From Russia, with leaves

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IN 1618 the English gardener, naturalist and collector John Tradescant set out for the Nikolo-Korelsky Monastery in Arctic Russia to collect rare plants not known in the western world.

Then on to the Levant and Algeria, finally returning, via the Low Countries, to England with a remarkable collection of plants.

Tradescant was the first official plant hunter to go into Russia and most of the plants he introduced into English gardens are still available.

June 12 is Russia Day, the day the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Federation was formally announced.

So let us look at some of the plants introduced by Tradescant, the first from his initial trip to Siberia, namely Bergenia crassifolia. It is amazing that this plant, with its huge, soft succulent leaves, commonly called Elephant’s Ears, would survive extreme cold to minus 50C. The flowers of various shades of pink to white appear in winter here.

It is really surprising the number of seemingly delicate plants that came from Russia’s harsh and extreme climate. Other examples include Delphinium grandiflorum or Larkspurs, Trollius asiaticus, and the delicate flowering Gypsophila paniculata with its soft pink flowers used extensively by florists.

Lychnis chalcedonica, also known as the Maltese Cross or Jerusalem Cross plant, so called with its four-petalled blooms resembling the holy cross, was adopted by the Crusaders and grew extensively in the Middle East, although it originally came from Russia.

Later, the majority of ornamental plants introduced into Britain came from the St Petersburg Botanic Gardens, founded in 1714 by Peter the Great.

In 1937, in a book about these gardens, V.I. Lipsky listed more than 1500 species introduced from Russia into western horticulture. We owe a great deal to those early plant hunters and especially those plants from Russia.

TWO quotes from Ric Glenn, son of David Glenn, of Lambley Nursery in Victoria, and head gardener of the Cadogan Estate Gardens in central London: “I don’t do favourite plants; it’s not fair on the others” and “I don’t use pesticides and never have; if a plant struggles with pests consider another plant”.

Win a book about veggies

Grow Your Own Fruit and Veg cover

SEED company Yates says that the sales of vegetable seeds have outgrown flower seeds by two to one.

So it is timely for a brilliantly simple new book called “Grow Your Own Fruit and Veg” by Alan Buckingham (Dorling Kindersley/Penguin, rrp $39.95) to arrive.

It covers every aspect from where, when how to plant followed by harvesting and, I like this, what can go wrong! Extensively illustrated, I recommend this book.

And I have a copy to give away. Simply write your name, suburb and a contact number on the back of an envelope and send it to Cedric’s Book Prize, “CityNews”, GPO Box 2448, Canberra 2601. Competition closes at midday, Monday, June 16. The winner will be announced in my column of June 19.

Jottings…

  • Use egg cartons filled with seed-raising mix to start germinating seedlings.
  • Start a garden diary of what you planted when and where purchased.
  • Remove runners from strawberries and apply Healthy Earth fertiliser with its high potassium content (ideal for all flowering plants). The only stockist in Canberra is Heritage Nursery Yarralumla.
  • Prune crepe myrtles by at least one third.
  • Hard prune large flowering clematis.

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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