The North Ladies

Lilium ‘Karen North’ beside the Red Garden, 21 July 2020.

My eye was drawn to an attractive lily at the corner of the Red Garden. The label informed ‘Karen North’. Now who could she be? Lilium lankongenseis is one of the Turk’s cap Asiatic lilies from China and Tibet, but the development of the hybrid ‘North Ladies’ turns out to be a Scottish story. Dr Christopher North, originally from Bromley, took up an appointment at the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) in 1953. The SCRI was situated at Mylnefield in the Carse of Gowrie near Dundee. In 2011 the SCRI amalgamated with Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, near Aberdeen, to form the James Hutton Institute – an organisation which is globally important in researching food production, biodiversity and sustainable land use.  (One of their present research projects, in partnership with Scottish Universities, is the investigation of waste water to determine the prevalence of Covid 19 in the population.) 

Blackcurrant, Ben Connan, is easy to grow and gives good crops of juicy fruit, Torphins, 25 July 2020.

North was particularly interested in breeding cabbage and fruit varieties – such names as ‘January King’, the ‘Glen’ raspberries and the ‘Ben’ blackcurrants are part of his legacy – but he and his wife Marie were also keen on lilies which they grew in their large garden. Of the many hybrids that arose from their breeding experiments a good number were named after their female relatives and these lilies came to be known as the ‘North Ladies’. The Turk’s cap lilies that naturalised in my previous garden smelt appalling, but Karen North is said to be fragrant and in some countries highly attractive to hummingbirds. Incidentally, Branklyn Garden in Perth (National Trust for Scotland and presently open) has a fine collection of ‘North’ lilies. From now on I shall be looking out for more of the North Ladies.

Lilium ‘Karen North’ beside the Red Garden, 21 July 2020.

History Scotland May/June 2020 carries an article by Dr Robert Hay about the Scottish naturalist Dugald Carmichael (1772-1827). When I wrote about the weeping broom, Chordospartium stevensonii, in my Crathes book I mentioned it had the synonym Carmichaelia stevensonii, but investigated no further.

The weeping broom, Chordospartium stevensonii, synonym Carmichaelia stevensonii, in the Fountain Garden, 21 July 2020.

Now I find that Carmichael was born on the island of Lismore near Oban. His travels with the military took him to various islands – Mauritius, Reunion, Tristan de Cunha, St Helena, Ascension Island and the Azores – where he investigated the geology, fauna and flora, and sent back material to Kew. In later life he returned to Appin and collected in his local area, concentrating on algae. Some of the algae he collected can be found in the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh. But he never went to New Zealand which is where the genus Carmichaelia is found, so that’s a bit confusing. The botanist Robert Brown, a better known contemporary of Carmichael, named the genus in Carmichael’s honour. Now when it comes to the specific naming of a plant the author of the name is given as in the daisy, Bellis Perennis L., where the L. stands for Linnaeus who named so many of our plants. Usually the author name is just used for citations in scholarly works, but sometimes it is useful for other reasons. ‘Chordospartium stevensonii Cheeseman’ tells us that Thomas Frederick Cheeseman (1845-1923) – an eminent New Zealand botanist (who was born in Yorkshire) – named the plant, and Bean* informs us that it was discovered in 1909 and is native to the South Island of New Zealand.  ‘Carmichaelia stevensonii Heenan’ tells us that Peter Brian Heenan, another eminent New Zealand botanist (b 1961) renamed the plant and moved it to the Carmichaelia genus. Two specimens in the Kew herbarium are listed as ‘Carmichaelia stevensonii (Cheeseman) Heenan Collected by Stevenson, G. s.n. New Zealand South.’  This had suggested to me that Greta Stevenson (1911-1990), a New Zealand mycologist – also eminent – was the source behind the second half of the name and indeed it may well have been her that collected the specimen at Kew (I could not find a date). But it is unlikely that Cheeseman named the plant after her because she was only twelve when he died. I have led you up the garden path with this ramble as I still don’t know where the Stevenson came from. But it has kept me busy on a rainy day and I now know a little more about eminent botanists. I think that Dugald Carmichael would have been pleased to know that the James Hutton Institute is presently researching the anti-viral properties of algae. This speculation is not just because of Carmichael’s interest in algae but also because he was a supporter of James Hutton – of the Scottish Enlightenment and the founder of modern geology – at a time when such proposals of deep time were extremely controversial.

Covid has given the new fashion for meadows, and the wildlife they support, a boost. Much of the area around the shop and viewpoint at Crathes has been left to fend for itself during Lockdown and there are certainly groups of docks and other rank weeds that are not welcome. But the Wildlife Garden and the new planned meadow behind the Viewpoint seat are looking good.

Bombus lucorum (male) on betony, Stachys officinalis, in the Wildlife Garden, 21 July 2020.
Meadow behind the Viewpoint, 21 July 2020.

I, too, have been experimenting with meadows in my garden and am pleased to have yellow rattle and knapweeds appearing this year. The yellow rattle, Rhinanthus spp, is parasitic on grasses, reducing the grass growth and letting other flowers thrive. It is thus an important plant in encouraging a sustainable meadow. I see that there is lots of yellow rattle in the Crathes meadows. Because it is an annual it depends on seed production for continuity.

Yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, Torphins, 25 July 2020.

The rattle name comes from the pod-like calyx, pale green in the photograph, but turning brown as the seeds ripen and acting like a rattle when the seeds are dry and ripe. Once the seeds are shed the meadow can be cut and the thatch removed.

Insects are great opportunists and sometimes wasps bikes in the garden have to be removed. More than once wasps have chosen to make their nest in the donation box by the gate. I remember Andy being grateful that money was now plastic and the wasp poo could be washed away. This nest had to go – people would not want to donate whilst the wasps were flying in and out of the donation aperture! A large (small football sized) nest in the Berberis lijiangensis is very beautiful, but maybe too near the path to be left.

Wasps’ bike well hidden in the berberis, 21 July 2020.

The solitary bee, however, that is nesting in the old stump in the gardeners’ yard can be left in peace.

Solitary bee just leaving its home in an old post, 15 July 2020.

The vine bells are doing well. The ones planted on the trellis opposite the Blue and Pink Border are growing apace and can be readily seen because the nepeta has had its summer cut back. Ten days after the hard cutting the catmint is beginning to sprout again and it will flower again before long, by which time the vine bells will be even taller.  

Nepeta just beginning to re-sprout in front of the vine bells, Rhodochiton atrosanguineus, 31 July 2020.

The flame flower, Tropaeolum speciosum, usually has to be removed from the yew hedges in July so that hedge trimming can take place. This year it has so far had a reprieve since it is doubtful that there will be time to cut the all the hedges. This means we can enjoy the lovely berries – yellow turning a steely blue. It will also be more peaceful without the cutting, although the purchase of electric hedge cutters has reduced the noise considerably. This nasturtium, native of Chile, likes the Scottish climate and, once established, thrives almost to the point of being a weed.

The Scottish flame flower, Tropaeolum speciosum on the yew hedge, 31 July 2020.

The Malmaison carnations (see 11 April post) have been out in the sun for a while, but they have since suffered from the rain.

Malmaison carnations outside the glasshouses, 10 July 2020. Joanna Shaw

Those in the glasshouses are thriving and a crop of peaches looks mouthwatering.

Malmaisons, 15 July 2020. Joanna Shaw
Peaches, 12 July 2020. Joanna Shaw

The weeping broom was going quickly over when I returned to photograph it at the end of July, and similarly ‘Karen North’ was almost past when I went to check (unsuccessfully) for its scent. Indeed the rowans have already taken on their scarlet hue and its difficult to ponder on the passing of this particular summer. Do visit if you can; if not here’s a quick tour:

The Chilean mitre flower, Mitraria coccinea, is past its first flush, but still looking good in the south-west corner, 21 July 2020.
A view through the Golden Garden, 31 July 2020.
Night scented phlox, Zaluzianskya ovata, now making a good show near the glasshouses, 31 July 2020.
The yew hedges in the Upper Pool Garden have been trimmed, but some of the other hedges may go uncut this year, 31 July 2020.
The agapanthus pots are now in place in the Fountain Garden, 21 July 2020.
The Blue and Pink Border, 21 July 2020.

Stay safe everyone.

*Bean, WJ, Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles IV Vols (London 1980-81).

2 thoughts on “The North Ladies

  1. Thank you so much for yet another a fascinating and informative article! What a wealth of information! The photographs are lovely and it has been a perfect and enjoyable read on a miserable cold and rainy day!

    Liked by 1 person

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