Following the torch

Jacobs Ladders and Sky Pilots, romantic names for Polemonium, type genus for the family POLEMONIACEAE.  Along with three other family members, Collomia, Gilia and Leptodactylon and the beatnik grass, Hakonechloa they make up the quintet of National Collections held by Dianne and David Nichol-Brown.  I am up in the North East because my husband is carrying the Olympic torch in Alnwick, so with an early start from Guildford,  we could fit in a visit to Trimdon Grange on the way.

According to Diane’s monograph on the subject, Polemonium are mostly perennials ranging in height from an alpine 4cm to a stately 120cm.  Many are evergreen, some with variegated foliage, and they produce flowers from spring through to the autumn in colours ranging from white, cream, yellow, blue, pink, violet and purple.

In the garden, a sky of blue spires tower over other late spring flowers and we had a tour of the Northern hemisphere looking at specimens originating in America, Canada, Europe, Russia and Japan.  Duplicate plants and stock for sale are grown in an allotment conveniently situated a few metres away. 

Dianne runs an RHS teaching centre with a dozen students doing the RHS level 2 and 3 qualifications.  There is plenty of opportunity for practical work and the ideal opportunity to study the conservation module of their courses by working alongside a Collection Holder – CHs of the future?  Dianne started the Collections because she wanted to know more about the plants and there wasn’t a CH to ask.  They have been awarded Scientific status in recognition of the outstanding achievement and research into the POLEMONIACEAE family.

Before we left to continue our journey up to Northumberland we were treated to tea and a piece of exquisite hazelnut cake with fresh strawberries from the allotment.  A great excuse to ‘carb-load’ for the torch run tomorrow. 

If you are out cheering on the torch runners over the next few weeks, have a look and see if there is a Collection nearby you can visit.  Dianne and David have Open Days on 26/27 August and as they also run a B&B you could make a weekend of it.

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