paeonia (pre-1900 and early post-1900 P. lactiflora cvs.) is held by Mrs M Baber, c/o Plant Heritage, Gloucestershire.

Page image: Paeonia lactiflora ‘Bowl of Beauty’ AGM
(Image courtesy of HPS image library)

Plant of the Month May 2018: Astrantias

Astrantias are one of the star plants of our summer borders, flowering from late spring until late autumn, with a short break in mid-summer. Astrantias have been grown in British gardens since Tudor times. They are natives of central and eastern Europe, growing on heavy damp soil on woodland margins and in meadowland. In the garden they like a well-drained soil that remains moist, and will grow in sun, partial shade and shade. The red-flowering Astrantias are less vigorous and improve with regular division and in well-nourished leaf soil. Astrantias attract bees and other beneficial insects. As an added bonus, they are resistant to attacks from slugs and snails.

Astrantias are members of the Apiaceae family and are umbellifers with a difference. The enclosing involucre of bracts is enlarged to form a ruff, which frames the central umbel of large flowers. They self-seed easily and deadheading after the first flush encourages a second flowering. The exception to this is A. maxima.

There are two main species. The principle species is A. major and has been much selected and hybridised. A. major has white flowers often tinged with pink, and the underside of the flowerhead is a bright green. The leaves are mid-green. A. major subsp involucrata ‘Shaggy’ (AGM) was grown by Margery Fish in her garden at East Lambrook Manor. It has long white bracts with green tips which are shaggy. The original stock of A. major rosea was also propagated by Margery Fish, and has pale pink flowers.

A. major ‘Sunningdale Variegated’ (AGM) is grown for its early spring foliage which is light-green with cream/yellow variegation. The leaves turn mid-green when the stems of white flowers appear. It does best in a sunny position. The variegation of A. ‘Star of Magic’ persists throughout the season. The flowers are pink-red and sterile.

A. major has given rise to a number of dark flowered species, whose colours range from blood red to deep purple and near black. These include A. major ‘Rubra’ which is one of the easiest red- flowered variety to grow, and has pure, deep-maroon flowers and dark green leaves. A. major ‘Ruby Wedding’ is slower to multiply, but when fully established produces dark ruby-red flowers on red stems with reddish, deep-green leaves. A. major ‘Gill Richardson Group’ bears umbels of tiny crimson-red flowers surrounded by prominent red-tipped bracts above dark-green leaves in summer.

The second species is A. maxima (AGM) and is easily distinguishable as it has a three lobed leaf. The flower bracts are also fused, unlike other forms, creating a flower that looks like a small bowl in a lovely soft shell-pink colour. It flowers later than A. major. It increases by runners, not by forming clumps. It will tolerate a drier soil, but ideally prefers a moisture-retentive soil in dappled shade where it will make really large plants quickly.

This species has not produced the same impressive quantity of offspring as has A. major, but there is a deep pink variety called A. maxima ‘Mark Fenwick’. The dark red A. maxima ‘Hadspen Blood’ and deep pink A. ‘Roma’ AGM are thought to be hybrids between the two species. Another hybrid is A. ‘Buckland’ which has flowers with pink centres, and white and green bracts. It is sterile, but repeat flowers.

Plants to combine with astrantias:

  • Achillea
  • Anemone ‘Wild Swan’
  • Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’
  • Aquilegia
  • Campanula
  • Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’
  • Dryopteris
  • Echinacea
  • Geraniums
  • Geums
  • Gillenia trifoliata
  • Persicaria amplexicaulis
  • Polemonium
  • Potentilla
  • Lysimachia atropurpurea
  • Melica altissima
  • Salvias
  • Sambucus nigra
  • Sanguisorba
  • Thalictrums

The National Collection of Astrantias is held by Dr Andrew Ward of Norwell Nurseries.

Page imageAstrantia major subsp. involucrata ‘Shaggy’ AGM (Image courtesy of HPS image library)