Camassias at Brighton

 In Bulbous plants, Bulbs, Visit Britain

Camassias at Brighton Park came to me as a complete surprise!

We were there in mid May this year and as we approach the time to plant Camassia bulbs [autumn] I am prompted to tell you about it!

East Brighton Park

Camassias at Brighton, blue flowers, flower bulbs

Masses of blue Camassia flower bulbs

Basing ourselves at East Brighton Park Caravan and Motorhome Club site was the perfect place to visit famous British Gardens in east Sussex in spring. So as we arrived in our campervan and drove past cricket, tennis and football pitches and courts we were astounded to see a few hectares covered in these lovely late spring flowering Camassia.

As we checked into the site we asked the staff if they knew the history of this unexpected mass of Camassias at Brighton! After a bit of head scratching they realised that it was the blue flowers in the field by the entrance road that I was asking about! Unfortunately they didn’t know their origin but were very interested to hear anything that I could find out about them. Apparently visitors to this excellently appointed site often asked about these flowers.

Although this is called a ‘Park’ it is not a park in the sense of beautifully tended borders of flowers. It is in fact more a recreation and sports area set back from the coast and on the eastern side of Brighton.

The search is on!

I was determined to get to the bottom of this!

Taking photos and posting them on my Twitter feed and on my Instagram site. Both triggered helpful suggestions.  But it seemed that no one actually knew how so many Camassias at Brighton came about. I was pretty certain that this must have once been the site of a bulb producing nursery but I was wrong.

Camassia leitchlinii blue flowers

Camassia leichtlinii

I stopped and asked several Council employees but they all drew a blank on this!

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I thought to ask that well connected in the Parks Department world Mr Jim Buttress! I had recently enticed Jim along to the Annual Association of Professional Landscape Awards event in The Brewery, London. Here, as current President of the Horticultural Trades Association, I surprised him by awarding him the most prestigious award; the Pearson Memorial Award!

Chatting to Jim I soon realised that if anyone could find out about the Camassias at Brighton, Jim could! He suggested that I call retired Brighton Parks Superintendent Graham Rolfe which I duly did.




How Camassias at Brighton got there

Blue flowers, blue sky, Camassia at Brighton.

Pigeon fly over fields of Camassia flowers

Graham was delighted to be asked and to hear that someone had bothered to track him down. Well, of course that was all due to the help of Jim Buttress!

Graham explained that in 2010 the Parks Department had a lump sum of unspent money in his budget. He was asked to use it. He thought that this was the perfect opportunity to do something special and memorable! So at Sheepgate Valley at East Brighton Park these bulbs were planted.

Inspired by massed spring flowering bulbs planted at RHS Wisley, Graham was determined to plant something similar.






Machine planted

A Dutch bulb supplying company offers the service of machine planting of bulbs. This made such a large scheme possible. There are two fields planted side by side. I noticed that room has been left for people to wander among the flowers and to even picnic amongst them.

We witnessed the Camassia in bloom but earlier there were daffodil Tete a Tete followed by Narcissus Thalia. All of these are very perennial and naturalise well in grass.

Incidentally I wrote a blog on some of the best bulbs to naturalise and you can read it here.

JUB Holland planted 250,000 bulbs on this site! They provided the bulbs and brought the special planting machine over from Holland.


Disappointment in the centre

plants in front of Brighton Royal Pavilion

Weeds in front of the Royal Pavilion

We found this bulb planting of Cammasias at Brighton very uplifting. However we found the public planting in Brighton town centre very disappointing.

Many flower borders were full of aggressive and dull looking plants that many would regard as invasive weeds.

We found the dominant plants were alkanet, burdock and pokeweed. Although edible when cooked, pokeweed is toxic. I was very surprised to see this allowed to grow in a public place that was easily accessible to children.




More on bulbs

My top ten tips on bulb planting are include in my blog on Bulb Planting Tips

Growing bulbs in pots can be improved by layering the bulbs. I explain here.

The place to see massed planting of bulbs is Keukenhof Gardens and I write about my visit here.

Closer to home I write about an inspiring visit to bulb grower and supplier Broadleigh Gardens in the West of England.


Blue Camassia flowers in grass

Camassia quamash at Great Dixter garden

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