Our South West Branch summer event this year was an all day meeting hosted by Ashley Brent and the gardeners at Killerton House near Exeter. We had the use of a building with two rooms known as The Discovery Centre. This was ideally placed next to the main car park and therefore easily accessible. As it was outside the garden area proper, we were allowed to bring in plants for sale and plant material for discussion.
On arrival, we were greeted by gardeners Ashley and Cameron and coffee and cake was available while we set up plants for the plant sale. There was a good selection of plants of all genera generously donated by attendees, and most were snapped up quickly.
A new session suggested by Pam Hayward, was a 'bring and tell' hour in which several attendees gave a short talk on various plants they had brought along, and about which they had a story to tell. It was a most entertaining event and would be worth repeating.
As only one window in the meeting room had a blind, the ever resourceful Barry Starling, our speaker, had made a sort of curtain from some black fabric which was a very successful substitute.
Barry then gave a talk on companion plants for our three genera and it was most informative and enlightening. Over many years, the unassuming Barry has produced a great many hybrids of the Ericaceae, some of which he illustrated, such as Menziesias (now subsumed into Rhododendron) and x Phylliopsis (Phyllodoce x Kalmiopsis) of which 'Coppelia' is justly widely admired. He showed and discussed many other plants such as Kalmias, Pieris and bulbs such as Erythroniums shown in drifts. Seeds of E. revolutum 'God's Valley' were available on the plant sale table.
After a chatty lunch in the Courtyard Cafe, we met the gardeners in front of the long herbaceous border on the terrace by the house for our tour of the garden. Cameron has responsibility for this and the original design of the terrace beds was suggested by the late great Graham Stuart Thomas, erstwhile National Trust garden advisor. Because a new roof was being made for the house which entailed much scaffolding, a great many climbers had to be cut down. This will give an opportunity to refresh the plantings around the house when work has finished.
Notable areas of the garden tour included the hot quarry garden where many interesting plants were growing in the full sun. I noticed several happy clumps of Incarvillea arguta which needs good drainage, and a good red form of Colquhounia coccinea amongst many choice plants. The Winter Sweet Chimonanthus praecox is well known for its early scented flowers, but here, in its variety yunnanensis, its seed pods were very impressive, as were the seed heads on the liquorice plant Glychyrrhiza glabra. An enormous tree sized shrub of Clethra barbinervis was in full scented bloom, supported by its beautiful flaking trunk. It was underplanted with Cyclamen repandum to good effect.
There are too many wonderful trees to mention them all - this account would be in danger of becoming a plant list - but mention must be made of splendid examples of Southern Hemisphere trees of great size such as Saxegothea conspicua, Athrotaxis cupressoides and Lagarostrobus franklinii all of which are slow growing, and must be of a great age to have reached such large proportions. European trees were, of course, well represented, and notable among these was a massive Cork Oak, an ancient Lucombe Oak at least 150 years old and probably one of the first to be planted and a large Stuartia sinensis. North America was represented by a Tulip tree planted in 1808 by John Veitch, a British Champion Tree, and a very tall Redwood on the path above dating from the 1850s.
At the end of this walk, we came upon an amazingly vigorous Hydrangea aspera, with beautiful chocolate brown leaves with a red purple reverse, from Gongga Shan in Sichuan. Maurice Foster has introduced this into the trade as Hydrangea aspera ’Hot Chocolate’.
Finally, we visited the nursery, where a Kolreuteria was flowering well. This apparently had been planted by Dick Fulcher when he was gardener at Killerton many years ago. Dick and Lorna were with us for our tour and reminisced about their time there when the children were young. A look at the plants being propagated outside and in the polytunnels completed a most enjoyable day.
Killerton is an inspirational garden well maintained and cared for by the relatively small staff with volunteers to help, and is still growing and developing.
A magnolia laevifolia ‘Summer Snowflake’ was presented to Ashley as a token of our appreciation for his and Cameron’s excellent organisation of our day.