The weekend before last I visited Ness Botanic Gardens, on the first dull and cool day in a very long time. Though the grass was brown here and there, the lawns were in better condition than in most places, so they must have had more rain than many other parts of the country. Some of the plants were suffering as a result of the drought – quite a few heathers had died for instance – but the gardens were looking surprisingly good. In the herbaceous borders there was a nice mix of grasses and perennials.
One of the highlights, for me, was a plant you don’t see much. I remember seeing a specimen of Eucryphia on previous visits, and I was glad to round a corner and see it still there, still flourishing, and in full flower. The first time I saw this tree I was amazed. Imagine a rose bush smothered in flowers. Now imagine it grown to the size of a small tree. Eucryphia flowers give roses a good run for their money (although they don’t have much scent, and unlike some roses, they have a limited flowering period). It makes a good, upright tree, so it can be used in a limited space; in a small garden it won’t outgrow its welcome. Many species are evergreen too, so you still have the leaves over the winter.
Mary Agnes Eames – isn’t she a beauty?!
How many trees can you think of that give such a wonderful show of flowers?
One problem is that most Eucryphias prefer an acidic soil, but there is one variety – Eucryphia nymansensis, which will grow in neutral soil. My faulty memory had me thinking this was the specimen Ness have, but in fact it’s Eucryphia glutinosa ‘Mary Agnes Evans’. My RHS book tells me that unlike most Eucryphias, glutinosas are deciduous, but on the plus side, they do have good autumn colour.
Ness Botanic Gardens was bequeathed to the University of Liverpool in 1942, and they’ve done a great job of developing the site into what it is today, and continuing to keep it running and looking good. Ness is a large and important botanic garden that can compete with anything the National Trust or the RHS have to offer.
The Permaculture garden and adjoining potager are well laid out, beautiful and productive areas, and an example of the educational aspirations of the gardens.
The Permaculture Garden, with living willow tunnel
The basic principles – framed by borage flowers
You walk under an arch draped with Humulus lupulus ‘aurea’ (golden hop) into a potager filled with colour, and alive with bees in a frenzy of nectar gathering. The nepeta and oreganum were particularly busy with pollinators.
An example of the muted, romantic colours in the potager – I believe this is a scabious, though I’m not sure of the variety as there weren’t too many labels in this area.
The gardens were founded in 1898 by Arthur Kilpin Bulley, who sponsored expeditions to the far east by some of the most famed plant collectors, including George Forrest and Frank Kingdon Ward. They contain, apparently, over 15,000 types of plant from all over the world.
An alien in the landscape. I think this is an Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle) but you don’t often see them without the lower branches removed (sadly).
I don’t recall seeing a variegated liquidambar before (but then, I don’t get out much). This is Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Manon’
There are large areas of woodland at Ness. This Cornus contraversa ‘Variegata’ makes a lovely and striking contrast with the darker foliage of its neighbours. It’s got some growing to do mind.
One of the impressive naturalistic ponds
A more recent addition is this small garden with spiral paths and water channels leading to a central seating area. I’m not so good on marginals, so this lovely plant with its fresh green leaves and powder blue flowers was new to me.
Pontederia cordata (Pickerel weed) in the spiral garden – straight to the top of my list of favourite marginals.
These were just some of the highlights. There’s lots more to see, and I could happily have spent the whole day wandering through the gardens. There’s a very good café and restaurant, a shop, and a reasonably well-stocked plant sales area. So if you’re ever in the area, I can recommend a visit.
Words and images © Graham Wright 2018