The effects of the coldest December since 1885 are still very much in evidence as many January flowering plants are still only just coming to their peak perfection but the recent milder spell has encouraged many February flowers to perform on schedule, the combination reminds us that spring is on its way! The indoor displays in the glasshouses also offer heady scents and unusual flowers.
Begin your tour in the entrance area, where the unique Acacia leprosa ‘Scarlet Blaze’ (1) can be seen. This is a most unusual wattle from Australia. There are over 600 species of acacias and all, including Acacia leprosa have yellow flowers. This rarity was discovered as a single bush in the wild. The original plant has long since died, but this unique flower colour is now preserved in botanical collections around the world. As you enter the sub-tropical house you might detect a smell of ripe bananas, this is not a banana plant, but the heady scent of the banana tree Michelia figo (2), a magnolia relative, by the wishing well. Its small white flowers only last a day or two, but the abundance of buds keeps the house full of scent for weeks. The bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia reginae) is still in flower and the unusual milky white trumpets of Beaumontia grandiflora can be seen in the canopy.
Turn right and leave the terrace past the parrot cages and down the tarmac path alongside the main lawn. At the fountain turn right and walk down the slope, look right into the winter border. This is full of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)(3), hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus)(4) and winter stems of cornus and willow. Turn left and walk down Cameron way, Crocus thomasonianus smothers the bank under the magnolias and there are choicer bulbs such as Crocus ‘Prins Claus’ (5) and Iris reticulata (6) on the scree bed beyond. Continue along Cameron way, notice how the Australasian and South African plants here have not enjoyed our cold December. Turn left when you reach the nursery gates and your spirits will be raised by the bank of yellow winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis)(7) under the dormant azaleas.
Climb back up the garden through the woodland walk where snowdrops make a cheery sight amongst the leaf mould. We will be planting a further 7,000 this spring to create a snowdrop walk here for next year. Then turn left and go into the Lawn Aviary, where our spring bulb display is full of pretty and unusual things including Lachenalia aloides (8), whose translucent flowers always remind me of jelly babies!
Coming next month more bulbs in the Lawn Aviary, early daffodils, anemones and spring flowering shrubs.
The guide book, tree guide and a range of interpretation sheets can be viewed in the front entrance and purchased from Reception. A copy of this walkabout will be available at the admission desk when you visit.