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Chelsea homage to the plant hunters

Words: Mary Newstead

As a nation of garden-lovers we take for granted that we can pop to the local garden centre to buy whatever plant takes our fancy. How many of us stop to think about the bravery of the plant hunters who scoured the earth for centuries, risking life and limb to return home with new plants for our delectation?

At Chelsea this year The Trailfinders Australian Garden, presented by Flemings Nurseries, has highlighted the achievements of the renowned botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain James Cook on his voyage of discovery.

We too have scoured the gardens at Chelsea this year to discover the origins of other common garden plants and, where possible, the plant hunter’s name is given.

Achillea filipendulina (Yarrow)

While many plant hunters travelled to the other side of the world in their searches, Europe too had its own treasures to offer. In 1802 a three year expedition led by Count Apollon Mussin-Pushkin and Baron von Bieberstein set out to tour the Caucasus and the Mount Ararat region and this plant was one they collected. Since its introduction in 1803, achillea has come a long way, with many cultivars being raised. Achillea 'Taygetea' is one such variety that works well in The Telegraph Garden.

Angelica archangelica

This spectacular aromatic, biennial or short-lived perennial makes an elegant statement at the back of the border or vegetable garden (see The M&G Garden). In the 15th century it was highly prized for its medicinal properties and was first introduced here in 1618 by John Tradescant the Elder. The leaves are eaten as a vegetable in Scandinavia and young stalks are candied for decorating cakes – the latter use being first discovered by the Danes.

Astrantia (Masterwort)

This lovely border plant is a favourite with designers for its soft, ephemeral qualities and, since its introduction from Austria in 1597 by John Gerard, it has spawned numerous varieties. On The Laurent Perrier Garden is Astrantia 'Buckland' and A. minor 'Roma', both plants beautifully combined with bronze fennel and cow parsley. Astrantia is used in many gardens at Chelsea this year and there is a lovely blood red variety on The Times Eureka Garden.

Betula utilis var jacquemontii (Silver Birch)

A tree of magnificent splendor and often used in gardens at Chelsea. This year is no exception and it can be seen on The Times Eureka Garden, The Irish Sky Garden and The RBC New Wild Garden (pictured). It was brought to Britain during the 1880s and named after the French botanist Victor Jacquemont.

Bupleurum longifolium

The Bupleurum species (commonly called Hare’s Ear) arrived from Central Europe in about 1739. B. longifolium has tiny, golden flowers in umbels throughout the summer and they certainly add a citrus zest to the planting on The Daily Telegraph Garden.

Buxus sempervirens (Box)

This favourite evergreen edging plant lends itself extremely well to topiary. It is thought to have originated in Holland in about 1699, although no-one is quite sure, and to have arrived in England by the 17th century. Interestingly, the Dutch are one of the main commercial growers of this plant today. The Irish Sky Garden uses huge mounds of clipped box to create an undulating canvas of green and The Daily Telegraph Garden has included less formal specimens within its design.

Cornus kousa (Dogwood)

First discovered on the Japanese island of Kyushu and received a first-class certificate from the RHS in 1892. A magnificent specimen can be seen on The Homebase Cornish Memories Garden. Surprisingly, Cornus kousa var. chinensis was only discovered in 1950 by Frank Kingdon Ward.

Digitalis (Foxglove)

Foxgloves are a great garden favourite and one of the earliest introductions was the yellow Digitalis grandiflora in 1596 from Central and Southern Europe to Siberia and Turkey.
In 1798 D. lanata from Italy, The Balkans and Hungary, and D. parviflora from Northern Spain, were introduced. There are many varieties of foxglove to choose from and one of the loveliest – Digitalis x mertonensis – can be seen on The Laurent-Perrier Garden.

Mathiasella bupleuroides (Mexico)

A recent introduction to the UK and one that has fast become a favourite with designers, this unusual umbellifer and member of the carrot family (Apiaceae) was first collected in Tamaulipas, Mexico. It was first published in 1954 by Lincoln Constance and C. Leo Hitchcock and was named in honour of Mildred Mathias, an eminent botanist from the USA who specialised in this family of plants. It can be seen in several Chelsea gardens this year, including The Daily Telegraph Garden.

Paeonia lactiflora

Introduced in 1784 (possibly as P. japonica or P. albiflora) from Siberia/Tibet and then re-introduced in 1808 from Canton by Reginald Whitley, a nurseryman from Fulham in London. P. lactiflora 'Krinkled White' can be seen on The Trailfinders Australian Garden, and The Irish Sky Garden has also included paeonias in the planted pod.

Pastinaca sativa (Parsnip)

A native of Eurasia, and another member of the carrot family, it was probably brought here by the Romans and then the British colonists introduced it to the USA. Not everybody’s favourite vegetable, and if it’s not yours then grow it for its flowers, which are a mouth-watering colour as seen on The Daily Telegraph Garden.

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