In 1930 Plant Hunter Frank Kingdom-Ward wrote, “we may well wonder whether there can be any new plant left to be introduced, so great is the variety we possess, and so far afield have collectors searched”
In 2018 Sue and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones have been plant hunting for 30 years and feel they are only just scratching the surface of the range of plants left to be introduced.
Disenchanted with framing, “I felt I was battling with nature not working with her” Wynn Jones started to look to horticulture and was soon equally disenchanted with the range of plants on offer, and so the expeditions began to search out new and more exciting plant ranges.
To walk round Crûg Farm Plants with Wynn-Jones is to receive an eduction in geography and plantsmanship like not other; towering Tetrapanax almost tickle the sky, ‘we collect them as high up as we can, that way we get the ones that are as hardy as possible’ which makes such perfect sense and yet the stories of exotic plant material that is hardy to -30C are seldom told, thus limiting the range of plants we can fill our beloved gardens with.
Visiting Crûg Farm in August 2018 with a group of garden writers from the Garden Media Guild here are the 10 stand out plants of a rather special day…
Tigrida orthantha ‘Red Hot Tiger’
This may have been the first plant spotted, but it also sums up the philosophy of Crûg Farm, it was collected in 2004, at 2800m in the mountains of Oaxaca (Mexico) at this height it has to contend with cold, making it reasonably frost hardy in most of the UK, however Wynn-Jones recommends a mulch to protect it from penetrating cold.
The flowers, as can be seen, are a stunning red orange with yellow speckles, which are born above the leaves. The habit is described as being similar to the tiger lily.
Hydrangea aspera Kawakamii
Wandering a few meters into the car park reveals a simply stunning Hydrangea, which was collected on a 2007 expedition to Taiwan (with Dan Hinkley of Heronswood fame).
Again found growing high in the mountains, Kawakamii grows naturally to 3m with large hairy leaves, red petioles and the most drop-dead-gorgeous terminal cymes of flowers.
Illicia is maybe more commonly known as the tree that produces star anise (Illicium verum) but simonsii is simply stunning. If the evergreen leaves, with their deep purple/plum wine midribs were not enough to send shivers down the spine then the yellow flowers followed by the star shaped seed pods must make this an absolute must have plant. The seed was collected from Longzhoushan, Sichuan, China.
Allied to Magnolias, Illicia prefers dappled shade and while reputed to be more tolerant of lime it thrives best in an acidic soil, or of course in an ericaceous compost.
I first fell head over heels in love with Schefflera when I was starting my horticultural career and working at Double H Houseplants. There was something about the leaves, about the hints of the exotic, of tropical forests and far away lands. To discover that there is a Schefflera that is hardy, well it changes everything and one will very soon be added to the garden at Enthusiast Towers. Schefflera alpina is rather by Wynn-Jones as hardy to -15C. It was collected at the upper reaches of Phan Si Pan, the highest mountain in the north of Vietnam.
It forms a small, evergreen, well-branched tree which is reputed to reach 5m. The new growth is a deep maroon colour, which is often thought to be a defence mechanism to protect the new growth from grazing animals that look for green.
Tetrapanax papyfera ‘Di Sue Shan’
There is something about Tetrapanax, you can almost imagine a primeval forest with dinasaurs popping their heads through the huge leaves. I am a huge fan, and have been nurturing a small one at Enthusiast Towers which really suffered in the 2018 drought. However never have i seen them at 3 – 4 metres in height. Stunning. The secret? Well, yet again “collect the seed high” where they have to cope with the cooler damper conditions. The Crûg Farm website describes it in rather glowing terms, “A collection of this fabulously flamboyant shrub which in the wild forms small single stemmed trees to 5m tall, with huge palmately lobed leaves to well over a meter wide, with woolly ginger indumentum on the under-sides of the leaves. Topped by long panicles of pale flowers in autumn through winter. More restrained in cool gardens only forming annual stems to 2m in rich well drained soil, protect the roots from hard frost. From a collection gathered at altitude on Dasyueshan in the west of northern Taiwan in 2007. The cultivar name is named for Diane Doughty an indispensable helper on our nursery as well as Sue, the better looking half of our nursery partnership.”
Schizophragma is a member of the Hydrangea family and could easily be confused as a form of climbing Hydrangea. Burncoose Nursery state that it grows best against a north wall, which gives an indication with regard to hardiness. This specimen was collected to the north of Baoxing Sichuan, China. It is a fabulous self clinging climber, and the flowers are certainly attention seeking to say the least.
It was the leaves of Lindera, a small tree I had not met before that stopped me in my tracks, they seemed to be smiling at me, with kind eyes and large flat noses, however the botanical description is probably slightly more technical. This is an exquisitely beautiful small tree, the seed of which was collected at Seed collected on Mt. Soburiyama, overlooking Fukuoka, Japan. It is deciduous and boasts small yellow flowers in the spring, and deep yellow autumn colour. The females bare large, green round fruits. They prefer slightly acidic soil and so would be a pot grown tree here on our limey soil, but in the woodland garden at Crûg Farm it was looking very happy and content. (But just look at that face!)
A member of the Acanthus family, Strobilanthes wallichii creates a memorable display with its funnel shaped deep blue flowers. One of the many lovely things about Strobilanthes is the way the dark coloured flower buds open to a pale colour darkening as the day progresses. Surely this beautiful, and graceful plant, which has stolen my heart cannot deserve its awful name of ‘stinking nettle’
Most gardeners search for the perfect ground cover, it has to be well behaved, clothe the ground well, preferably have an interesting texture to the leaf and perhaps some nice white flowers. My go to for many years, like so many gardeners has been Pachysandra terminalis, with ‘Green Carpet’ a favourite form.
Enter the new kid on the block, the rather lovely Cardamine trifolia, she comes from the damp woodlands of Central Europe, and forms what Wynn-Jones describes as gentle ground cover.
My renewed interest in Aspidistra came from my good friend Matthew Pottage, the curator of RHS Garden Wisley who grows these as a hardy outdoor plant at his parents garden on the East Yorkshire coast, and so I have been looking for interesting forms to grow in the shadiest parts of the garden. They are also Wynn-Jones new passion, and some stunning forms were available for inspection, with Aspidistra grandiflora living up to its name, with giant flowers at ground level some 150mm across, looking from above like purple sunbathing spiders. Some forms have a slight variegation, and Wynn-Jones postulated that the yellow spots may well give an advantage to make an otherwise healthy plant look under attack from pests, thus diverting them to other, equally healthy plants.
The above are the top 10 of so many new plants discovered at Crûg Farm Plants, thank you to Sue and to Bleddyn for their time, kindness and hospitality during the visit, the only thing to say is that now I have returned home, a shopping list has been drawn up and when funds allow a plant buying expedition to North Wales is on the cards.
The Crûg Farm Plants website can be accessed by clicking here but be warned, if you have a low resistance to buying new plants then I am putting temptation in your path…