It was a beautiful day yesterday once it had warmed up a bit. Perfect gardening weather. What was I doing? I was clearing out the attic. All that junk I arrived with 30 odd years ago; a car load went to the dump this morning, there’s a lot more still to go. If there’d been anything pressing on the garden front I’d have seized on it as a distraction but unfortunately there wasn’t.
And so it is with finding six items to talk about. The bottom of the barrel has been so well scraped I’m in danger of making holes. No matter how often I walk round the garden I see only the things I saw last week and the week before. I’m going to fall back on plan B. Most weeks I spend a day at Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, pottering about the Camellia collection. I was up there on wednesday and it was a beautiful day. I wandered around, took some pictures of Camellias, checked on a list of things I needed to check, then spent some time just walking around the park. Like a lot of UK parks it was a private estate that passed into public ownership.
The park runs to 865 acres, centred on a house that dates from 1547. It was sold to Plymouth City Council and Cornwall County Council in 1971 and opened to the public in 1988. The house had been restored after near total destruction in the war but the park was a mess. The Camellia collection was started in 1976, before NCCPG and National Collections, but became a National Collection early on.
We don’t value our parks very highly in this country. Mount Edgcumbe is gradually moving towards being self financing, with an events program, holiday lets and various franchises providing an income. It’s an extraordinary place and like many of our parks, is full of interesting and often rare trees. I took pictures of a few of them, hoping I could make a coherent six. In that, I failed.
Pinus pinea and Pinus pinaster. If it’s characterful trees you’re after then Pines can be perfect. There are also several that are exceptionally good in severe coastal exposure. Pinus pinaster, the maritime pine, you’d expect to be. So also is stone pine, Pinus pinea, and a tree of great individuality and landscape impact as well. This bunch are on the hillside looking out across Plymouth Sound to the city. There’s a pedestrian ferry across, taking you from Plymouth to Cremyll, Devon to Cornwall, run down urban area to superb parkland.
Just outside the deer fence is this pair of trees, an oak, Quercus robur or petraea, and Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa. They’re a bit more sheltered than the pines but not much, so it’s surprising and impressive that they’ve made such fine trees. I would estimate the oak at 90-100 feet. The deer fence is worse than useless, most of the deer are on the wrong side of it. They’re in the process of repairing it but getting the deer out will never be easy.
Down in an area known as the amphitheatre, one of a closely planted pair of Nothofagus dombeyi fell over a few years back, trashing several camellias. The other one looms threateningly over another group of camellias and it certainly seems more a question of when than if it will fall. I never feel comfortable walking under it and I don’t if it’s windy. It would be a shame to lose it, other than conifers and holm oak, large evergreen trees are not much seen in the UK.
Another oak, Quercus suber, the cork oak. I don’t know if this is the UK champion, I’ve not seen a bigger one anywhere. It’s getting a bit hemmed in by seedling trees, probably sycamore, perhaps I’ll have a word with someone.
It’s semi-evergreen, still has bunches of leaves at the branch tips.
Oh, I’ve more items than I thought. Another ill matched pair then. Redwoods. Both are here and unusually for UK gardens, it is the coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, that has made the bigger tree, not that there’s much in it. It’s lost its top too, so the giant redwoods will probably outgrow their cousins in years to come. They’re not well positioned to take photos but the Sequoia towers above everything around it, I’d guess at 130-150 feet.
Well, I could have run item five as two items and closed out on trees but then I’d have not mentioned Camellias at all. I work as a volunteer on the collection, pruning, labelling and maintaining the collection records. I can relate to you the numbers involved: Taxa: 904, Cultivars: 889, Species: 50, Accessions: 1638. There are around a hundred that I have doubts about the identity of and Wednesday was a good day in that I managed to put a name to one variety that has been eluding me for years. There are two plants of it and they will be re-labelled Camellia japonica ‘Pilida’ at some point, instead of the two different, and equally wrong names, that they are currently masquerading under. Anyhow, it’s now mid January and the spring flowering varieties are beginning to hit their stride, so here are ten that I pictured on Wednesday. Clockwise: ‘Beatrice Michael’, ‘Adolphe Audusson Variegated’, ‘Maud Messel’, ‘Lily Pons’, ‘Agnes of the Oaks’, ‘Monica Dance’, ‘Thomas Cornelius Cole’, ‘Takanini’, ‘Morning Glow’, ‘San Dimas’.
A large proportion of the collection consists of varieties that are not in commerce in the UK. I don’t really know how important conserving garden plants is in the great scheme of things, but genetic diversity is important generally and it matters little whether it is in wild or cultivated plants. It is certainly an asset in terms of the appeal of the park and for anyone who loves plants adds to a richness that is available all year round, for the cost of the car park.
I’ll come down from my pulpit now and get back to the attic. I’m trying to improve the insulation before the gas price rises really hit. I’ll hopefully get out in the garden too this week and do a normal six next week. Don’t forget to checkout les autres at the Propagator.