Monday, May 1, 2017

A dazzling day at Kew

The majestic Victorian Palm House
Believe it or not, we emerged through a secret door off the street straight onto this scene. There are incredible "bennies" to being a B.G. professional! Salary, alas, is not one of them. (I am grateful to Tom Freeth for correcting some mistakes in this post when I first published it, and adding some of his very useful Scholia--all indictated in blue).

Peonies were blooming gloriously everywhere--this one probably P. rockii--which thrives for us too. Notice an elegant structure in the far upper right? We shall revisit that anon!

I think this one was labeled 'P. anomala'--very different from ours.

A nice combo of Epimedium and Bergenia
Labelled B. ciliata (possibly a hybrid?)
I have dedicated an entire Blog Posting to this species--perhaps this is a more upright variant. I saw this in several more gardens on this trip--each of these seemed also to be distinct from every other one I've seen: there have been so many European expeditions to the Himalayas in the last two hundred years that many taxa are represented by a lot of different accessions: I hope these will be all preserved! We did see the "real" ciliata in the Rock Garden at Kew shortly after this.

I love the combo of Hosta and Ornithogalum (undoubtedly O. umbellata)

A Dove Tree (Davidia involucrata)
Few plants resonate for Plant Collectors like this famous Chinese tree that launched the career of E.H. Wilson (even if someone beat him to bringing back the seed!)...

Disporum longistylum (a spectacular plant!)
Arisaema "consanguineum" in full bloom in a garden with mostly Vietnamese taxa
MY A. consanguineum won'd pop up till the end of June--VERY different genetics...

More great combos in the woodland garden--Prosartes (formerly Disporum( smithii from the Pacific woodlands of North America.
A breathtaking cultivar of Paeonia suffruticosa

Tony Hall--the grand Guru of Kew's alpines--posing before the Queen of Irises

I can't begin to imagine what this bed will look like in the next few weeks: that's the fabulous Iris cycloglossa: I'd asked Tony to recreate the pose he had 7 years ago in the same spot when Brian Mathew took the picture below:

Iris cycloglossa in full glory!
I would die to see this colony in full bloom. I can't imagine power of the Dianthus-like fragrance!

Deutzia gracilis 'Nikko'
The I.D. was confirmed by Tom in an email--along with several other corrections/verifications indicated below in blue.

Tom Freeth, Manager of Rock Garden and Alpine House collections
I was lucky to spend some time with the overseer of this area, a delightful and very talented fellow, I might add. He came in on a weekend to meet with us. The professionalism of Kew is legendary.

The grand old rock garden is full of lovely views
To continue the Peony theme, that's an albino P. veitchii no doubt on the left. With the current "crevice gardening" revolution, the rather blocky sandstone of Kew (or Denver Botanic Gardens' limestone and granite rock garden) can be thought of as "antiquated"--in Kew's case, this garden is a revered vestige of the Golden Age of rock gardening (culminating almost exactly 100 years ago with Reginald Farrer's last days): I know that even very hallowed institutions like Kew can be swayed by fashion: I hope they don't totally transform this garden--although of course occasional pretty drastic reworkng this of that corner is a natural part of gardening...

Comarum salsocianum
This plant gave me a twinge of regret: we grew a large clump of these years ago at Denver Botanic Gardens: they bloomed and set seed--I had a volunteer collect it and he cut the plant to the ground in the process-killing it.

Even the non-flowering bits are lovely: probably New Zealand collections?

T.F.: Yes definitely NZ/Aus in the picture you took! Hakea lissosperma in the middle

A stunning Rhodiola macrocarpa
The shrub is Rhododendron serpyllifolium--which I grew years ago!

A spectacular Helianthemum sp. which I forgot to note the name of. The white on the left is Arenaria tetraquetra or something lose.
Prunus tomentosa 'Alba Plena'
A fantastic variant of Nanking cherry with double white flowers: we grow a pink form in local gardens, bug not THIS!

Dryas octopetala
We were a week or two late to see the Mt. Dryad in full bloom: it must have been spectacular. I did catch it in peak form at Munich in 2013 (in another blog posting if you want to seek it out!)

A wonderful mixture of colors here--The red of course is Paeonia tenuifolia and a white thrift. Lots of blue specs in there too: very patriotic!

Pachyphragma macrophyllum
Kew was full of plants (whole genera!) new to me. But this IS the RBG after all! (T.F.:

Pachyphragma macrophyllum now syn. Thlaspi macrophyllum according to WCSP)

Globularia nudicaulis
One of many Globularias that were in full bloom: notice how every plant is given a discrete space. And almost all of them were framed well. This is no easy task: many of these specimens are very old and have been lovingly crafted--but the casual visitor misses all this.

Cypripedium calceolus
This hardly needs a comment I would think1

Haberlea rhodopensis
I can assure you that this plant has been here a very long time. Venerability is a characteristic of the great English gardens, none more so than the RBG at Kew and its sister garden in Edinburgh. For those of us who come back year after year, decade after decade, seeing some of the same plants in the same place resonates: they become touchstones of your own life.

Paeonia cambessedessii
The tiniest and cutest of the genus!

Cyclamen sp.
There are only a few species this could be--and I'm not venturing a guess...

Iris pallida var. illyrica
An impressive stand of an unusual form of the commonest of species iris!

Gladiolus aff.  papilio very early in the season...
Strange to see a gladiolus so early! This one I usually associate with summer. (T.F.:Gladiolus aff. papilio I know as Gladiolus tristis, but there is a labeling mix up in that area with several glads – it is not one I know from the wild but it is the earliest flowering on the rocks) I realize of course it is G. tristis--Tom caught my mistake so I shall leave it--along with his tactful correction.

Asphodeline lutea on the left and various other Mediterranean brooms and herbs.
And this will not bloom for me for another month--and yet there were flowers at Kew that are blooming in Denver as well--strange.

Erodium sp.
This one has a few years behind it! A spectacular stand. (T.F.:Erodium sp. – Recorded as Erodium petraeum subsp. crispum (last verified ’71). No record of this name ever existing on the WCSP…accepted is Erodium foetidum, but in our records Erodium cheilanthifolium is listed as synonymous, which is also an accepted species according to WCSP – any ideas?)

Paeonia clusii
This grows near to my grandfather's ancestral home. I think it's the first time I've seen this Cretan endemic in cultivation.

Helleborus vesicarius
The most glorious of hellebores. From the border of Turkey and Syria--not apt to be recollected very soon. Sad that the human political realm lacks the grace of plants! I first saw this on raised beds across from the old Alpine House that have since been replaced by the expanded Jodrell Laboratories. Good to see the plant made the move! (T.F.:WCSP also lists Helleborus vesicarius as an unresolved name – it seems pretty distinct in morphology and distribution to me so am not sure about this one!)

Had to share a second picture!

Iberis cr sempervirens and a fantastic mass of c/yclamen graecum foliage
I was amazed to see so much Cyclamen graecum tucked here and there throughout the garden--reputedly a tender one. But then Kew is very mild thanks to the Heat Island Effect: the Thames is not apt to freeze over again as it has on occasion during little ice ages. Thank Heavens our current "president" has forestalled Global Warming during his hopefully very short term, said he sarcastically. (T.F.:Cyclamen graecum grows extremely well for us on the Rocks, really good performer in Autumn)

Aloe polyphylla
Needless to say, I was dazzled--not just that they're there, but with such artistic placement!

Aloe again, and chartreuse Euphorbia cf spinosa

Wonderful combinations of textures!

Tanacetum densum v. amani
I have always prided Denver in how well we grow this "Partridge Feather" as my friend Homer Hill dubbed it (and it seems to have stuck) I always assumed it wouldn't thrive in a Maritime climate with its silvery down. Wrong again: what a stunning display of one of the loveliest of groundcovers! This likewise hails from the Amanus Mountains--a great introduction of Peter Davis when researching the Flora of Turkey.

Asperula arcadiensis
A simply mind-numbing display if you're an experienced rock gardener: this is not the easiest asperula to grow on that scale!
Scilla peruviana and Iris sabina
I love this little combo! The Scilla is not hardy for us. Looks very hardy here. The Iris is new to me: it is one of the later flowering Pogon irises--and quite distinctive. (T.F.: Iris sabina is a Tony collection – meticulous records attached to it of course: Regional Park of Mount Lucretili, near town of Palombara Sabina, Mt.Zappi (part of Mt.Gennaro).L.C.: Compacted-limestone rocky fell. In turf between rocks in full sun - with Euphorbia spinosa, Coronilla minima, Asphodelus albus, Narcissus poeticus and Dactylorrhiza sambucina, (all in full flower). Very rare dwarf bearded Iris, 15-30cm. tall in flower, dark mauve-purple flowers. Collection made at the insistence of the University of Rome Botany Department and the Regional Park Naturalist-Ranger's Director and donated to Kew for scientific study and cultivation). And another note on the Scilla--(T.F.: The Scilla peruviana is a Richard Wilford collection from Mount Zaghouan in Tunisia, older flower turn pale which is quite unusual and quite a stocky free flowering form. You may know this, but peruviana interestingly was a mistake by Clusius which was retained by Linnaeus – he thought the bulbs were from Peru, but in fact the ship they arrived on was called Peru. Hence why we have a med basin plant with the epithet peruviana!)

Anthyllis erinacea (or Erinacea pungens)
I admired these very same plants when I first visited Kew 35 years ago (I'm quite sure they're the same ones in the same spot!). This is a slow growing plant! They were solid purple that year--a week or two earlier perhaps in the month. Or perhaps 1981 was a late bloom season?

I keep coming back to the damn Aloe...

Ptilotrichum spinosum
The glorious shrubby alyssum from Southern Spain and Morocco. Undoubtedly with a known wild pedigree here at Kew.

Arenaria dyris
I actually grew this years ago, and grew it for decades. Probably with a Kew source. Naturally, Kew still has it and I don't. They keep things forever...which is why there is such reverence in the name.

MORE Cyclamen graecum
This must be amazing in September and October: the foliage is lovely right now!

Homeria sp. (now Gladiolus)
I've admired these in South Africa many times and suspected they'd be hardy...

The jet set Alpine House!
I remember my horror when I heard the old alpine house was going: it was a little gem. In fact, I was there the very day it was dedicated in 1981. Well...the new one is pretty stunning as an architectural marvel: I think this picture captures a little of the drama in the setting. It is so large you can catch glimpses of it here and there throughout the whole West end of Kew.

Linum arboreum?
(T.F.:  Linum arboreum is correct according to my records, although that collection was previously verified as aff. arboreum as the petals are much longer than the dimensions given in Flora Europaea)

Haberlea rhodopensis and an Ibrris
A very different color form of the Balkan gesneriad I showed earlier...

Erodium petraeum
Another astonishing mat of Erodium. I thought I grew these well! Have I mentioned that a hallmark of the great British botanic gardens (especially Kew) is that they grow (almost to exclusion) plants of wild origin--and that they treat these like museum accessions: to be maintained with care forever? None of your slapdash  horticulture so common in public gardens where plants are torn out willy nilly for events or other kinds of exhibits. You will find few "common" plants here--why would they bother? Of course, Kew has an enormous well earned reputation--a product of consistency and maintaining a standard over decades--and now centuries! Long may they continue to do so.

Stachys candida
I'm guessing on the name: it certainly looks like what I've seen in Greece and grown in Colorado--albeit not so well...

Helichrhysum sibthorpii
One of the greatest rock plants--and what a breathtaking display! I don't remember so much of this in the past--they've obviously been expanding the site. Best known from Mt. Athos, this is so beautiful when it emerges (with pink buds) and expands its yellow and white everlastings. I would LOVE to see this in late May and June--worth a trip back! But not this year alas!

Cotula fallax
Thrilled to see a name on this (and see their source): I've been tracking this plant and trying to identify it: it's had several incorrect names in the trade (chiefly Cotula hispida--which it is not). It doesn't fill me with confidence that the Latin name translates as "deceptive"...(T.F.: Cotula fallax donated to us by Oxford University BG in 1988. Nicholas Hind our Compositae expert verified as hispida in ’89, and Richard Wilford changed the name in 2009.)

The view of the waterfall is truly an amazing tour-de-force in artistic landscape design: a perfect evocation of a mountain scene.

Onosma alboroseum
I've never seen a better planting of this.
Astragalus lusitanicus ssp. orientalis
Another superbly placed specimen--not nearly enough milkvetches in cultivation--especially in rock gardens! (T.F.: Astragalus lusitanicus subsp. orientalis now given as Erophaca baetica subsp. orientalis on International Legume Database although I don’t know on what basis) 

Erodium manescavii
One of my favorite Erodiums: this self sows all over my garden and blooms all summer. the perfect weed!

Eriogonum umbellatum ssp. majus
One of the most common high altitude buckwheats throughout the Rockies: only Yampa River Botanic Garden has more of these in their collection! This turns wonderful colors in winter, and the flowers last for months: Here no buds are showing--but another colony nearby was studded with buds--as you'll see.

Clematis ochroleuca

This stopped me in my tracks: what a superb planting of our native east coast rarity!

Puya raimondii
t/om casually mentioned this would be moved soon: truth be said, if it reached maturing in that spot the visitors would all be entangled in it like the proverbial lambs whose bones are reputed to litter the ground beneath this largest and grandest of all alpine plants! (T.F.: The Puya that you photographed rotted off shortly after you visited – in fact it may already be dead in your photo! We have just one now but in good health, and more back ups in the nursery).

Puya sp.
I saw this in full bloom my last visit seven years ago in July. I don't think I ever did a blog of that visit...I suppose it isn't too late (would make a fine companion piece to this one(...

Mimulus naiandinus
I have a picture of Anita Flores next to this in the wild at the type locality. Just boasting.

Phlox douglasii 'Rosea'
Beautifully draped don't you think?

Fritillaria affinis middle, Eriogonum umbellatum v. majus in back
Here's the subalpine buckwheat in bud: we won't see this blooming in the Rockies until July! Or in Denver till late May...(and a fabulous stand of Fritillaria in the midground--hard to pick out: what we used to call F. lanceolata.)
Oxalis squamata
I remember seeing this all over the high Andes in Chile--and we grew it in Colorado: I think Laporte Avenue nursery weeded it all out for fear it would become a pest! I'd love to have it back...

We have hypertufa. Kew has stone.

Heuchera cylindrica
I've seen this in nature throughout much of the Pacific Northwest, but never looking this good!
Agave montana (left( and A. havardiana left
      And they even have a planting of agaves--not quite so artistically placed as the aloes! but certainly looking healthy...

A rather peculiar note to end on: perhaps not really an end--I have a lot of pictures of the Alpine House, and lots of pictures of shrub plantings, the enormous and imposing "Broad Borders"--which are really in peak bloom in summer.  In the past I have photographed endlessly in the greenhouses as well--no time for that this year.

When I first visited I felt the horticulture at Kew (however wonderful) was step-child to the enormous scope of their scientific endeavors. Decades of draconian budget cuts have made an impact on the science--but ironically charging more for visitors attending (it was a pence in the old days!) has elevated the horticulture there (one has to justify the visitor experience!). I have never seen RBG Kew looking so resplendent and with so many superbly grown plants. They have raised the bar!            


  1. speechless...thank you so much for this, the photos and context. Just astounding. Must try that tanacetum again. Long live Kew!

  2. Wow! Hope the Alpine House pictures come soon. Was there several summers ago and was very impressed. Are the Agaves in pots and sunk in the gravel or planted in?

  3. I'm sure the agaves are planted, Bracey--after all they grow Aloe polyphylla and a number of Puyas successfully! I think the Kew climate is actually much closer to the Bay area than people suspect. You've inspired me to go ahead with the alpine house tomorrow!

  4. The final stake in the heart is the shot of those Clematis ochroleuca -- found locally, but only with hiking much more strenuous than I do. Wow. Wow. Wow.

    Very much with you in hoping that not much of the old-skool blocky design is converted to hottt new crevices. The image of the draped Phlox douglasii, visually in scale with the distant trees, is the best example of why.

  5. Your travels are worthy of an epic poem as was written about ancient Greeks.

  6. I keep coming back to this astounding collection of photos. Thanks so much for the work that goes into letting us feel as if we're accompanying you on your travels.

    This time through the real grabber was that gorgeous purply-red tree peony. Someone recently tweeted an image of a similar cultivar, a 1938 Lemoine hybrid called 'Sang Lorrain'.

    And this passage made me laugh out loud: "Pachyphragma macrophyllum. Kew was full of plants (whole genera!) new to me. But this IS the RBG after all!" Some time ago I was irked, then amused, by a blog post in which a British plant professional, someone on PK's level, said: "It is surprising how seldom one sees Pachyphragma macrophyllum." This struck me at the time as a hilariously plant-snobbish comment, and now even more so.

    [Searching on the plant turned up information from Far Reaches Farm, Fine Gardening, Beth Chatto, and others. It does seem like a useful groundcover for partial shade, but I'm deterred by the fact that it's related to garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), one of the worst invasive plants of eastern North American woodlands. Fine Gardening says it's not invasive, but allow me a bit of skepticism that a plant few have heard of, not at all widely planted, can be considered to have been proved non-invasive in a continent with as many climates as ours.]


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