Monday, 23 April 2012

Small Scale Wonders by John Grundy

On a recent wander through the Victorian shrubbery, down into the Ice House Woods and along the river, I came across some flowers and plants that caught my eye and I thought deserved a mention. Many of them are common enough, but perhaps not so well known due to their less than showy blooms. To completely contradict that statement Anemone atrocaerulea was first to catch my attention with its striking flowers, bold against the soil in the shrubbery borders.

Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades'
A South East Europe and Turkish native originally, they are a little temperamental to establish. Keith, Gibside's Gardener-in-Charge, suggests starting the corms off in a box and planting out in spring when they are ‘in the green.’

Narcissi in the ruins of the Greenhouse

In the Greenhouse beds an excellent combination planting of Pachysandra terminalis, the evergreen scented ground cover has miniature narcissi and chinodoxa emerging from it.

Pachysandra, Japanese box is a slow growing exotic ground cover, which does well in dense shade. Even growing under large trees in dry conditions.

Entering the Ice House Woods among the newly planted specimen shrubs are native woodland flowers such as anemone, oxalis and viola. Along the path edges is a very wide spread woodland wild flower dogs mercury Mecurialis perennis.  Poisonous, containing a chemical which can give off an aroma not unlike rotting fish its ability to cause vomiting and death if eaten in large quantities dogs mercury is perhaps not regarded as one of our most attractive native plants. It is however an indicator species of ancient woodland. I quite like its lime green carpet in shady woodland and the tiny green flowers.

Dogs Mercury

Heading down the steep path towards the Bath House ruins and riverside there are patches of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium.  Again often overlooked as a result of being fairly abundant but not terribly showy. A lover of damp shady spots in woodlands and meadows these small perennial spreading plants can carpet large areas with their glossy foliage and pale yellow flowers.

Wood rush

Growing out from and above the long dry stone wall on the riverside path you will notice a wide-spread glossy leaved grass, Luzula sylvatica the wood rush. This handsome little plant produces brown to black flowers early in the year. They can be found in dry shade damp ditches and round pond edges. The flower spikes are held high above the foliage and sway and dance in the breeze.

Flowering Currant

A flowering currant bush Ribes sanguinium cascades over the end of the wall down by the riverside. Delicately scented and a good early source of nectar for many bees, the pale pink flowers are easy to spot. This native shrub has been hybridised over many years to produce many garden forms.

I hope like me, you will wander the paths of Gibside with your eyes peeled for the smaller wonders as well as the larger more obvious things.  Like the old saying ‘the more you travel the more there is to visit’ so it is true that the more you look the more there is to see.  Small is often beautiful and equally as important in many ways.  April and May are amazing months when it comes to wildflowers, especially in the woodlands where early blooms race to catch the sun before the leaves of the trees cast their shade over the woodland floor.

So get out there now have a good wander and soak it all up.
John Grundy

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