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February 2015
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March 2015

Classic tree and shrub reference goes online

Bean's Trees and Shrubs Online.The five volume Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles by W. J. Bean, usually referred to simply as “Bean”, is a monumental work running to over 4,000 pages. It does what it says: it describes in detail the woody plants (including climbers) that can reasonably be expected to grow outside in Britain (mostly zone 8, some zone 9).

The four A-Z volumes were last revised almost forty years ago, then a supplement appeared in 1988 (see below, click to enlarge), so it does not include recent classification and name changes and recent introductions. Otherwise, it's impressively comprehensive with good descriptions and boundless information on origins and differences between similar plants. It’s invaluable.

Now you can read it - free.

In the first part of a two part initiative, the International Dendrology Society has published the whole thing – all 4,027 pages of it – online. And it’s free: no charge for access. The original four A-Z volumes plus the supplement are currently priced on at £325/$504. Did I mention that the online version is free?

The new online version is easy to navigate and attractively presented. The next step is adding pictures.

You can read more about it on the excellent blog post by John Grimshaw, who’s been heavily involved with the project - and I see he’s had the same idea of including an image of his five volume set as I did!

Take a look at Bean's Trees and Shrubs online - it's invaluable, and it's free.

The five volumes of Bean's Trees and Shrubs. Image ©

And what's coming next? Britain's Alpine Garden Society is well into the process of making its invaluable two volume Encyclopaedia Of Alpines available online. It's currently available from for £150/$250.74. You can track the progress of the operation here.

The Philadelphia Flower Show

Jacques Armand International exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Image ©GardenPhotos.comWe were at the Philadelphia Flower Show on Friday and it was quite an eye opener. Though quite why the country’s best known flower show is held in a dark and dingy exhibition hall when there’s 2ft/60cm of snow on the ground is baffling.

But both the landscapers and the individual exhibitors rose to the occasion, as they have done since 1829, with spring bulbs, orchids, tropical foliage and begonias in particular providing color.

There are two main types of horticultural exhibits: displays of plants staged by landscapers and the competitions for individual plants in staged by home gardeners. The tulips, daffodls and dwarf bulbs staged by Jacques Amand International (left, click to enlarge) and the orchids from Waldor Orchids stood out.

The Jacques Amand exhibit, along with bold clumps of tulips that were proving remarkably resilient after more than a week in the poor light, featured drifts of ‘Alida’, a lovely vivid blue reticulata iris which is a sterile sport of the old favorite ‘Harmony’. The orchids on the Waldor Orchids exhibit were mainly well established varieties – why risk your really special plants in such difficult conditions? – but included some dramatic specimens. I’ll not mention the name of the exhibit that featured a frost-hardy, moisture loving astilbe alongside a frost-tender, drought loving agave. Not a planting idea to be recommended.

Over in the better lit competitions for individual plants, the range of scented-leaved and foliage pelargoniums was impressive and there were also some rare orchids to be seen. The Black Orchid, Cymbidium Black Ruby, at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Image ©
Former trustee of the American Orchid Society, and author of Bloom-Again Orchids, judywhite – aka (if you dare!) Mrs Rice – picked one out. “There was an orchid hybrid, Cymbidium Black Ruby (C. canaliculatum x Ruby Eyes), that Lois Duffin of the Greater Philadelphia Orchid Society exhibited, that was one of the darkest blackest flowers I've seen. So much so that people seem to now be calling that cross the Black Orchid. But her unnamed cultivar was exceptionally dark, and also had a white picotee edge to it. Very nice, unusual.”

But here’s the thing. For most of the exhibitors the fact that show is held in the snowy Philadelphia winter is irrelevant, it may even be an advantage. After all, if you’re trying to sell people cruises and beach vacations, trudging through snow to get to the show probably makes them more inclined to yearn for a sunny getaway.

For there are far far more sales stands, many unrelated to gardening (dog treats, soap, jewelry…), than anything else. The Marketplace alone was filled with 195 sales stands, with more outside the main hall and among the 44 more-or-less horticultural exhibits. Some were definitely for gardeners, including the Hudson Valley Seed Library and Peony's Envy Flower Farm, but Disney and Subaru were everywhere. And, frankly, speaking as an A. A. Milne fan, a display that is “inspired by the movie Winnie The Pooh” starts off at a disadvantage, says he politely. Perhaps I’m just the wrong generation.

Dan Aykroyd promoting his Crystal Head vodka at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Image ©GardenPhotos.comThere was also, and I didn’t expect this, a lot of alcohol about. Glasses of wines and spirits were on sale at a number of sites in the main exhibit hall - I saw one visitor making off with a double sized bottle of red wine from one of the concessions. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, who run the show, even have its own brand of cider.

And then there was actor and comedian Dan Aykroyd (click to enlarge). He was up on the stage in the main exhibit hall promoting his Crystal Head vodka and then he cheerfully spent hours signing the labels for the long line of people queuing patiently to the accompaniment of a rock band.

So, having judged many times at The Chelsea Flower Show in London, can I suggest any lessons that Chelsea could learn from Philly? Keep up the good work, seems to be the main lesson, and don’t be tempted to expand the shopping or add vodka promotions.

But wait, it’s all very well for me to be snippy about the domination of shopping at the flower show. But the number of Americans who share the well-known British mania for gardening is limited and Americans love to shop more than Brits do (although Brits are catching up fast). So perhaps the show has it right after all? And without it the finances of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society would surely be in a very sad state.

Viburnum dripping with berries

Viburnum betulifolium dripping with berries. Image ©GardenPhotos.comIt’s amazing what you find on a short walk round a good garden. Just ten minutes after finding the two witch hazels at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley, and before spotting the Winter weirdness in the banana border I came across this stunning viburnum. It’s an old favorite but still rarely seen – Viburnum betulifolium (left, click to enlarge). I remember seeing this at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew decades ago and it made a lasting impression.

As you can see, it’s the shining red fruits that are so eye-catching. The picture was taken about three weeks ago, in early February, and those fruits had been gleaming for months; they first show their color in September! They may only be 1/4in/6mm long but they hang in such prodigious numbers that they weigh down the branches. Of course, the birds will take them in the end.

This magnificent display of translucent berries like redcurrants follows the flat heads of creamy white flowers in late spring and early summer. Have to say, though, it does make a substantial shrub: 5m/16ft, too big for some gardens. It’s happy in sun or partial shade in any reasonable soil and is hardy to USDA Zone 6, RHS H6.

Introduced into North America in 1901 by China by E. H. Wilson, it was also collected more recently by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones of Britain's Crûg Farm Plants, their plant is called ‘Hohuanshan’ and has foliage which opens bronze. Junker's Nursery, also in Britain, has one called 'Aurantiacum' with orange berries which was originally reported from China in 1928. I’m tempted to fly back to England specially to get it. The Flora of China emphasizes how variable this species is in the wild; plenty of scope for more introductions.

Just one thing: It’s often said that two or three different plants are needed to ensure good pollination but there are also reports of single plants fruiting well. Perhaps some forms are more simply fertile than others.

Now that the ghastly hedge of Leyland cypress in our British garden is almost gone, this plant is high on the list to go along that boundary.  And perhaps the orange-berried one, and perhaps the Crûg Farm one as well. Steady… steady… Better not get carried away. On the other hand…

Take a look at this Botany Photo Of The Day entry for more on Viburnum betulifolium.

Plants are available in Britain from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries

Plants are hard to find in North America, but you can order seed from Sheffield’s Seeds