Thursday, 26 March 2015

Evenley Wood Garden

Our first visit this year, on 25 March, was to Evenley Wood Garden in Northamptonshire. This replaced the usual snowdrop visit in February. This lovely 60 acre private woodland was bought from the Evenley Hall Eatate, 30 years ago, by Timothy Whiteley. He had discovered that one third of the area is acid soil in mainly alkaline terrain. This would give him the opportunity to grow the rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias that he loved and underplant with drifts of bulbs.
The initial impact of the wood was of lightness and airyness. The tree trunks stretched upward, tall and straight like telegraph poles, and the sun slanted through, casting long shadows. There was no dark undergrowth so it had a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The spaciousness was enhanced by wide rides and paths, cutting through the trees. The rising ground was gentle, so there was no sense of making an effort to climb up the hillside.
It was lovely to see shrubs like pieris growing to their natural size, rather than the constrained, somewhat prissy versions, that you often see growing in suburban gardens.
The "wow factor" at this time of the year was the stream of intense blue scillas meandering through the woodland. There were clumps and swathes of narcissus; I was particularly taken with Narcissus "February Gold" and "February Silver". My latest "must have" plant is Narcissus cyclamineus which is low-growing with a striking long flower tube and swept-back petals. The scale and proportion of the planting groups was generous and totally in keeping with their surroundings.
Other bulbs in flower were cyclamen and giant pink chinodoxa and there were also clumps of hellebores and primroses.
Mr. Whiteley likes to be around to welcome groups but, unfortunately, had a hospital appointment. However, we were made very welcome and were shown round in two groups. The group that I was in was led by a delightful and knowledgeable young woman from the Czech Republic.
I would love to see this woodland garden at a different time of the year - earlier for snowdrops or later for bluebells. And, in summer, with climbing climbing roses, such as "Paul's Himalayan Musk" scrambling through the trees. We were told that there were 120 different varieties of rose growing in the woods, with the latest project to plant a glade with many more. It will be a wonderful sight.
Our day was, as usual, topped and tailed by an excellent lunch - this time at the "Red Lion" at Evenley and with tea and home-made cake, eaten on the fringes of the wood.

Sue Blaxland

Sunday, 22 March 2015

An evening with Timothy Walker

We have a varied and stimulating events schedule this year in the Leicestershire and Rutland Gardens Trust.  We run trips to various gardens and we also have some very interesting lectures.  The March lecture was given by Timothy Walker who has recently retired from being the Horti Praefectus of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum.  We quite often have linked lectures and visits and we are running a coach trip to the gardens in July this year (click on the Forthcoming Events tab at the top of the page for more information).

The talk was given as a personal view of the history of the gardens.  It was full of fascinating information such as Timothy was the sixteenth Horti Praefectus, the first was Jacob Bobart the Elder in 1641 just before the country descended into Civil War in 1642.  One of Bobart's achievements was to catalogue all the plants in the garden which means that we know that only one of those plants still lives in the garden, a large yew tree.
The garden was set up originally to provide educational opportunities and research on medicinal plants, it was founded by a £5000 donation from Henry Danvers, the first Earl of Derby, who appears to have been an interesting character.

We were told that the 'mission statement' of the gardens is carved in stone over the main gate "To promote learning and glorify the work of God", no matter what your position on religion may be, to promote learning is a fine objective and to glorify plants and therefore all the wildlife and eco-systems that they create makes it a statement that I think many can buy into.

The talk took us through the various Horti Praefectus and professors that have influenced the garden as it was developed through the centuries.  There were lots of amusing anecdotes all clearly underpinned with a clear deep abiding love of botany/horticulture and considerable knowledge.
As usual when I go to such events I ended up with a plant on my 'look this up you might one to get one' list: Euphorbia styigiana.  The gardens hold the national collection of euphorbias and this plant had been in danger of being lost in the wild.  Its future is now secure in cultivation due to work carried out by the gardens which includes finding that the seeds are very attractive to wrens who eat them in preference to other seeds given half a chance.  

We had a very entertaining and informative evening, which ended as usual with tea and cake.

Alison Levey