The chances are that you haven’t heard of him, but the chances are you have heard of his plants… Crocus ‘Snow Bunting’? Pulmonaria officinalis ‘Blue Mist’? Milium effusum ‘Aureum’? No? Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’? Ah yes you know that one, a real garden favourite.
Over the last few days here at RHS Garden Wisley we have been busy putting the finishing touches to the planting and landscaping of Bowles’ corner, seeing a two-year project come to fruition. This forgotten patch of Wisley had been left to its own devices for several years and had been taken over by self-seeded perennials and pernicious weeds such as the dreaded Bindweed and lesser known but just as problematic Geranium nodosum.
Bowles’ Corner is dedicated to the memory and legacy of the renowned plantsman and a former Vice-President of the RHS (1926 to 1954), Edward Augustus Bowles (E.A. Bowles), and was originally planted up in the late 1950s following his death. The original planting included plants from his own garden at Myddelton House, Enfield. Sadly much of this original planting had been lost over the years.
Like most people, until I came to Wisley I had not heard of E.A. Bowles; this soon changed as I took on the task of bringing the area back to life. I soon learned of the story behind him, the plants he loved, the garden he created and, most importantly, the books he wrote. Mr Bowles wrote a series of books titled My garden in… spring, summer, autumn & winter. This year marks a century since the first of these books were published.
Bowles’ corner is home to many of his favourite plants, and some that he bred or were named after him. Mr Bowles had a love for all that was weird and wonderful and famously had an area in his garden for his botanical curiosities, rather aptly named ‘the lunatic asylum’, featuring plants such as Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ the twisted hazel. His garden at Myddelton is open to the public and is worth a visit. If you read a few of his books before you go you get great background story to the garden and you can still see many of the original features and plants that he writes of.
Whilst researching and choosing plants for Bowles’ corner I repeatedly found that many of the plant Mr Bowles talks about in his books either have changed their names, or worst, been lost from cultivation. It is shocking how many plants from the original planting list are no longer available just in the space of 50 years or so. With this in mind I have also added plants that I think and hope that Mr Bowles would have admired and approved of such as the very thorny Acanthopanax giraldii, the interesting fruits of Sarcococca saligna and the prehistoric looking foliage of Rhododendron sinogrande.
So next time that you visit Wisley, pay a visit to Bowles’ Corner and you will be in for great spectacle of the weird and wonderful.
Find books written by E.A. Bowles at the Lindley Library
Click here to buy Bryan Hewitt's The Crocus King: E.A. Bowles of Myddelton House in the RHS shop.