08 February 2016

Tree Flowers: February 2016: Chinese Witch Hazel

In this series I'm looking at the flowers of trees - and this is probably one of the smallest trees that will be featured. Collins Complete British Trees gives a guideline height at maturity of just 4 metres and in horticultural terms the witch hazel would often be termed a shrub. However, biologically speaking there is no difference between a tree and a shrub even if it is multi-stemmed rather than a singe trunk. We have a rather lovely rowan in our garden and that required a lot of encouragement to adopt a single trunk and still sends out shoots at ground level.

Even if this a tiny tree, the flowers pack a might punch, providing some much needed colour. I photographed this witch hazel, which is Hamamelis mollis 'Boskoop', and it pleasantly stood out and I felt drawn to it.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis mollis) are native to China, and introduced to Britain by Charles Maries of James Veitch & Sons in the 19th century. However, this particular cultivar is from The Netherlands. Whitman Farms, Oregon in the US, write that this cultivar may be the oldest in production. 

The flowers have ribbon-like petals with the stamens being red in colour. As you can see in the photo above, the flowers put on their display before the leaves arrive and that the branches are covered with flowers. The flowers are also supposedly scented, but I have to admit, I've never noticed any scent from the witch hazels I've come across - primarily at Westonbirt Arboretum. The mollis part of the latin name refers to the leaves, which have fine, felt-like hairs, as described in RHS Latin for Gardeners. David Gledhill in the fourth edition of The Names of Plants writes that Hamamelis refers to plants with 'pear-shaped' fruits

Used ornamentally in gardens and parks, as well as in arboretum collections, unlike the American witch hazel, the Chinese witch hazel doesn't really seem to have any other uses. Perhaps for firewood after pruning, but due to its small size and slender branches pruned wood from the Chinese witch hazel wouldn't last long. However, I do think it's lovely just to like a thing because it's pleasing to look at and not because it's an earner economically.

Boskoop (Hamamelis ‘Boskoop’) | Whitman Farms. 2016. Boskoop (Hamamelis ‘Boskoop’) | Whitman Farms. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.whitmanfarms.com/allplants/ornamental-plants/other-plant-groups/witch-hazels/boskoop-hamamelis-boskoop/. [Accessed 07 February 2016].
Gledhill, David. The Names of Plants. 4 edition. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Hamamelis mollis Background . 2016. Hamamelis mollis Background . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.coblands.co.uk/info/hamamelis-mollis-background. [Accessed 07 February 2016]. 

Harrison, Lorraine, and The Royal Horticultural Society. RHS Latin for Gardeners: Over 3,000 plant names explained and explored. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2012.
Sterry, Paul. British Trees: A Photographic Guide to Every Common Species. First Edition edition. London: Collins, 2008.

01 February 2016

Lacock Abbey: A wander through the greenhouse

Lacock Abbey is located near Chippenham in Wiltshire and has been around in various forms since 1232, when Lady Ela the Countess of Salisbury laid the first stone. It has had a varied history and is probably most famously known as the birthplace of photography - specifically they type that uses negatives - the process invented by Fox Talbot.

The abbey and surrounding village were given to the National Trust in 1944. Both abbey and village are commonly used in television and film, appearing in productions such as Harry Potter and recently Wolf Hall.

While all of this is wonderful, today we'll have a short wander through the greenhouse (by today I obviously mean 23 November last year!).

Near the entrance both Abutilon 'Cloth of Gold' and Cape Leadwort were putting on a welcoming show.

This pink beauty is highlighted by the bright yellow anthers. It looks like a species of Grewia, but I couldn't see a name tag for confirmation.

A lovely pot of Sarracenia pitcher plants and hung by the wall was a pot of Polygonum capitatum, which can also go by the name of pink buttons - quite adorable.

Hybrids of Streptocarpus were potted up on one of the benches, providing a splash of colour. These are best served by life in a greenhouse or conservatory, but can survive on a windowsill - however they don't seem to flower quite as often. High up in the greenhouse are grapes: I'd have quite liked a bowl of grapes that day!

Until last year, I'd only ever seen alstroemeria in bouquets in England, so was very happy to hear that they thrive outdoors here. I'm hoping to grow some at some point as I really like the patterns the petals provide - they're so cheering and a joy to behold.

Imagine having a garden that could accommodate a greenhouse of this size! All the plants that could be grow, a place to hide off and have a cup of tea. All the experiments to be done and exotic plants to observe. Perhaps that's for another lifetime! Until then, thankfully Lacock is down the road for me and membership means I can always pop in for a quick look.

Note: Thanks to members of Grows On You for identification help with the Polygonum and Grewia.

21 January 2016

Tree Flowers: January 2016: Hazel

When I was growing up, I had a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) growing right outside my window. I enjoyed when the tree developed the winged seeds, and less enjoyed having the task of pruning it each year (someone in the past had pollarded it, which I alway thinks looks horrible and a sign of a badly placed tree). But I never noticed the flowers - even though they would have been no more than 6 feet from my bedroom window.

So to try to make up for my unobservant past, this year I'm going to be looking at a different tree flower each month. Some will be native to the UK, but I'll be looking at all sorts of trees from wild to neatly kept, from showy to discrete. In some ways, the smaller and less 'flower' like the better. I'll try to feature trees that are in flower that month, or hopefully within the correct season.

I'll start this series of posts with hazel:

Hazel quickly followed the birches in establishing themselves and recolonising Britain after the last ice age. However, they cannot tolerate deep shade and cannot grow tall enough to reach the light (growing up to a maximum of 30 feet), therefore they are likely to be one of the first species you see on the edge of deciduous woodland.

The flowers of Hazel are incomplete, but the tree is monoecious, so it has both the male and female flower on the same plant. This differs from plants such as holly where the male flowers are on one individual and the female flowers on a different individual.

The flowers are wind pollinated and without petals. The tiny female flower is enclosed in a series of bracts (photo above) and shows only the stigmas, which are reddish. The male flowers are a bit more obvious as they are catkins, sometimes quite bulky, which dangle down and move in the wind.

They are often multi-stemmed and has been well used in cultivation for coppicing. They grow quickly with reasonably straight branches that are often used as poles - particularly often for growing peas and beans. Other uses of hazel include being employed as a 'nurse' species for more commercially valuable species such as walnuts (my breakfast) and cherry. This is due to the strong early growth of hazel, which provides shelter and shade for the main crop - the shade reducing the growth of brambles and other 'weed' species.

Quick to develop roots, layering in the winter is a common way to propagate new plants - however these will be clones and won't increase the gene pool. However, it seems that hazel doesn't have many pests and diseases. The ones it does have seem to concentrate on foliage (deer and livestock) and nuts (grey squirrels).

I was surprised to see the female flowers out in January (and most already at an end) - but winter hasn't really happened yet. But this allowed me to use hazel as my first tree flower in this series. I hope you enjoyed it and go out to find some!


Mabey, Richard. Flora Britannica. 1st edition. London: Chatto & Windus / Sinclair Stevenson, 1996.
Coombes, Allen J., and Zsolt Debreczy. The Book of Leaves: A Leaf-by-Leaf Guide to Six Hundred of the World’s Great Trees. S.l.: Ivy Pre
Hemery, Gabriel, and Sarah Simblet. The New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. ss, 2015.