I have been visiting Ventnor Botanic Garden in June/July for around 20 years and have watched it move from council ownership to becoming a charitable trust. Despite its obvious popularity with summer visitors and the improvements to its shops, catering and outside events I am afraid that in horticultural terms it is regressing and parts of it are becoming terribly overgrown and uncared for.
The faintly woke claim on the blackboard at the garden entrance has much to say about biodiversity and nature but is clearly also a tacit admission that the place is becoming scruffy and untended.
A botanic garden surely has a duty to inform the public about its rare plant collections. This means labelling. I have not seen any new labelling of anything for around 10 years when there was last an effort to clear an area and start a new collection of temperate or southern hemisphere plants below the entrance.
The collections of grevillea, melaleuca and callistemon are now a jungle where the fittest and largest growing species have killed off the rest. The eucalyptus collection has suffered in gales, is covered in fallen deadwood, and could do with complete pollarding so people could see (with labels) what the collection actually consists of. The New Zealand native lawn is now more of a tent than a plant area and needs urgent rejuvenation. There were labels once when I visited with Susyn Andrews to identify New Zealand native plants but long vanished in the undergrowth.
The whole echium area is crying out for a new start and the circa 15 year old specimen olive plantation is, frankly, a disgrace. The specimen trees in the lawn area are, in the main, labelled but it takes time to hunt them down.
If you have recently been accepted as having a Plant Heritage national collection of palm trees you could at least label them as such? The Tree Register lists quite a number of other record trees at Ventnor and most of them do not have proper labelling either.
We all know how the public steal and move plant labels but I could show you 20 labels on the agave bank alone where the plant is long dead and/or the label is obviously on the wrong plant. Nearly all the mature agave (not to mention the Puya and Beschorneria clumps) have been flowering and then dying in recent years. Where are the replacement plants to come on?
The one bit of new planting nearest the sea and above the children’s play area which I only came upon last year for the first time is a disaster. Burncoose magnolias being decimated by rabbits. Two new jubilee planted magnolias have wire netting guards but none of the others. The recently planted camellias just below look ghastly. It is too hot and dry in this part of the garden to grow camellias or magnolias unless there is irrigation. There are good camellias in shade elsewhere.
The expanded plant sales area (even with a few echiums to sell this year) is much better but the plants are too large and far too expensive for casual visitors (£39.95 for a 10L romneya). So many things could easily be grown from seed or propagated in house.
Staff all friendly and helpful but having to pay for everything (entry and from one shop) at the café till is absolutely daft quite apart from being unhygienic. The serving area was pretty confused and chaotic even with a small queue. Terrible layout for staff working behind the counter.
I saw six volunteers or staff working in the garden. A charming old man who was removing dead bits who agreed about the labelling. All tinkering at the edges rather than getting stuck into real clearance, improvement and regeneration.
Without someone getting a serious grip many rare herbaceous plants are and already have been swamped and killed and there is no sign of regeneration and in-planting where it is needed most. The entrance used to have scores of well labelled tenderish herbs. All swamped now by a few thug plants and no labels remain.
No idea what the criteria are for being a ‘botanic’ garden but Ventnor is losing it on the plant front and on the education/learning side. One could understand this of the council but surely the current charity trustees could do better! Dare I write to the chairman of the trustees?
Bowkeria verticillata from South Africa is now 15ft tall and wide with its white Calcedonia-like flowers. A wonderful show today in the sun.
Polygala myrtifolia, another South African shrub, flowering well (myrtle leaved milkwort) and it even had a label!
Coleonema pulchrum, confetti bush, glowing in the sun. South African.
Arctotheca populifolia, beach daisy, was swamping all its neighbours. Dandelion flowers and leaves (but hairy). South African origin and a thug of a plant in any border.
A gigantic Freylinia lanceolata, honey bells – here its woody trunk which we have never seen on our stock plant at Burncoose by the mist houses where it is a shrub not a South African tree.
Picconia excelsa – Canary Islands olive – is a huge ilex-like tree which we tried and failed with.
Diospyros glaucifolia – a species I have not seen anywhere else. Tiny white/green flowers just showing which I have seen full out before.
Aesculus californica at about 30ft. Not that many flowers and I am not convinced that the label was correct (as I have said before). Looks more like A. wilsonii or the other late flowering species.
The UK champion tree of Pittosporum bicolor from S. E. Australia. Never realised it could grow to 40ft.
A 30-40ft tall Dacrydium cupressinum (another champion) whose branches and leaflets have no drooping at all? A change in maturity for this tree? I have seen larger on Tresco that did not look like this and still had drooping branches. It may be Dacrydium but label wrong I suspect.
Quercus x hispanica ‘Ambrozyana’. Hillier’s say x hispanica is mislabelled and it should be Q. x crenata ‘Ambrozyana’. Semi-evergreen, leaves white underneath.
A tree sized Corylus columna which I have not spotted before. The Turkish hazel which I once grew by Lower Quarry Nursery at Caerhays but cut down as too dull for this location. I was wrong when looking at this bark and branch structure.
Quercus rubra with a wonderful trunk too.
Rabbit damage on a recently planted Magnolia x loebneri and no rabbit guards on what is left of the dry and starved magnolia planting (ex Burncoose). Plants look dreadful.
A very good crop of walnuts on Juglans nigra – black walnut.
Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana has attractive bark and slightly different shaped leaves. Flowers long gone. Bark a bit different too.
Juglans ailanthifolia – Japanese walnut – also with well advanced walnut formations as we have seen recently in a young tree at home.
Eucalyptus archeri – alpine cider gum – with wonderful bark as I have seen before. Not a single eucalyptus species in flower that I spotted while we have two at home.
Unlabelled but a huge mature tree of Asimina triloba just coming into flower. None of our small trees are mature enough to have decent bark like this.
Maclura pomifera – Osage orange – as a small tree with some insignificant flowers and nasty prickles on the stems.
Arbutus x alapensis – champion tree of the ‘Texas madrone’. Superb bark just starting to split lower down near ground level. Visitors have carved graffiti into the trunk sadly. Little realising how important a tree this is.
We are attempting to grow Ceratonia siligua below Slip Rail. Michael brought back seeds from France and, to my surprise, they are starting to grow away.
Echium fastuosum with its attractive seedheads.
Pyrus x michauxii – hybrid pear and champion tree originating in the Levant as I have seen before with flower and fruit.
Brahea armata – Mexican blue palm – these two plants have doubled in size since I last saw them on this very hot top bank.
Jubaea chilensis – Chilean wine palm with peculiar hairs growing from its leaf edges.
If the label is in the right place this is Nolina nelsonii with a 10ft tall yellow flower covered in bees. When I look this up Nolina are Mexican evergreen perennial shrubs related to yuccas which makes sense looking at the flower spike. Label correct but the two next to it were not as on non-existent plants. Not exciting until it flowers.
My favourite Ventnor plant is perhaps Prumnopitys taxifolia growing under the carpark. It has shot away since I last saw it and is now a small tree of 10-12ft rather than a drooping mounded shrub of 4-6ft as I remember it. Label now lost inside the branchlets but I think it used to say Prumnopitys andina which may be why I muddled the two species originally. Much more green new growth and leaflets than usual on its orangy twiglets and plenty with no leaflets as well (i.e. as usual).
2021 – CHW
Serena and Neil visit with Lamorna who has doubled in size in a month.
Somewhat to everyone’s surprise after starting to nest so late in the season the swans have today produced three cygnets off the nest. We saw the nest get flooded in the recent rain and both parents frantically building it higher.
About halfway through potting up this year’s camellia liners.
Looking good today in the nursery:Lilium nepalense
Orders still coming in at the rate of 100 a day in lockdown. Everyone in the packing sheds is getting tired!Then back here for some filming for the weekly VLOG and topical tips for the website.
Lomatia ferruginea is absolutely laden down with flower this year after two dry summers. Normally it is one of the things which we know will be out and sell well at Hampton Court. The best thing in the garden today.
2019 – CHW
This may be Magnolia virginiana ‘Havener’? It is an evergreen tree with an overall height of 12-15ft and 8-10ft across. Only two flower buds that I can see and they look too small to be ‘Havener’ according to the reference books. The flowers are supposed to be double with a pinkish tinge. We will see. Planted in 1992.
2018 – CHW
I had forgotten where we had put Styrax americanus and how late into the season it flowers. Looking very attractive today as a smallish shrub. Its nearest equivalent Chinese species is probably Styrax wilsonii.
200 entrants in the Mad Hatters triathlon. Swimming, bicycling and running all over. Not a peaceful Sunday. Karol took a few pictures and here is a sample of what went on.
The debate rages over the new Chinese laser labelling machine (£1,500) which Karol has located to make new labels for the whole garden (eventually). The question of what size and colour the labels will be and at what cost is a difficult one. Also what information to actually put on the label itself. We are not a botanic garden so do not need accession numbers for everything and cannot afford the time and effort to compete with Windsor who have a man on this full time. The planting date and full name spelt correctly may have to suffice but a meeting with all the participants is needed to agree how we sort this all out next week. It could be a lengthy but gigantic leap forward and might even help John Williams get to know his plant names rather better and more quickly in the future. Certainly it would help with everything new which we plant
2015 – CHW
Our Seaview garden is a total dump but fortunately the former barman at the yacht club has cut down the worst of the jungle. The only half decent thing is a huge Hypericum Hidcote in full flower.
Styrax japonicus the best out now. Eriogynums nearly over. Hogweed of 8ft picked. Cinnabarinum hybrids near greenhouse good.
1931 – JCW
Harrow hybrids are remarkable, great big tree shrubs and really refined pinks in many colours. Magnolia parviflora has given and is giving in three cases a lot of flowers.
My own seedling hypoleuca is about the best flower I have seen of the old magnolia.
1930 – JCW
Much as in 1915.
1915 – JCW
Rose nia R brunonis only starting. Wilson’s Fortunei wane and so A ‘Mikado’. Escallonia pteroclada coming on. Escallonia langleyense good. Mitraria fair. R moyesii goes back.
1901 – JCW
Returned after a months absence much as on the other side, only later, a fair lot of roses open, Anna Alexis an easy first, but they are old plants, Abelia floribunda very good. Several daffs not dead yet. No Nigra’s [bamboo] over 3 feet high.
1900 – JCW
Romneya coutleri just opening, everything later than on the other side.