Visits with interesting plants

Myddelton House garden and greenhouse

January sun at Myddelton House

Myddelton House in Enfield was the family home of botanist, writer and botanical artist E A Bowles (1865-1954), whose name is still familiar from the many plants named after him, a lasting testament to his influence on the horticultural world.

Interested in nature and horticulture since he was young, he was actually studying for the priesthood when both his brother and sister died of TB and he returned home to be with his parents. In the circumstances he had to give up his plans for the priesthood but he was wealthy enough not to need alternative work and was able to pursue his interest in plants. He achieved a huge amount in his life, writing articles and books, painting and working with the RHS over many years serving on committees, the council and holding the position of Vice President from 1926-1954. He was also involved in charitable work with the poor of Enfield and was particularly keen to help disadvantaged local boys with their education. While doing all that he developed the land around Myddelton House into a plantsman’s garden which is now managed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. In 2011 the garden was the recipient of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant which saw a visitor centre built, some restoration of the main gardens, rockery and vegetable garden, the establishment of several national collections and the building of a new greenhouse.

A quick whizz through the garden

I know this garden well. I first came here when I was a student at Capel Manor College, which is about a mile away. Over the years that I studied and then was based at Capel Manor College for work I used to visit when there was time to pop over in the lunch break, and as it’s only about 10 miles from where I live I still visit two or three times a year. It’s not a huge garden (about 8 acres) and naturally some of the plants E A Bowles introduced have gone now, but some remain and replanting has been carried out as far as possible in the spirit of his interests and style. It is certainly one of those gardens that you can visit at any time of the year and find something interesting, something you haven’t spotted before or something you’re not familiar with and have to look up.

For this post I’m going to focus on a visit I made in January which had been prompted by some lovely weather and the thought that the snowdrops might be out.

As it turned out, I was a bit early for the snowdrops and while there were lots of buds, especially around the rockery which can be a sea of white in peak snowdrop season, only a few were actually open. But, as I say, there is always something to see. The lake was tranquil and the sun shone through the hardy palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) on the side. The rockery is home to a collection of ferns (Asplenium scolopendrium displaying its spores) as well as the snowdrops and other spring bulbs (not to mention an extensive and usually hole-free collection of hostas later in the year) and I’m always fascinated by the curled and twisted leaves of the laurel in the beautifully kept vegetable garden (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Camelliifolia’)

At this point, suddenly feeling the January chill and hearing the siren call of succulent plants, I ducked into the greenhouse – to my mind one of the happiest outcomes of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Many wonderful plants, almost too numerous to start naming, live in here. The benches and much of the floor was packed, and I was impressed with how they all seemed to be bursting with health. If plants can look happy, and I think they can, these definitely do.

The photos above were all taken in the first, and coolest of the three areas in the greenhouse. Here the crassulas, echeverias, haworthias, yuccas, mammillarias etc live cheek by jowl in winter (some go outside in the summer) and clearly thrive.

Moving into the second, warmer room, I found the cool, blue flowers of Australian climber Hardenbergia violacea contrasting with the striking orange of Strelizia reginae, and stuck with the bird theme in the form of the Congo cockatoo (Impatiens niamniamnensis),

In the third and steamiest room of the three, my eye was caught by a peace lily (Spathyphyllum wallisii) and Begonia ‘Fireworks’ living up to its name beautifully as the sun caught the colours in the leaf veins and rims. Other plants seen here include Beaucarnea recurvata (I wondered whether this label was right as the plant doesn’t look like photos I’ve seen, or seem quite like the larger plants I’ve seen before), another begonia – this time a large polka dot begonia (Begonia maculata var. wightii), and Dieffenbachi seguine.

The final, and warmest room in the set of three

From there it was out into the cold again where I came across several trees hosting mistletoe at eye level. Fascinating as I’ve never seen it this close before, or been able to see so clearly how the stems grow from the branches of the host tree.

Myddelton House garden and visitor centre is open every day from 10am-4pm and is free to enter. There’s a car park on site which currently costs £2.50.

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