Tag Archive: temperate


vitexI’m getting close to the end of the alphabet, and it doesn’t get any easier…so today’s feature tree (or large shrub), is the interestingly named Vitex agnus – castus…

Common name:  Vitex, Chaste Tree, chasteberry, Abraham’s balm, lilac chastetree, or monk’s pepper.

Native areas: Vitex agnus-castus is a native of the Mediterranean region and China. It is one of the few temperate-zone species of Vitex, which is on the whole a genus of tropical and sub-tropical flowering plants. It has a long history in the U.S.A. where it was first cultivated in 1670, and since that time it has become naturalized throughout the Southern part of the country. Many southerners use it as a replacement for lilacs, which don’t tolerate hot summers.

Historical notes: : Theophrastus mentioned Vitex as agnos (άγνος) in ‘Enquiry into Plants’. Vitex, its name in Pliny the Elder, is derived from the latin vieo, meaning to weave or to tie up, a reference to the use of Vitex agnus-castus in basketry. Its specific name repeats “chaste” in both Greek and Latin, and was considered to be sacred to the goddess Hestia/Vesta. In folk legends the tree is associated with Greek hagnos, ‘pure’, since it was strewn in bedchambers during Thesmophoria, the Greek religious festival when Athenian women left their husbands’ beds to remain ritually chaste-   “to cool the heat of lust”. At the end of the thirteenth century John Trevisa reports “the herbe agnus-castus is always grene, and the flowre therof is namly callyd Agnus Castus, for wyth smel and vse it maketh men chaste as a lombe”. More recently, this plant has been called monk’s pepper in the thought that it was used as anti-libido medicine by monks to aid their attempts to remain chaste. There are disputed accounts regarding its actual action on libido, with some claims that it is anaphrodisiac and others that it is aphrodisiac. Because of it’s  complex chemical action it can be probably be both, depending on the concentration of the extract and physiological variables. Today, Vitex agnus-castus is used to alleviate the symptoms of various gynaecological problems.

Features: Vitex blooms from late spring until early autumn with long, upright spikes of butterfly- attracting pink, lilac and white flowers (depending on variety) in late summer in cooler climates. It also has delicate-textured aromatic foliage. It develops small hard berries that ripen to a dark colour and look like peppercorns. It grows to a height of 1–5 metres.

Uses:   Whether left to grow as a large, multistemmed shrub, pruned to a standard tree or cut back annually for a more compact look, this selection is a winner. Fine, lacy leaves are glossy and green. Bright blue flower panicles begin to form in early summer and continue through the heat of the season and into autumn. This is a reasonably cold-hardy, deer-resistant woody plant. Vitex, also a traditional plant in Africa, is a little-known fruit plant that has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.

Growing conditions:   It requires full sun or partial shade along with well-drained soil. It’s best not to plant them in soil that is rich in organic matter because these soils hold too much moisture close to the roots. Chaste trees do very well in dry gardens. Under ideal conditions it is hardy to -10 degrees Fahrenheit and will grow in South West England (and possibly in suitable micro-climates and sheltered parts of gardens eleswhere) and the more temperate zones of north America. Wildlife shuns the seeds, and it’s just as well because you’ll have to remove the flower spikes before they go to seed to keep the plant flowering. You’ll need to prune annually to control the shape and size and encourage branching.

Further information:

Wikipedia

How to grow Vitex (U.S.A.)

Vitex agnus-castus- The British Gardener

Old School Gardener

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WP_20150902_16_19_41_ProSo, we are on Arran in the final ‘leg’ of our Hebridean ‘hop’. We decided to visit Brodick Castle, a Scottish National Trust property that overlooks the town and bay of the island’s main setlement.

Brodick is a commercial centre and its good ferry connections to the mainland result in it being a hive of retail and other activity; quite a contrast to the rest of the island and indeed the other parts of our trip- though I suppose it does have some similarities to Oban.

The Scottish N.T. website captures the essence of the Castle:

‘The quintessential Victorian ‘Highland’ estate… Dramatically set against the backdrop of Goatfell mountain, the grand red sandstone Scottish baronial-style castle has stunning views over Brodick Bay to the Firth of Clyde..the W A Nesfield-influenced landscaped gardens … provide an unrivalled experience, from the formal walled garden to the woodland walks. Brodick holds three national collections of rhododendron that flower in almost every month of the year…’

The house was interesting, and boasts many royal connections throughout it’s (and it’s predecessor castles’) history. Today’s Brodick Castle is largely the result of a large-scale expansion of the earlier castle undertaken in the years after 1844. Until this time, the resident family- the Hamiltons- had focused their attentions on their estates on mainland Scotland and especially on Hamilton Palace. But a number of factors came together which made the conversion of Brodick Castle into a grand stately home a viable and desirable option.

Very Baronial...

Very Baronial…

But it was the gardens I came to see, and they didn’t disappoint. The walled garden dates back to at least 1710 (according to a date in the enclosing wall). Further work was undertaken from 1814, but most of today’s gardens date back to the elevation of the castle to a stately home in 1844. The gardens were subsequently a passion of the Hamiltons and especially of the Duchess of Montrose in the years from 1895. Like the Castle, its gardens offer a glimpse into another world and another time. I especailly loved some of the subtle planting combinations in the walled garden…

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Undiscovered Scotland describes the wider park:

‘In the surrounding country park, visitors can follow waymarked routes that extend for a half mile or a mile, or simply find their own way around. For some it is the plants themselves that will form the highlight of the tour. Others will enjoy the ice house under its heavy turf roof….’  

 

The park  provides an interesting route, gently following the hillside towards the sea. There were some delightful ‘cloth art’ installations en route, and it was noticeable that felling and shrub lopping were underway- I guess many of the specimens planted over a hundred years ago are now getting a little too big and drastic action is needed; but replanting is also underway…

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Towards the bottom of the park, nearest the sea, lies the Bavarian summer house; an amazing concoction of natural materials. As Undiscovered Scotland says:

‘A real oddity is offered by the Bavarian Summer House. This has an outer surface imitating tree roots; and the interior is largely lined with pine cones. The end result is impressive, but in a way that is more spooky than simply pleasant, bringing to mind the story of the gingerbread house, or even the more recent fable of the Blair Witch Project.’

Old School Gardener

WP_20150901_13_09_36_ProHaving returned to Oban from four days on the Isle of Mull, our second ‘hop’ involved a drive down the Argyll coast line towards our next ferry which would take us across to Arran.

We had plenty of time, so I was on the lookout for somewhere to stop for lunch. Half an hour’s drive and we noticed a Scottish National Trust sign to a nearby garden- the perfect solution.

Arduaine Garden is a 20 acre tranquil green oasis on the south slope of the Arduaine peninsula which overlooks Loch Melfort. It is a coastal garden that rolls down towards the sea and is very reminiscent of many such gardens you find in Cornwall; another area blessed by the warming effects of the North Atlantic Drift.

‘a horticultural tour around the temperate world with a collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, Blue Tibetan poppies, giant Himalayan lilies and Chatham Island forget-me-nots’

Though the weather was cloudy, we enjoyed our stroll (and lunch) through the wooded slopes and especially the wonderful water garden, with it’s range of habitats and some lovely ‘natural’ streams and ponds with ‘close up’ paths where you can see water lilies, primulas and other marginal plants.

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The garden was begun on a bare promontory in 1898 by James Arthur Campbell and continued by two succeeding generations of his family. In 1965 Arduaine House was sold and became the Loch Melfort Motor Inn, later the Loch Melfort Hotel. The garden was sold in 1971 to Edmund and Harry Wright who in turn passed the garden on, as a gift, to the National Trust for Scotland in 1992.

As the headland is open to all the winds that blow, the garden hides behind a shelterbelt that keeps out the worst of the wind and salt spray and this (along with the North Atlantic Drift), allows many tender plants to be grown.

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Arduaine is well-known in rhododendron circles for its wonderful collection of species and hybrids, many of which are considered tender elsewhere and grow largely under the canopy of mature Japanese larch. The garden has a great variety of flowering shrubs and trees, bamboos, ferns (including tree ferns), a large perennial collection in many mixed borders. So, the plants come from all over the world, but in particular from East Asia and South America, and in addition it has native mosses and ferns growing everywhere.

I was sorry to see that the gardens have been struck by an outbreak of the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum (‘Sudden Oak Death’). Found among the garden’s larch trees P. ramorum had previously been present in the garden at a low level in the shrub plantings and the Trust had been working with the Scottish Government over a number of years to control it. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, the fungus-like pathogen has now extended its range of host plants to include the garden’s larch trees.

Despite this setback, apparently there is no threat to the garden as a whole and the main areas of the garden are unaffected. However, in the longer-term, a new ‘vision’ for Arduaine Garden will be developed, which will set out objectives and planting regimes 20 years hence. These should be less susceptible to P. ramorum and better adapted to climate change, as well as carrying on Arduaine’s fine tradition as a ‘plant hunter’s garden’, which has continually evolved over the last century.

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Old School Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

So, four days on and we needed to move onto stage two of our Hebridean Hop– the ferry back to Oban and the long drive along the Mull of Kintyre to catch our next ferry to the Isle of Arran. But not before stumbling across a lovely seaside garden en route- more of that in my next post.

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