A few years ago I came across a lovely little book entitled “Who Does Your Garden Grow” by Alex Pankhurst. It is full of details about the people who have plants named after them and many, but by no means all, of these folk spent years breeding plants.
History is a favourite subject of mine and the history behind plants combined two of my loves – how lucky can you get?!
In a recent communication with Nancy (NickelNook) she told me about some lovely flowers that grow in her garden and that a little old lady sprinkled some seed around when Nancy and her DH were building their house and started a train of thought about the ‘people’ growing in our garden.
There was a formidable lady gardener who was well-known during the mid to late 1800s named Ellen Willmott who consorted with the great gardening luminaries of her time, she would visit the gardens of the great and the good and if she felt a particular plant was missing from the garden she would surreptitiously sprinkle seeds around. Her favourite plant was the Eryngium giganteum – a beautiful silvery sea holly – which became known as Miss Willmott’s ghost; Nancy’s story reminded me of Miss Willmott.
Our garden’s people are mainly friends and family who have provided cuttings, seeds or plants but perhaps one of the greatest contributors was my mentor, Miss Phyllis Hall. Miss Hall, an ex school teacher, taught me much about gardening and plants and I worked in her garden for several years during her late 80s and early 90s. It is a great enjoyment to walk around the flower beds and see if Miss Hall’s willow leaved gentian is out yet – a beautifully graceful plant with the most striking azure blue trumpets, or perhaps Jean’s crab apple tree has covered itself with pink blossom and it certainly did this year.
Growing luxuriantly up the west-facing gable of our cottage is a rose named after a lovely little bird that also lives in our garden – Goldfinch. At the moment the small roses are covering the climber and perfuming the air. The buds start off a buttery yellow and fade to a pale cream. To us this is Dad’s rose. Father-in-law grew this rose in his garden and DH remembers it well from his childhood. FIL was a keen gardener and was well-known in the village for his green fingers; he would go walking on the hillside above the village and find suitable dog rose (wild roses) bushes and, leaving the bush in place, would ‘bud’ a cultivated rose to the bush. Budding consists of (putting it as simply as possible!) collecting small sections of cultivated rose stem with a leaf bud and attaching these to the wild rose bush stems. When or if the budding ‘took’ he would prune back the wild rose and dig it up to grow on in his own garden! Anyway he took cuttings of Goldfinch and passed a growing cutting onto his daughter and she subsequently took more cuttings and passed one along to us and for us Dad’s memory lives on in this rose.
I am a great fan of the rose breeder David Austin, especially his English roses. David Austin spent many years breeding this particular type of rose combining the old world flowers with the modern hybrid tea rose to give us strong sturdy repeat flowering roses with the flower form and scents of the old shrub roses. This particular rose was named after a truly remarkable man, Graham Thomas. Graham Thomas was a horticulturist, garden designer, author, photographer, poet and artist. Many of his own paintings and drawings illustrate many of the books he wrote. He restored many of UK’s famous gardens and was adviser to the National Trust for many years for which he was awarded the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire). Graham Thomas popularised old and new shrub roses and David Austin said of him that he was the greatest rosarian. In 2009 the World Federation of Rose Societies voted this English Rose the World’s Favourite Rose!
In our garden this next rose is planted alongside Graham Thomas. Brother Cadfael is also a David Austin English Rose and named after a fictitious character that appears in Ellis Peters’ books.
I have read all of the Brother Cadfael stories and love this detective monk who is also a keen gardener; the stories are set during a turbulent time in England’s history – earl 12th century. The Cadfael stories are set in the same area as David Austin’s nursery!
Yet another English Rose and named for another famous gardener. Gertrude Jekyll didn’t describe herself as a garden designer but rather as a garden painter; she studied art and worked mainly in watercolours until failing eyesight stopped her, she was also a keen gardener and loved blocks of colour that were either highlighted or cooled by blocks of greenery. She created over 400 gardens in the UK, Europe and USA later in her life she worked with the famous architect, Lutyens for whom she designed the gardens – both formal and informal – as a backdrop to his buildings. Sadly few of Gertrude Jekyll’s gardens have survived. Her younger brother was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson who ‘borrowed’ the family name for his famous novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde!
A different type of rose, a hybrid tea rose just to show that I am not a rose snob! I adore most roses, all I ask is that they are scented however there are one or two roses that lurk in our garden that have very little or no scent but the colour is striking.
The National Trust is considered to be a great institution of this country, the organisation has many houses and estates in their portfolio; these are mainly donated to the NT and the NT sets about restoring them to their original period, researching and planting the gardens to fit that period as closely as possible. The NT has totally banned deer hunting with dogs from all their properties after many complaints from the general public; the NT relies heavily on donations and memberships from the general public. I understand that the NT has also banned the use of peat and insists that all plants grown for them should be grown in peat free medium.
Sorry about all the roses! I have not been able to find the name of this beautiful rose. I came across it when using the railway as a shortcut to the village when the railway first closed and before it became a Heritage Line. It was growing on one of the embankments and I took a cutting of it and to my surprise and delight the cutting survived and grew into a magnificent shrub. The leaves are quite small, the thorns vicious but the flowers are delightful. Unchecked it grows free standing to around 10 feet tall with branches cascading. The flowers are semi double and scented but sadly it only flowers once usually around May for approximately 3 weeks. I used to use these rose frequently for cutting when we sold bunches of flowers. How the rose came to be on the embankment is open to speculation. We would like to think that some railway workmen, who used to have huts on the side of the line, had planted it and this rose survived from that time when DH’s grandfather worked for the railway!
Now for something completely different! Another famous person who grows in our garden is Nora Barlow; her name was given to this lovely Aquilegia and the bees adore her. She produces plenty of seed too that seems to spread far and wide!
Nora Barlow was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, she studied genetics at Cambridge and edited several scholarly books about her grandfather. She was also a very keen gardener and spent a considerable time working on hybridisation in her own gardens although this Aquilegia was not a cross she worked on but did grow in her garden. Seed was given to Alan Bloom, a well-known plant collector and breeder, with the proviso that he name the plant after her. Aquilegias are very promiscuous plants and very readily cross with each but Nora Barlow is very stable. In our garden we have many crosses and although the colour may change in subsequent seedlings the basic form of Nora Barlow lives on; below are two of the Nora Barlow crosses:
One of DH’s favourite groups of plants is the Dianthus family especially Pinks. Doris must be one of his favourite as he has been growing this one for as long as I have known him! He said it was the first one he grew as his father gave him some rooted cuttings. One of the best known breeders of the modern day pink was a chap by the name of Montague Allwood and many of the genus carry that name e.g. Dianthus allwoodii. So Doris’s full name would be Dianthus allwoodii ‘Doris’ – quite a mouthful! Doris was also the name of DH’s favourite aunt, a spinster lady who had been crippled by polio in her childhood. So this particular flower has two strands of memories – Dad and aunty Doris.
I hope you have enjoyed keeping company with the people who grow in our garden.