Christmas Event 2012

Thank you to all those who attended the Garden's Christmas event on 9th December. Once again we were graced with the presence of Father Christmas, who took time out from his very busy schedule to meet visiting children. He also agreed to a world exclusive piccy!

His minder elves also showed up again, looking remarkably similar to how they looked this time last year!

Musical entertainment was provided by the wonderful Castle Bromwich Singers. Here they are singing 'It was on a Starry Night':

The Christmas event took place in some rather fearsome Winter weather. Here's how dramatic it got at times:

However the Weather could not put off the bizarre and minding-bending (at times) improvised mumming play performed by The Glorishears of Brummagem. Here are a few pictures to give you a brief idea of the flavour of the play, although it's probably fair to say that the actual plot will remain forever mysterious.

There were also other attractions galore, including badge making, quizzes, and craft sales:

Suzy, one of our most important volunteers was on hand to make sure no party-poopers got in!

All this fun took place thanks to the untiring dedication of our staff and volunteers. Here are some pictures of a few in action. Take a bow folks, it's about time you took some credit on this here blog!

So there goes our last event of 2012, and it was fitting that it was so much fun. Everyone had a great time. The Gardens looked fantastic throughout, and I managed to get some lovely pictures of them, but they are for a future post. In the meantime...

A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of our friends, volunteers, and supporters who keep this beautiful heritage site going. Thank you for all of your support! 

Here's to 2013!

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The photographs taken by Graham  High in this work are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License


Plant of the Month - December 2012

"I found a yellow flower in the grass
A tiny flower with petals like a bell,
And yet, methought, more than a flower it was, 
-- More like a miracle."

John Hall Ingham.

Athough Lily of the Field (Sternbergia lutea) is also commonly called Winter or Autumn Daffodil for its daffodil-yellow color, its flowers actually much more resemble crocuses, so that it is sometimes called Autumn Crocus. It is neither a daffodil nor a crocus, however, it is of the amaryllis family.

Sternbergia lutea can be found at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens on the border past the Greenhouse next to the Box hedge also on the bottom border by the variegated Box Hedge.


The plant has a wide distribution from the Balearic Islands in the Western Mediterranean through to Tajikistan in Central Asia. It dies down to a bulb during the summer. Leaves first appear in the autumn (September to November in its native habitats), and are glossy green, up to 12mm wide; they remain through the winter. Deep yellow flowers with six yellow stamens appear soon after the leaves, with tepals around 3–3.5mm long.

Smaller forms with narrower leaves (up to 5mm wide) and narrower tepals (3–12mm rather than 10–20mm) have been separated off under various names (e.g. S. lutea var. graeca, S. sicula). All are treated as S. lutea in the Kew World Checklist.


S. lutea can be grown outside in the British Isles in well-drained soil; a warm dry period in summer is required for good flowering. Alkaline soils are recommended. Bulbs are usually planted while dormant (i.e. in late summer or early autumn), but can be lifted and divided before the leaves die down in late spring.

A vigorous form with narrow leaves can be grown in gardens under the name S. lutea var. Angustifolia.

Plant 15cm deep in late summer in any moderately fertile, sharply drained soil. Protect from excessive winter wet. Suggested planting locations and garden types for planting are Cottage/Informal Garden, Flower borders and beds, Mediterranean Climate Plants or Rock Gardens.

No pruning is required. Plant may be damaged by narcissus bulb fly and narcissus eelworm, and are also susceptible to virus infection.


Very little medicinal information is available on thsi plant, although research is ongoing into the plant's anti-fungal chemical derivatives.


Again I'm afraid there is next to none, with the obvious exception that some people don't like seeing it because the plant is a harbinger of Winter (well duh!).

Although it's a plant with not much of a story to tell, it's colour makes it one of the most delightful plants of the bleak midwinter. Come and say hello to it when visiting the gardens this December. Why not do so during the Christmas event this Sunday?


This is the last of the Plant of the Month entries from this blog for the foreseeable future. The entries will remain archived for your reference and pleasure. 

In 2013 we will be back with another monthly feature as chock full of facts as this year's features. More news of this nearer the time.

In the meantime, many thanks Sue, Gordon, and the many volunteers who have voiced encouragement for this project during the past 12 months. Thanks also to my friends at Wikipedia, Wikipedia Commons, RHS, and various other sources of information that have assisted.

With compliments of the season to you all and thanks.

Graham. :o)

All photographs Public Domain.


Plant of The Month - November 2012

Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweet Gum Tree) 

I have a prickle ball tree in my front yard.
You may argue with me,
saying, “that is not its name.
It’s a sweet gum tree,
in Latin, Liquidambar styraciflua L.”
Call it what you will.
A prickle ball tree by any other name
still makes a mess of the lawn.

This striking tree can be located at the Gardens in the first bed past My Lady's Border in the Upper Wilderness:

Description and History:

A Spanish naturalist by the name of Hernandez was the first European to discover the liquidambar or sweet gum tree in the early 16th century. It was given its botanical name because of its aromatic gum, which he described as 'liquid amber'. However, it wasn't until 1681 that it was finally introduced to Britain by the missionary plant collector John Bannister.

It was almost certainly amongst the collections made by the famous early botanist and explorer Mark Catesby, in the south-eastern United States in the early 18th century, and in cultivation in Europe by the time it was described by Linnaeus. 

The tree is named for the reddish resin that exudes from the bark known as storax .

In the UK it is planted solely for the magnificent colours of its autumn foliage but in its native habitat, especially in Mexico, it is cultivated for this liquid amber. The pleasant smelling gum is routinely used in adhesives, perfumes and in incense.

Liquidambar styraciflua is native to the eastern part of the United States, particularly the south-east, as well as Mexico and Guatemala. It is often found in swampy regions. In these conditions it can grow as tall as 45m (150ft) but is often much shorter and rarely grows to half that height in Britain.

While it prefers warm and wet conditions, it is reasonably hardy and can survive as long as there is sufficient moisture in the soil. It has certainly become increasingly popular in the south of England, which is perhaps a sign that the climate really is changing. 

Often mistaken for a maple, Liquidambar styraciflua has similarly-shaped five-lobed leaves. However, while the leaves on the maple are arranged in opposite pairs, those of the liquidambar appear alternately on the leaf shoots. In autumn, these leaves turn brilliant shades of purple, crimson, orange and yellow, making it a popular ornamental tree. 

It is not only the maple-like leaves of Liquidambar styraciflua that can cause confusion in its identification. The fruits of the tree are known as 'monkey balls' and are green when immature but ripen to spiky brown globes that hang on the tree throughout the winter. 

Photograph by Dan Murtha - This photograph is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.
In this regard, they closely resemble the London plane (Platanus x hispanica) but while the fruit of the sweet gum appear singly, those of the London plane are generally in bunches.

Although the wood of the tree is dense and fine-grained, it rots easily and so is of no use in construction. However, it is easily worked and has been known to be used for veneers and furniture.


The tree enjoys full sun ,and part shade and does well in lime-free soil (Loam, Clay or Sand). Soil must be well drained, may be acid or neutral. Propagate by semi-hardwood cuttings.

Liquidambar was formerly placed in the witch-hazel family, Hamamelidaceae, but, on the basis of recent research, is now placed in the family Altingiaceae, along with the genus Altingia

Medicinal Uses:

Note: The information below is for entertainment purposes only, and may be dangerous in practise.  Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Trust accepts no responsibility for any consequences of self-medication using this information.

The sweetgum tree's liquid-amber is an aromatic substance. When made into a balsam or salve, it is used for skin conditions, hemorroids, ringworm scabies and frostbite. Sweetgum salves have a minor antiseptic value, and can be used as an anti-inflammatory. It has also been used internally for sore-throats, coughs and colds. 

The odorous resin "Storax" is obtained from the trunk of the sweetgum. It forms in the conclaves of the bark and exudes naturally. Harvested in autumn, the production of this resin is often stimulated by pounding on the trunk months before. The common medicinal use for Storax is as a parasiticide. Storax oil is often used in combination with ingredients to create medicinal oils and balms. These mixtures are used to treat acne, skin-sores, as an astringent, or as a healing lubricant for dry and itchy skin.


The only piece of interesting folklore I can find for the Sweet Gum Tree involves Owls. It is described in a bizarre little folk-rhyme, the quality and content of which I will leave for you to judge:

‘When you hear the screech owl, honey, in the sweet gum tree,
It’s a sign as sure as you’re born a death is bound to be;
Unless you put the shovel in the fire mighty quick,
For to conjure that old screech owl, take care the one that’s sick.’

So that's Liquidambar styraciflua; Another fascinating Plant for you to visit at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens. Why not come and see it for yourself?

Thanks to:

Gordon Sammons

Wikimedia Commons
Kew Gardens
Mystical World Wide Web

Creative Commons Licence
The photographs (unless elsewhere attributed are by Graham High are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.


Autumn Colours - 28th October 2012

For those who think that Autumn at the Gardens would be a boring time of visit, prepare to be amazed. Autumn is one of the most delightful seasons of the year, and to celebrate its arrival the Gardens are awash with rich seasonal colour.

Here is a slideshow of the Gardens taken earlier today, but the pictures don't do justice to the real thing.

So as you can see there really is no excuse for putting off a visit to us, so please do!

Click on this link to view the pictures in full size.

Enjoy, and see you soon!

Creative Commons Licence
The photographs and slideshow by Graham High are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.


Plant of the Month - October 2012

Those of you who are fans of our Archery Lawn will notice a magnificent line of purple and pink flowers stretching from the Green House to the Summer House (or vice versa depending on which direction you are going). 

If you have noticed it, congratulations - you have just had the pleasure of viewing October's Plant of the Month, Salvia Horminum.


Also known as Clary, this annual plant is native to an area extending from the Mediterranean to the Crimea and into Iran. The Latin name Salvia Horminum is synonymous with Salvia Viridis. The plant quickly grows up to 28 inches tall and about 12 inches wide. The brilliant purple-blue flowers last well as cut flowers or dried flowers.

The Clary, like Garden Sage, is not a native of Great Britain, having first been introduced into English cultivation in the year 1562. It is a native of Syria, Italy, southern France and Switzerland, but will thrive well upon almost any soil that is not too wet, though it will frequently rot upon moist ground in the winter.

Gerard describes and figures several varieties of Clary, under the names of Horminum and Gallitricum. He describes it as growing 'in divers barren places almost in every country, especially in the fields of Holborne neare unto Grayes Inne . . . and at the end of Chelsea.' 

Salmon, in 1710, in The English Herbal, gives a number of varieties of the Garden Clary, which he calls Horminum hortense, in distinction to H. Sylvestre, the Wild Clary, subdividing it into the Common Clary (H. commune), the True Garden Clary of Dioscorides (H. sativum verum Dioscorides), the Yellow Clary (Calus Jovis), and the Small or German Clary (H. humile Germanicum or Gallitricum alterum Gerardi). This last variety being termed Gerardi, indicates that Gerard classified this species when it was first brought over from the Continent, evidently taking great pains to trace its history, giving in his Herbal its Greek name and its various Latin ones. That the Clary was known in ancient times is shown by the second variety, the True Garden Clary, being termed Dioscoridis

Another variety of Horminum is given in The Treasury of Botany, called H. pyrenaicum, and described as 'a tufted perennial herb, with numerous root-leaves, simple almost leafless stems and purplish-blue flowers which grow in whorls of six, all turned the same way. It is a native of the temperate parts of Europe, on the mountains.' 

Planting / Propagation

The plant is propagated by seed, which should be sown in spring. When fit to move, the seedlings should be transplanted to an open spot of ground, a foot apart each way, if required in large quantities. After the plants have taken root, they will require no further care but to keep them free of weeds. The winter and spring following, the leaves will be in perfection. As the plant is a biennial only, dying off the second summer, after it has ripened seeds, there should be young plants annually raised for use. 

For earlier blooms, sow Salvia flower seeds indoors 10 weeks before last frost. Sow Salvia flower seed in starter trays and press the seed into the soil. Salvia flower seed needs light to germinate. When the frost season has passed, transplant the Salvia seedlings into the garden 12 - 18 inches apart in a sunny location. Or, sow Salvia flower seeds outdoors in spring after frost danger has passed and prepare soil by weeding it and loosening it. Lightly rake Salvia flower seeds into the soil and keep the seeds and young seedlings moist until well-established. Provide plenty of water in dry weather. Salvia plants grow best when provided moist, but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade.

Medicinal Action and Uses

Salvia Horminum is not edible, but has a rich medicinal history, again we must emphasise that these uses are provided for historical entertainment only, and may actually be harmful. Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Trust accepts no responsibility for the consequences of any self medication.

Antispasmodic, balsamic, carminative, tonic, aromatic, aperitive, astringent, and pectoral.
The plant has been used, both fresh and dry, either alone or with other herbs, as an infusion or a tincture.
It has mostly been employed in disordered states of the digestion, as a stomachic, and has also proved useful in kidney diseases. 

For violent cases of hysteria or wind colic, a spirituous tincture has been found of use, made by macerating in warm water for 14 days, 2 OZ. of dried Clary leaves and flowers, 1 OZ. of Chamomile flowers, 1/2 ox. bruised Avens root, 2 drachms of bruised Caraway and Coriander seeds, and 3 drachms of bruised Burdock seeds, adding 2 pints of proof spirit, then filtering and diluting with double quantity of water - a wineglassful being the dose.
Culpepper says:

'For tumours, swellings, etc., make a mucilage of the seeds and apply to the spot. This will also draw splinters and thorns out of the flesh.... For hot inflammation and boils before they rupture, use a salve made of the leaves boiled with hot vinegar, honey being added later till the required consistency is obtained.' He recommends a powder of the dry roots taken as snuff to relieve headache, and 'the fresh leaves, fried in butter, first dipped in a batter of flour, egges, and a little milke, serve as a dish to the table that is not unpleasant to any and exceedingly profitable.'
The juice of the herb drunk in ale and beer, as well as the ordinary infusion, has been recommended as very helpful in all women's diseases and ailments. 

In Jamaica, where the plant is found, it was much in use. It was considered it cooling and cleansing for ulcers, and also used it for inflammations of the eyes. A decoction of the leaves boiled in coco-nut oil was used by them to cure the stings of scorpions. Clary and a Jamaican species of Vervain form two of the ingredients of an aromatic warm bath sometimes prescribed there with benefit. 


Things are a bit thin on the folklore front with this plant, in face the only thing I could find was an anonymous source that states that the plant flourishes best in household gardens where women are the dominant force. So there.

Come and check out this wonderful plant at the Gardens today!

Thank you:

Gordon Sammons

Creative Commons Licence
The photographs by Graham High are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.