“A thousand dead elephants rotting in the sun” … and other scents

Wanting a bit of an outing this morning, but tired of muddy trails and the inevitable cleanup operation, we decided instead to visit the Winter Garden at our local botanical garden (@CUBotanicGarden). I was pretty certain I’d seen a recent post from them showing flowering daphne, witchhazel, viburnum and snowdrops, so I was more than happy to visit. Off we went and had a lovely revitalizing walk around the gardens, but I think that they used stock photos in their post, ‘cos the Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is still in bud, not full flower. I’d give it a couple of weeks more before going for a sniff.


Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ in the Winter Garden is on the point of opening (04/01/2020)

Nevertheless, we had plenty to enjoy and we even caught a bit of sunshine. In fact, the Winter Garden is always worth a visit as CUBG work very hard to keep it in tip-top condition. Maintenance in the area is tight, for instance, there is plenty of fine, dark mulch atop weed-free soil which provides a great, black backdrop for the beautiful barks, snowdrops and hellebores. Plus the pruning is a masterclass in what to do to optimise young colourful wood on the dogwoods, rubus and willows for a winter show. Here are a couple of classic views along this garden (you can just see one of the daphne in the shade on the right):


Winter garden (western entrance)

And this is the middle view (beyond the golden Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Winston Churchill’ in the first photo), looking east. The Mahonia × media ‘Winter Sun’ on the left is really living up to its name just now.


The wiggly middle of the Winter Garden

Happily, both of my favourite shrubs are already in flower:


Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’



Chimonanthus praecox

There is also a bark path round the north of the garden, which for the most part is a between the yew hedge and dense, established shrubs/trees. It is secluded and a little dull in comparison to the rest of the planting. However, there are a couple of views across the area that are worth a pause, but the main reward along this trail are the scents, which are wonderful as you work your way under arching Chimonanthus praecox (above) and viburnums.


Looking across the WG from the south

Some of the best views of the clever plant associations in the garden are seen from outside, from the south. I love the repeated chocolate, pinks and silvers in this vignette (above) under the (nicely fresh pruned) arching viburnum.

And this view a little further along shows off a range of complementary shapes and colours possible with plants we probably all grow. (LOL. Why doesn’t my garden look like this then??!!)


A glorious mix of stem and leaf colour, seedheads, flowers and berries.

But perhaps my favourite combination (for this visit at least) was the red dogwood against Muehlenbeckia astonii, with background of fluffy miscanthus and sculptural teasel:


Dogwood against the puzzle bush that is Muehlenbeckia astonii

Of course, it is still early days in the winter cycle of the garden. The show will crescendo as bulbs emerge, hellebores unfurl, willows bud up and the cherries flower.

OK, so on to the plant that led to the post title. In the Tropical Wetland Glasshouse just currently, there is an orchid in flower called Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis. It is native to Papua New Guinea and it is unusual to see it in flower in Britain. It is a rare orchid, even in the wild, and this is one of the reasons for its cultivation at the Botanics. The orchid is normally pollinated by flies, so at peak flowering time it positively stinks to attract them. The smell has been described as various kinds of rotting flesh or exceptionally dirty socks etc. and the flowers as looking like decaying bodies.

Well, I went to find it this morning and, with some relief, can report that, while it is still in flower, it has passed its peak and no longer smells! It does, however, look fascinating. The flowers are certainly very ‘wrinkly’. They appear to be covered in a strange strawberries-and-cream coloured lichen. I am glad I missed the smell though!


Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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5 Responses to “A thousand dead elephants rotting in the sun” … and other scents

  1. Chloris says:

    I love CUB, the winter garden is pure magic, I visit it every year too. There is always something interesting in the glasshouse, that orchid is amazing.

    • I use their Plant Pick webpage to check out what is interesting to go and see, but you are right that there is always something in the glasshouses to catch your eye. Every time I go I looking out for the vanilla orchid to be in flower, but I’ve not seen it yet 😦

  2. pbmgarden says:

    Those colorful views are artfully captured.

  3. susurrus says:

    Your are so lucky to have this garden nearby. Your pictures show that a well-designed winter garden is as beautiful as any.

    The dead elephant smell made me smile – I can’t see that going down well as a fragrance description for a rose. 🙂

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