Plants of the week- November
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.
For Halloween our appropriate Plant of the Week is Sorbus sargentiana, the much loved rowan tree which in 19th century Scotland was traditionally planted near to gates or front doors to ward off witches and avert the evil eye. Similarly rowans were planted in graveyards to prevent the dead from rising. Across Europe all manner of mythical stories of rowans are found along with their ability to predict winter weather based on the success of their fruit production.
Sargent's rowan, an Asian variation, has long and broad leaves, 20–35cm, and large corymbs carrying up to 500 flowers, corymbs being flower clusters whose lower stalks are proportionally longer giving flat headed flowers. So attractive is a rowan in summer and autumn Robert Burns was moved to write:
How fair was thou in summer time
Wi' a'thy clusters white
How rich and gay thy autumn dress,
Wi' berries red and bright!
Ours is a British champion, with the largest girth, and is located next to Laundry Brae in front of an early 20th century game larder.
Continuing our November autumnal superstars, Stewartia monadelpha, or Orangebark Stewartia, is a deciduous medium sized tree of the Theaceae family with a strong connection to Mount Stuart as it was named in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist and “father of modern taxonomy”, to honour John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute.
It gives year-round interest with white, camellia-like flowers in June and early July, dark green foliage which in autumn becomes a rich mixture of yellow, orange and red, then once the leaves have finally fallen the lovely cinnamon-brown bark of the trunk and branches is revealed.
Currently in full autumn colour our specimen is located in the South Shrubbery, ideal for a plant which likes full light or open shade, an acidic soil and regular rainfall. Monadelphous plants are those whose stamens are united by their filaments to form one grouping. Like our plant of the week from October, Luma apiculata, Stewartia monadelpha is ideal for bonsai training and we include an image here for interest.
Ugni molinae, commonly known as Chilean guava or strawberry myrtle, is a shrub native to Chile and south-western Argentina and was described first in 1782 by Juan Ignacio Molina from whom it took its name. It’s a bushy shrub with abundant leathery leaves arranged in pairs which give a spicy scent when scrunched and in summer produces drooping small white or pale pink cup-shaped flowers.
In 1844 plant collector William Lobb introduced Ugni molinae to the UK where it became a favourite of Queen Victoria who reportedly had its fruit – cranberry sized red or purple berries – transported from Cornwall to London by train. In this autumn season the berries are highly prized for both their unique flavour when eaten raw and also for their tasty jams and preserves. However it’s another form of preservation which is favoured by Graham, our Living Collections Manager; he collects the berries throughout autumn to make the Ugni equivalent of sloe gin and has promised a taste of it after Christmas!