Six on Saturday – 15/1/2022

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.

26 thoughts on “Six on Saturday – 15/1/2022

  1. Isolate, Isolate, Isolate… The more we do, the lower the bill will be!
    Indeed everywhere we hear that the price of energy is rising and it isn’t going to stop… Here in France we have heard from a British company who offers to hug his cat to warm up… It’s clever and funny: at least they got people talking about them! Superb trees that you presented to us this week with my preference for redwood and pinus pinea ( the first)


    1. Cats are such users, if they’ll let you hug them it’s because they want to get warm, then they’re off. People here have been getting offended by suggestions that they put more clothes on or whatever, to stay warm. Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I laughed that you could have scraped holes in the bottom of the barrel. The camellia blooms are so colorful. We are expecting a major snowstorm in the mountains today and tomorrow, so spring blooms are far from our minds.


    1. Yep, that’s about where I have ended up. A big collection is a good thing but it doesn’t much matter which 900 varieties you have, other than there being little point in having the very common sorts.

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  3. We need our ‘old’ parks otherwise most of us wouldn’t be able to get to know these beautiful large trees in the flesh.
    All ten Camellias are beautiful but if I had to choose – 1. ‘Lily Pons’ 2. ‘Beatrice Michael’ and 3. ‘T. C. Cole’


    1. Theoretically the first two of those Camellias are available. So true about needing parks to grow big trees, most gardens are too small and except for the timber trees, outside gardens native trees are all we have. You get the odd big species as a street tree too.


  4. Those are some unhappy redwoods. The coastal redwood likely dislikes the cool winter weather. The giant redwood likely dislikes the cool summer weather. Since I am unfamiliar with the climate there, I can not say which would perform better. Coastal redwood is taller than giant redwood, but stays lower where exposes, particularly if exposed enough for the top to bet blown off. Although giant redwood has a much smaller natural range, it is more adaptable to more regions than the coastal redwood.


    1. Giant redwood does amazingly well here. It made it to Scotland in 1853 and in about 80 years was the biggest tree, in timber volume, from one end of the country to the other. It tends to grow taller than everything around it and get hit by lightning. They get taller in Scotland because there is less lightning, higher rainfall, cooler summers and plenty of other tall trees to get hit instead. Actually it’s more of an east-west split; taller in the west where the rainfall is higher. Coast redwood first arrived her in 1844, as young plants sent from Leningrad.

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      1. What an odd choice for timber. It is not used for timber even here. The trees are so massive that they shatter when they fall. Even lumber that is process from small trees splits easily. Consequently, the largest trees in the World were used for fence rails and grape stakes in the vineyards. Sadly, the biggest trees were cut down just so timber barons could get their pictures taken on top of their stumps. Many were left to rot out in the forests because they can not be dragged out from such remote locations. Coastal redwood is still an important timber tree here. Harvest is managed much more efficiently than it was a century ago, when this region was clear cut harvested without a plan, in order to rebuild San Francisco after the Great Earthquake and Fire.


      2. It isn’t used for timber here. Timber volume was being used as a measure of how much growth the tree had made, along with height and girth. Coast redwood isn’t grown as a timber tree either. Most of our forestry is based on Sitka spruce, plus some pines, Douglas fir and until very recently, larch. None is from managed natural forest, it’s all planted and mostly non-native.

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      3. Unlike giant redwood, coastal redwood does make good lumber for fences, decks and situations in which wood will be exposed to weather or soil. Redwood is resistant to rot. Douglas fir grows wild here also, but is not a desirable tree around anything that they might drop limbs onto or fall onto. They do not last for thousands of years like the redwoods do. We just recently got some tiny Sitka spruce from the very northeastern corner of California. I am unfamiliar with them, but will be pleased to add them to the landscape.


      4. I pocketed a few seeds of Sitka on Vancouver Island years ago, I was amazed at these 150-200ft trees growing straight up right at the top of the beach, they don’t do that here. I got a couple growing quite well in the valley below the nursery and some bastard cut the better one down just before Christmas one year. It was about 10 feet tall and looking handsome.

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      5. Like many trees, the get as tall as necessary to compete. Even coastal redwoods do not get very tall where exposed. I know that Sitka spruce would likely stay proportionate to our landscapes if in an exposed situation, although ‘proportionate’ is relative.

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    1. Joseph Banks and James Cook dined in the house before setting off to observe the transit of Venus. That was the snippet I was reminded of when I was looking up a few details yesterday. It’s an extraordinary place really, full of enigmatic structures going back to bronze age burial mounds. I like the mystery of it so much I’ve never read up very much of its history, I prefer not to demystify it.

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  5. Lovely to see some beautiful trees. I specially love oaks in winter without their leaves. I had a Giant Redwood in my last garden that a previous owner had grown from seed. It was 60 years old and already enormous.


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