Kew Gardens this Autumn

Kew Gardens is without doubt one of the most well known and highly regarded botanical institutions in the World. A long and rich history, coupled with the passion, knowledge and expertise make this a truly wonderful place to visit.

This autumn, there are of course a multitude of fascinating attractions at Kew, but one of my personal favourites is the newly restored and recently re-opened Temperate House.

Front Entrance of the Temperate House

The main atrium of the house is split into location specific beds, with three additional smaller wing houses for Africa, Western Australia and Asia.

Map showing bed layout.

The temperate house makes for an impressive display, with everything from palms, to cycads and tree ferns. It is truly an exotic plant lovers delight. As the glass house has only recently re-opened, it is effectively a new glass house. Having undergone a five year restoration, it is a testament to all the people who have worked so hard to get it open again.

View of the main atrium

Here is an impressive view of some of the tree ferns in the Australian bed in the main atrium.

Tree ferns (Dicksonia Antartica)

There are as previously mentioned a vast amount of attractions to visit at Kew Gardens, this is a truly a gem. With all the glasshouses, exceptional borders, woodlands and rock garden. Not forgetting of course the Pagoda, Treetop Walkway, Sackler Crossing etc. This makes a magical day out for everybody, not just plant enthusiasts.

Horticultural Gems of North America

North America, with a diverse range of environments and climate zones it makes a wonderful place to see and discover all manner of different plants. One plant family in particular, the Cactaceae (Cacti) family is endemic to the Americas.

For many years exotic gardening enthusiasts in temperate climates have long searched for hardy cacti and succulents. One highly recommended cacti for temperate gardens is the Opuntia Polyacantha, known commonly as the plains prickly pear, it is found naturally on the great plains and prairies of the US and Canada. Given the harsh continental climate with ragingly hot summers and bitterly cold winters it fares well in a temperate climate winter.

Opuntia Polyacantha

Another gem from North America is the Echinacea Purpurea, with its bold flowerheads it has become a firm favourite in the cottage garden. It is fairly easy to grow and prefers a freely draining site. It has been given recognition from the RHS as being perfect for pollinating insects

Echinacea Purpurea

Californian Lilac (Ceanothus) is a much loved and commonly used garden shrub in the UK. It has lovely clusters of electric blue, honey scented flowers in the spring time. It is an evergreen and has small dark green leaves and stems the year round. It attracts lots of bees and is generally a fast growing but relatively short lived shrub.

Ceanothus in Bloom

Obviously this is merely a minute selection of all the wonderful plants that originate from North America but they are certainly gems and highly recommended for temperate gardens.

Horticultural Gems of France

France has a rich and well known history of gardens and gardening, from the large palace gardens to the wonderful potager gardens. However there are some very well known and some lesser known elements of the French horticultural scene and we will explore some of these today.

Santiago de Chili

Marble Fountain By Guilhem Vellut from Paris, France (Fountain @ Paris) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

The Square Santiago de Chili is a wonderful green retreat in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. A kind of oasis in the city with magnificent Oriental Plane Trees and a bust of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French writer, poet and pioneering aviator. Not forgetting the gorgeous marble fountain, the garden makes for a welcome change to the busy urban environment.

Lavender Stoechas (French Lavender)

French Lavender, By User:Xemenendura (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.1 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/es/deed.en)]

French Lavender is one of the most recognisable lavenders as it has distinctive petals at the top of each flower, somewhat reminiscent of butterfly wings, and typically they will flower earlier than common lavender, with flowers appearing as early as May. One important thing to note however is that they are far less hardy than the common lavender, so if winter is very cold it can be the death knell for them.

Jardin botanique d’Èze

Exotic Cacti and Succulents, By Berthold Werner (Own work) [Public domain]

The Botanical Garden of Èze, in Èze not far from Nice has the most wonderful array of exotic succulents and cacti. It is situated in a steep area that falls over 400 meters towards the sea and has magnificent panoramic views of the coast. Amongst the plants you will find an impressive variety of Agaves, Yuccas, Aloes and various species of Cacti.

Garlic (Allium Sativum)

Garlic, By Pivari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Garlic, often associated with France and French agriculture has been cultivated for thousands of years over the Mediterranean region and is a firm favourite with growers and chefs alike. It is a close relative of onions, chives, leeks, shallots and ornamental alliums.

Overall there are many elements that give France a long and exciting horticultural history and today we have touched on just a few.

Horticultural Gems of Japan

This month we will be looking at a small selection of the wonderful plants that come from Japan.

The Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) is probably one of the best known. It has wonderfully delicate leaves, especially the dissectum varieties. It is well known for its wonderfully bright autumnal foliage and makes a nice addition to most gardens.

Japanese Maple showing the Autumnal Foliage

Another Japanese native is the Euonymous Fortunei, this is a staple evergreen shrub of many UK gardens and often seen in one of its variegated forms. With its ovate leaves it looks quite wonderful when the variegation picks out details on the leaves. It is commonly used for short hedges.

Variegated foliage of Euonymus Fortunei

The Rosa Rugosa is yet another Japanese native. Despite its long spindly branches and ferocious spines it has the most wonderful open flowers with the most delightful traditional musk rose scent. It originates on coastal Japan growing among sand dunes and is extremely tolerant of strong winds and salt spray. Commonly found with either white or pink flowers.

The lush green foliage and sharp spines of the Rosa Rugosa

The Japanese Laurel (Aucuba Japonica) is another firm garden staple, again grown primarily for its variegation. It is evergreen and can be slow growing in its first few years but will eventually grow to a large size and is commonly used for hedging. To get the most vivid variegation it is best grown in a sunny position but it is somewhat shade and drought tolerant.

The spotty variegation on the Japanese Laurel looks almost as if someone has splashed yellow paint all over it

The Fatsia Japonica is commonly considered a houseplant in the UK, however as many exotic plant enthusiasts have found they grow very well outdoors and survive the winters, in all but the most severe winter climates, without problems. It is a small evergreen shrub and can form wonderful white flower umbels.

The large leaves of the Fatsia Japonica are quite impressive

This is merely a handful of the numerous and wonderful plants of Japan.

Horticultural Gems of China

This month we will be looking at a small selection of the wonderful plants that come from China.

The Trachycarpus Fortunei, a.k.a the Windmill Palm has become an increasingly common sight in UK gardens in recent years.

It originates in central China, from the Hubei province southwards, at high altitudes of up to 2400m (7847ft). The trees are dioecious, having either male or female flowers.

The palm makes a wonderful specimen plant, also it is very winter hardy. This coupled with the everlasting desire for more varied and increasingly exotic plants makes the Trachycarpus a real winner in the garden.

It can be slow to start but after three years it generally begins to grow fairly rapidly, providing conditions are favourable.

Trachycarpus Fortuneii – Pictured in a UK Suburban Front Garden

Prunus Persica, the Peach Tree has long been in cultivation. This Chinese native has become a firm favourite with fruit producers and gardeners alike. Unfortunately in the UK the Peach Tree is susceptible to Peach Leaf Curl, a fungal disease that deforms and damages the leaves.

Peach Tree in Bloom

Juniperus Chinensis, Chinese Juniper has many cultivars that are popular amongst gardeners. With spikey evergreen foliage and a striking glaucous blue colour it makes a striking addition to the garden.

Foliage of Juniperus Chinensis cv. Pyramidalis

The Rhododendron is another species group that has many genera hailing from Asia, with many species from China itself.

Flowers and Foliage of Rhododendron Ponticum

One particular Rhododendron, the Rhododendron Ponticum has become an invasive species in large parts of the UK, particularly parts of Wales and Scotland. It is believed to be once a native of the UK, but was eradicated here at the time of the last Ice Age and has since been reintroduced.

There are numerous wonderful and differing plants that come from China, due in many parts to the Country’s large size and expanse of several climatic zones.