14 Nov 2019

It may be chilly in Chile but it looks wonderful

Bruce Langridge

A few years ago, Garden volunteer Pam Murden counted 62 plant species in flower in the Great Glasshouse in the week leading up to Christmas


We tend to think of gardens as being a summer visit. Plants flower in spring and summer and not in winter. Right?

So, I’ve asked the Garden’s conservation volunteers to see how this year compares to Pam’s survey in 2011 – a nice job to do when it’s raining heavily outdoors as was the case this Tuesday.

Colin and Hazel chose to look at the Mediterranean zone and found 20 species in flower whilst Frances and Maud counted 21 plant species in flower in our Chile section. Given the time of year, the chilly weather and the reputation the Chile section of the Glasshouse used to have as not having many flowering plants as other sections, this figure seems surprising. But should it be?

Marilla Burgess, our long-standing senior horticulturist for the Great Glasshouse, has been doing some outstanding work keeping it looking fresh and vibrant. Her decision to introduce more flowering plant species to the Chile section has really paid off.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Chile is in the southern hemisphere where it is coming into summertime. Perhaps some of our Chilean plants haven’t made the adjustment to being in the northern hemisphere.

Chile’s Mediterranean climate region is in the middle of the country and the scrubland associated with it is known as the mattoral. The plants in flower this week may be less showy than our spectacular springtime puyas but they all have their own special stories.

They include Chile’s national flower, the Chilean bellflower Lapogeria rosea, a once common but now legally protected endangered forest plant.

If you love colour, look for Salpiglossis sinuata, a native of Chile whose Spanish name is, curiously, panza de burro (the donkey’s paunch). The beautiful, silky-haired, tubular flowers of Barnadesia caryophylla produce large quantities of sweet, sticky nectar which attract hummingbirds in the wilds of Chile. First attracted by its striking purple flowers, Frances and Maud also noticed the aromatic scent of the Chilean pitchersage Lepechinia salviae. They also recorded several colourful varieties of the slipperwort coming into flower, including the deep purple of Calceolaria purpurea.

Next time you visit the Garden, see how many plants you can find in flower in the Great Glasshouse. Our volunteers’ next task is to count the flowering plants of Australia, California and South Africa. I’ll let you know how they get on . . .