Plant History

Autumnal Plants

A real gem among autumn-flowering shrubs are the blue flowered ‘Hardy Plumbago’ all eight species of which comes into their own during late summer and continue to flower well into late autumn. They are indigenous to N. E Tropical Africa, the Himalayas, China and S.E. Asia. None of the plants were known about in Europe until the 19th century and the first to arrive in Britain came from China via the plant hunter Robert Fortune who had been sent there by the Royal Horticultural Society. On his return he wrote in his diary that ‘after a long but favourable voyage we anchored on the 6 May 1846 in the Thames’. Among the meticulously packed new discoveries was Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, a glorious spreader for a sunny place with dark blue flowers opening in October and the foliage assuming a red to purplish hue. It had been described and the seed collected by the Russian botanist Alexander Bunge fifteen years earlier in 1831, but none appear to have been sent from St Petersburg to the Royal Botanic Garden Kew. However it proved both popular and hardy as by 1850 it was ‘already common’ in gardens. 

Almost a century later in 1908 Ceratostigma willmottianum was collected from western Szechuan in China by that doyen of plant hunters Ernest Wilson. He sent seed to RBG Kew who distributed them to various gardens and gardeners, among them to Miss Ellen Ann Willmott (1860-1934) celebrated English amateur gardener who created a richly stocked and beautiful garden at Warley Place in Essex. She supported many plant hunters and her name was attached to numerous newly arrived delights. In this instance the two seeds she was allocated germinated although apparently she was the only gardener to have such success so no wonder the species was named in her honour; it is believed that from these two plants all present stock is derived.  
Why not consider planting some Naked Ladies or some Upstarts or Star-naked boys just for the name! You are not too late to get them into the ground right now but first read on…  

These lovely but poisonous plants are common throughout Europe and its Latin name comes from the town of Colchis which lies to the east of the Black Sea in Georgia. There are about 45 species that flourish in sub-alpine and stony hillsides not only in Europe but in North Africa, W. and C. Asia, north India and western China. One of the best known and native to Britain is Meadow Saffron, C. autumnale that secretes an alkaloid called colchine in the roots. For thousands of years this drug was known to relieve the pain of gout and in the 17th century it was even offered to King James I although reports are weak as to whether it help him. Gout supposedly can be helped by the outward application of a number of other plants including horseradish tansy, and alder. 

 John Gerard in the 16th and 17th centuries grew three or four foreign cormous perennials several of which are still in cultivation. However the most glorious of all in my opinion is the white C. speciosum ‘Album’ not only does it have pure white petals and that lovely cup-shaped innocence but the petals are weather –resistance, I suppose it must have something to do with the violence of the weather where they originated from, Iran, N. E. Turkey and the Caucasus but that feature is tailor-made for the United Kingdom. It seems amazing that it did not reach these shores until about 1850 having only been discovered some twenty-two years previously. 

I nearly forgot to mention the leaves, these emerge from the ground soon after the goblet beauties have disappeared!  

plant history, origin of plants, plant names, plant introductions, trees, tree planting, English gardens, origin of British plants, plant world, Mount Edgcumbe,  horticulture, john evelyn, charlemagne, gardening history, british flora The Eden Project, Garden Media Guild, Maggie Campbell Culver, trees, plants
There are so many lovely trees and flowering plants that come to fruition from September onwards, here are a few to get your gardening juices running: there is Amaryllis, a deciduous bulbous perennial from the coastal hills and stream banks of the south west Cape, South Africa. Plenty of ethereal Anemone japonica or A. x hybrida as we should be calling it! Then there are the real firecrackers the Dahlia with some 20,000 cultivars derived from a miserly 30 species.How about Red Hot Pokers - Kniphofia? Named in honour of Johann Hieronymus Kniphof (1704-1763) a professor of medicine at Erfut Germany.  Why not plant a Ceratostigma – the word derived from two Greek words kĕras meaning a horn and stigma meaning from the hornlike excrescence on the stigma of the flower.