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