Every so often you come across a new word, useful in completing The Times crossword, on wet days playing Scrabble, or just in our gardens to show off to the visitors. Our Garrya elliptica evergreen shrub offers such a word, dioecious, from the Greek dioecy ‘two households’, meaning that there are separate male and female plants. Although both produce catkins, the male catkins are considered more attractive, a trait this plant shares with peacocks, stalk-eyed flies, and David Beckham. Where is this wondrous plant? Well, otherwise known as the Silk Tassel Bush which should give you a clue, it is the large shrub to the right of the gate leading from the Italian Garden into the Lily Wood. A popular plant with visitors, it was introduced to Britain in 1828 by Scotsman David Douglas from the Pacific North West of America and named after a deputy governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Nicholas Garry.
An edible climbing plant which is also dioecious (and delicious at the same time) is our Kiwi fruit vine, just coming into bud at the moment. It’s a plant with an interesting pedigree. Discovered in 1900 by plant hunter Ernest Wilson in China, hence Chinese Gooseberry, it was taken to New Zealand by Miss Isobel Fraser, headmistress of Wanganui Girls’ School and re-named Kiwi Fruit. Then the fuzzy brown skinned fruit was exported to California after the Second World War and known as Melonette. The largest producer is now Italy where they stick to Kiwifruit. Our vine is quite productive with the fruits ripening in early autumn, and the story goes that Edith, Lady Londonderry, never one to waste produce, harvested it and had the fruits made into jam. It was set on the table every day, but according to Lady Mairi, no-one ever ate it.
Another of our trees which fits the description of dioecious, is the Ginko biloba, a living fossil. It was able to withstand the Hiroshima bomb and six are still growing at the site of the blast, consequently in Japan the tree is now known as the Bearer of Hope. It is the national tree of China and they clearly understand its virtues as a herb. The list of uses is very long, supposedly because individual trees can live for up to three thousand years; using ginko leaf extract for asthma and bronchitis was described in 2600 BC. The leaves are said to be effective in treating freckles. But be warned, the nuts are probably not to be safely consumed, and will interact with some medicines, so don’t try this at home! The leaves are a nice fresh green shade and such a pretty fan shape, find it in the Lily Wood.