We may be in Lockdown, but I have travelled a fair amount this week in a virtual quest to learn a little more about the berberis shrubs, and since there are about two hundred species in the world I do mean a ‘little’. None are native to Britain, but some berberis are naturalised – I can’t think I have ever seen them growing wild in Scotland. Although there is a Berberis Border at Crathes they are to be found all over the garden. I have not attempted to list them all, just enough to encourage me to remember some of their names; names that have led me on a merry dance. Let’s begin in Siberia. The Amur is the tenth longest river in the world. It rises in China and for much of it length it forms the border between China and Russia in the region known as Manchuria. The Amur finally enters the Pacific Ocean opposite Sakhalin, the northernmost large island of Japan, about 1,300 kilometres north of Vladivostok. This is a long preamble for a lovely shrub, Berberis amurensis, that is found in Japan and Korea, as well as China and Russia.
To the west of China, in Yunnan, lies the Old Town of Lijiang – a World Heritage site that gives its name to Berberis lijiangensis.
And now to the other side of the world to Chile and Argentina. Valdivia is a region of Chile named after Pedro de Valdivia (1497-1553) – a lieutenant in Pizarro’s army. Berberis valdiviana grows well at Crathes and flowers readily. It is not always easy to propagate. The town of Valdivia is near the coast, but if you travel east about 100 kilometres as the crow flies and across the border into Argentina you will come to Lake Lolog where our next berberis arose. Berberis x lologensis is a natural hybrid of B. darwinii and B. linearifolia. It was discovered by Harold Comber (1897-1969) son of the head gardener at Nymans, in 1927. On the same expedition Comber collected B. montana – the mountains, in this case, being the Andes.
Berberis ottawensis ‘Lombarts Purple’ is a cultivar developed at the Ottawa Experimental Centre. Pierre Lombarts had a nursery in the Netherlands in (I think) the first half of the twentieth century.
Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), a surgeon and botanist from Denmark worked for the Danish East India Company and later the British East India Company. He received his MD from the University of Aberdeen in 1819. He was much involved with the development of the Calcutta Botanical Garden. In 1828 he brought 20 tons of herbarium specimens to Britain and spent the next four years working on the collection and on his book Plantae Asiaticae Rariores. His legume collection was sent to Robert Graham, Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, for identification. A letter in Elgin Museum reveals how the Cholera outbreak of 1832 impacted on this work – other people being drafted in to help with cataloguing.* When Cholera arrived from India the dirty crowded conditions of Edinburgh proved a fertile ground for its spread. Over 1000 people were reported to have died – about half of those infected. Cholera was not confined to cities and towns. One can come upon references to the disease in unexpected places.
At Crathes a sister of James Burnett, the 10th baronet, fell victim to the disease and died in the 1856 epidemic.
Berberis wallichiana grows on the Berberis Border near to Berberis insignis var togloensis. The insignis means ‘remarkable’ particularly in reference to rapid growth. I could not find out anything about ‘togloensis’.
I see from my walks around Torphins that a lovely Magnolia soulangeana in a nearby garden has been badly damaged by frost. And that’s the way with magnolias in Scotland. When you plant them you take a gamble – if you are lucky the result will surely lift your soul.
My favourite, Magnolia wilsonii, is often hit by the frost and I doubt it is looking good just now, although it is true that Torphins is higher and more exposed than Crathes. I was taken by a snippet of information in Bean: ‘A batch of about two hundred M. wilsonii, ripened at Kew some years ago, remained dormant after sowing for two years, then germinated simultaneously with scarcely a failure’.**
Magnolia sieboldii is slightly more sheltered by the north wall of the Fountain Garden and the nearby shrubs. It also flowers a little later and may do well, but with more cold weather forecast I fear for it. Here in the North-East of Scotland we call a cold spell at this time of the year ‘the gab o May’.
I also fear for the Enkianthus avenue. Some years the bell-shaped flowers are hit by frosts and the buzz of bees that accompanies the flowering is silenced.
I always look forward to the emergence of the solitary bees from the gravel paths of the Fountain Garden. Each bee makes its own hole in the gravel and feeds its own grub, but the bees live in colonies with hundreds of holes scattered across the paths. They have put up with a lot in past years, coping with herbicide and more recently, during restoration of the fountain, heavy machinery thumping across their homes. Despite all this they survived and last year they seemed as plentiful as ever. There are different species of solitary bees about the garden, but only the experts can give them names.
We have finally had some rain and more is promised. How lovely it would be to take a walk round and enjoy the enticing scents of the refreshed garden. There is some good news from Crathes. Joanna, the propagator, has been ‘unfurloughed’ and is back at work. She reports that the garden is looking good and that James and Andy have been working really hard to make the best of it. Here is a flavour of May. Take care.
*ELGNM George Gordon archive, 32.4
**Bean, WJ, Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles IV Vols (London 1980-81).