The gardens through the seasons
The autumn colour has been particularly good this year. Parrotia persica is a deciduous tree in the family amamelidaceae, closely related to the witch-hazel genus Hamamelis. It is native to northern Iran and other parts of Iran and it is endemic in the Alborz Mountains. Many years ago (1840s and on) the cascade and ponds in our gardens were redesigned to become an ornamental rock garden, water lily and iris garden but sadly after the 1940’s the garden became neglected. A few plants survived and one of them was the Ironwood Tree. In 1987 the great storm toppled some big trees but the Parrotia was hidden by a grove of bamboo near one of the ponds. The storm pushed the tree over and was probably forgotten as the pond became filled with leaves and sycamore and ash trees had broken the liner. Knot weed, ground elder and many other weeds had installed themselves. The tree survived the storm and we plan for it to become more of a feature in the future.
In commemoration of our landlord, Harry Goring’s, landmark birthday, we planted a Liquidamber styraciflua commonly known as Sweet Gum. It is in the family Altingiaceae, and occurs in Southern America. It was known in Europe from the 1650’s and has become one of the more popular trees in cities and small gardens. The tree is often thought to be an Acer as many of these have fabulous autumn colours, and the foliage is very similar. This year the tree looked striking as the green leaves changed to a range of colours from red, amber and yellow, enhanced by the green background.
Autumn is also a time when fungi start to appear. Fungi are such an important part of the world and we still do not have enough knowledge of them. One of the most important features of it is the decay of wood and its recycling of materials. A good example is this Polyphore, a type of Basidiomycete, living on the wood of an old Ash tree. This particular form is also called the Artist’s fungus. You can scratch a design on the underside and it will last for ages. The tree may live for many years as the outside of it is active and the middle is dead or dying. A broken branch may cause a wound and the spore of a fungus will become established. The mycelium (the non-fruiting part of the fungus) will penetrate the wood and start to rot it. Over time the fungus will mature enough to fruit and this extraordinary bracket Polyphore appears. In this example the fruiting body is four or five years old.
It is very sad when a tree starts to die and we have been watching a fine Beech (Fagus sylvatica) struggle to survive in the woodland area. The shade from this dominant tree with other deciduous trees have allowed us to grow ferns,
perennials, like Pulmonaria, Helleborus, Epimediums, and Dicentra, and shrubs to create a different feel of the garden. Sadly the tree did not recover from the winter.
The woodland area is of a Gault formation, (a sequence of clays, mudstone and thin siltstones), deposited between 100 and 112 million years ago in the Cretaceous period. Gault is prone to shrink-swell processes, giving very wet periods in the winter and dry conditions in the summer which can cause cracking on the soil. Beech trees tend to be shallow rooting and thrive in this area in the chalk of the South Downs.
We have had a few changes in the garden. We have a new apprentice who is very able and enjoying being here and we have introduced a range of trees and shrubs for the future.
Every year we try to plant some new trees for the future and this year we planted a range of cherry trees that not only flower in the spring but also has fruit and autumn colour. The varieties we chose were Prunus, Malus and Sorbus. We also planted a Tilia at the front of the house, this has silver leaves underneath that ripple in the wind.
A sky blue Scilla (left), flowering in February is very difficult to identify exactly. However the complexity of the origin, it is very popular with the honey bees. Its open flowers are happily investigated by the bees and pollen is extracted. The flowers are pollinated freely in the process and seeds quickly cover the ground finding refuge in the soil and the gravel paths.
Helleborus xsternii ‘Blackthorn Group’, is one of the first flowers to open in the winter. Despite the risk of wet or frozen weather, this plant encourages pollination of bumble bees and honey bees. Helleborus angustifolius from Corsica was crossed with Helliborus lividus from Majorca in the Mediterranean. This hybrid plant was discovered in a nursery in England in 1947 and recorded as H. xsternii ‘Blackthorn Group’. There is quite a lot of distance between Corsica and Majorca and these different plants would have been distinct for millions of years before the hybrid occurred. Sir Frederick Stern established 8.5 acres at Highdown Gardens between Ferring and Goring. He established a rare collection of chalk loving plants and worked with Reginal Farrer and Ernest Henry Wilson, plant discoverers, as they established exciting new areas in China. Sir Frederick Stern was awarded his knighthood in 1956 for ‘Services in Horticulture’.
Galanthus nivalis – Common Snowdrop, is native to almost the whole of Europe except for the west including the United Kingdom. There is a lot of interest in these plants and rare forms are very expensive to buy. In our gardens, we have three different Snowdrops, G. nivalis, G. nivalis ‘floraplena’ and a larger form called Galanthus elwisii. On a sunny day in February you can hear the honey bees buzzing abound them.