Are you visiting Highdown Gardens over the Easter holidays? In his latest blog G…


Are you visiting Highdown Gardens over the Easter holidays? In his latest blog Gary says the forsythias and anemones are looking good right now and also shares how the Anemone blanda first came to Highdown!

Forsythias are so ubiquitous in gardens that they’re often overlooked. They’re also not the greatest looking plant when clipped and pruned into regular shapes. To see them at their best, they should be in full sun and allowed to display their natural form. At the entrance to the gardens by the greenhouse is Forsythia x intermedia ‘Beatrix Farrand’, bred at the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University.

At this arboretum, starting with Ernest Henry Wilson’s 1918 introduction of Forsythia ovata from Korea, they developed hybrid cultivars in the years following World War II. Stern exchanged many plants with the Arnold Arboretum, including this Forsythia.

High on the chalk cliffs above the bamboo and nature pond is Forsythia giraldiana. In 1914, Reginald Farrer collected seeds of this species in Kansu, China; Stern was one of the recipients of the seed. This Forsythia is now a huge upright shrub, perhaps fifteen feet tall. The flowers are yellow, borne singly, and it is one of the earliest of Forsythias to flower.

Perhaps the best in the garden is at the entrance to the chalk pits, Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spectabilis’. Introduced in 1906, this cultivar holds its flowers in clusters, and was an instant ‘must have’ as never before had any Forsythia produced as many or such deeply coloured flowers. To this day, Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spectabilis’ remains the standard for any new cultivar to better when it comes to critical comparisons. See how it shines out on a dull and rainy day.

In the beech woodland, look out for the anemones, which are in full flower. The anemones enjoy our chalk soil, and are much admired, especially the blue flowers of Anemone blanda, the Grecian Windflower. The original corms were sent to Highdown by S.C. Atchley who in the 1920s sent parcels of corms and roots of the Greek wild flower to Stern. Atchley was considered the foremost botanical expert on Greek plants, and collected for love, not money. It was written of him:

“As no one can fail to perceive, Atchley was a botanist because he really loved flowers; far removed from the horrible people who for lucre dig up bulbs and make rare plants rarer by the greedy and reckless collection of specimens.”

The deep blue form of Anemone blanda is Anemone blanda ingramii and is the first to flower. This was collected on sub-alpine meadows at the edge of spruce forests at altitude. Anemone blanda itself grows on limestone soils under a canopy of mixed deciduous woodland, so you can see it’s equally happy in sun or dappled shade.

If you look carefully in the lower garden, you may see Anemone blanda ‘Charmer’, with deep rosy-pink flowers, or ‘Violet Star’, blue with a white centre to the flower. These varieties were raised in Holland by Mr C.J.H. Hoog, one of the great Dutch nurserymen and plant breeders. Mr Hoog was a frequent visitor to Highdown and exchanged many bulbs.

Perhaps my favourite at the moment is Anemone blanda ‘White Splendour’ in the Beech Wood with larger pure white flowers that shine out from the shade.

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