Tag Archive: berries


1280px-Rowan_tree_20081002b by Eeno11This wonderful tree, native to the U.K., is often associated with Scotland. It certainly suits bird life as the profuse red autumn berries provide a lot of autumnal sustenance. As they are not regular in shape,  the parent Rowan can be grown as a multi-stemmed specimen to achieve more uniformity of shape, or alternatively one of it’s clones, such as Sorbus aucuparia ‘Rossica Major’ can be used.

Common name: Rowan , Mountain Ash (due to the fact that it grows well at high altitudes and its leaves are similar to those of the ash, Fraxinus excelsior – however, the two species are not related). It’s latin name is composed of Sorbus for ‘service tree’ and aucuparia, which derives from the words ‘avis’ for “bird” and ‘capere’ for “catching” and describes the use of the fruit of S. aucuparia as bait for fowling. 

Native areas: The Rowan can be found in almost all of Europe and the Caucasus up to Northern Russia and Siberia, but it is not native to Southern Spain, Southern Greece, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, the Azores, and the Faroe Islands. The species was introduced as an ornamental species in North America.

Historical notes: Fruit of S. aucuparia were used in the past to lure and catch birds. To humans, the fruit are bitter but they can be debittered and made into compote, jelly, jam, a tangy syrup, a tart chutney, or juice, as well as wine and liqueur, or used for tea or to make flour. The robust qualities of S. aucuparia make it a source for fruit in harsh mountain climate and Maria Theresa of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy recommended the planting of the species in 1779.

The colour red was considered to be the best colour for fighting evil, and so the rowan, with its bright red berries, has long been associated with magic and witches. Its old Celtic name is ‘fid na ndruad’, which means wizards’ tree. In Ireland it was planted near houses to protect them against spirits, and in Wales rowan trees were planted in churchyards. Cutting down a rowan was considered taboo in Scotland. The wood was used for stirring milk to prevent it curdling, and as a pocket charm against rheumatism. It was also used to make divining rods.

The tallest S. aucuparia in the United Kingdom stands in the Chiltern Hills in South East England. This exceptional specimen is 28 m tall and has a trunk diameter of 56 cm.

Features: Sorbus aucuparia occurs as a tree or shrub that grows up to between 5 and 15 m in height. The crown is loose and roundish or irregularly shaped but wide and the plant often grows multiple trunks. The trunk is slender and cylindrical and reaches up to 40 cm in diameter, and the branches stick out and are slanted upwards. The bark of a young S. aucuparia is yellowish grey and gleaming and becomes grey-black with lengthwise cracks in advanced age; it descales in small flakes. Lenticels in the bark are elongated and coloured a bright ochre. The plant does not often grow older than 80 years and is one of the shortest-lived trees in a temperate climate.

6092500778_965c21d14d_bUses:   Rowans are planted in mountain ranges to fortify landslides and avalanche zones. It is also used as an ornamental plant in parks, gardens, or as an avenue tree. It is well suited to wildlife gardens. Cultivars are vegetatively propagated via cuttings, grafting, or shield budding. Ornamental cultivars include:

‘Asplenifolia’, which has divided and sharply serrated leaflets

‘Blackhawk’, with large fruit and dark green foliage

‘Fastigiata’, an upright columnar form

‘Fructu Luteo’, orange yellow fruit

‘Michred’, brilliant red fruit

‘Pendula’, which is a weeping tree

‘Sheerwater Seedling’, upright and slender, has vigorous growth, good-sized leaves and reliable and plentiful berries. It has been used as a street tree and is ideal for sites with little sideways space 

‘Xanthocarpa’ has orange yellow fruit

Growing conditions:  S. aucuparia is an undemanding species and can withstand shade It is frost hardy and can tolerate winter dryness and a brief growing season.  The plant is also resistant to air pollution, wind, and snow pressure. S. aucuparia mostly grows on soil that is moderately dry to moderately damp, acidic, low on nutrients, sandy, and loose. It often grows in stony soil or clay soil, but also sandy soil or wet peat. The plant grows best on fresh, loose, and fertile soil, prefers average humidity, and does not tolerate saline soil or waterlogging. It can be found in light woodland of all kinds and as a pioneer species over fallen dead trees or in clear cuttings, and at the edge of forests or at the sides of roads.

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Further information:

Wikipedia

RHS- Sorbus aucuparia

Sorbus aucuparia- the Woodland Trust

Growing S. aucuparia ‘Sheerwater Seedling’- Daily Telegraph

Barcham trees directory- Sorbus aucuparia

Old School Gardener

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ilex aquifoliumIlex, or the holly genus, is a genus of 400 to 600 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae, and the only living genus in that family. The species are evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers from tropics to temperate zones worldwide. In Europe the genus is represented by a single species, the classically named holly, Ilex aquifolium.

ilex aquifolium botanicalCommon name: ‘Holly’  or ‘Common Holly’- the name “holly” in common speech refers to Ilex aquifolium, specifically stems with berries used in Christmas decoration. By extension, “holly” is also applied to the whole genus. The origin of the word “holly” is considered a reduced form of Old English hole(ġ)n, Middle English Holin, later Hollen.

Native areas: Ilex aquifolium is native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa, and southwest Asia.

Historical notes: Ilex in Latin means the holm-oak or evergreen oak (Quercus ilex). Despite the Linnaean classification of Ilex as holly, as late as the 19th century in Britain, the term Ilex was still being applied to the oak as well as the holly – possibly due to the superficial similarity of the leaves.

Ilex aquifolium

Ilex aquifolium

Features: Holly is an evergreen, conical tree growing to 5-10 metres tall. The leaves are 5–12 cm long and 2–6 cm broad; they are evergreen, lasting about five years, and are dark green on the upper surface and lighter on the underside, oval, leathery, shiny, and about 5 to 9 cm long. In the young and in the lower limbs of mature trees, the leaves have three to five sharp spines on each side, pointing alternately upward and downward, while leaves of the upper branches in mature trees lack spines.

The flowers are white, four-lobed, and pollinated by bees. Holly is dioecious, meaning that there are male plants and female plants. The sex cannot be determined until the plants begin flowering, usually between 4 and 12 years of age. In male specimens, the flowers are yellowish and appear in axillary groups. In the female, flowers are isolated or in groups of three and are small and white or slightly pink, and consist of four petals and four sepals partially fused at the base. The ‘berry’ fruit is a red drupe, about 6–10 mm in diameter, a bright red or bright yellow, which matures around October or November.

Several varieties and clones are available with different features such as variegated foliage with creamy or pink tinged edges and different leaf shapes. Some of these are:

Ilex aquifolium ‘Alaska’– dark green foliage and bright red berries, can be grown as a standard/ specimen or screening.

Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’– with an Award of Garden Merit, this variety has spiny leaves edged with white and plenty of berries, young leaves tinged with pink.

Ilex aquifolium ‘J.C. Van Tol’– a self pollinating holly and possibly the best green-leaved holly available. Dark green almost sineless leaves witha good show of autumn berries. Also awarded an AGM, it is tolerant of shade.

Ilex aquifolium ‘Pyramidalis’– fast growing, self pollinating. Another AGM winner, it retains its pyramidal shape if pruned to retain it’s leader.

Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’– this is a dense small evergreen tree or shrub with purple young shoots and pink-tinged young leaves. Mature leaves spiny, dark green with a broad cream margin. Flowers small, white – this variety is, despite it’s name, a male!

Other Ilex varieties that are not part of the aquifolium species include:

Ilex castaneifolia– the ‘sweet chestnut leaved’ holly this is a fast grower, AGM awarded and produces a large tree of conical habit and has red berries in abundance.

Ilex x ‘Dragon Lady’– one of the Meserve Hybrid hollies this one has vivid green leaves and attractive spines that contrast well with the large red berries in the autumn.

Ilex x ‘Nellie Stevens’– this hybrid (of Ilex aquifolium and Ilex cornata) has smooth glossy leaves which contrast well with the orange-red berries.

Ilex x altaclarensis ‘Golden King’ – one of the best variegated hollies, this AGM winner is tolerant of coastal conditions, and is slow-growing. The opposite to the variety ‘Silver Queen’, this time, despite its name it is a female!

Uses:  One of the most evocative and best-loved of all trees; the Common holly is beautiful in its simplicity and brings cheer at the darkest time of the year. It provides year-round interest, but is particularly attractive in autumn and winter. great for gardens, it only retains its spiky leaves within the first ten – fifteen feet of height in the tree, as after this it suffers no predation so has no need of a thorny defence system! use as an under storey or edge fo woodland tree  (as here at Old School Garden), as a specimen (especially those with interesting foliage), for hedging/ screening or as a structural element in mixed borders to provide all-year round interest. Can also be topiarised to provide simple but effective shapes in formal settings.

 Growing conditions: Holly is very tolerant of shade and prefers well-drained soils.

Clipped hollies at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Clipped hollies at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Further information:

Wikipedia- Ilex

Wikipedia- Ilex aquifolium

RHS- Ilex aquifolium

RHS- Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’

Barcham trees directory- Ilex genus

7 plants for Winter Wonder

Old School Gardener

Keeping the bees happy is one aspect of planting a wildlife garden

Keeping the bees happy is one aspect of planting a wildlife garden

The latest round of RHS Garden Shows winds it’s way around the country – Hampton Court is next up and opens 0n 8th July. I’ve been to this show twice before and I reckon that most if not all of the show gardens (and this is probably true of the other shows too), tend towards what you might call the ‘middle ground’ of design (perhaps considered a ‘safe bet’?) What I mean is that they usually combine that tried and tested formula of ‘formal structure, informal planting’ – what you might call the classic Arts and Crafts/ English Country House style.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a style I love myself and is what I’m trying to create here at the Old School Garden. But every now and then its refreshing to see something at one of the ‘design extremes’- the sort of creation that pushes you into thinking again about structural features or particular planting choices and combinations in your own garden, or even more fundamentally, what you expect your garden to do.

At this year’s Hampton Court Show one garden looks set to do this and at the same time get across some important messages about the potential food value of gardens- and in particular the wide range of good quality food that nature puts on the menu.  ‘The Jordans Wildlife Garden’ has been created to reflect a long-term commitment from Jordans to the British countryside. With a colourful variety of features from edible wild flowers, trees and hedges to oats, fruit and nuts – all of which can be foraged from the countryside – the garden provides a natural ‘larder’ to share as a shelter for birds, bees and butterflies. Its unveiling celebrates the belief that great tasting food comes from working closely with nature, as well as aiming to inspire gardeners everywhere to support British wildlife.

The Jordans Wildlife Garden Design

The Jordans Wildlife Garden Design

This Garden is set to showcase the importance of sustainability and protecting the British countryside to RHS visitors from across the country. Oat fields, inspired by Jordans’ farms, outline the sides of the garden, moving through to mown paths of species rich meadow, which curve through the space. Swathes of meadow alongside the paths give a close connection to nature. The garden is surrounded by a cut log wall and grassy banks, which form a wildlife friendly edge to the garden and a habitat for wildlife. A nut terrace that provides an edible treat for both people and wildlife surrounds the elegant, reflective pool in the centre of the garden. There are also sculpted straw benches, created by willow sculptor Spencer Jenkins, that provide a place to rest and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere. Mixed native hedgerow and fruit and nut trees will surround one side of the garden, providing more edible treats for people and animals.

The Garden features have been designed to support local wildlife, including thatched insect hotels, birdhouses and feeding stations. These were all custom crafted for the Garden and add a unique beauty to the space. Design elements such as cut wood stepping-stones, created by chainsaw artist Ella Fielding, will provide further material for animals to make their homes in, whilst the meadow flowers themselves house a beehive – a core feature of any wildlife garden.

All the sustainable elements of the Garden also represent a commitment by Jordans to The Prince’s Countryside Fund, which works to support the people that take care of our countryside and ensures a sustainable future for British farmers and rural communities. And it just shows the ease with which these elements can be brought into compact garden spaces, whilst still supporting local wildlife.

Selina Botham, a passionate wildlife and garden enthusiast, designed the Garden. She has won numerous awards for her beautiful and considered approach to gardening, from Gold Medal to Best In Show for her first ever garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. And as part of its British countryside celebrations this July, Jordans has enlisted the taste expertise of Great British Bake Off winner, Edd Kimber, to create a series of foraged food recipes inspired by The Jordans Wildlife Garden.

Selina Botham
Selina Botham

Long-term supporters of wildlife habitats and increased biodiversity, Jordans’ cereal farmers devote at least 10% of their farmed areas to supporting wildlife. These sustainable practices are at the centre of the company’s ethos and their pioneering work in this area helps to create a more diverse countryside by encouraging up to five times more wildlife in agricultural spaces.

As a daily consumer of their fruity Muesli, it’s nice to know that they promote sustainable farming practices!

Links for further information:

Jordans Cereals and the Wildlife Garden

Up to date coverage of the Jordan’s Wildlife Garden at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show – on Facebook and Twitter

Old School Gardener

holly with berriesSo it’s coming up to Christmas and those traditional displays of greenery in the house like Mistletoe, Ivy and of course Holly are being assembled as I write. But someone in Cumbria has a problem. George Alloway in Cockermouth asks:

‘My holly bush never seems to have any berries, but my neighbour’s has loads. What’s wrong?’

George, it sounds like a classic case of ‘not the right holly’, or rather that you probably have a male bush and your neighbours a female- only the female will produce fruit (berries) and this plant is probably being pollinated by yours!

Formally clipped Hollies at Kew Gardens

Formally clipped Hollies at Kew Gardens

Hollies (Ilex) mainly come in male and female varieties and so you need both to ensure that you have berries. Hollies, apart from their decorative value around the house at Christmas, are a wonderful small tree or shrub to have in your garden, especially in a border that runs into woodland (as is the case in Old School Garden) – they are a classic ‘understorey’ or edge of woodland plant.

So, if you want berries, make sure you have a mix of male and female plants or go for a self fertile variety like ‘J.C. van Tol’ which is a regular fruiter, has oval-elliptical leaves and grows into a conical shape up to 6m. It also can be grown as a standard tree (i.e. having a bare stem of at least 1 metre length).

You could also buy a female variety to sit alongside your other, probably male, bush. A good variety is ‘Golden King’- despite the name, this is a female! Just to confuse matters further there’s a lovely male variety called ‘Silver Queen’ – variegated with broad and irregular white-yellowish margins and dark olive-green centres, this one grows to 4-6 metres high. It has the added feature of new leaves being tinged light pink.

I guess in these days of tolerance on sexual orientation, we shouldn’t get too het up about these naming confusions!

Old School Gardener

Cotoneaster frigidus leaves and fruit

Cotoneaster frigidus – leaves and fruit

Cotoneaster  is a genus of flowering plants in the rose family, native to temperate Asia, Europe and north Africa. It has  a strong concentration of different species in the mountains of southwestern China and the Himalayas. They are related to Hawthorns, Firethorns, Photinias and Rowans. Depending on the definition used, there are between 70 and 300 different species.

The majority of Cotoneaster species are shrubs from 0.5–5 metres tall, varying from ground-hugging prostrate plants to erect shrubs. A few, notably C. frigidus, are small trees up to 15 metres tall and 75 centimetres trunk diameter. The prostrate species are mostly alpine plants growing at high altitude (e.g. C. integrifolius, which grows at 3,000–4,000 metres in the Himalayas), while the larger species occur in scrub and woodland gaps at lower altitudes. Cotoneasters are very popular garden shrubs, grown for their attractive habit and decorative fruit. Many are cultivars, some of  hybrid origin; of these, some are of known parentage.

Cotoneaster franchetii

Cotoneaster franchetii

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Cotoneaster horizontalis

The name Cotoneaster derives from the old Latin cotoneus meaning Quince and aster probably a corruption of ad instar meaning ‘a likeness’ – so ‘Quince like’.

Other species names are:

C. adpressa = close, pressed-down growth or fruits closely pressed against the branch

C. applanata = the branches lie flat or in a plane

C. bullata = wrinkled, referring to the leaves

C. buxifolia = box (buxus) -leaved

C. congesta = crowded, the plant’s habit

C. divaricata =spread-out, forking , referring to the branches

C. franchettii = after Franchet, a French botanist

C.  frigida = cold,frosty, probably referring to its native habitat

C. harroviana = after G. Harrow, a nurseryman once of Coombe Wood Nursery

C. henryana = after Dr. Augustine Henry, a 19th century Chinese customs official and ‘plant hunter’

C. horiziontalis = horizontal, its growth habit

C. humifusa = spread on the ground

C. lacteus =  milky, probably referring to the milky white flowers (the ‘Late Cotoneaster’)

C. lucida = shining, referring to the leaves

C. microphylla = small – leaved

C. multiflora = many flowered

C. pannosa = woolly, the foliage

C. rotundifoilia = round leaved

C. salicifolia = willow (salix) leaved

C. simonsii = after Simons, (The ‘Himalayan Cotoneaster’ or ‘Simon’s Cotoneaster’)

Cotoneaster adpressus

Cotoneaster adpressus

Cotoneaster lacteus - flowers

Cotoneaster lacteus – flowers

Cotoneaster simonsii

Cotoneaster simonsii

Sources and further information:

Wikipedia

Encyclopedia Britannica

Growing Cotoneasters

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Cotoneaster lacteus

Cotoneaster simonsii

Quizzicals: answers to the two in Plantax 7…

  • Bird swearing – Crocus
  • Vasectomy for Dad – Parsnip

..and 2 more cryptic clues to the names of plants, fruit or veg…

  • Irish singer is growing worse
  • Tease Mr Disney

(thanks to Les Palmer, answers in the next Plantax!)

Old School Gardener

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The Mistle Thrush- photo RSPB

The Mistle Thrush- photo RSPB

The Mistle Thrush is in decline, warns a major bird charity today.

The RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch survey reveals that they are being seen in less than half the number of British gardens than 10 years ago, resulting in the species being given an ‘amber’ warning of it disappearing. Other birds have seen their numbers decline since 1979, when the survey began, but the numbers of Blue, Great and Coal tits, in contrast, have been on the increase.

The Mistle Thrush is the largest bird in the Thrush family and its name means literally ‘Mistletoe eating Thrush’. It can be seen romping across the garden or standing defiantly on the lawn, but is more likely to be heard perched high up in a tree singing its melodious song. Because it sings so loudly on exposed perches in bad weather it’s sometimes nicknamed the ‘Stormcock’.

Living in parks, woodland and gardens they build their cup-shaped nest in trees early in the year. Of some benefit for the gardener because they like to eat worms, snails, insects, and slugs, in winter they turn to fruit such as berries from trees- mistletoe, holly, yew, rowan and hawthorn. They can be quite combative too, defending ‘their tree’ against other thrushes! They will occasionally visit gardens for food particularly if they are provided with their favourites on a regular basis –  meal worms and suet seed mixes are a good bet.

The RSPB Big Garden Watch takes place this weekend and everyone can take part by recording the numbers of different birds they see in their garden. A handy recording sheet can be downloaded from the website here.

rspb survey

The RSPB Big Garden Watch survey sheet

There are also a number of events taking place around the country; e.g. A ‘Wild Weekend’ event at The Forum in Norwich will show how to garden for wildlife and there’ll be lots of family activities on offer. Norfolk Mastergardeners will also be on hand with wildlife gardening and grow your own food  tips and advice. For tips on making your garden butterfly friendly click here.

Old School Gardener

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