Plants of the week - March 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.
Once every 29.5 days the moon’s orbit brings it closest to the earth, named a perigee, and when that coincides with a full moon a super moon is created causing the moon to appear 14% larger and 30% brighter than usual. As the next super moon is on March 9 it’s interesting to consider the effect of the moon on gardening – lunar gardening – and for that date the following observations are made:-
• It’s a good time for sowing, planting and transplanting
• A favourable time to fertilise plants with natural and chemical fertilisers
• Good growing time for root vegetables
Continuing with our lunar theme this week’s chosen plant is Lunaria annua, or Honesty, named for its seedpods’ moon-shape. An annual which grows to 90cm in height this Balkans native produces white or violet flowers in summer but is grown primarily for it seedpods which, when their skin falls off to release the seeds, leave a silvery white central membrane. The pods are widely used in floral arrangements and owing to their silvery appearance are known as silver dollars, Chinese coins and coins of Judas.
In the Wee Garden we have an unusual plant in the U.K., Atherosperma moschatum, the southern sassafras or Australian snowdrop tree, an evergreen from the temperate rainforests of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. The name Atherosperma is derived from the Greek words describing the hairs on its fruits, and the Latin moschatum, “musk-scented”, referring to the bark’s smell.
The southern sassafras was first described by a visiting French naturalist in 1806 as the sole member of the genus Atherosperma. It’s a small to medium-sized tree, growing in Tasmania it can reach 40m in height but more generally up to 6m with a 3m spread and is identified by its conical shape, pale green leaves and fragrant scent, reminiscent of nutmeg.
Masses of creamy-white and wonderfully scented flowers form in winter, downward facing to avoid rain and snow, with yellow or occasionally maroon centres. Ours was planted around 40 years ago and is a majestic 5.5m tall.
Today is the vernal equinox – the day of equal hours of darkness and daylight – signalling the moving of the season well into springtime and brightening our spring are the many varieties of Narcissus grown at Mount Stuart.
In the autumn of 2017 we undertook a bulb planting exercise involving all members of staff to add to our daffodil displays with a further 50,000 bulbs and at this time of year we reap the reward, enjoying the sight of swathes of daffodils in colours from bright yellow to cloud white in double flowers, plain or spotted, large yellow trumpets, dwarves and specimens with sprays of flowers, some of which have wonderful scent.
Narcissi grow well in containers, borders and grass and are one of the most reliable spring-flowering bulbs, blooming year after year requiring little attention. They’re members of the amaryllis family originating from the Iberian peninsula, became increasingly popular in Europe after the 1600’s and were an important commercial crop centred primarily in the Netherlands by the late 19th century.
Dating back 200 million years from the time of the dinosaurs the ornamental evergreen Araucaria araucana is the hardiest of the conifer genus Araucaria and can grow to an impressive 40m in height. It’s a native of low mountainous parts of Argentina and Chile above 1000m and in 1976 it was declared a natural monument in Chile in order to be protected from logging activities and had its status upgraded to endangered in 2013.
Also known as the Chile pine, its more affectionate name is the Monkey Puzzle tree, anecdotally following the description of a young specimen in Cornwall as a tree which would puzzle a monkey to climb. Its leaves are thick, rough and rectangular with an average lifespan of 24 years and as it grows the tree develops its signature umbrella shape with dangling branches and cones.
The Monkey Puzzle tree was introduced to Kew Botanic Gardens in 1795 as a result of seed collection by Archibald Menzies, a Scots naval surgeon, during a circumnavigation voyage, 5 plants were grown on board the ship and survived the journey back from Chile.
Mount Stuart's specimen is located on the 45 Avenue, to the south of the House, it's 19m high with a girth of 2.86m.