Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

Rachael is our resourceful gardener whose job, as well as fine-tuning the topiary and tending the Lily Wood, is to look after the South American Border.   Often overlooked, this area of the garden is like a giant rockery that runs between the sundial and the Polemarch gate, and has some rare plants.  So, with the nation’s attention fixed on South America at the moment I thought we should give it some consideration.

First up on the podium:

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This gnarly tree from the tropical high Andes is the rare Polylepis, derived from the Greek words poly (many) and letis (layers) referring to the multi-layered dark red exfoliating sheets of bark on the trunk and branches, sometimes more than an inch thick.  The bark protects the tree from low temperatures and fire.   The tree has tiny leaves that conserve water, and tiny reddish flowers.  Growing at high altitudes, Polylepis forests are shrinking but are important for sheltering several critically endangered species of birds, and Peru has a conservation programme in hand.

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Mitraria coccinea, the Chilean mitre plant, or bottle plant, has a red, slightly fat tubular flower, and prefers sunny mornings and shade in the afternoon so is suited to perfection in our border.  It will scramble and climb, is good for hanging baskets, and can also be used as a house plant, how about that for diversity?

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This is Fuchsia microphylla, a tiny flowered, small leaved plant, just like the big one only in miniature.  Its origins are in the woodlands of Mexico and Central America.  Although appearing delicate this shrub is hardy and will flower until the first frosts.  After the penduous “Lady’s Eardrops” fade, they are replaced by black bull’s eye fruit.  It too is happy in our border with dappled sun and shade.

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We have several of these spectacular Fascicularia bicolour in the border with spiny leaves turning from green to red in the centre and a member of the  bromeliad (pineapple) family.  The rosette in the centre will become tubular three-petalled flowers that occur in succession, starting from the outside ring and working inwards, each lasting only a few days, from late summer to early autumn.  From Chile, they tolerate our cold conditions in well drained soil, and can grow in rock crevices or tree stumps.

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And finally our Colletia paradoxa a spiny, bizarre plant with leafless stems (called cladodes) that look like a jet plane, or some say an anchor or crucifixion cross.  We can look forward to tiny white bluebell shaped flowers in autumn with a scent of almonds, but don’t get too close, those spines are sharp, as my forefinger can testify.   Silhouetted against the sky we have a whole fleet of Concordes taking off!  Flying down to Rio?

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Rachael has cause to be proud of her work.   Give that girl a Gold Medal.

 

 

Ellen

 

 

Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain

Mnemonics are useful; this I learned when going for piano lessons.   Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, All Cows Eat Grass, etc.  I was seven and this information stuck, unfortunately the music didn’t.  My teacher had a handy ruler and I wasn’t enamoured of practising, so exit red-knuckled child, secretly elated as I preferred badminton.  However, as every seven year old knows, the above title is the mnemonic for the colours of the rainbow, (and you get a bonus history lesson), and because it has been so wet recently I thought it appropriate to feature the seven colours.   Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.  Here we go:

Our Red hand features scarlet tulips, salvias, or pelargoniums depending on the season or what we think the rabbits won’t eat.
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Orange lilies always provide a bright life to a dark corner, but can be harmful to felines.   So remove that bouquet from the windowsill where Top Cat likes to have a snooze.   Even a brush of pollen on his coat will make him ill when he grooms himself.

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Giant Yellow dandelions make a great show in the Italian Garden, wonder what size the puffballs will be?

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The Greensward on the north lawns sets off the mansion house to perfection.  A reminder of earlier days is the presence of a commemorative urn placed by the Dowager First Marchioness, Lady Frances, second wife of Robert, 1st Marquess of Londonderry.

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Blue Agapanthus can be seen in different areas and this is a lovely group in a corner of the Sunk Garden.  The name comes from the Greek Agape meaning love, and anthus, meaning flower, hence flower of love.   They come in white, pink and other shades of blue, and also in dwarf species suitable for pots.

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Indigo is next and these flowers for sale at the moment in the shop are Agastache Astello Indigo.This is a half hardy perennial with mint-scented flower spikes which are long-lasting and irresistible to bees and butterflies.  Ideal for gravel gardens and wildlife borders, and both flowers and leaves can be added to cakes or whipping cream for a hint of anise flavour.  (The Indigo plant itself that gives its name to the colour made a popular dye and was used by Levi Strauss for his famous blue jeans, perfect for that faded, distressed look that we all love.)  Agastache is a ‘wonder honey plant’ and produces copious amounts of nectar, so is very important for commercial honey production.  It is estimated that just one acre of flowers can support over 100 hives.
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Dame Edna would be proud of our Violet Gladdies in the Italian Garden, they have just bloomed and are the most lovely colour.  These South African flowers do well in Moonee Ponds, and come in a great variety of colours.  Easy to grow anywhere, but may need a stake in less sheltered areas, put the stake in when planting to avoid piercing the corm.  If you plant over a number of weeks they will bloom over a longer season and  make great cut flowers too.  Gladioli, or sword lilies, are the flowers for your 40th wedding anniversary, and the flower of August.

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So, that’s just a selection of colourful plants, there are many more in rainbow hues in our wonderful gardens.   Come rain or shine, come and see them, and your mnemonic?  FYFAMS: Find Your Favourite At Mount Stewart.

 

Ellen.

 

Thumbs Up for Mairi

The little sculpture by Margaret Wrightson of Lady Mairi as a child is a popular attraction for shutterbugs in the Mairi Garden. Before this area was cultivated and completed in 1925, Lady Mairi’s pram was parked in this area for her snooze in the fresh air. Now her image sits atop a fountain on a seat of cockle shells from which cascades water into the pool below. Visitors like to make a wish and throw pennies into the pool, where ‘Mairi, Mairi, Quite Contrary’, is written around the retaining wall. This line was adapted from the familiar nursery rhyme, one of a number of ancient verses published in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book in 1744, the year Mount Stewart was purchased by Alexander Stewart.

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Approached by one of several flagged paths you can see that the garden is in the shape of a Tudor Rose, a reference to the Women’s Legion, founded by Lady Mairi’s mother, Lady Edith during the Great War. Planting is mainly blue and white, perhaps a nod to the blue and silver chequered counter on the family coat of arms, a hangover from when the name Steward meant you looked after the affairs of an estate.

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Plants and shrubs include magnolias from Japan, abutilon from Chile, the Ribbon Gum, necessary to the diet of koala bears in Australia, and pittosporum beloved of flower arrangers everywhere. Our Fuchsia excorticata, from New Zealand, is popular with Polynesian ladies who use the blue pollen as eyeshadow. Its flowers are greenish when ready for visiting birds, but after they have been pollinated, they turn red to tell birds to stop coming. How wonderful is that? The pungent odour of eucalyptus trees grown from seeds brought back from southern Africa by Theresa, wife of the 6th Marquess, in 1894, a tall monkey puzzle and vines contribute to the exotic feel of a secret retreat and a sheltered sunshiney corner to sit and contemplate the scene.

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You might choose the bench that commemorates Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the year we opened the mansion house to visitors, or venture into the coolness of the little summerhouse designed by Lady Margaret Stewart. During Lady Edith’s open days and garden parties, a fortune-teller would sit here and read your palm.

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This lovely little building has a dovecote on top and is mentioned in Lady Edith’s book, ‘The Magic Inkpot’, when Lady Helen is gathering her pigeons together to go to market. In olden days dovecotes were a sort of larder. If you wanted to impress visitors your cook could go out and catch a squab or two for a pie. In addition to being symbols of peace, in Roman times the pigeon was used to carry results of sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, and, as well as being symbols of peace, this is why white doves are included in the opening ceremony. Keep an eye out for them in Rio de Janeiro next week.

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John, on the left, is one of the volunteers we have to thank for keeping things in order in the Mairi Garden. He is the one man Thursday Gang and happy in his work as you can see from the big smile on his face. On days off he likes nothing better than a busman’s trip to other gardens.

On the right we have the Wednesday Twosome, Trevor, who patiently answers my queries, and Newbie Volunteer Pete who is brushing up on his gardening knowledge. A fantastic team who obviously enjoy keeping those pretty maids all in a row.

Ellen

The Ruin of Happiness

Fanny Burney, English Novelist, once said after seeing buildings in Italy, ‘travel is the ruin of all happiness’, and the gardens at Mount Stewart have that effect on some gardeners. Several visitors have said after seeing our wonderful planting that they were quite dissatisfied with their own gardens and would have to start again! I remind them that we have a rather special micro-climate but suggest they take inspiration from Lady Edith’s try-anything philosophy – it doesn’t always work but it is fun trying! And it’s fairly certain that they won’t be presented with a flock of flamingos by an Egyptian monarch, and they don’t need to order tree frogs or lizards from Regent’s Park Zoo, but with all the wonderful catalogues of plants, not to mention our own plant shop, they could try introducing something exotic into their own patch. What they have to do is study their soil, garden aspect, weather patterns, and plant to suit.

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What about this Congo Cockatoo? It likes a moist-ish and shady rather than sunny spot outdoors. Sort of like a Busy Lizzie, It makes a lovely indoor pot plant as well and is easily propagated. Just stick an offshoot in water and grow the roots. Needs regular watering so pick a reliable friend to look after it when you are on holiday. Mine at home started off as an offshoot taken from a friend’s equally aged plant about twenty years ago, and I have passed on rooted cuttings to others.

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Salvias come in all shapes, sizes and colours and Hotlips is one of my favourites. The blossoms are a combination of white and lipstick red. Sometimes known as Blackcurrant Sage because when the leaves are crushed they smell like fruit. I’m looking forward to seeing it growing in the wild in south eastern Arizona later in the year. It loves sun and only needs a pruning in Spring, mine is in a pot but I’m going to find room for it in my patch. There’s a couple of nice bunches on the Dodo Terrace.

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A Chinese proverb says, ‘When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other’. And when you see these Zantedeschia aethiopica or the cultivar Green Goddess why wouldn’t you want to buy one? Native to southern Africa, and a bit more exotic looking than the ordinary calla lily, Green Goddess has green edging on the spathes which allow the flower to last much longer. It also develops curvy fringes at the edge of the spathe than the original white form, and looks stupendous in large floral arrangements. It likes moist places, like swampy ground and the edges of riverbanks. Ours grow at the lake so Lisa needs her waders to collect them for the Saloon. It is the national flower of island nation St Helena but is considered a pest in Australia. See them while resting on the bench, just after the cork tree.

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Or how about a really dramatic succulent like this Aeonium? Planted against a pale background our collection always draws admiring comments from visitors. However this is one plant you need to protect from frost, so bring it in during the winter. A cool place with not too much water will keep it happy.

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Phygelius capensis or Cape Fuschia from South Africa is a very easy to grow plant with a long blooming season from May to November. It likes full sun and will be happy in any sort of soil. Some fertiliser would be welcome, and if your garden is particularly cold in winter then a little protection may be needed. It comes in this lovely shocking pink colour draping itself over the Dodo Terrace. There is an orangey-red one in the plant shop, and you can see the lovely white version in the Mairi garden just now. Semi-evergreen, it can grow to a shrubby 4 feet tall, so make sure you have room.

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Pick up lots of horticultural information in our second hand bookshop. It offers entertaining reading, lovely photographs, good value and a reason not to go out and get wet on a rainy day. Better to put the kettle on and open that box of Maltesers.

Ellen

A Storytelling of Crows

Apparently the Sami people have one thousand words to describe reindeer, a bit like the Irish have for rain which means we have a lot of it. And we have had ample opportunity lately to recognise the differences between, say, downpour, drizzle, mizzle, stair-rods and cats and dogs. So, when I saw this gathering of mallards at the lake yesterday I wondered what a whole lot of ducks might be called.

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It turns out that the name depends on where the ducks are at the time. On land, as these are, I might have referred to them as a safe, sord, sore, waddling, badling, or twack. Two would be a brace, and any number of ducklings a brood. On water they would be a bunch, if idle – a raft, if diving – a dopping and if swimming –  a paddling. In flight – flock, skein, string, team, plump, or pump would do. The definitive term for our mallards, because it also depends on species, is sord, or suit.

Ever curious, I went on to look for other interesting names that may be applicable to things in our gardens. Couldn’t find anything for gardeners, perhaps a germination? Guides can be tour coordinators, escorts, visitor experience assistants, or docents, while visitors remain as groups as long as they stay together and don’t wander off. Pheasants can be a head or a nye, or when flushed, a bouquet. Fellow quizzers, (a team) will be familiar with a chattering or murmuration of starlings while our house martins are styled as a flight. A coalition of cheetahs may be mentioned during a tour of the Italian Garden, or a troop, barrel, cartload, or tribe of monkeys.

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A congregation of alligators sounds like way too many. Dodos are safer, mainly because they are extinct, and being flightless, fall into the raft category.

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Anne Shirley of Green Gables talked about straying into a dance of mermaids.

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An excuse to feature the 2016 brood, swans are a whiteness or a game, or if flying, a wedge.

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Robins rarely flock together and have only recently been voted a group name: a round was the most popular, with breast coming a close second.

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Picnicking bears, of which there were quite a few this week, can be called a sleuth, or sloth, perhaps not particularly endearing terms. I checked again and, wait for it, a group of teddies is – a hug!

Aaawwww – off to give mine, Barney, a big hug now.

Ellen

Land of Smiles

The other day I was asked a most difficult question – where is your favourite photo spot in the gardens? With so many corners to choose from I couldn’t narrow it down to one, but here are a few taken with my little point and shoot, what are yours?

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My favourite angle looking over the lake toward the sunny slopes of Tir n’an Òg, taken just as the New Zealand Christmas Tree was coming into bloom. You can see the scarlet reflection on the water.

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The water lilies at the jetty make a really nice picture. If you want wildlife, a few slices of Hovis ‘Best of Both’ will entice the ducks.

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Our gardeners make a expert job of trimming the topiary. The figures can make a dramatic contrast against a hopefully blue sky.

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Our monarch of the glen appears ghostly white against the trees behind.

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Fluffy ducklings always win photo contests. This little brood posed especially for me, while Mum keeps a wary eye.

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A view from inside the summerhouse frames the Spanish Garden and mansion house.

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The view from the Temple of the Winds reaches as far as the Londonderry Monument atop Scrabo Hill and, with luck, you may catch the Mourne Mountains on a good day.

So, bring your camera, add a friend or two, say ‘cheese’ and capture a happy memory for the family album.

Ellen

Liquid Sunshine

The poet Longfellow’s observation that into each life some rain must fall has been proved only too true of late. OK, it has been a bit wet, but it keeps us green and saves Lisa getting out the sprinklers for the Italian Garden. And there is a certain beauty about looking at our plants after a good shower. Even the lawns smell fresher, colours are enhanced and we have a rainbow of flowers. See if you agree.

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A standard fuschia dripping after a downpour, but don’t the colours stand out?

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Lilies lapping up the moisture – their scent is enhanced after a dowsing.

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Our tropical looking Melianthus Major shrub’s serrated leaves are washed clean of dust by raindrops. Find one on the Dodo Terrace and another at the Sundial, both of which are growing on well after being pruned earlier in the year. As well as being nicknamed honeybush it is sometimes called the peanut butter bush, so called because if you rub the leaves you may get the aroma of your lunchtime sarnie.

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The Callistemons’ fuzzy flowerheads are like little wet brushes. Although they prefer sunny sheltered locations and will tolerate short periods of drought, they obviously appreciate a nice cool drink now and again.

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This reminds me of The Magic Inkpot, and Lady Edith’s story of Mary and Robin visiting Tir-Fo-Tonn, an enchanted undersea world, where they had a picnic.  ‘….the table-cloth became like a spider’s web… and the food became drops of honey hanging from all the flowers, so that the air was laden with honey-scented fragrance.’

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Congratulations and endless admiration are due to our gardeners who tolerate the worst of the weather because the work has to go on. They just break out the wet gear and wellies and keep going.

Ellen