Monday, August 10, 2015

The Association of Japanese Botanic Gardens Visit Devon

Written by Miss Caroline Stone

Arrangements took about a year but in early July, 2015, Devon played host to a very distinguished contingency of visitors from Japan including University Professors, a senior person from a Government Ministry, a former head of NHK (the equivalent to the BBC) publications and many representatives of major gardens and plant groups.

A full schedule over two days in Devon allowed the visitors from the Association of Japanese Botanic Gardens to visit a number of National Collections starting on the edge of Exmoor with Anita Allen’s collections of Buddleia davidii and Leucanthemum x superbum. Anita showed not only her plants in flower but also examples of her herbarium and photographic records. At Marwood Hill Malcolm Pharoah explained the historic breeding of Astilbes, and showed the National Collections of Astilbe and Iris ensata planted around the garden and looking their best at this time of year. Visits to Dick Fulcher’s Agapanthus and Jo Hynes’ cyclamen species Collections were also fitted in. At Jo’s the visitors just missed a swarm of bees as they departed! At RHS Rosemoor Curator and Plant Conservation committee vice chair Jonathan Webster took the visitors on a guided walk around the gardens which also house the National Collections of Ilex and Cornus.

This was followed by a meeting with members of the Plant Heritage Devon Group including all three vice-presidents and a number of collection holders. I took the opportunity to show off and welcome the visitors in Japanese. As I introduced the Vice-presidents and gave an indication of their achievements, there was an appreciative “ohh!” for Diane Rowe - the reason being her family connection with the nursery world and specifically with chrysanthemum, a flower held in high regard by the Japanese. Nothing to do with your hat Diane!

Chairman John Twibell spoke about the work of the Devon group. Assiduous notes were taken! Then over a Devon cream tea provided by the Devon group, the visitors fell into deep discussions with the collection holders - several of whom had brought plant material to add to the displays of local National Collections. There was a real buzz around the room. Penny Jones was particularly delighted to meet Tsuneo Torii a great expert on Primula sieboldii; Penny and her husband Melvyn have a National Collection. Mr Torii has written a definitive book on Primula sieboldii and the cream tea was pushed to one side as they compared photographs and discussed plants. It is difficult to say which of them enjoyed the encounter more. Mr Torii told me later that as the oldest member of the group he had wondered whether he should make the trip but this had made it all worthwhile.

Chris and Lorraine Birchall’s Rhodohypoxis fascinated the Japanese who said they had not seen such a range before. Beth Smith had a good variety from her Phlomis collection to show, and Diane Rowe was pleased to hear that Dierama are also popular in Japan although they had not seen so many species before. Jonathan Hutchinson had brought an impressive flowering Scadoxus to show. It was so big it had to stand on the floor rather than on the table - Grandiflorus of course! Howard Wills was in the Yellowstone Park but had lent his plants for display and several of the Japanese were disappointed that they couldn’t speak to him. There was a lot of interest in alpine plants. John Twibell was able to confirm that a species of Artemisia that he found difficult to grow is a high alpine variety that the Japanese also find difficult.

It was a lively and very enjoyable meeting which will certainly result in new friendships and connections. Junko Oikawa who had made the arrangements for the Japanese wrote to thank us saying, “Our visit to Devon was just wonderful, and certainly became the most highlight of the tour. We received such warm welcomes and hospitality from all NC holders we visited. I was also so grateful for your support and organisation for the meeting at Rosemoor on 9th. It was very special, fruitful, and also touched our hearts deeply.”

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