Food With A View

The new Restaurant Border at Chartwell

The new Restaurant Border at Chartwell

Anyone who has arrived at Chartwell in the last month and walked past the brand spanking new and improved restaurant will also hopefully have noticed that the border in front of it has been completely redesigned and replanted too. I was tasked with overseeing this project and with the help of the rest of the gardening staff and volunteers I’m pleased to say that it is now available for your viewing pleasure! There were quite a few restrictions placed on the design including a relatively small budget (of course!), a very narrow border depth and a poor, sloping soil. The border was also required to look as established as possible right from the off in order to screen some of the new restaurant decking. The plants were to be evergreen where possible, drought tolerant and also low maintenance. All of these stipulations actually proved to be a really interesting challenge and actually helped narrow down the plant choice nicely.

Many visitors have been asking about this yellow-leaved plant in the border.  It is the brilliantly named Escallonia 'Gold Brian'!

Many visitors have been asking about this yellow-leaved plant in the border. It is the brilliantly named Escallonia ‘Gold Brian’!

Once the old border had been weeded and dug over, we added some chicken manure pellets to boost the fertility and some of our own Chartwell-made compost to try and improve the soil structure. The planting itself could then begin using the new plants that had been safely stored in our plant quarantine area for the prior 6 weeks since being delivered by our suppliers. This ensured that we could make sure we were not bringing in any new pests or diseases into the garden here. In actual fact it meant that we were able to spot some highly invasive Mare’s Tail (Equisetum arvense) that had sprung up in one of the Bay Tree pots during this time! Phew!

These Lavandula angustifolia ‘Lodden Pink’ plants are really starting to show off their blooms now

These Lavandula angustifolia ‘Lodden Pink’ plants are really starting to show off their blooms now

I had decided to split the 32m border into seven individual sections of approximately 4.5m. The planting would then repeat across these sections but alternate between a pink and white colour scheme in sections 1, 3, 5 and 7 and a blue, purple and yellow scheme in sections 2, 4 and 6. For instance, in the odd-numbered sections you will find the pink-flowered Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Roseus’ while in the even-numbered areas there are blue-flowered Rosemary plants called Rosmarinus officinalis var. angustissimus ‘Beneden Blue’. Some plants such as the lollipop Bay trees (Laurus nobilis) anchor the whole border by appearing in every section. My initial plan for this design can be seen in the picture below. It shows early version that had to be sent to the architects and council planners for approval because the border was tied in with the whole restaurant re-build. Some of the plants changed between making this plan and the final planting process but hopefully it will give you an idea of the effect we were trying to achieve.

My initial plan for the new border

My initial plan for the new border

The new restaurant here at Chartwell is called the Landemare Cafe. The relevance of this name refers to the fact that Mrs Landemare was a cook for the Churchill family, initially at weekend parties here at Chartwell but eventually in a full time capacity here and at 10 Downing Street between 1939 and 1954. Lady Churchill apparently knew she would be able to make the best out of rations and that everyone in the household would be happy and contented. She said that “Mrs. Landemare’s food was delicious. She is an inspired and intuitive cook.”

Ann and Georgie get stuck in with the planting of the new border...

Ann and Georgie get stuck in with the planting of the new border…

...while Steve makes sure all of the plants are well watered in.

…while Steve makes sure all of the plants are well watered in.

A full list of the plants we used in this new border are as follows:

7 x Laurus nobilis standard tree
7 x Cistus cyprius10 x Cistus purpureus
13 x Phlomis fruticosa13 x Rosmarinus officinalis var. angustissimus ‘Beneden Blue’
18 x Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Roseus’
13 x Santolina chamaecyparissus16 x Santolina pinnata subsp. neopolitana ‘Edward Bowles’
13 x Sedum spectabile ‘Iceberg’
21 x Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
21 x Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’
13 x Lavandula x intermedia ‘Vera’
18 x Lavandula angustifolia ‘Lodden Pink’
8 x Lonicera japonica ‘Darts World’
6 x Lonicera japonica ‘Hallania’
12 x Hebe ‘Great Orme’
9 x Escallonia laevis ‘Gold Brian’

I chose Lavandula x intermedia ‘Vera’ not only because it is a beautiful plant in its own right and because it it thought to be the original species lavender, but also in memory of my late Grandmother Vera Harris who sadly passed away fairly recently. Once the planting was complete we took a group of volunteers up there and mulched the whole area with woodchips derived from some of the fallen trees and branches we suffered earlier in the year.

The honeysuckles are flowering well in the border right now...

The honeysuckles are flowering well in the border right now…

As are the Santolinas.  These are also known as Cotton Lavender plants even though they are neither cotton nor lavender!

…As are the Santolinas. These are also known as Cotton Lavender plants even though they are neither cotton nor lavender!

Make sure you come and have a walk along this new border the next time you’re here with us at Chartwell. It may not be part of the garden itself but it is still in-keeping with the rest of the garden, using plants, colours and styles that you will find elsewhere throughout the Churchills’ grounds. The fact that some of the plants in this border are also edible, such as the Bay and Rosemary, ties them in nicely to the new Landemare Cafe too.

The Landemare Cafe and new border at Chartwell

The Landemare Cafe and new border at Chartwell

Incidentally, this project was the last one I’ll carry out here at Chartwell for a while and this here blog post is also the last one I will be writing for a time too. I will be starting a 5 month secondment as Assistant Head Gardener at nearby Nymans soon but we hope that the rest of the gardening team here at Chartwell will be able to keep this blog going in my absence! I have written 134 posts in this blog over the last couple of years and it has received over 35,000 ‘hits’ during that time, so long may it continue. I plan to do a bit of moonlight blogging while I’m at Nymans however via my companion Horticulture Week blog which you can find by clicking here, so please feel free to join me there too!

All the best…
Jamie

1 Comment

Filed under Chartwell Life, Plants

Do You Dig Our Digitalis?

Take a good close look inside a Foxglove flower to glimpse its true beauty

Take a good close look inside a Foxglove flower to glimpse its true beauty

With the weather really hotting up right now, it feels like Summer is certainly doing its best to take a hold here at Chartwell. This means that most of the Spring flowers and blooms like Tulips, Daffs, Bluebells and the like have done their turn and given way to the huge array of Summer colour that will soon be completely filling Churchill’s gardens. There are a few plants however that straddle the seasons and one of the best at doing that at the moment is the humble Foxglove, or Digitalis purpurea.

White Foxgloves reach for the sky from the aptly named Foxglove Bed!

White Foxgloves reach for the sky from the aptly named Foxglove Bed!

Foxgloves are classed as a short-lived perennial or more commonly as a biennial. We sow ours indoors in the Summer, grow them on, prick them out and pot them on before planting them out in the Autumn where they happily overwinter before blooming the following Spring. The resulting plant can self seed freely if allowed to but when the resulting flowers are as pretty as they are, who cares?! As you can see from the picture above, we actually have a small area of the garden behind the Golden Orfe Pond actually called the Foxglove Bed that is filled with gorgeous spires of white Foxgloves every year. They really sing out from this dark, shady spot but they are certainly not the only examples within the Chartwell boundaries as you will see throughout this blog post.

The Bomb Crater in the Chartwell woods looks even better studded with Foxgloves

The Bomb Crater in the Chartwell woods looks even better studded with Foxgloves

Digitalis purpurea was named by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753 in his important publication ‘Species Plantarum’. The Genus name Digitalis comes from the Latin for finger (digitus), referring to the shape of the flowers. The species name purpurea simply refers to the colour of the flowers of the wild form, which are frequently purple (although a white-flowered form is also fairly common). OK, so Digitalis purpurea is the latin or botanical name and Foxglove is the common name but were you aware of the sheer number of other common names by which this plant can be known as?

Bloody bells
Bloody finger
Cow flop
Dead man’s bells
Dog’s lugs
Dragon’s mouth
Fairy bells
Fairy fingers
Fairy gloves
Fairy thimbles
Fairy’s cap
Fairy’s petticoat
Fairy’s thimble
Finger flower
Flap dock
Folk’s gloves
Fox finger
Gloves of Mary
Lady’s fingers
Lady’s gloves
Lady’s thimble
Lion’s mouth
Lusmore
Lustmore
Pop dock
Thimble finger
Thimble flower
Throat root
Witches’ bells
Witches’ fingers
Witches’ gloves
Witches’ thimbles

Blimey! I’m not sure what the World record is for number of common names but that’s got to be up there, surely?

In the Cut Flower area of the Walled Garden you will find this 'Apricot' variety...

In the Cut Flower area of the Walled Garden you will find this ‘Apricot’ variety…

...and this glorious 'Pam's Choice'

…and this glorious ‘Pam’s Choice’

Foxgloves are a source of digitoxin, a chemical used in the drug ‘Digitalis’, which has been used as a heart stimulant since as early as 1785. Although normally made using Digitalis lanata leaves, D. purpurea use is not unknown. They are also well-known for their toxicity, and ingestion of the leaves can result in severe poisoning. Despite this toxicity, they have been widely used in folk-medicine throughout the ages. Foxglove Tea (an infusion of the leaves) was taken for colds, fevers and catarrh, and compresses were used for ulcers, swellings and bruises. The Foxglove’s most common use however was as a diuretic against dropsy (an accumulation of fluid in the tissues), for which it was sometimes effective, but occasionally proved fatal! William Withering, an 18th century botanist and physician, discovered that an infusion of the leaves of Foxgloves could slow and strengthen the heartbeat, which in turn stimulated the kidneys to clear the body and lungs of excess fluid. He also showed that Foxglove leaves could be used in the treatment of heart failure, but that high doses could also stop the heart!

More white Foxgloves loom majestically at the back of the Herbaceous Border

More white Foxgloves loom majestically at the back of the Herbaceous Border

Van Gogh is said to have taken Foxglove tincture as a treatment for his epilepsy and art historians believe that the yellow haze that this could cause in the sight of patients for this type of treatment may be responsible for the appearance of many of his yellow dominated paintings. Back in 1554, Nicholas Culpeper (an English botanist, herbalist, physician, and astrologer) said that “foxglove was one of the best remedies for a scabby head”! So now you know! In Roman mythology, Flora, the Goddess of fields, crops and flowers, placed a foxglove blossom on Juno’s stomach causing her to instantly conceive. She went from Flora’s garden to the shoreline and gave birth to Mars. In Scandinavia, they say that foxes were saved by the fairies from extinction when the fairies gave them the secret of how to ring the Foxglove bells to warn other foxes of approaching hunters. The foxes were also said to put on these flower gloves so that they would tread more softly among the chicken roosts to capture an unsuspecting hen or rooster. In Wales, Foxgloves were called Goblin’s Gloves and was said to attract the hobgoblins who wore the long bells on their fingers as gloves that imparted magical properties.

Paths in the Chartwell estate are lined with purple Foxgloves

Paths in the Chartwell estate are lined with purple Foxgloves

So whether you believe any of that Foxglove folklore or not, be sure to hurry along to Chartwell soon to catch this year’s crop before they disappear again until next Spring…

Jamie

4 Comments

Filed under Plants

Ellie & Agnes Who?

Elaeagnus 'Quicksilver' along the entrance path at Chartwell

Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ along the entrance path at Chartwell

Although here in the gardens of the Churchill family we are rightly proud of all of the plants in our collection, at various times of the year, us gardeners will be asked by our visitors for the identity of a core group of recurring plants. During the Summer it might be the Phytolacca americana in the Herbaceous Border with its corn on the cob-like purple fruits. During mid Spring it might be the masses of white flowers of our Exochorda macrantha bushes on the Kitchen Garden banks that catch the eye. And in the depths of Winter the alien seed heads of our recently introduced Cardiocrinum giganteum might be stealing the show. Right now however, the delightful vanillary scent of the yellow flowers of our Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ plants are grabbing a great deal of the horticultural headlines.

It really is a shame that scratch and sniff computer screens haven't been invented yet!

It really is a shame that scratch and sniff computer screens haven’t been invented yet!

Also known as the Silver Bush or Wolf Willow, this Elaeagnus originated in England as a chance hybrid seedling, recognized and named by celebrated British plantsman Roy Lancaster. Roy actually suggests that he thinks it may be a hybrid between Elaeagnus angustifolius and Elaeagnus commutata.

Popular with bees as well as human Chartwell visitors!

Popular with bees as well as human Chartwell visitors!

E. ‘Quicksilver’ displays striking silvery foliage on this deciduous, fast-growing shrub. It likes a fertile, well drained soil in full sun, and works well as a specimen plant, or in a shrub border. It can tolerate open or sheltered sites and grows just as well in clay, sandy or loamy soils of virtually any pH. It is considered drought resistant and also thrives in salty coastal conditions, requiring little or no maintenance, although it can reach up to 8ft in height and spread if left completely to its own devices.

We have another group of 'Quicksilver' bushes near the Croquet Lawn overlooking our Orchard

We have another group of ‘Quicksilver’ bushes near the Croquet Lawn overlooking our Orchard

‘Quicksilver’ has none of the hazardous spines of E. angustifolia and it is sterile which means that won’t seed itself about like other Elaeagnus shrubs. Although it can sucker itself, it doesn’t do this too vigorously and so doesn’t run around where it isn’t wanted. If I may keep singing its praises, it is also deer-proof, fixes atmospheric nitrogen and can also be pruned back hard to form an attractive silver dome!

The silver leaves are matched only by the golden hues of the young stems

The stunning silver leaves are matched only by the golden hues of the young stems

Anyway, don’t take my word for all this, come and have a look and a smell for yourselves and enjoy one of the unsung heroes of the gardens of this country…

Jamie

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden History, Plants

All Hail The President!

What better way to take a breather at Chartwell than in Lady Churchill's Rose Garden beneath a gorgeous Clematis?!

What better way to take a breather at Chartwell than in Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden beneath a gorgeous Clematis?!

If you asked a cross section of garden lovers and enthusiasts to name their favourite plant, I’m betting that quite a few of them may well plump for the good ol’ Clematis. But with so many varieties and types to choose from, which particular one would be the most popular? Well, here in the gardens of the Churchill family home we have over 20 different choices of Clematis, but there is one in particular that is blooming like crazy right now, so perhaps Clematis ‘The President’ might be top of the pops for some of you! Found against one of the surrounding stone walls in Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden, it also provides a perfect back-drop to any pictures taken of friends or family sat on the rustic stone bench beneath.

When glimpsed through the group of standard Wisteria trees you can see how the flowers compliment each other perfectly

When glimpsed through the group of standard Wisteria trees you can see how the flowers compliment each other perfectly

‘The President’ was introduced by Charles Noble in 1876, a nurseryman credited with introducing many Clematis cultivars mainly by crossing C. ‘Standishii’ with C. ‘Fortunei’ and various forms of C. patens. Born in 1817, Noble followed in his father’s horticultural footsteps and set up a nursery with John Standish in Bagshot, Surrey. Noble also forged links with celebrated plant hunter Robert Fortune, selling some of the plants he brought back from his trips to China for the first time in the UK. Little is known of him after he retired in 1989 but ‘The President’ still holds its own among many modern varieties and is the holder of the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM) since 1993. So popular is ‘The President’ that it is often used by breeders as a base for creating newer varieties today.

The flowers start off as this striking vibrant blue/purple colour...

The overlapping sepals of the large flowers start off as this striking vibrant blue/purple colour…

...before maturing to this paler and perhaps more interesting mottled mix

…before maturing to this paler and perhaps more interesting mottled mix

This Clematis can tolerate full sun or partial shade, is fully hardy and likes a well-drained soil, preferably alkaline but either heavy or light in structure. It can grow to 3m in height with a spread of around 1m. This relatively compact habit makes it ideal for smaller gardens or borders or even in a container. One of the big plus points of ‘The President’ is that the impressively=sized blooms can last from late Spring right up to early Autumn in ideal conditions.

Look, there are still plenty more blooms to come on our specimen!

Look, there are still plenty more blooms to come on our specimen!

Not as many people as you might think actually grow Clematis in their own gardens, partly due to the fact that there is an air of mystery surrounding their pruning. It is true that Clematis fall into three pruning groups but the process is relatively simple as long as you know your particular variety:

Pruning Group 1 consists of early-blooming clematis that flower on shoots produced the previous season. They require little regular pruning except for the deadheading of faded flowers. In later years some training and perhaps thinning might be necessary. If renovation is required, plants can be cut back to 15cm from the base after flowering, although this will affect flowering and should not be carried out again within three years. Prune mid to late spring, after flowering and once the risk of frost has passed.

Pruning Group 2 (which includes our C. ‘The President) comprises the large-flowered cultivars that flower from May to June or beyond on short shoots developing from the previous year’s growth. Some (such as our subject in this blog) flower again in late Summer on new growth. Prune dead or weak stems in February and remove flower heads, back to a large growth bud immediately below the flower, as soon as the first flush of flowers is over in early Summer. They can also, if preferred, be left un-pruned except for the removal of dead shoots in Spring.

Pruning Group 3. This group comprises clematis that flower from mid to late Summer on the ends of the current year’s growth. If this type is left un-pruned growth will continue from where it ended the previous season, resulting in a tangled mass of growth, flowering well above eye level with stems bare at the base. These late-flowering clematis are best pruned back hard in February each year to the lowest pair of buds.

Even the flower heads that have lost their petals have a stark charming beauty to them

Even the dark red anthers on the flower heads that have lost their petals have a stark charming beauty to them

So whether you have a Clematis of your own; you think you might chose a Clematis as your fave plant; or whether you just want to see the the loveliness of ours in close up with your own eyes, get yourselves down to Chartwell again soon and swear horticultural allegiance to ‘The President’!

Jamie

4 Comments

Filed under Garden History, Plants

An Azara Amongst The Azaleas

The oft-overlooked Azalea Banks at Chartwell

The oft-overlooked Azalea Banks at Chartwell

Everyone who comes and pays us a visit here at Chartwell will have their favourite part of the gardens, probably depending on what time of year they dropped in. For some it might be a walk in the woods or a mooch around the Kitchen Garden while for others the blooms within Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden or the views from the Top Terrace might be highlighted. But not many people will perhaps put forward the Azalea Banks which at this moment especially is a great shame. As you leave the driveway in front of the house via the far roadside corner and head down towards the Croquet Lawn, most peoples’ eyes will be drawn by the Croquet Lawn itself and the sweeping views of the Kent Weald beyond. But turn your head 90 degrees and you will see the part of the garden I’m talking about. The grassy banks don’t lead anywhere, apart from our dark and dingy long-term compost bays which are chained off from the public (don’t worry, you’re not missing much!) but a little amble around this area might just be worth your while.

Rhododendron 'Magnifica'

Rhododendron ‘Magnifica’

Of course, the name ‘Azalea Bank’ itself throws up the old question, “what is the difference between a Rhododendron and an Azalea”? Well, all Azaleas are actually Rhododendrons BUT not all Rhododendrons are Azaleas. Confused? Rhododendron is a genus (a group of plants with shared characteristics) and Azaleas are a group within that genus, rather than forming a genus of their own. To clarify a little more, an Azalea has 5 stamens (pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower) while other Rhododendrons have 10 or more. Furthermore, Azaleas are often smaller and may be deciduous or evergreen while other Rhododendrons are all evergreen. Either way, the Rhododendrons in the Azalea Bank beds are looking blooming marvelous right now as you will see above and below…

Rhododendron 'Daviesii'

Rhododendron ‘Daviesii’

Rhododendron 'Irene Koster'

Rhododendron ‘Irene Koster’

Stunning as they are though, it wasn’t these Rhodies that prompted me to write this particular blog entry. No, there is another plant in this area that is just as pretty, just as interesting and a lot less well known. The other day I was in the gardens with a visiting friend of mine, a gardener from nearby National Trust property Scotney Castle and he asked what the yellow flowered shrubs against the wall here were. And the answer was Azara serrata. Heard of it? If you have, well done! But if you haven’t I wouldn’t be surprised.

Twin Azara serrata shrubs on the Azalea Banks

Twin Azara serrata shrubs on the Azalea Banks

The name may sound like a Harry Potter spell, but these shrubs originally from the also lesser known Flacourtiaceae family but now re-housed in the Salicaceae family, come originally from Chile, not Hogwarts! Also known as the Saw-toothed Azara, these shrubs may look fairly innocuous for most of the year, but right now they are flowering their South American socks off, covered in masses of fragrant, intricate bright yellow blooms. In fact, the sweet chocolatey scent can be smelled from some distance away.

Blue and yellow.  Good colour combo!

Blue and yellow. Good colour combo!

One of the few fully hardy South American shrubs, Azaras are in fact reasonably common in large collections of plants open to the public but virtually unheard of in private gardens. Which is a shame because after hot summers these shrubs can also have a show of round white berries to extend their season of interest. They prefer moist, fertile, humus-rich soil where possible and even grow with their roots permanently in water in their native Chile where they are called ‘Corcolén’ or ‘Aromo de Castilla’. They tolerate full sun but are equally happy in part or full shade, mimicking their woodland habitat of origin.

Our Azaras are offered good shelter from the Chartwell roadside wall

Our Azaras are offered good shelter by the Chartwell roadside wall

In 1794 the genus of Azara was named after Félix de Azara (1742 – 1821), a Spanish geographer and naturalist who did fieldwork in South America from 1781 to 1796. Azara serrata was discovered and named in the same year by Hipólito Ruiz López and José Antonio Pavón Jiménez who are jointly cited as the authors of many botanical names. Between 1779 and 1788 these Spanish botanists (together with the French botanist Joseph Dombey) visited Chile, Peru and other South American countries, discovering many new plants. Why not do some plant hunting of your own and come and discover us here at Chartwell soon…!

Jamie

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden History, Plants

A Blog Two Years In The Making!

The use of wallflowers in the Rose Garden borders at Chartwell

The use of wallflowers in the Rose Garden borders at Chartwell

As I sit and write this blog I know for a fact that there will at least one person who will be happy to read it, and no I’m not talking about my Mum this time! For the last couple of years, Matthew Law our Formal Garden Supervisor here at Chartwell, has been bugging me to produce a blog about the story of our wallflowers, from seed to flower. For one reason or another it never happened but now finally, here is that story!

This 'xxxxxx' wallflower comes in delicate shades of pink.

This ‘Aurora’ wallflower comes in delicate shades of pink.

'Primrose Gem' is a bright, vibrant yellow

‘Primrose Gem’ is a bright, vibrant yellow

While 'xxxxxx' is mix of smoky purples

While this imaginatively named ‘Purple’ is mix of gorgeous smoky shades

The wallflowers here at Chartwell have almost done their job as we reach the end of April. We use them as Spring bedding, along with the likes of Myosotis, Tulips, Bellis and Hyacinths, and also as cut flowers for the house before the Summer annuals start to take over. Erysimum cheiri (as Wallflowers like to called) are also still known as Cheiranthus cheiri sometimes, and are part of the Brassicaceae family that contains the likes of cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower. Native to Europe, they are also found commonly in North Africa, Asia and North America. They thrive in poor or moderately fertile soils that are preferably alkaline and in full sun.

Stage 1 - sow the seeds in trays under glass

Stage 1 – sow the seeds in trays under glass

The wallflowers we raise here are grown as biennials, meaning that they produce vegetative growth during the first year and then flower in the second year. We therefore do a lot of the work in the previous year, up to 9 months before they produce they showy flowers. You can sow the seeds of wallflowers any time from late Spring until mid Summer – June is ideal. They are quick and easy to germinate if kept moist and warm. Once the germinated seedlings produce their first sets of true leaves they can be pricked out into modules as shown below:

Modules containing various varieties of wallflowers in the Chartwell greenhouses

Modules containing various varieties of wallflowers in the Chartwell greenhouses

No this isn't the final plant, just an extreme close up of the seedling!

No this isn’t the final plant, just an extreme close up of the seedling!

The time to plant out your wallflower plants will be dictated to some extent by the weather and by how far along your plants are. Any time from late August until mid October will be fine while the soil is still still warm but has a reasonable moisture content. Always make sure that the plants have been hardened off first though, moving from greenhouse to cold frame before being placed at the mercy of the British climate.

In some years we plant out straight from the modules, as Rhiannon and myself are doing here...

In some years we plant out straight from the modules, as Rhiannon and myself are doing here…

...but perhaps a better method, if you have the time, is to pot them on into individual pots and then plant out from this stage, as Ann and I did last year.

…but perhaps a better method, if you have the time, is to pot them on into individual pots first and then plant out from this stage, as Ann and I did last year.

A little trick to create healthier, bushier plants is to pinch out the growing tips of the young plants before they enter their Winter dormancy. Allow me to demonstrate…!

Here is the young plant about to be placed in the ground

Here is the young plant about to be placed in the ground

Pinch out the tip like so...

Pinch out the tip like so…

...to leave a stockier specimen such as this

…to leave a stockier specimen such as this

The English Wallflower is so called because it is associated with ruins of old castles where it can literally grow on the walls and masonry of the old castle ruins. It was brought to the British Isles as a medicinal plant as early as the Norman Conquest and began to naturalize in England, Scotland and Ireland. Also sometimes known as Cheiry of Keiry, Bee Flower or Heart’s Ease, the former genus name Cheirianthus means ‘Handflower’, a name given because it was carried in the hand during medieval festivals. The species name of cheiri is related to the medieval common name ‘Chevisaunce’ or ‘Cherisaunce’, which means ‘Comfort’, perhaps because of its medicinal properties or because of its comforting scent and beauty.

You will find wallflowers here at Chartwell in our Herbaceous Border as Spring bedding...

You will find wallflowers here at Chartwell in our Herbaceous Border as Spring bedding…

...in the borders of Lady Churchill's Rose Garden...

…in the borders of Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden…

... and in the troughs of the Pink Terrace in the house

… and in the troughs of the Pink Terrace in the house

The Greek physician Galen believed wallflowers were useful for regulating the menstrual cycle, to relieve pain of childbirth, for liver & kidney problems and to clear cataracts. The plant does in fact contain cardiac glycosides called cheiranthosides, similar to digitalis, which can have pretty intense effects on the body. They could be potentially curative presuming of course the toxicity didn’t kill the user first! Its modern use as a herbal remedy is rare though, due to this toxic dangerousness.

Drawing of a Wallflower from 1856 (courtesy of Natural History Society of Northumbria)

Drawing of a Wallflower from 1856
(courtesy of Natural History Society of Northumbria)

The wallflower has also long been a symbol of doomed lovers. Legend has it that Elizabeth, the daughter of the Earl of March in 14th Century Scotland, dropped a wallflower from her father’s castle window as a signal to her lover that she was willing to elope with the son of King Robert III, her father’s foe. Her father, angered by her choice of lover, imprisoned her in Neidpath Castle. The prince, disguised as a minstrel, then waited near the castle wall for his beloved’s signa, when to his delight the flower fell nearby. However, Elizabeth, while attempting to climb down from the castle, fell to her death. The young prince then left Scotland, grief-stricken, roaming throughout Europe, but always keeping a sprig of wallflower in his cap.

Here is out nursery bed at the end of last year, complete with four rows of wallflowers

Here is our nursery bed at the end of last year, complete with four rows of wallflowers

And here is that bed today with most of the wallflowers removed and used around the gardens as bedding

And here is that bed today with most of the wallflowers removed and used around the gardens as bedding

We also keep some wallflowers in our raised nursery beds behind the greenhouses for use as picking for cut flowers

We also keep some wallflowers in our raised nursery beds behind the greenhouses for use as picking for cut flowers

If you pay us a visit here in Churchill’s gardens any time soon you can still catch our wallflowers before they go over and are replaced with Summer bedding. And don’t forget it will soon be time for the whole cycle to begin again so why try some for yourself?

Jamie

2 Comments

Filed under Chartwell Life, Plants

Extra Curricular Gardening

The logo on our new seed collecting bags

The logo on our new seed collecting bags

I’ve been spending a few days away from Chartwell recently, attending some National Trust seminars and events, all designed to help us look after and preserve our plant collection here for now and future generations to enjoy. The latest of these days was spent at Wakehurst Place, the country estate of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and more importantly in this case, the home of the Millennium Seed Bank. Created with funding to mark the Millennium celebrations, the seed bank works with over 80 other countries to save plants around the globe with a focus on plants most at risk and most useful for the future. So far, the seeds of around 13% of the World’s wild plant species have been saved with a target of 25% for 2020.

Gardeners from key South East National Trust properties being shown around the seed labs at Wakehurst

Gardeners from key South East National Trust properties being shown around the seed labs at Wakehurst

As part of the Milliennium Seed Bank Partnership, the National Trust is working with Kew and Wakehurst to try and help their seed saving process by providing access to the vast collection of plants within the gardens and countryside estates that belong to the Trust. In fact, The National Trust’s portfolio of plants is of immense importance and is one of the most significant collections in the UK. Last year, ten properties within the South East took part in the first year of seed collecting including Nymans, Sissinghurst Castle, Sheffield Park and Scotney Castle. For 2104, five further South East National Trust properties will join the scheme, including, we are very pleased to say, Chartwell.

Wakehurst scientists hard at work

Wakehurst scientists hard at work

This process of seed saving will allow us to make sure the key, important plants here in Churchill’s gardens and estate are preserved via their seeds. Our Cryptomeria japonica, for example, which stands proudly by the Golden Orfe Pond is thought to be the oldest in the country. It was planted by the previous owners of Chartwell, the Colquhoun family, from the first batch of seeds that were introduced into the UK by plant hunter Robert Fortune from Shanghai in 1844, ironically via Kew Gardens.

Planted in 1852, our Cryptomeria japonia (Japanese Cedar) tree is a whopper!

Planted in 1852, our Cryptomeria japonia (Japanese Cedar) tree is a whopper!

The process of saving Chartwell’s seeds will be done over a period of time, depending on when the seeds are ripe and viable. The best time to collect seeds is at their natural time of dispersal. Once collected they must be cleaned and then properly dried before they will be taken to Wakehurst for further drying, analysis, x-raying and then cold storage. Once in storage the life span of them will increase exponentially. For example, for every 1% of moisture content that is removed from a seed, the life span doubles!

This multitude of sieves at Wakehurst is used for grading seeds by size and removing the chaff from them.

This multitude of sieves at Wakehurst is used for grading seeds by size and removing the chaff from them.

Here is one of the many, many seed cold stores.  It is -20 degrees in there so this picture was taken through the glass window!

Here is one of the many, many seed cold stores. It is – 20 degrees in there so this picture was taken through the glass window!

And here is the seed saving kit that we will be using this year at Chartwell

And here is the seed saving kit that we will be using this year at Chartwell

We will keep you abreast of our progress throughout the year as we start to save our seeds and submit them for storage at the Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place. At the top of this blog post I mentioned that I had been to several of these seminars so it seems a little remiss of me if I don’t let you know what the other ones were about too.

The current Chartwell plant quarantine area is kept separate from the rest of the garden/nursery area

The current Chartwell plant quarantine area is kept separate from the rest of the garden/nursery area

A day held at Scotney Castle a couple of weeks ago on Plant Health gave instruction on how best to avoid plant diseases coming into our gardens. It has encouraged us here at Chartwell to try and achieve at least a National Trust Plant Health Bronze Standard award by working hard to improve a few things such as getting assurances from visiting contractors about their boot and tool hygiene and improving our plant quarantine area where we store plants brought in from outside nurseries. We will keep you posted on our progress with these actions in a future blog.

Kalmia latifolia 'Clementine Churchill'

Kalmia latifolia ‘Clementine Churchill’ (as it should look!)

Another day, this time held at Nymans, was led by the National Trust Plant Conservation Centre, who are there to propagate rare and endangered plants to keep the collections in National Trust gardens thriving. As part of this process, we hope for example to get some new Kalmia latifolia ‘Clemtine Churchill’ plants propagated via laboratory micropropagation, as ours are not currently in the best of health. Again, you can read how we get on with this process in another future blog. For now though, come and visit us here at Chartwell soon and see our magnificent plant collection with your own eyes!

Jamie

2 Comments

Filed under Chartwell Life, Plants