Tag Archives: Botany

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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A Sorbus Story

As Autumn continues to drag it’s bronzy heels and the leaves of many of the UK’s trees stubbornly refuse to do their red and yellow dance, there are plenty of other plants taking their chance to perform on the horticultural centre stage instead. Here at Chartwell for instance, a couple of crackers from the Sorbus genus are currently drawing many an eye. As we enter November when the house here shuts down for it’s Winter break and the gardens revel in taking up the slack, our visitors should certainly have no trouble in spotting the trees that I’ll be highlighting here today.

Sorbus hupehensis

Sorbus hupehensis

On the Top Terrace overlooking the Churchill’s Walled Garden, the Golden Rose Avenue and the Kent Weald, you will find three Sorbus hupehensis trees. This site in the gardens was where Sir Winston originally plonked his greenhouses and potting sheds but because the view to the South East is so stunning, Lady Churchill made him move them to the other side of the garden wall where they still reside to this day! The Sorbus trees sit behind three attractive wooden benches which were designed by Clementine after she saw some similar ones at Hatfield House.

Sorbus hupehensis.  Check. Lady Churchill's bench.  Check. View of the Kent Weald obscured by fog.  Check.

Sorbus hupehensis. Check.
Lady Churchill’s bench. Check.
View of the Kent Weald obscured by fog. Check.

Sorbus hupehensis was first described in 1901 by the Cotswold-born Ernest “Chinese” Wilson, who found it in the Hupeh Province of China on his first plant-hunting trip to the Far East. Within a decade, it had been introduced to Western horticulture, and in 1984, it gained the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

The recent gales were almost too much for one of our S. hupehensis!

The recent gales were almost too much for one of our S. hupehensis!

Also known sometimes as Sorbus glabrescens or the Hubei Rowan, Sorbus hupehensis can reach up to 8m. As you can see from the pictures here, it is for the gorgeous white/off-pink berries for which it is generally grown. Three original trees here at Chartwell were lost in the storm of 1987 (along with 99% of the trees on our estate) and one of these new examples almost took a tumble during the strong winds we experienced a couple of weeks ago. We righted it again however and re-staked it so hopefully it will continue to thrive!

Sorbus 'Joseph Rock'

Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’

Our Sorbus ‘Jospeh Rock’ can be found within the Walled Garden on the corner of the Cut Flower area. Less subtle perhaps than his siblings up on the Top Terrace above, Joseph’s bright red leaves and brilliant yellow berries are no less beautiful however. ‘Joseph Rock’ can reach up to 10m tall and is said to be a little prone to fireblight, although ours thankfully seems quite happy so far! The yellow berries nicely compliment the yellow flowers of the Golden Rose Avenue on the other side of the adjacent Beech hedge and the Autumn fruit of our ‘Golden Hornet’ crab apple trees at the other end of the Kitchen Garden.

You can just see the last of the yellow roses poking their heads over the hedge behind!

You can just see the last of the yellow roses poking their heads over the hedge behind our Sorbus ‘Jospeh Rock’!

This Sorbus is both a winner of the RHS First Class Certificate in 1962 and the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1950. It was originally collected from Yundshi Mountain in Yunnan in 1932 and was named after Joseph Francis Charles Rock (1884 – 1962) who was an Austrian-American explorer, geographer, linguist and botanist.

Malus 'Golden Hornet' doing its best to rival Sorbus 'Jospeh Rock' for the coveted 'Best Yellow Fruited Ornamental Tree in the Kitchen Garden' award!

Malus ‘Golden Hornet’ doing its best to rival Sorbus ‘Jospeh Rock’ for the coveted ‘Best Yellow Fruited Ornamental Tree in the Chartwell Walled Garden’ award!

Containing trees that you might commonly call Mountian Ash, Rowan and Whitebeam, Sorbus species’ are part of the vast Rosaceae family. The Sorbus genus contains about 100 species and they are generally found in woodland and mountainous areas of northern temperate regions. Tolerant of atmospheric pollution they are ideal for a small garden in urban or rural areas as they generally take a very long time to reach any great height. Historically they were also said to ward off evil spirits from wherever they were planted because this was the tree on which the Devil hanged his mother, so hopefully we’ll be alright here in the gardens at Chartwell!

'Joseph Rock' is quite a looker when backlit by the greying Autumn sky!

‘Joseph Rock’ is quite a looker when backlit by the greying Autumn sky!

Incidently, if you think either of the trees we’ve been focussing on here would make a good photograph, you might be interested in the first ever Chartwell Garden Calendar which contains a whole year’s worth of pretty pictures from around Churchill’s gardens and is available in our shop now or online here.

Jamie

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Featured Plant No. 10 – Kirengeshoma palmata

Kirengeshoma palmata in the Winter Border at Chartwell

Kirengeshoma palmata in the Autumn/Winter Border at Chartwell

With temperatures reaching up to the low-mid twenties here at sunny Chartwell this week you could be forgiven for thinking that its still Summer! However, the reality is that we are most certainly running head first into Autumn now as September grinds to a halt and October’s golden tones can be seen in the distance. It is not surprising perhaps then that while areas such as the Herbaceous Border and the Cut Flower area are still strutting their colourful stuff, the Autumn/Winter Border here in Churchill’s gardens is starting to put on a bit of a show once again too. And it is here that you can find the focus of this week’s blog, our Kirengeshoma palmata plants.

These drooping butter-yellow bells look stunning right now

These drooping butter-yellow bells look stunning right now

While these shade-loving beauties are not the most common plants in the gardens of Britain, there is plenty of reasons to suggest that maybe they should be. You can find them at Chartwell about halfway up the border, nestling happily in the shade of the our huge Walnut tree (Juglans nigra). So suited are they to partial or deep shade, that there is no reason why they couldn’t be the go-to plant for those little sun-starved spots every garden has. There is one proviso though: they only thrive in lime-free soils (and if truth be told, much prefer a sheltered rather than open spot). The soil along our Autumn/Winter border isn’t acidic as such, but it is that absence of alkaline lime that ticks the Kirengeshoma box.

When the flowers fully open you can really see the intricacies of their structure

When the flowers fully open you can really see the intricacies of their structure

Fully hardy in the UK, this herbaceous perennial is commonly known as Yellow Wax Bells and is a member of the Hydrangeaceae family. Native to the woodlands of Korea and Japan, the buds start to form on the elegant, drooping stems in late Summer before they really hit their stride during Autumn. Each plant can reach up to 120cm tall and 75cm wide, but they may need some staking in sandy soils. Although it is generally disease-free, it can be prone to slug and snail attack in some areas. Touch wood that ours seem unaffected so far this year! A moist soil will promote better growth than a dry one and it may need dividing every now and again as it is a clump forming plant in the right conditions.

The palmate leaves are almost as attractive as the blooms

The palmate leaves are almost as attractive as the blooms. They turn gold late in the season if the frost doesn’t nobble them

The name Kirengeshoma is formed from words in the Japanese language. ‘Ki’ means yellow and ‘renge’ means lotus blossom while ‘shoma’ means hat. ‘Rengashoma’ itself is the Japanese common name for Anemonopsis macrophylla which this plant is said to look similar to, although is not the same colour at all. It has been cultivated in the British Isles for more than a century and was awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993.

There are still plenty of spherical buds on our plants at Chartwell

There are still plenty of spherical buds on our plants at Chartwell

Kirengeshoma palmata is also a medicinal plant, containing biologically active flavonoids in roots and rhizomes. It is generally thought to reproduce sexually through cross-pollination by insects and asexually by spreading rhizomes. It has become rare, almost endangered, in its native Japan in recent years, all the more reason to enjoy the plants that we have over here perhaps.

The Autumn/Winter Border, viewed from the top end where the Cyclamen, Brunnera and heathers are looking fab right now

The Autumn/Winter Border, viewed from the top end where the Cyclamen, Brunnera and heathers are looking fab right now

The Kirengeshoma is by far the only plant to be putting on a show in the Autumn/Winter Border right now. Although the area is only just revving up for a long season there is plenty to catch the eye already as the pictures below can testify…

These Chelsea-chopped Sedums are still burgeoning but the bees love them already!

These Chelsea-chopped Sedums are still burgeoning but the bees love them already!

Most of the Asters are still on their way but this little Aster novi-belgii 'Apple Blossom' is giving an early showing

Most of the Asters are still on their way but this little Aster novi-belgii ‘Apple Blossom’ is giving an early showing

The pink heads of this Miscanthus sinensis 'Flamingo' look amazing rustling in the wind

The pink heads of this Miscanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’ look amazing rustling in the wind

The Cardiocrinum giganteum plants are still yet to put on their full dinosaur-headed show but they still look pretty darn interesting even at this stage!

The Cardiocrinum giganteum plants are still yet to put on their full dinosaur-headed show but they still look pretty darn interesting even at this stage!

Some perfectly formed Colchicum speciosum 'Album' bulbs are are starting to rear their pretty heads

Some perfectly formed Colchicum speciosum ‘Album’ bulbs are are starting to rear their pretty heads

So when you next pop in to see us at Chartwell, make sure you walk along our Autumn/Winter Border where you might spot a few hidden gems. You’ll find the area in the Orchard running up along one of Churchill’s famous walls. And if you see me around I’ll be more than happy to show you the highlights in person!

Jamie

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