Just 5 mins in the garden with a camera and just look what I found!
Firstly I would like to apologise for the lack of blogs recently! As many of you will know it’s difficult to find the time to blog when life is so hectic and, believe me, my life is quite busy at the moment!
It all started back in February when Ben and I ordered a load of plants from Crug Farm (http://crug-farm.co.uk/), the amazing nursery just down the road from us. We went to pick the order up and got chatting to Sue and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones the owners of Crug (you say it like Crig); during the conversation it became apparent that they needed an extra pair of hands on a Saturday and I jumped at the offer of the job!
So in March I started work for the first time in 9 months! I previously worked for the RSPB but had finished working for them after a period of time off sick. It was really nice to get back to work and it wasn’t very long before I was asked if I fancied doing a few more days. I am now working for them 4 days a week and between that and the rest of day to day life I am suddenly finding myself very short of time!
So, along-side working at Crug, Ben and I have been up to a whole load of exciting things and there has been a lot happening in the fossil garden.
So where do I begin?????
During March I received the first plant we intend to grow in the massive order of angiosperms called the Piperales. They are split between 5 families and there are over 4000 species and they are relevant to the fossil garden because they were probably some of the earliest flowering plants! Many of them are economically important to humans and a lot are very poisonous! There is only one that has true petals, some have super simple flowers and others have incredibly complex ones!
The first Piper that arrived is a plant of Piper auritum or Yerba santé, which is used to flavour tortilla in Mexico. It’s a tropical plant that won’t grow outside in the UK, that’s ok as it will grow nicely as a vine along the beams in our bathroom. (Yep we have lots of plants inside too)
It is fortuitous that I have ended up working for Crug as Bleddyn and Sue have collected together quite a large number of Piperales, and have many interesting species. (Guess where my wages have been going)
We have added Saruma henrii (the one with the petals), Aristolachia macrophylla and many of the Asarums to the garden now which is great as we are starting to fill the gaps between the ferns with some very beautiful foliage and some very weird flowers!
We have also been doing some garden visiting with trips to Both Brondanw and Portmeirion (http://www.portmeirion-village.com/) (both designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis). Brondanw being CWE’s private garden and Portmeirion being his work! Both gardens are absolutely unique places to visit and the man was certainly a master of his art!
We also visited Bodnant (http://www.bodnantgarden.co.uk/) again to see the Rhododendrons in all their glory! A visit to Bodnant is an absolute treat at any time of year but particularly through April, May and June. I have said it in a previous blog but I will say it again…..The changes in the garden since the new head gardener came on board have been truly remarkable and I am sure Troy Scott-Smith has many surprises in store for us in the future! We will know doubt be visiting again before the year is out!
I also went on a bit of a Crug Farm work trip out.
The aim of the day was to deliver some plants to the National Trust property, Charlecote (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/charlecote-park/), for their new and delightful woodland garden. But a trip so close to the Vale of Evesham meant we really couldn’t miss out on a spot of retail therapy. A trip to Cotswold garden flowers (http://www.cgf.net/) saw me buying a fantastic Cloranthus fortune ‘Domino’ and a great little Grevillea lanigera ‘mount tamboritha’ but just around the corner was a company called Vale exotics (http://www.vale-exotics.co.uk/) which yielded plenty more!
On the way home a Cyathea australis, Todea barbera, Blechnum nudum and a Polystychum poliferum occupied the space in the van that had been occupied by Polygonatums and Tricyrtis on the way down and my pocket was considerably lighter!!!!The protea bed is looking great with the addition of 2 new species of Ephedra (Ephedra nevadensis and E. distachia). Two Leucadendrons were bought for us, for our birthdays, from the fantastic Trewidden nurseries (http://www.trewidden-online.co.uk/) and have also gone in there (L.laureolum and L.’Safari sunset’) alongside a Telopea truncata plant (bought with hard earned wages at Crug). We have also added a handful of acorus (remember them from the blog on Monocots?) around the bog garden and a Monstera (Swiss cheese plant) to grow next to the path opposite our main fern bed.
Can you understand why I have been too busy to blog now?
Yep, we didnt just go to the south of England for a Orchid show, we did some major plant shopping too. here is the list of what we bought
For our new Proteaceae garden Banksia serrata Grivellia robusta Banksia speciosa Banksia integrifolia Protea cynaroides Lomatia tinctorina Banksia paludosa Protea susannae Euphorbia mellifera (a present for Ben's Mum) Restio (not sure which one, also a present for Ben's mum) Trachycarpus fortunei (double trunked Chusan palm) Cycas revoluta (just 'cause we cant live without more cycads)
orchids Angreacum sesquibidale Lycaste lasioglossa Bulbophyllum lobbii Epidendrum peperomia Vanda 'pachara delight' Miltonopsis??? light pink Dendrobium stardust 'firebird'
‘WOW!’ I exclaimed as I walked into the Royal Horticultural Society exhibition halls last Saturday (17th March). A blast of colour hit me in the face and it really took me a few moments to properly home in on any one individual plant. I had arrived at the RHS London Orchid and Botanical Art Show.
When I did manage to sort it all out in my head the first plant I homed in on was probably the one with the best story and my favourite species too!
Angraecum sesquibidale, the orchid that Darwin predicted would be pollinated by a moth with an extra-long tongue. The moth was discovered 21 years after his death!
I bought one!
(More pics of the show at the end of the blog)
So you may well ask ‘Why on earth are you growing Orchids? Your garden is supposed to be a prehistoric garden!’ you would be right to ask such a question!
Orchids are some of the newest and most highly evolved plants on the planet and they don’t have much of a fossil record. The earliest evidence of orchids dates to about 20 million years ago (a bee encased in amber was found to be carrying orchidaceous pollen).
But I, like many others, have succumbed to the lure of the Orchidaceae and I am afraid I just can’t get enough of them. (We allow them in the house so that I don’t pine for them).
All this does however lead me to the subject of the clade in which the orchids belong, the Monocotyledons……
So far, in previous blogs, I have looked at some of the other groups of flowering (Angiosperm) plants and how they fit into our garden. The Eudicots were easy to place as they have a strong fossil record from the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous. The Monocots on the other hand for a long time were believed to be quite new!
The palms were at one time understood to be the earliest Monocots and we have them represented by the Chusan palm (Trachycarpus fortunei ) and the Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), they appeared about 80-90 mya (million years ago). More recently though Monocot pollen has been found that dates back to about 110 mya. Surprisingly it was from an arum and more specifically from the tribe of plants Monstereae (Swiss cheese plants and their relatives).
Now it comes as no surprise that most of the Araceae, Arums, are very new as far as evolution goes. Amazingly there are some that still look as they did about 60 mya. Not least of all the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa)! We have one in the house at the top of our stairs but we intend on trying one out in the garden. There are many reports of this plant being semi- hardy and taking on an herbaceous habit, losing all its leaves in the winter and then re-growing in the spring.
Another early family of Monocots is the Pandanales or screw pines that date back to a time around 100mya. This is a mostly tropical group of plants but we have been lucky enough to get some seed of a screw pine from the Himalayas where it was growing in an area regularly affected by frost and snow so we have high hopes for their cultivation outside here in Snowdonia.
There is also good fossil evidence of a group of Monocot plants in a family called Acoraceae. Acorus are a well-known family in gardens and have the common name ‘sweet flag’ they are regularly grown as bog garden plants or pond plants but what most people don’t know is that they are actually about the most basic of the Monocots and hail from the late Jurassic.
What this all boils down to is that a) the Monocots are easily as old as the Eudicots and b) there are quite a few out there that we are able to choose from to grow in the fossil garden.
My orchids serve as a stark reminder of the work of mother-nature. The contrast is astounding when you look at a flower of Acorus and then hold it next to a Angraecum orchid flower. 135 million years of evolution for the Monocotyledons has created some amazing things.
Enjoy some of that diversity in these pictures from the RHS London Orchid Show!
So, The world famous Bodnant Gardens re opened a week ago and on a tip off (from Sue at Crug Farm Plants) that Troy Scott-Smith and the Bodnant team had been making some astounding changes to the place Ben and I couldn’t wait another week to visit. Here are just some of the 100+ pictures I took on my phone during the afternoon!
All in all a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon! We caught up with friends, ate cake and had a lovely walk around what must be one of Britains most amazing gardens. I hope you enjoyed the pics!
Yes it’s a fact, we humans just wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for plants and it’s that amazing group, the flowering plants, which have the biggest impact on our lives. They come hand in hand with the insect pollinators which we, and quite rightly, are very worried about at the moment.
The two (insect pollinators and flowering plants) evolved alongside each other from the very early (probably a carnivorous wasp or a sawfly) insect finding the pollen and sap of the plants (probably) nutritious. It wasn’t long before the plants had harnessed this power. There is fossil evidence of the weird Gnetales (Ephedra, Welwitschia and Gnetum) that are always found in association with a long extinct sawfly. But it’s not the Gnetales that I am particularly interested in it’s another group the Gigantopterids which are believed to have survived two great extinctions to evolve into the flowering plants we have today.
So what does all this mean to us, here, in North Wales?
Well in my last blog I wrote about the first flowering plants, the ANITA group and we have many representatives from this group. It wasn’t long before this group of plants had evolved. In fact the race was on to attract the insects and thus benefit from their pollination. The current system of Taxonomy places all plants other than Amborella, nympheaceae and Austrobaileyales (which now includes Illicium, the I in ANITA) in a new group called the Mesangiosperms. It’s now we get to the point I have been trying to reach……
A group of Mesangiosperms evolved very early on in the Cretaceous called the Eudicots they don’t have as ancient a ancestry as the ANITA group but it did provide a group of plants called the Proteales which includes the Nelumbonaceae (lotus), Plantanaceae (plane trees) and Proteacae (proteas, banksias and the like). All super adapted to attracting pollinating insects and even in modern time’s birds, reptiles and mammals. It’s the Proteas that over the past 6 months have absorbed the minds of both me and Ben.
It’s not that we became obsessed or anything! But this rather odd and basic group of plants aren’t grown much in the UK and certainly very few members of the family are grown in North Wales. So if we were going to be able to grow them successfully we had to do our research.
We have spent hours poring over plant lists trying to figure out which species are most suitable for us and discussing soil structure to accommodate their unique needs.
The fact is that these plants are primitive. They don’t develop an association with a mycorrhyzalfungus like other plants and their roots develop differently to other plants too (it makes them sensitive to disturbance). They need free draining acidic soil (most can’t deal with damp roots) and they fade at even the thought of phosphates as a form of nutrition. How would we possibly cater for all their whims?
Now, after developing a list of the plants that we think may survive up here in Snowdonia and finding out where we can buy them from too (that’s been most difficult, we have had to start growing some from seed… but that’s another story), we have decided to bite the bullet.
We have had to create a special border in the garden which has been a project for the past couple of weeks. We dug out the soil to about 18 inches and have built it up by about 12 inches to accommodate a mix of sand, flint gravel and subsoil (mostly sand and gravel). Ferrying sand and gravel from the builder’s yard and DIY store in car loads and each time being dismayed that the hole wasn’t full yet. The bed is finally finished and ready to be planted. So we are now on a mission to collect together the required list of plants.
The list looks like….
Protea Susannae (it was named after naturalist Dr John Muir’s wife)
And maybe a few others but we may be pushing it at that!
The story will no doubt continue and certainly the debate regarding winter protection is on-going. We will keep you posted!
Fourleafed clover fern frozen into our pond this winter.