With the sun out and an hour and a half to kill in Cambridge I decided that the nicest place to head in the circumstances was the Botanical Gardens. I planned to check out the Persian Ironwood that I remembered last week, see what spring flowers they had out, wander through the Winter Garden to enjoy the coloured barks and pass through the greenhouses to look at the orchids. In fact it turned out that the orchids were in the middle of a festival (Orchid Festival: The pollinators are coming! Saturday 7 February – Sunday 22 March 2015), so it was a good time to visit to find out more about this family.
The Winter Garden is full of plants with bright and contrasting stems, bark and foliage. The best corner is centred on three copper-coloured, pollarded Salix alba ‘Britzensis’, which positively glow in the low sun with the cornus , ivy and heather as counterpoints. The path meanders and the various scents are trapped in what amounts to a dell. At the north end there is a wonderful Acer grosseri whose bark has progressed from snakeskin to butterfly patterns. At the south end a small stand of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is frankly overwhelming with its sugary perfume. I am not a big fan of Rubus biflorus (or indeed any of the brambles used in this area), but the white arcs succeed in anchoring the picture and pick up the patches of snowdrops on the opposite side of the path.
The presence of spring bulbs is fairly minimal around the gardens, but there are some nice plantings of daffodils and scilla in rough grass. Hellebores and snowdrops are scattered throughout the main borders and around the restaurant area. One of the greenhouse bays is dedicated to plants from mountainous regions and is looking rather lovely and gay, filled with delicate alpine bulbs including crocus, iris and tulips.
I took several pictures of the Persian Ironwood tree to show the fused branches and mottled bark, however none of them look very artistic or interesting. So I wandered away to take a distance view, but was distracted by a tree that has been deliberately isolated by fencing. There was an information board and it turns out that this is ‘The Cambridge Oak’, believed to be a specimen of Quercus x warburgii. It is now isolated because fungus appears on the trunk each autumn and may be a sign of decline.