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Return of the Titan

Jun 22, 2017

Cambridge University Botanic Garden is awaiting the Return of the Titan. One of the two Titan Arums held in the Garden’s collection of plants will very soon produce another huge, magnificent flower along with the noxious smell that accompanies it. Staff at the Botanic Garden are asking Friends and visitors to help name the new and much anticipated arrival.

CUBG Director Beverley Glover says: “We are delighted to announce that we have yet another Titan Arum plant preparing to flower – we think, within the next week!

This will be the third flowering of a Titan Arum here at the Garden. Visitors may remember our ‘Tiny’ titan flower back in 2015. The Titan plant about to flower is our other plant that last flowered in 2004 and we are asking our visitors to help name our newly anticipated arrival!” The Garden will be setting up a twitter poll asking followers to vote for their favourite name from a shortlist of four: Yoda (as the plant is currently small and green and will have a light sabre as it heats up); Arnie (‘I’ll be Back…’); Morph and Titus (both from the plant’s Latin name Amorphophallus titanum).

Beverley continues: “Our last Titan was aptly named ‘Tiny’ as it took us by surprise by flowering from a very small tuber – usually flowers only arise once the plant’s tuber weighs over 15kg. The plant about to flower is similar in weight but we are anticipating a larger flower because measurements are suggesting it’s going to be big. We’ve come up with a straw poll of names chosen by staff and we’d love our visitors to have the final say!”

Native to Sumatra in Indonesia, the Titan Arum, (Amorphophallus titanum), produces one of the largest single flowering structures in the world. Also known as the corpse flower, it has the ability to self-generate heat by a process known as thermogenesis. It heats up on the first night of full flowering to produce a stench of rotting flesh that in the wild attracts carrion beetle pollinators over vast distances. The flowering structure lasts 2-3 days only.

Beverley says: “The Titan Arum is a fascinating plant to see in flower and flowering only really happens about once every decade, so it will be around another ten years before we witness this smelly spectacle again at the Garden. We really want to encourage people to take this opportunity to come and see this wonder of the plant world. We’re delighted to share this exciting moment with as many people who want to come and witness it as possible and we will keep the Garden open late on the two nights it chooses to flower.

She continues: “It’s already got us guessing about when it will flower. Before the weekend its flower spike was already 65cm tall and since then it has grown an impressive 37cm and currently stands 102cm tall and we think it will be in the next week”.

Horticultural staff in the Garden realised the new bud on the Titan plant was in fact a flower, not a leaf, just a week ago.

The flowering structure currently consists of an upright, creamy, spike-like spadix, embraced by a frilly, pale green spathe which is a highly modified leaf that forms a protective chamber around the ‘proper’ flowers which are clustered at the base of the spadix. The frilly spathe turns blood red on flowering and this is when the spadix starts to heat up and releases strong smelling sulphurous compounds to attract the pollinators and lure them to the clusters of true flowers at the base of the spadix.

In the wild, it is understood that carrion beetles pollinate the plant with pollen from another Titan Arum plant. Pollination of female flowers clustered in rings at the base of the spadix occurs as the insects search for what they believe to be rotting meat. On the second day, the stench begins to fade and the plant’s male flowers open to release pollen onto the beetles as they depart, having searched in vain for a flesh feast. On the third day, the spathe closes up and eventually the spadix collapses.

Beverley says: “The Titan Arum has a limited natural distribution, but with increasing habitat loss due to deforestation and habitat degradation, it is categorized as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. As a Botanic Garden, one of our key roles is conserving plants and caring for rare plants such as the Titan so that we can share our understanding of them and help as many people as possible to learn about these amazing plants.

“We’d love to be able to produce and nurture fruit and seed – to grow baby Titans from this plant. This is a tricky task but we have frozen pollen from ‘Tiny’ and we’ve also put out a call to other Botanic Gardens worldwide to see if they have fresh, younger pollen so that we can cross pollinate. Chicago Botanic Garden recently had Titan twins so we hope to receive some pollen from them as well as from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Rarely does this plant fruit in cultivation and we’d love to play our part in conserving this tropical giant.”

The Titan Arum is a difficult species to grow. It is demanding in its cultivation requirements, and generally unpredictable in flowering. It requires a high temperature along with high humidity to flourish, and also sufficient space to develop a large tuber, and in which to accommodate the flower. Considerable horticultural skill and knowledge is required to nurture this species from dormancy to flower.

Daily measurements will be tweeted from the Garden’s twitter feed @CUBotanicGarden and a live web cam feed will be available from the Garden’s website so #ReturnOfTheTitan followers can literally watch the flower unfold.

Dyffryn Gardens’ Big Book Weekend

Jun 12, 2017

Looking for some pool side reading for an upcoming summer holiday? See what literary gems you can discover in Dyffryn Gardens’ Big Book Weekend and help to restore the Great Lawn fountain.

The majestic Edwardian gardens and Victorian mansion house of Dyffryn, a National Trust property in the Vale of Glamorgan, provides the perfect fairy-tale setting for their second-hand book fair, which will be taking place on June 24 and 25, from 10:30am – 4pm.

Hundreds of donated books will be displayed on the south terrace for visitors to purchase and in doing so, help raise money for the restoration of their fountain pool at the end of the Great Lawn.

“Our second-hand book shop which is run by our dedicated team of volunteers in Dyffryn House is very popular amongst our visitors all year round. From March 2016 to February 2017, we managed to raise over £15,000 from book sales alone.” commented Visitor Experience Officer, Nina Batram.

“People in the local community are very generous and have donated all sorts of books. We have got a great collection of novels, autobiographies and children’s books on offer, so there really is something for everyone.”

Normal admission prices will apply on entry for the day.

Helmingham Hall wins HHA/Christie’s Garden of the Year Award

Apr 18, 2017

Helmingham Hall in Suffolk has been crowned the winner of the 2017 Historic Houses Association (HHA) Garden of the Year Award, sponsored by Christie’s.

This prestigious national award, presented annually since 1984, is designed to recognise the importance of some of the country’s most spectacular gardens with outstanding horticultural and public appeal. The Award is voted for by HHA Friends who judge the gardens purely based on their enjoyment.

The Grade I listed gardens at Helmingham are owned by the Tollemache family who have lived in this beautiful house since it was built in 1490. Currently the house is inhabited by Timothy and his wife Xa, a landscape designer and gardener. The current owners have lived on the site longer than any of the previous 18 generations and have brought their family up inside the boundaries of its moat.

On approaching the house visitors are met with the incredible site of an unchanged early Tudor house surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge that is still lifted every evening. The tranquil gardens themselves are tucked away; they exude style and clearly reflect the hard work of Xa herself.

Visitors to the garden first reach a Parterre and Hybrid Musk Garden, approached along a wide grass causeway flanked by large yew domes. Beyond the Parterre, and surrounding it on three sides, is a rose garden planted in 1965 by, Dinah then Lady Tollemache. The garden contains hybrid musk roses edged with Hidcote lavender and under-planted with London Pride.

Visitors can also see a working walled kitchen garden, complete with sweet peas, runner beans and gourds, surrounded by double herbaceous borders in cruciform style. In 1986 this area was restored to the original eight sections, as per garden plans. Arched tunnels have been added to the vegetable plots creating new walks and vistas, while two bridges lead to an Apple Walk and Wild Flower Garden.

At the latter, wildflowers abound with primroses, cowslips and marsh orchids providing a refreshing contrast to the formal gardens and a natural wildness not often found at historic houses.

The borders at Helmingham consist of shrub, topiary, grass and colour-themed flowers. While separate areas are planted to flower in early spring and summer providing a variety of stunning plants to look at throughout the open season.

Xa has recently planted a new woodland garden in this area, taking in some of the surrounding parkland which is home to large herds of both red and fallow deer. Ornamental trees and shrubs sit nestled in long grass with winding paths between them and two landform sculptures complimenting the setting.

A Knot and Herb Garden was also added in more recent years, historically sympathetic to the house and visually effective. The two knot patterns are divided into four squares; two with the pattern of the Tollemache fret and two with the owners’ initials.

This area is also home to the main rose garden, planted with a huge variety of roses as well as small shrubs and herbaceous plants that span the season, from early hellebores to late-blooming Fuchsias and Hibiscus.

Xa directs the gardening at Helmingham, working alongside a team of 3 full time staff including Head Gardener Ray Balaam who has worked at the site for 60 years.

Xa Tollemache commented: “We were so excited to hear the wonderful news that Helmingham has won the Garden of the Year Award. We have worked so hard to create a beautiful garden and to keep on, every year, with new improvements. We want our visitors to be constantly stimulated and inspired in what we do and to have a fabulous day in this very unexplored part of Suffolk. Russell Page said that the Garden must curtsey to the House. I would like to add to this that a historic house such as Helmingham deserves and indeed should have a garden worthy of its stature, beauty and historic importance. Helmingham has taught me so much and so for that and to Roy Balaam, I am deeply grateful.”

James Birch, President of the Historic Houses Association commented: “I am delighted that Helmingham has won the 2017 Garden of the Year Award. The stunning garden reflects not just the hard work of the current owners, but the generations of Tollemaches who have lived at this beautiful place previously. The striking gardens are enjoyed by c.20,000 visitors each year and this recognition by Friends of the HHA is very well deserved.”

Orlando Rock, Christie’s UK Chairman commented: “We are thrilled to congratulate Helmingham Hall Gardens on winning the prestigious 2017 Historic Houses Association/Christie’s Garden of the Year Award. This award, which Christie’s has proudly sponsored since 1984, recognises the high level of commitment and dedication involved in the creation and preservation of some of the country’s most impressive gardens. The gardens at Helmingham – reflecting the inspired vision of the well-known garden designer Xa Tollemache – are incredibly deserving of this coveted award. We hope this national prize will bring further visitors to enjoy this remarkable place.”

Helmingham Hall gardens are open to the public from 1st May – 17th September 2017 from 12.00-5.00pm every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday (also open Bank Holiday Mondays). They also host a range of special events.