As the Walled Garden is now closed, the garden team have been clearing the ground for the Glenarm Tulip Festival, 30th April – 2nd May. Many of the herbaceous plants can now be cut back, lifted and divided and cleaned of any evil weeds, such as bindweed! The autumn colour is spectacular this year thanks to the long Indian Summer. Aralia elata, is perhaps, the most spectacular and Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’, which I believe means ‘too much saki’, a close second.
New plants have been finding their way into the borders: Schefflera taiwaniana, a gorgeous small tree or large shrub with delicate evergreen palmate leaves, which are blue/silver on the undersides when fluttering in a breeze and it has red petioles (the stalks that attach the leaf blade to the stem). Totally hardy in coastal Ireland, this gorgeous small tree forms a generous dome and will produce viable seed every now and again. The trick is to wait for the black berries to soften, then put them in a sealable sandwich bag and squish them with a rolling pin. Then irrigate with fresh water and the pulp and more importantly the chemical inhibitor, preventing the seed germinating as the berry rots, becomes soluble, floats and the pulp can be separated from the fresh seed. The seed is best sown thinly on the surface of the compost and covered with a single sheet of newspaper and placed in an east or west-facing window until they germinate. Place a little pinch of garden soil into square 7 or 9cm liners when pricking out the seedlings and they will establish much more successfully. If you forget this tip, you will lose over half of the seedlings. Schefflera are unusual in that they put on root growth when planted out in Ireland only in the autumn and so, this is the time to plant or move them. Tip cuttings can be rooted in September from most Araliaceae and although this maims the shape of the plants, the shoot generates new lateral buds in the course of the winter and by spring, they will push out again. I root these tips in a heated propagator with supplementary lights, on for over 12 hours during the day. They root best in pure perlite with rooting gel applied to the base of the cuttings. I have a few Fatsia polycarpa cuttings, also from Taiwan, rooting at the moment.
Another gorgeous small tree recently planted is Schima khasiana. In the Theaceae (tea) family, this beautiful evergreen tree resembles its cousins the Camellia, but it flowers in September or October. The leaves are long and tapered with red midribs and petioles, shiny green above and glaucous beneath, but the scented flowers smell of honey or sometimes marzipan and have white petals and a central boss of stamens. They need careful staking, especially when they become larger as they are prone to blowing over in our increasingly violent storms. They come from the Himalaya where they can grow as big as oaks, but in Ireland, the light levels are so much lower than in North East India, Myanmar or South West China that they grow as small, often multi-stemmed conical trees.