Recent Developments at the Garden
by Timothy Walker – Director of the Botanic Garden
The Hardy Collection
Autumn finally arrived at both the Garden and the Arboretum on November 14th and a week later the female Ginkgo biloba at the Garden was a glorious butter yellow against an azure blue sky. On the same day the Mahonia lomariifolia was in full flower. As well as colour in leaves, it was a good autumn for fruits and in particular for Sorbus sargentiana and Danae racemosa in the Walled Garden. Our female Ginkgo also produced fruit for the very first time. For those of you that are not familiar with the smell of the fruits we would suggest that you stay away from this tree during Autumn in the years to come!
Prior to the commencement of Magdalen College’s refurbishment of the Daubeny Building the majority of the plants in the Mediterranean and New Zealand borders have been removed and re-planted elsewhere and/or propagated. The magnolias (M. grandiflora and M. denudata), the mature Chamaerops humilis and the hardy olive were left and the scaffolders have been very careful to avoid damaging these precious specimens. Elsewhere, many of the plants trained against the Walls have been receiving a thorough pruning. Some of these flowered heavily and early this year. Among these were Chimonanthus praecox and Jasminum nudiflorum that were in full flower by December 14th.
These are just two examples of the “anomalous” flowering during the autumn of 2006. These anomalies were probably rooted more in the minds of news’ editors than in reality. Elsewhere in the Walled Garden the Asteraceae, Boraginaceae and Fabaceae borders have been thinned out with many of the plants being divided. The Morus Bed (replanted 12 months ago) has been mulched with a thick layer of Garden compost.
Winter did seem to come early for some plants with Galanthus elwesii and Vinca difformis in full flower on November 21st but since these are Mediterranean species that flower during the winter in their habitats it is hardly surprising that they flower in a mild November/December in the UK when night-time minimums were as high as 12C. Rather more surprising was the flowering of Gentiana acaulis on January 15th along with several crocuses. A few days later there were even more plants in flower on the Rock Garden including Aster alpinus, Galanthus nivalis, G. gracilis, G. woronowii, G. elwesii (still going strong after 2 months), Bellevallia pycnantha, Crocus versicolor, C. banaticus, C. chrysanthus, Scilla mischtschenkoana, Iris unguicularis, I. reticulata Leucojum vernum ssp carpathicum, Polygala chamaebuxus var grandiflora, Helleborus lividus, Erodium pelargonifolium and Veronica armena. 12 days later at the end of the period covered by this report these plants had been joined by many Cyclamen coum. (Eight days later they were all shivering under 100 mm of snow but that will be dealt with in the next edition of the Newsletter). Whilst working on the Rock Garden Ali Quantrell has been locating gaps and creating space by restricting the growth of some of the woody plants that are getting too big after eight years on the new Rock Garden.
Elsewhere in the Lower Triangle the Water Garden has been cut down and the Gunnera manicata has been protected from frosts with bracken and its own leaves using the same method as that adopted by the Savill Garden (the technique was much admired by the Garden Staff during a visit in the Autumn). The shrubs on the Spring Walk have been pruned and reshaped back from the path. The Autumn and Herbaceous Borders have been cut back and the dahlias and cannas wrapped up for the winter. Both of these areas are due for some new plants this winter and Tom Price (Hardy Collection Curator) is working on new planting schemes with his team when it is too wet to get on the soil (i.e. most days in January).
The Glasshouse Collection
It was noted in the last report that the Encephalartos ferox in the Palm House had produced bright red cones for the second year. Since the Garden does not possess a male plant, pollen was generously donated from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Pollination took place early one morning when females are considered to be more receptive to the pollen’s advances. The pollen was mixed with water and then, using a pipette, inserted forcibly between the scales of the cone. The pipette is the surrogate replacement for the Jurassic weevil that has not survived as well as the cycad. Pollination took place on three mornings in August.
The cones swelled nicely and by November they began to dilate and the scales began to separate and ripe seeds were harvested in January. It is still not yet clear whether the process was successful because, being a gymnosperm, a cycad seed looks the same whether it contains an embryo or not.
This year’s low energy Christmas display in the Conservatory was very well received with all the sparkle on the tree being provided without electricity. In the Top Corridor the Clerodendrum speciosum has been flowering prolifically for more than three months. Likewise, in the Palm House Whitfieldia longifolia and Dichorisandra thyrsiflora have put on an endless display. In the Lower Corridor Chamaedorea tepejilote has flowered for the first time.
In the Lily Pond the Victoria continued to flower through the Winter and was among the taxa flowering on New Year’s day for the first time. The tropical lily pond is being cleaned as we prepare the Newsletter having missed its annual clean in 2006 because of the construction work in the Garden. As a result of the soil in the lily boxes not being disturbed, seedlings of Nymphaea mexicana have appeared in the Victoria box; they will not be allowed to remain there.