Plants of the week - February 2020
Our team are always on the look out for new developments in the gardens. Each week, our Living Collections Manager, Graham, will be sharing some points of interest with us.
Rhododendron protistum var. Giganteum
On the Main Drive we have an extremely rare rhododendron, Rhododendron protistum var. Giganteum, which true to its Latin name is also known as the Giant Tree Rhododendron. Hailing from west Yunnan in China this, the largest of all Rhododendrons, is critically endangered in the wild and its conservation has attracted significant financial support.
Cultivated in the west since 1918, specimens can grow to 20m, shorter than their native siblings by 10m, and typically bloom only in alternate years producing large light to rose pink flowers in clusters of up to 30 florets each in March or April. Our specimen is already displaying blooms despite the windy conditions throughout January; planted in the 1960’s and sourced from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh this fine plant is a star of the Living Collection.
For Valentine’s Day this week we’re celebrating with Camellia japonica, the Japanese camellia and also named the rose of winter.
Introduced to Europe from Asia in the late 17th century, four specimens were donated by Swedish botanist Carl Peter Thunberg to Kew Botanic Gardens.
Camellia japonica is an upright, evergreen, bushy shrub usually between 1.5 and 6m in height but able to reach 10m with deep green glossy leaves. In spring solitary white or pink flowers 6-10cm in diameter are produced. Its preference is for a woodland location, in acidic soil, sheltered from cold, dry winds as the delicate buds and flowers can be damaged by cold wind and late frost.
This specimen is located in the Rock Garden and is approximately 40 years old, at a height of around 2.5m.
To cheer up a February which has seen several storms we’re going inside Mount Stuart’s pavilion this week for a treat from South Africa - Strelitzia reginae, the bird of paradise or crane flower. This evergreen perennial produces dramatic flowers which resemble the head and beak of an exotic tropical bird. It’s slow-growing and only flowers when properly established but the flowers are long-lasting and when grown under glass in the UK appear in late winter and early spring. Strelitzia reginae was given its Latin name in commemoration of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III and was first grown by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew which were founded by the 3rd Earl of Bute who also was King George III’s mentor.
The pavilion at Mount Stuart was purchased by the 6th Marquess at the end of the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival, transported and rebuilt adjacent to the Kitchen Garden.
Gardeners can be superstitious types and with this weekend’s Leap Year Day approaching it’s important to note that if planted on February 29 fruit trees will bear fruit only once every four years, broad beans will grow upside down and beans will grow the wrong way in their pods! The curse of Leap Year Day also influenced livestock as referenced in the old Scots proverb of “Leap year was ne’er a good sheep year”.
Thankfully the following day is March 1, marking the start of meteorological spring and we can look forward to more daylight, increased sunlight and as plants start growing in spring they pull carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis providing an important environmental service.
To celebrate the beginning of the 92 days of spring our chosen plant this week is Primula vulgaris, the common primrose, common in this sense meaning widespread and primrose being derived from the Latin for first rose. Picking of primroses or the removal of primrose plants in the wild is illegal in order to protect the species in their native environment.
The lightly scented primrose flowers and leaves are edible, the leaves can be used in salads, soups or to make a tea!
In the words of the late Robin Williams, spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!" and the primroses are certainly starting it!