Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 15 December 2014

GBBD: Unexpected Honeysuckle

Photo of Lonicera flowering unexpectedly in December

I expect to see my winter honeysuckle starting to bloom at this time of the year, so it was a bit of a surprise to find this summer flowering version instead on my walk around the garden this morning.

It's a self-sown flower too, so it qualifies as a double Against the Odds for my front garden this month. It suddenly appeared through my Euonymus 'Silver Queen' last year, presumably a gift bestowed by a passing bird. It must be a keen survivor as it germinated in a deeply shaded spot.

The scent alerted me to the second flush of flowers appearing after its usual summer blooming earlier this year. It's not one of the most spectacular of summer honeysuckles in looks, but it certainly makes up for it in terms of scent.

I'm undecided whether it'll remain in my front garden. Tough as old boots and scented plants are usually welcome, but like the old man's beard which has crept through from the hedgerow nearby, this one looks like it's set to dominate the garden if I let it.

It's another example of the topsy-turvy time we've had in the garden this year. What's flowering against the odds for you this month?

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

A more typical view of summer honeysuckle for this time of the year

Friday, 12 December 2014

Plant Profiles: Mistletoe


I walked past this spot for years before I noticed the tree had mistletoe. There used to be two distinctive balls of it sitting side by side, but when I went to take a photo for this post, I found there's now just one. As far as I know it's the only tree in central Chippenham which hosts this parasitic* plant. Having gone round the shops to find some, I see it's the only place in town to have it on display too.

Mistletoe (aka Viscum album**) is one of our most romantic native plants. I don't just mean because of our tradition of kissing beneath it at this time of year, there are also a host of other associated myths and legends. On Tuesday, I went to a fascinating talk at Bath University Gardening Club, where Dr Michael Jones entertained us with all kinds of tales from his years of research.

As a result I've been musing about growing some of my own as I've discovered there's a kit available and I'm tempted to ask my niece and nephew for one for Christmas. It'll make a change from their usual pink sunshine ;)

* = it's hemiparasitic to be accurate. Mistletoe can photosynthesise, so it's not totally dependent on the tree for all its needs, obtaining just minerals and water in this instance. However, it's not a very good hemiparasite as it may kill its host in time, unless it's managed in some way.

** = there are lots of different species (over a 1,000), but the one we're interested in is this one, which is the European mistletoe. The Americans use a completely different species for their traditions at Christmas, from the genus Phoradendron.
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Cultivation notes


As mistletoe might kill its host, this should be borne in mind if you want to grow your own. Harvesting a crop will keep it manageable, but it won't destroy the plant unless all of the host wood is cut away as well. This might make the remaining tree look quite odd if you change your mind later!

Also bear in mind that any branch beyond where the mistletoe is growing will die, as the mistletoe will prevent water and nutrients reaching that part of the tree.

Select your tree with care and commit to harvesting it regularly once the
plant is well established. It will be a few years before the mistletoe reaches a harvestable size.

Mistletoe is renowned for growing in orchards, particularly on apple trees. These account for around 40% of all mistletoe's distribution. However, over 80 species of tree in Britain can play host, with lime, hawthorn and poplar accounting for around another 40% of trees with mistletoe.

Michael Jones reckoned domestic apples will successfully host mistletoe sourced from any tree, but better results are obtained on other trees if the seed is sourced from the same species.

Note that mistletoe's natural distribution seems to be climate related as well as orchard related. It seems there may be a relationship between the average temperature in July, with most occurrences found south and east of the 16oC line.

Mistletoe requires both a female and male plants to produce berries (= Dioecious reproductionand these are then produced by the female plant. The pulp of the berry is very sticky which helps the seed to stick to a branch when either wiped there by a blackcap, or excreted by the mistle thrush. So the human dispersal I'll be doing needs to mimic this.

A grouping of around 10 seeds per selected branch is recommended to ensure success. Each seed is polyembryonic, with the possibility of 3-4 plants forming from one seed's germination.

The seeds need around 12 hours of light per day to germinate and the best results are obtained from late February into March. Keep the berries from your mistletoe in a cool, dark place until then if this what you'll be using. The GYO kits aren't sent out until February.

Because of its light requirements, the best results are obtained by choosing a solitary tree or one on the edge of woodland rather than in the deep shade within. That's why mistletoe is most commonly found in orchards, gardens, parkland and hedgerows.

The chosen branch should be around finger thickness (around 2 year old wood) with thin bark. There is no need to nick the bark to help the mistletoe establish.

NB mistletoe is toxic - it's poison is related to ricin. Farmers will often keep cows in calf away from fields as they may abort their calves if they eat the mistletoe. Bear this in mind if you have any pets or children that are fond of climbing trees.

Kissing notes


Mistletoe can deteriorate quite quickly in modern centrally heated homes, where it yellows and shrivels up in the warm and dry conditions. It's best to buy as fresh and as late as possible, then keep it in a cool, dark place until needed.

Once the mistletoe is up in your house ready for your romantic encounters, misting with some water helps to keep it fresh. The tradition of raising mistletoe isn't just so we can canoodle beneath it, it dates back to the druidic belief that mistletoe loses its powers if it touches the ground. This is also the root of the practice of placing bundles of mistletoe on straw pallets ready for auction.

The full kissing tradition says that one berry must be taken from the bough for each kiss bestowed and once there are no more left, the kissing must stop. The Victorians were concerned there might be too much of it going on! Prices obtained at auction usually reflect the amount of berries present; the more berries, the higher the price.

Further Reading

  • Mistletoe Matters - lots of information on the distribution, host trees, growing and management of mistletoe. There is event information and lots of factsheets too
  • Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary - the blog of Jonathan Briggs, a mistletoe expert and enthusiast who also edits Mistletoe Matters. This is the place to explore if you want to find out more about the myths, legends and folklore surrounding mistletoe
  • The Tenbury Mistletoe Association - Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire is the capital of English Mistletoe and is where the mistletoe auctions take place in the last 2 weekends in November and the first 2 weekends in December. 
NB December 1st is National Mistletoe Day, so expect plenty of extra festivities in Tenbury around this time!

All pictures in this section are from Wikimedia commons. The following credits reflect the order in which they appear: Mistletoe Berries by Alexbrn, Mistletoe Seeds by Fir0002, Mistletoe by David Monniaux, Mistletoe in Lime Trees by Tim Heaton
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Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note to readers:
Sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words are my own There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Evolution Plants: One Year On*

Photo directing visitors to the nursery entrance at Evolution Plants

Late October saw my latest trip to Evolution Plants, to take stock of the first year and to see what else has changed since May's visit. It was a very busy summer and autumn for us all so the timing was much later than originally planned. **

The visual clue above hints at more changes at the nursery. I usually go though the gate, but now visitors are asked to take the side path on arrival.

View of the nursery from the gate

But first I needed to take one of the standard photos I've taken for every visit; the view of the nursery from the gate. This time I poked my camera through a gap to get my desired shot. For once my arrival coincided with a beautifully sunny day, during that late unseasonal warmth you may remember we had in late October. A day which meant most of my time there was spent outside - yay!

List of nursery jobs

When Tom and I discussed this series of posts, we agreed it would be good if I got to know the whole team at Evolution Plants. It was great that at last I had the opportunity to talk at length to nursery manager Gemma Neech, and Helen Bailey, who delights in the title of Head of Friendliness (very well deserved).

We were so busy chatting about the nursery, I totally forgot to take their picture, so you'll have to make do with this hefty 'To do' list instead. I'm surprised they found the time to fit me in - it's a very busy place!

View in one of the polytunnels - it's looking a lot tidier

Whilst I didn't get to see Tom this time, instead of being disappointed I felt it marked a turning point; there was a sense of a team who've grown in confidence in what they do.

While we were going round the polytunnels, I could see Gemma is bringing a sense of order to the place. Plants aren't just plonked in where there's a space, instead they go in the right spot and that spot has an equivalent place on the nursery's database. They're saying goodbye to plants on the floor too - the ones in the picture will be up on the staging the next time I go there.

New display of agaves and yuccas

The display areas are getting a revamp too. Here is the new display of drought tolerant plants such as agaves and yuccas. There's a Joshua tree amongst that lot, so I suspect this arrangement may change in due course. I've already told Mark and Gaz they might like to check out this part of the nursery's catalogue!

The sales area at the end of the season

There was also a sense of the nursery winding down for the season, though for me this picture of the sales area represents the major changes made in just one year. When Tom launched the nursery in late 2013, he was quite clear he going to just focus on online sales and any visits would be by appointment in the first year.

Instead, the nursery opened for several days a week over the summer and autumn and there was also an exhausting looking round of exhibits and talks at various plant fairs and specialist sales. Tom has started writing a regular column for The English Garden, where he relates tales of his plant hunting adventures. He picked up a New Talent finalist nod at The Garden Media Guild Awards last month as a result - hurrah!

View of another polytunnel

A further success was the supply of plants for Flowers by Passion's natural meadow themed window display for Bath's Britain in Bloom. Another visit to the nursery resulted in the offer to supply plants to Sissinghurst. Head Gardener Troy Scott-Smith is a renowned plantsman, so this is a real coup.

View of the reference library in the nursery office

Other changes afoot include volunteer opportunities. Gemma trained at the renowned Cambridge University Botanic Garden, but even she is amazed at how much she's learned this year. Imagine how much your knowledge could expand, especially with around 5,000 different plants and that specialist library on hand. You'll get your pick of plants to take home too!

Update: Helen tells me they have enough volunteers for now as it's winter. I suspect that might change in the spring, though they're also exploring linking up with Lackham. I'll keep you posted.

Those of you who don't live close enough to volunteer, may like to know there's a 50% off plant sale on the go at the moment, which ends on 31st January 2015.

View of the nursery stock beds and greenhouse

I'll leave you with my other standard photo of the nursery, taken from the point furthest away from the gate. I'll be catching up with Tom again in January, when he is due to give a talk to the University of Bath Gardening Club.

* = and a tiny bit more

** = as is this post, though it does mean I've managed to shoehorn even more news in ;)

Previous posts about Evolution Plants:
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