As the Trooping the Colour ceremony to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s official birthday is this weekend, I thought we should have a red, white and blue theme.
The most popular question today was, ‘What’s that big red bush?’, and thank goodness I knew the answer, ‘A rhododendron’. Declan, aged 8, who was among those who asked was an enthusiastic participant in the ’50 Things to Do’ activity that children (of all ages) enjoy when they come to Mount Stewart. He was mildly interested in the rhodie, but got a bit more pleasure from rolling down a really big hill and discovering what’s in a pond, and I could see his Mum wished she had put him in his wellies first. I gave him a sticker for his booklet and he went home happy.
Next, a lovely tree peony in the Spanish Garden. Marco Polo described the flowers as ‘roses, big as cabbages’.
As well as being the flower for your 12th wedding anniversary, the peony was declared in 1903 the national flower of China. It represents peace, stability, wealth and luck, however, in days gone by if you owned a gold tree peony that was the property of the Emperor, your luck ran out. A commoner in possession of this plant was put to death.
In the Mairi Garden see the Loder’s White Rhododendron, named for Sir Edmund Loder (1849-1920) who developed the Loderi collection of rhodies. To keep the grass down in Leonardslee, his garden in West Sussex, he imported a herd of wallabies as ‘environmentally friendly mowing machines’, and they are still there.
This little white perennial herb is rather inelegantly named the Pignut, Conopodium majus. The root resembles a chestnut and is edible, being considered yummy by badgers and pigs, hence the name. Sometimes called St Anthony’s nut, for Anthony the Great or Anthony of Padua, both patron saints of swineherds. It also appears in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in a line by Caliban to Stephano, ‘.. I with my long nails will dig thee pignuts.’
Now blue – this lovely standard ceanothus is the variety Italian Skies, which has won the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit. Based on rigorous testing by the RHS it will, ‘perform reliably in the garden’. This award is only given to a select number of plants which are of good constitution, stable in form and colour and reasonably resistant to pests and diseases.
The ‘blueness’ of the Mount Stewart hydrangeas impresses our visitors and it won’t be long now until they are in full flower. It is the national flower of the Azores and one island, Faial, is known as the blue island due to the vast number of hydrangeas lining the roadsides and forming hedges between fields.
Happy Birthday Ma’am.