Hebe News – Article 2

A Visit to the United Kingdom

In September I had the pleasure of visiting the United Kingdom for the fourth time and the first since 2011. The purpose of the visit was two-fold: to collect plants for a forthcoming landscape evaluation of broadleaved evergreen groundcover plants and to attend my first Annual General Meeting of The Hebe Society, of which I have been a member, I estimate, for about 18 years.

The groundcover evaluation is modelled on other landscape evaluations of plant genera that we have undertaken in western Oregon, in that we will collect cuttings of candidate plants, root them, grow them on and plant them out in a replicated, long-term (ie four-year) trial, observing growth, flowering, pest and disease issues and of course hardiness as we go. The first of these evaluations we started in 2000 and was of Hebe, beginning my relationship with the Society. Besides Hebe, which was studied from 2000–2009, we have completed evaluations of Ceanothus (2001–2006), Cistus and Halimium (2004–2009), Grevillea (2011–2015) and are wrapping up an evaluation of Arctostaphylos species and cultivars. We just planted an evaluation of 21 cultivars of Camellia sasanqua in September and will plant our groundcover evaluation in fall 2019.

With this series of evaluations, there have been some similarities and of course, some differences. With the exception of the Hebe and Camellia evaluations, none received irrigation in summer. Western Oregon is a temperate Mediterranean climate, so there is a pronounced summer drought, which can severely stress plants not adapted to this 3–4 month period of warm temperatures with no significant rainfall. For these evaluations one of the criteria was to see how the plants fared over the summer drought and how they looked when rain returned in October.

The other similarity is that some of these evaluations have depended heavily on contributions of plants from sources in the UK. The Hebe evaluation would certainly not been what it was without the assistance of a number of members of The Hebe Society, who contributed most of the cultivars that we planted. The same was true of the Cistus/Halimium evaluation, almost all of which came from the (former) NCCPG collection of Bob Page in Leeds. For the forthcoming groundcover evaluation, we were fortunate to collect many species in October 2017 in the nursery and garden of Olivier Filippi in Meze, France. For this evaluation, we also made arrangements to visit and collect at the NCCPG Phlomis collection of Beth and Tim Smith in Mortehoe, Devon as well as make a return trip to Leeds to visit Bob Page to collect additional Cistus and Halimium.

So, together with my collaborator on our evaluations, Heather Stoven, we flew to Heathrow on September 15th. After we poured ourselves off the plane from the overnight flight, we made our way to the Royal Horticultural Society Garden Wisley to recover. Even in September there is much to see there, including the ripening fruit in the extensive orchard, so the garden did not disappoint. The following day we made a stop at Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral before making our way by circuitous roads to the delightful south Devon village of Beer for the evening. The following day we made our way to The Garden House on the edge of Dartmoor before driving to Mortehoe.

The drive to the village was very beautiful and as we got close, we were not uncommonly on very narrow roads with hedgerows close on either side, requiring us to stop frequently to let oncoming vehicles pass. The village sits on the north Devon coast in a spectacular location. The NCCPG collection is in the garden of Beth and Tim, perched along with their house on a hill directly above the Bristol Channel. There could hardly be a more picturesque location for a garden.

The afternoon when we arrived was sunny, so we sat on the porch outside in the sun, overlooking the ocean having tea and getting acquainted with our very gracious hosts. Then it was time to clip cuttings. Prior to our visit, I had shipped two Styrofoam shipping containers with collection supplies to Tim. So, armed with those, off we went into the garden. The phlomis are distributed throughout the garden, mixed in with other shrubs and perennials. Although it was past bloom time, the foliage and form of many of them are very striking and beautiful and many of them will make excellent candidates as groundcovers. Given the location, the company, the weather and of course the plants, it was an unforgettable afternoon of plant collecting.

One thing that became obvious while collecting is that phlomis cuttings are very leafy and therefore large. We started by collecting one of the smaller plants, Phlomis lanata ‘Pygmy’ and took about 15 cuttings. As we moved to the physically larger plants, we had to start reducing the number of cuttings as it became obvious that the accumulated mass of foliage would not fit in our little shipping cooler. We ended up collecting 19 accessions altogether. There was far more foliage than would fit, even with a reduced cutting number, so the following morning, we took the time to go through the bags and reduce each cutting by removing about 75% of the leaves, retaining only those at the top, so that essentially, they were prepared not only for shipping, but for sticking once they arrived. With this done, our 19 accessions fit snugly in the cooler.

With that done, it was off on the long trek to Leeds to meet once again with Bob Page. As I mentioned before, Bob had been the source of the majority of the Cistus and Halimium we received for that evaluation back in 2003. We arrived late in the afternoon and having dropped our bags in our room nearby, joined him and Margery for dinner and a most enjoyable chat. Bob had been expecting poor weather the following day (which did materialize) so he had already collected the cuttings of an assortment of new cistus. All that was left to do the following day was to inspect for any unwelcome evidence of pests. Many cistus are very sticky and things like cast aphid skins and so on which will not meet with the approval of USDA inspectors had to be removed. That all done, the APHA inspector arrived on schedule, the cuttings were packed in the second shipping box and we were on our way back to our hotel near Heathrow that afternoon in a driving rain.

The following morning, I took Heather to Heathrow for her return flight and after that made my way to the FedEx office nearby. The paperwork was placed in the two shipping boxes and with that, they were entrusted to FedEx to deliver to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office in SeaTac near Seattle, Washington. That done, I made my way to the Beth Chatto Garden for a 3-hour visit before retiring to a nice B&B in Rochester, not too far from the site of the following day’s Hebe Society AGM.

After being a member for so long, it was nice to put a face to many of the names I’ve seen in the Hebe News., and to visit Puckle Hill House and the NCCPG Hebe collection. It was of course nice to see the Hebe Collection, including those in bloom, but the rest of the garden was equally interesting. The espaliered fruit trees in the walled garden, enormous head-trained grape vine and pollarded olives were all enjoyable to see. At the AGM I was honoured to receive the Douglas Chalk award, but as I pointed out I owe a great debt of gratitude to those Society members that took the time to send me hebe cuttings back in the day, without which our Hebe evaluation would not have amounted to much. Dinner in Cobham to round out the day was delightful; my only wish is I had a bit more time to look around such a historic town.

The remainder of my trip took me first to Downderry Nursery to visit the NCCPG rosemary collection. I had planned on including trailing Rosemary in our groundcover evaluation until I realized just how many trailing or mounding forms have been named. I put together a list and just these forms, not including upright-growing cultivars, numbered about 50 in total. So, I think they deserve a separate evaluation altogether. There are several trailing rosemarys in cultivation in western Oregon, but those that we have available are more tender than upright cultivars, in general, so the goal there would be to see if there are hardier cultivars among the trailing types.

Following the visit to the Nursery, I visited Sissinghurst Castle Garden on a sunny afternoon before heading to Hawkhurst for the evening. My last full day in the UK was September 24th and I took a chance and drove to London to visit Chelsea Physic Garden. It was actually easier to drive there than I expected. Parking, on the other hand, was more problematic, although I eventually found an underground garage not too far from the Garden. Visiting such a famous and unusual garden made it all worthwhile. Following this visit I braved the afternoon traffic to drive to my final night’s destination in Windsor, not far from Heathrow.

So, it was a busy but very enjoyable and educational trip to the UK. The cuttings I sent back, by the way, were all admitted by USADA-APHIS into the US and rooted in high percentages for the most part and were potted on in late November. So, it was a busy and successful trip and I look forward to an opportunity to visit again!

Neil Bell

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