Friday, May 23, 2014

Cliff top flowers

We had already driven past vast swathes of thrift, nodding their pink heads in the sea breeze. There were double solid yellow lines on both sides of the road making stopping impossible to snatch a quick photograph. However later in the evening a walk along the cliff top revealed a myriad of different grass and flower species performing well. 

Briza media

Evening primrose

Lupinus arboreus


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bramber Castle

There is not a lot to see at Bramber Castle, but close your eyes and feel the history.

The ruin of the wall of the keep/gatehouse looks even more imposing looming above as you walk up the slope to the flat grassy area. There are lower walls showing the craftsmanship of the builders of these walls. Ahead is knoll. There are areas of stonework still standing but for the most part there is nothing to see except marvellous views, which, with the absence of all the trees would have given a panoramic view for miles.

Bramber is a Motte and Bailey Castle. Initially this type of castle would have been wooden, replaced by stone in the 1100s. Motte and bailey are Norman French words meaning mound and enclosed land.

William de Braose, founded the castle as a defensive and administrative centre for Bramber, following the Norman Conquest. Sussex was divided into six administrative regions known as 'rapes', each 'rape' controlling a vulnerable point of the strategically important Sussex coast. Each region was controlled by a castle.

The de Braose family and his descendants held the castle from its foundation in 1073 to 1450 except for a brief period, when it was confiscated by King John. Bramber defended the then important Adur harbour and the Adur gap through the South Downs, where the river Adur flowed to the sea.

Following substantial subsidence during the 16th Century, the castle lay in ruins.

Wild flowers abound on the edges of the 'bailey'

The Parish Church of St Nicholas does still stand although not entirely in its original form: it did once form part of the castle wall.

The ditch that was originally dug to raise the motte and bailey even higher has now become an enchanting woodland walk.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


The strange 'bottlebrush' shape of the flowering raceme gives rise to the common name of the callistemon, reminiscent of a traditional bottle brush.

Callistemon flower and developing seed pods

   Long stamens carry pollen at the tip of the filament, all but obscuring the inconspicuous petals. Most flower heads are red, some are yellow, orange or white. Some of the stamens hang on to the bitter end whilst triple-celled seed capsules develop. In most species these will remain enclosed, though a  few species release the seeds annually. What I haven't seen before are the callistemon flower buds.

Callistemon buds resting on pelargonium leaves

   So many plants hold distant memories of places or people. In the instance of the callistemon, although I am certain I saw it at Tresco Gardens when I was a child, it was a visit to an old family friend of my father's who encouraged me horticulturally whilst still a young woman. Tom Edridge was a giant of a man with a shaggy mariner's beard. He lived with his wife overlooking the water at Newton Abbot. Sadly they never had children because he would have made a tremendous father. We walked around his garden one day and already an avid gardener/propagator I picked the hard, rigid seed pod from his bush. He smiled indulgently...'if you have any success with those let me know,' he remarked with a twinkle in his eye. He did eventually divulge that the seed pod required a fire of some intensity to release the seeds. 

   So, I took the seed pod as a reminder of a day with Tom. A habit I still have, be it a leaf, a seedpod, shell or a stone.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Aeonium arboretum - syn. Sempervivum arboretum

Aeonium species

Aeonium arboretum – syn. Sempervivum arboretum, is an erect succulent subshrub. The cultivar A. arboreum ‘Zwartkop’ has rich, almost black-purple leaves. I am not sure that this is the cultivar that I saw in the late 1980s in a park in southern Spain, but the image of its deep maroon almost black foliage really excited me then and remains a tangible memory.

   I first saw a deep maroon almost black plant of Aeonium in a park in southern Spain.  Always a lover of sempervivum, the colour really excited me, as did the height of the plant, so I am guessing that it was a form of Aeonium arboretum. My picture shows a dark form of Aeonium growing in the long greenhouse at Walmer Castle, unfortunately few if any of the plants are labelled.

   However my first sighting of Aeonium and many other sub-tropical species was several decades ago in the gardens of Tresco Abbey in the Isles of Scilly. My memory and fascination of this garden is still very clear and it’s my intention to repeat the experience with my husband in the not too distant future.

   Always a lover of sempervivum from an early age, and kalanchoe also the large grey leaved echeveria that my mother grew - planted outdoors during the summer and reinstated in the greenhouse for the winter months. Sempervivum were, for me, an early introduction to propagation as the mother plant sends off numerous offsets around her. These offsets can be repotted if required or left to make a large mat. One species S. arachnoideum appears to be coated in a web of fine hairs like a spiders web. Once the mother plant has flowered it will die, leaving all the little offsets to grow on.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Paulownia tomentosa

A visit to the hospital was made even sweeter with the sight from the bus of two large trees of Paulownia tomentosa used as a street tree which edged one of the hospital carparks.

Paulownia tomentosa has several common names, Empress tree, Foxglove tree and Princess tree. If I had the space it is a tree I would grow.

After a gruelling hour inside the hospital, a brief walk to smell the uplifting fragrance of this beautiful tree was the best medication for me.

I have never seen the flowers closely before. My father grew a specimen tree which struggled to grow well in his garden and the sparse flowers were always well out of reach. Here by the side of the road some of the branches dipped down to make photographing them easy. The light wasn't perfect but the memory lingers still.

Paulownia tomentosa flowers

Not one but two Paulownia tomentosa

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Crambe maritima

If I were a forager one of my favourite green vegetables grows in large clumps in the shingle beach nearby where I live, just ripe for harvesting: but Richard Harrington at the Marine Conservation Society urges people to cultivate it themselves. With a new garden - not yet planned, but with an increasing number of ornamental plants already purchased - the space for many vegetables is becoming more limited. However the structure of the leaves allows it to be incorporated as a 'structural' plant somewhere in the scheme of things and this is almost certainly what we will do.

In Victorian times it was a popular vegetable. I remember being served curly kale as a child. The Victorians piled stones and sand around the plants so as to harvest the whitened stems for market. It is labour intensive and fiddly if grown for the commercial market.

I have read that the plant should grow for three years before being harvested. With a mixed flavour of asparagus and cauliflower it is - apart from it's vitamin C content a useful addition to the table. The tough leaves should be blanched before frying...I have yet to try.