'Desert Island Plants' at Llanover House

Elizabeth Murray, owner of Llanover House, with her selection of her favouitre plants from the gardens, planted by successive generations of her family. - 27 August 2021

What a challenge to even define a ‘Desert Island’ plant! Such an attribute could be made for any of its natural features – scent, colour, flowering period, shape, or particular memories attached to the plant , such as the tall, dense yellow- berried Yew, which my father successfully hid in for over an hour in a game of hide and seek. One way to find peace from his 4 boisterous children! My selection is based on a variety of factors in no particular order.

Acer griseum – Paperbark maple with its distinctive peeling, coppery bark, which exudes a warm glow particularly when the rays of the low winter sun fall upon it. An added bonus are the delicate leaves which turn fiery red and orange in the autumn. The first Acer griseum was planted at Llanover by my grandmother in 1935 to mark the silver jubilee of King George V. Since then many more have been planted with seed collected from this tree.


Aesculus californica – Californian buckeye. Although only 8m tall , this is one of nine national champion trees at Llanover. In June, it gives a spectacular floral display when the upright off-white candelabra flowers cover the whole tree. These go on to develop into pendulous smooth, shiny, golden brown seed-bearing conkers. The silvery grey trunk and branches make an attractive and interesting winter silhouette.

Tulipa ‘Red Shine’ – each of the last three generations of my family to live at Llanover have planted trees and spring bulbs along the entrance drive. My husband Ross was inspired to add Tulipa ‘Red Shine’ to the mix, so now over 1000 tulips give deep -red flashes of colour as the flowers with their pointed petals bloom after the narcissi have waned and at the perfect height to intermingle with the cow parsley before it reaches full bloom.


Lunaria annua ‘Corfu Blue’ – this Lunaria has self-seeded randomly, but not aggressively, through a dry, west facing border . The blue makes an excellent contrast against the coppery bark of the Acer griseum and green foliage of the herbaceous perennials and Rosa rugosa. Welcome colour from late February to early April, after which the bluey-purple flushed papery seed heads develop and are a feature until winter in their own right.


Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill’ – There are over 25 different magnolias in the garden. I chose ‘Merrill’ over the others for its pure white goblet shaped flowers which give off a gentle scent as they open, smothering the branches of this medium sized deciduous tree in April. Magnolia virginiana competes with it for scent, but is not nearly so floriferous or striking.

Romneya coulteri – Californian tree poppy. When we moved here in 1999, the borders in the Round Garden were dominated by invasive weeds, so after covering in black sheeting for several years, I had a clean sheet to plant into or so I thought! This Romneya coulteri with its long branches of glaucous silver blue foliage and fat buds opens into papery white petals surrounding a circle of deep yellow stamens, flowers throughout the summer before dying down for winter. I am glad that it survived the years of darkness!


Stipa gigantea – Golden oat grass. Planting position is so important when it comes to appreciating these grasses. Here 10 Stipa gigantea are in a narrow border alongside one of the ponds where the breeze catches the graceful arching flower heads. Both the dawn and evening sunlight shine through , on calm days casting their shadows onto the water below them. In this situation, they are definitely a ‘desert island ‘plant.


Rosa ‘Dublin Bay’ - We have planted this repeat flowering climbing rose wherever we have had a garden. I love its deep red colour, generosity in flowering and glossy foliage. We used both fresh and dried petals as confetti at both of our daughters’ weddings, adding to the memories of my favourite Rose despite its lack of noticeable scent.

Helleborus ‘Anna's Red’ – numerous, deep purply-red flowers with very pale yellow stamens, stand proud for at least two months, above the attractive , marbled foliage which keeps its looks for even longer. A worthy tribute to Anna Pavord, after whom it is named.

Cornus kousa ‘Norman Haddon’ – this large shrub stands out to me for its large white bracts, which gradually turn from off -white, to cream and then pale to deep pink. In the autumn the leaves turn red and the fruit swell up to give the impression of hundreds of strawberries hanging from the tree.