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N’er cast a clout till May is out – May 2024

May 28, 2024
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Jackets off, it’s getting serious, or at least warm

The warm sunshine at the beginning of May allowed us to remove jackets and work comfortably for the first time this season. I used to think that the old saying referred to coats, clout being a cloth or clothing being kept on until May. It’s actually referencing the May blossom which can be in flower from April to June, depending on the season. Whichever is correct, jackets are off, hopefully until the autumn. All the pictures were taken at Wisley between 1 to 10 May.

In the crevice garden and the surrounding area the spring and early summer show continues in force

Erigeron scopulinus comes from isolated locations in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. It was introduced into cultivation by Sonia Lowzow. The specific epithet is from the Latin for twiggy. The second plant is Globularia cordifolia, the heart leaved globe flower. It comes from central and southern Europe all the way to western Turkey. The genus name comes from the Latin globulus meaning small globe, and the specific epithet is also from the Latin – with heart shaped leaves.

Phlox subulata ‘Atropurpureacan be seen tumbling out of one of the planters. This is known as the creeping Phlox and it’s crept right out of the planter. It comes from eastern and central USA. The specific epithet is from the Latin atro – very dark, and purpurea – reddish purple. I’ve shown a picture of Erysimum ‘Moonlight’ previously on the crevice garden but this patch is far more impressive and is located just outside the cushion house.

In the main rock garden and alpine meadow

The alpine meadow has a lovely clump of Trollius x cultorum ‘Lemon Queen’, its common name being the globe flower.  The genus name originates from the Swiss / German trol – a globe or something round. This was one of the first wild flowers I saw in Switzerland many years ago. I’m always returned to that place whenever I see it. For me, that’s one of the joys of plants. They can bring back fond memories of people or places . Where you saw them, where you got them or who gave you them..

Acer palmatum ‘Villa Taranto’ was propagated from a plant at Villa Taranto (on the shore of Lago Maggiore), Pallanza, Italy in 1967. The fine leaves have strap like lobes divided to the base of the leaf. It was only planted a couple of years ago in the garden, as a mature specimen, but it already looks as if it’s been there for years.

Here are some views of the rock garden in the early May sunshine. I tend to focus on the plants in the garden but the such views are very beautiful. Many visitors who come to Wisley say that they have enjoyed the rock garden best. Our visitors are so wise and well informed.

General view of the rock garden at Wisley

General view of the rock garden at Wisley

If spring has sprung it must be summer

Although there is a feeling that summer has arrived there are still some spring flowers in bloom. The last of the daffodils, Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus can still be seen. Its common name is the pheasant’s eye daffodil. The specific epithet has two parts from the Latin poeticus – of poets and recurvus – curved back. I know that daffodil reference in William Wordsworth’s poem “I wander lonely as a cloud…” so perhaps poets have featured this species as well. There are also a few clumps of Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ still in flower, here at Wisley. The exact parentage of this cross is debated but may be E. tuolumnense x E. ‘White Beauty .

In the same area there are several clumps of Dodecatheon pulchellum. The name comes from the Greek dodeka – twelve and theos – god, so flowers of the twelve gods. There are deep pink, red and white forms available. Erinus alpinus may be a common flower and not difficult to grow but I like it. It’s also known as the fairy foxgloves or the alpine balsam. You can find it in the wild in central and southern Europe, Morocco and Algeria in a rage of colours. The scent is wonderful. It will seed about but is easily forgiven for doing so.

Antennaria dioica ‘Rotes Wunder’ is known as the cats foot or red pussytoes. Its home is the mountains of Europe, Asia and Alaska. The genus name comes from the Latin antenna – the hairs attached to the seed resembling the antennae of an insect. Its specific epithet is from the Latin for two houses – having male and female flowers. There are no prizes for working out Rotes Wunder being red wonder.

There are many rock rose or sun rose plants in full flower, including Helianthemum ‘Ben More’. The genus name comes from the Greek helios – the sun and anthemon – flower. Ben More may be a person or the mountain near Crianlarich, Scotland reaching a height of 1174m.

This week in the Alpine Display House there was lots to see again

Visitors frequently ask if we have Leontopodium nivale on display, its common name being Edelweiss. The flower is made up of composite heads of tiny yellow flowers surrounded by long furry bracts (modified leaves). The genus name is from the Greek leon – a lion and pous – a foot, as the flower resembles a lions paw. The specific epithet is from the Latin for snow white / growing near snow. This flower combines a musical with a Disney film. Its mythical status might be in part due to it growing between 1500m – 3000m; you have to go up high to see it in its natural setting.

We are still learning from plants

At this altitude there is very strong UV light. Scientists now believe that the tiny hairs on plants like these act as a natural sunscreen and prevent damage to the plants DNA. The hairs are the right size to block out the UV rays.

Aster alpinus is from the mountains of Europe including the Alps and Pyrenees. It is another common plant but no less charming for being so. The genus name is from the Greek aster – a star. Its flowers can be purple, pink or blue.

Here are some of the lewisias that I thought were looking splendid this week.

The pink form of Scilla verna was also in flower, its common name is the spring quill. This species is native to western Europe. The common form has sky blue flowers. The specific epithet is from the Latin for spring. Scilla litardierei has been grown in gardens since 1827. Its common name is the amethyst meadow squill. Its home is the western Balkans and Slovenia, where it is endangered in the wild. It grows in moist but well drained soil and likes shade.

There were numerous pots of Rhodohypoxis on show including R.’Dusky’ and R. baurii var. platypetala. The species was named for Rev Leopold Baur, a pharmacist, missionary and plant hunter who first collected the species in the 1800’s. They grow in Lesotho and Swaziland in damp meadows which are dry cold in winter. Keep these particular circumstances in mind to ensure they survive the colder months. The specific epithet comes from the Latin platy – broad / flat and petala – petal. Its flowers are normally white.

Lilium dauricum hails from Asia and Siberia. It was originally named L. pensylvanicum by the English botanist John Bellender Ker but he later renamed it L. dauricum for a region in Siberia. The laws of priority apply and since 2022 the original name is recognised.

In the cushion house there are many plants in flower

Dianthus anatolicus its common name is the Anatolian Pink or Turkish pink. In the wild it occurs from Turkey all the way to Tibet. Anatolia is the old name for Asia Minor. The flowers can be white or pale pink.

Penstemon newberryi comes from California, Oregon and Nevada. Its common name is mountain pride. The specific epithet was chosen in honour of John Strong Newberry (1822 – 1892).

In and around the fern glade there are still the remnants of spring

Before I started volunteering at Wisley I wasn’t a great fan of ferns. I’m beginning to appreciate them more. I used to think they were all green and looked the same. One that is definitely not green is Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Red Beauty’ known as the painted lady fern. The genus name is derived from the Greek athyos – meaning doorless. This appertains to the hinged indusia, a covering over the sorus (a collection of spore cases), but you all knew that. The specific epithet identifies it as coming from Japan or being Japanese. The Latin pictum means brightly marked or painted.

Another fern grown for its shape is Matteuccia struthiopteris AGM. Its common name is the ostrich or shuttlecock fern. The specific epithet is from the Latin for ostrich feather (the fertile fronds). Carlo Matteucii (1811 – 1868) was an Italian physicist. It enjoys a position at the bottom of the fern glade that has a higher moisture content than elsewhere.

North American plant folklore

A couple of slipper orchids were in flower in the fern glade. There is a Ojiwa folklore legend that tells of a young girl that had to run through the snow to fetch medicine for her village community, which had been struck down with the plague. She lost her moccasin as she ran, leaving a trail of blood soaked footprints in the snow. When spring arrived her footprints put forth moccasin flowers of red and white (the snow and the blood). Some of the slipper orchids, as we would call them, or moccasin orchids as the Americans call them, have some red and white in them. The first is Cypripedium Sabine gx. This is a cross of two Chinese species C. fasciolatum x macranthos.

Another slipper orchid that looks like our own native slipper orchid is Cypripedium ‘Hank Small’ gx AGM. This is a cross of C. parviflorum x heryi. These hybrids are easier to grow in gardens that the species. They like dappled shade and moist conditions when in growth, but not moist when dormant, so need well drained soil. The flowering period is sadly short, they only flower for a few weeks, but what flowers they are.

The rock work continues at the top of the fern glade

The garden continues to evolve as more stones and plants have been added next to the top entrance/exit to the fern glade. Additions to the rest of this border will be made next year.

The rhododendron bank has been excellent this year

There have not been any late frosts to spoil the blossom display this year. In the bed just below the bank there are a few more rhododendrons including Rhododendron ‘Pine Marten’. This was raised by Glendoick in 2007. It is more suitable for a small garden unlike some of the larger specimens at Wisley.