Mulberries

The National Collection, described by Mark Lane

Our National Collection of mulberries held on the Royal Estate is now been registered for more than 8 years. What started off as a novel idea back in the mid 1990s has now become a reality that we are all proud of! A total of 34 named varieties of Mulberry are held in the gardens at Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Marlborough House, with a mirror collection held in the Royal Gardens at Windsor Castle.

The collection comprises of 8 species and sub species with the remainder made up of M. alba cultivars. The species vary in leaf shape, size, colour and texture. Some are very smooth and others can be quite raspy to the touch. In the early stages M. nigra can produce juvenile leaves that resemble undersize fig leaves. More mature leaves can range in size from a couple of centimetres to larger than your hand.

And of course, the most important part, the fruit, can be very variable too; in both size and shape, ranging from smaller than thumb nail up to a long slender 3 and a half inches. One colour that is a bit rarer is pure white, as in this picture. This is a cultivar called ‘Carmen’ and this fruited very well with us last year.

Some of the collection is planted in the garden in a way that blends in with the general planting plans, whilst others are planted as specimens that have enough space to achieve their full potential.

The plants are relatively maintenance free with M. nigra receiving the occasional prune to keep it in check. Black mulberries can be pruned very hard as soon as the leaves have dropped and will respond well with plenty of new growth in the spring.

Recently, the Palace Garden has been opened to tours of groups of up to 25 at a time and the route the visitors take allows them to pass by many of the specimens. Each tree in the collection is identified by the Plant Heritage label, and those guests at garden party that have a keen eye will see them too.

Latterly, I have begun two new initiatives. Firstly, I have started compiling a photographic library of all the taxa, showing their key attributes. The photographic option was chosen because of the impracticality of pressed specimens. Secondly, a chance meeting with a botanical artist has proven fruitful where she is drawing and painting some very attractive representations of about 8 of our most interesting mulberry plants. It is hoped to include these in our display at the RHS Vincent Square show in autumn 2011, and Gerald is going to discuss this with the show organiser in the New Year.

It is getting progressively more difficult to get hold of new taxa. We are hoping to get Morus mongolica next year and there is a species at Kew still to propagate. But my problem is when I contact nurseries in the US to obtain some of their cultivars they don’t believe who the email is from and therefore ignore me!



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