The Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) is a easy tree or shrub to identify, having both flowers and fruit present at the same time. The strawberry (or I think more like lychee) like fruit take up to a year to ripen, so as last year’s fruits turn red, the flowers that will form next year’s fruit start to appear. The fruit is said to be edible, although not very tasty, which may be hinted at in it’s Latin name ‘unedo‘; coming from unum edo ‘I eat one’ – meaning after you have eaten one you wouldn’t want another one? Having not yet tried one I couldn’t say! Which is good news for the birds, leaving plenty of fruit for them to feast on during the colder months.
A member of the Ericaceae family of plants, most commonly known as heather, the flowers bear a strong resemblance to those of heathers, with bell-like downward facing flowers in small clusters.
You may have also seen this plant in a well known Morris & Co. design, used in fabrics and wallpapers where you can clearly see the red fruits and white flowers.
Have a wander down to the Lower Wilderness to have a closer look at these interesting plants.
This week I planted out 40 Kale plants in the Batty Langley vegetable garden that have been quietly growing along in the greenhouse since September. We are trying three varieties, ‘Red Russian’, ‘Cavolo Nero’ and ‘Borecole – Green Curled Dwarf’.
Kale does well over the colder months, so will hopefully add some interest in the garden over the following darker months. As pigeons take a fancy to stripping the foliage off plants in the Brassica family, the precaution of placing net over the kale plants has been necessary to stop them becoming just tattered stems!
I have used two beds to grow the kale in, with 20 plants in each one, and to create a neat formal look the use of a tape measure was implemented to ensure even spacing.
The botanical name for kale is Brassica oleracea var. acephala, ‘Brassica’ being the genus consisting of cabbages, ‘oleracea’ meaning that the plant can be used as a vegetable and ‘acephala’ meaning ‘without a head’, i.e that the plant is loose leafed rather than with a head as many cultivated cabbages have. Kale has a long history as a food crop, being one of the most important green vegetables in Europe up until the end of the Middle Ages.
At this time of year a lot of plants are starting to go to seed, so it is a good time to go around and collect some of them so we can grow new plants for next year. Some can be sown straight away (as we are doing so in the greenhouses), others can be stored to be sown in the spring. We are also taking cuttings of some of the plants in the garden, and hopefully by next spring we will have lots of lovely plants to sell or plant back out in the garden.
We are trying seeds collected from plants including Alcea (hollyhock), Lychnis (rose campion), Lupin, Astrantia, Galega (Goat’s Rue), Poppy and Phlomis. Some, such as Lychnis, have already germinated, others we are still eagerly awaiting for signs of life! The interesting thing about seeds is the genetic variation that can occur, so often the resulting plants will show some variation from the parent, especially in the case of the hollyhocks, where the colour of the flowers on each plant will be a surprise!
Cuttings taken include Lavender, Rosemary, Jasmine and Philadelphus. These are all semi-ripe cuttings taken from this year’s growth, so the base is firm but with soft growth still on the tips. They are put in pots together, and then when roots start to show at the base of the pot, they will be separated and given their own pot to grow on. Unlike seeds, cuttings create clones of the parent plant, so you know exactly what you are going to get.
We look forward to seeing how our seeds and cuttings do, and in the meantime they have a trusty guardian to keep an eye on them!
If you take a walk along the top of the Upper Wilderness to the far end and gaze underneath the large Yew tree, you will see the tiny but perfectly formed Cyclamen hederifolium coming into flower. A mixture of pink and white, the tiny flowers appear before the foliage, which as its name suggests is ivy-shaped (‘hederifolium’ coming from the Latin ‘Hedera’ for ivy, ‘folium’ refering to the leave shape). The common name ‘ivy-leaved cyclamen’ is self-explanatory, but its other common name ‘sowbread’ intrigued me. A bit of research concluded that it comes from the fact that ‘The root resembled a loaf and pigs were believed to enjoy eating it’.1
This plant originates in the Mediterranean, and was introduced into Britain around 1596, so would have been available in the early 18th century when the gardens were at their peak.
After the flowers have been pollinated, the stem coils around to take the seed heads closer to the ground, forming interesting little corkscrews underneath the flowers that you can see if you look closely. The reason they do this is not clear, but a possible theory is that ants may distribute the seeds further from the parent plant. All in all, a very interesting plant that is worth a closer look!
1. Campbell-Culver, M. 2001. Origins of plants: the people and the plants that shaped Britain. London: Headline Book Publishing.
Want to work in, and support, these amazing Historic Gardens? We have an immediate vacancy for a part-time managing gardener who can help us plan and manage the next season or two.
Are you an experienced and trained gardener looking at a chance to ‘act up’ a grade, or perhaps are near retirement.
The 10 acres of historic formal gardens – with wilder wildlife areas- in east Birmingham is owned and run by an independent charitable trust and staffed mainly by volunteers.
This is an opportunity for a qualified gardener (RHS level3 or equivalent vocational experience) with existing management and budgeting experience to extend or further practice their management skills.
See the attached Job description. Please ring or email us for an informal chat and more information.
Job Description (.docx) Job Description P/T Head/Senior Gardener
Job description (pdf) Job Description P/T Head/Senior Gardener
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The rain wasn’t much good for anything today ….but cakes were munched, masks were found, pompom flowers were made (and will be all week) … but this little family loved being fed all those lovely grubs that wet weather brings…
Bad photo with phone, but didn’t want to get too close and frighten them off. come and see them tomorrow, they’re growing fast.
More family activities all week – 12-3pm
As well as some delightful period tulips and daffodils in the Gardens we have, this year, introduced the ‘wild tulip’ … the mummy of all those later fancy ones.
Tulipa sylvestris, known as the ‘wild’ or ‘florentine’ tulip is a species tulip noted ‘somewhere in Italy’ as early as 1594. Our suppliers Thomas Etty esq describes it thus
“Violet scented almond-shaped lemon yellow flowers in mid April. Naturalises well in grass. Said, by some, to have first travelled to these shores attached upon the roots of grape vines brought from Italy by the Romans.”
Volunteers have been deadheading the daffs along the Holly Walk bank revealing the wild tulips and allowing them to make their mark. A really special addition to the month.
Other varieties of note this year are;
- the jolly scarlet and yellow of Kaiserkroon (‘kings crown’) from 1620,
- the 16th century double white poeticus plenus and pheasants eye
- and of the later varieties we have sneaked in – Queen of the Night tulip (pre 1939) and Rinjveld’s Early Sensation daff., 1926.