Sunday, 26 June 2011

Plantago (26 JUN 2011)

While we were perched in the willow tree during school lunch-break, my companions would etch their sweethearts' names into the bark; I would etch "Sammy".  I loved him/her, but I was afraid at the same time. Returning home from school, I would don my wellington boots and run around the garden in a distressed state, chased by Sammy who couldn't resist jumping up and scratching my knees in its excitement.

My mother didn't think it was worth spending hard-earned money on rabbit food. She had an arrangement with the greengrocer around the corner, relieving him of his mouldy lettuce on her way home from work. I still remember how disgusting those mucus-coated leaves were. I thought she was mean, considering that her roses were surrounded by tumbling piles of Sammy's perfectly-formed, spherical droppings; much more palatable than the sacks of horse manure at the bottom of the garden, which my brother and I peeked into once, shrieking in unison at the sight of red worms writhing amongst the smelly turds.

Sammy refused to eat the lettuce that my mother provided. However, I noticed that when it was grazing on the lawn, it was particularly partial to a weed with a straight-veined leaf. I collected them wherever I could find them, they were satisfying to pull as their veins were elastic.

I've called them rabbit leaves ever since, unfortunately I don't find them so often in my own garden. I had to search around to find this small specimen. Recently while researching weeds, I discovered that its name is plantago, a European & Asian native, which has migrated around the world with European explorers, giving it the nick-name white man's footprint.

This common weed was valued in times past for its healing properties, yet I've neglected it since we lost the pet rabbit decades ago. I'm going to wait for this plant to seed, then propogate it with the same care as my other garden plants. I might be grateful for it again some day in the future.

I'm not medically trained so can't give advice on whether plantago is edible or has medicinal value.
I found these articles on the web, in case you would like to carry out your own research :
(1) The rabbit leaves that I picked looked like this :
(2) Plantago is mentioned in "The Edible Lawn" from the Plants for a Future web-site :
(3) It's reported that amongst people from ancient cultures, plantago is recognised as have healing properties, including being chewed into a poultice to treat bee stings :
(4) The seed husks of the plantago family (especially the psyllium and ovata sub-species) are sources of soluble dietary fibre :

I'll link this post up to Fertilizer Friday which is hosted by Glenda@tootsietime.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.
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It would be interesting to read about your Experiments with Plants. (I use the word "Experiments" in its loosest possible sense!)      Please add a link if you have a post that you would like to share :

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Monday, 20 June 2011

Roses (20 JUN 2011)

Readers of this blog may have the impression that my garden is filled with weeds, slugs and plant experiments gone wrong. This isn’t entirely true, because my house was built in the 1930s, and thankfully someone with green fingers lived here once, though I’m not sure how long ago. I think about the unknown gardener, especially, when the mature rose bushes, which line the right border of the garden from front to back, are in bloom. There’s a question I wish I could ask him or her …

When I was small, I was given pocket money to buy penny sweets on the way home from school. Parma Violets were my favourite: little, round, lilac tablets with spherical indentations, which I balanced on the tip of my tongue so their perfumed flavour could dissolve slowly. At that time, I didn’t pay much attention to flowers until one day, while being chased by the pet rabbit in my mother’s garden, I caught a whiff of those sweets coming from a lilac-coloured flower. My mother told me it was a rose but didn’t know its name; she never bothered with plant names. This is one characteristic which I didn't inherit from her, because even then I obsessively searched through her gardening catalogues till I found a similar rose, Blue Moon.

These days, I suspect this rose is so common that it is hardly mentioned. However, I was delighted when I discovered that one of the rose bushes left behind by the previous resident of my own house was identical. I haven’t found any references on the internet about Blue Moon imparting the scent of Parma Violets; it’s just described as highly perfumed, as if in a rosy sense. To my nose, it smells very different to other roses, but maybe my mind is paying tricks on me and it’s the colour that brings back memories of those childhood sweets.
Blue Moon was introduced by Mathias Tantau Jr. after he completed the work initiated by his nurseryman father. The parentage of this rose is reported as : 'Sterling Silver' seedling x seedling; ie. one parent is unknown. I looked up Sterling Silver out of curiosity, and to my dismay, it appeared quite similar to Blue Moon. Similar enough that I am now not sure if the rose in my garden is Blue moon (introduced in 1964), Sterling Silver (introduced in 1957) or its predecessor.

If I knew when the unknown gardener planted it, at least that might give a clue. Did he plant it when it was still a novelty, or after it had become a classic? I'll never know, but I promise to label and date my perennials for the next gardeners. I would like to leave them something substantial to enjoy, just like the unknown gardener presented me with a right border lined with roses. In life, I don't often give credit to those on whose shoulders I stand; in the garden, I do.

Here are the other roses blooming in my garden this week :




Useful web-site if you're into roses. The photos, submitted by readers, alternate every time you reference a rose.
One of the parents of the Blue Moon Rose is Sterling Silver; the other parent is unknown :

It can take over twenty years to give birth to a new rose.
The Tantaus were father and son nurserymen who introduced the Blue Moon Rose :

The Blue Moon Rose isn't blue, it’s lilac. The first “blue” rose was introduced in 2008, a result of genetic modification with a blue pigment gene, delphinidin, not found naturally in roses. Some dispute if it’s really blue, believing the mythical status of a true blue rose endures :

Please visit Masha's blog to learn about rose classification and to see some outstanding photos of roses :

Please visit Holley's blog to learn about earthkind roses :

Please visit Carol's blog to see what's blooming around the world in June :

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Seedlings (12 JUN 2011)

There are engineers who get their hands dirty and those who don't. People have different opinions on which group should be respected as the real engineers. I suppose the same is true of gardeners, except that I am in a third category, the gloved gardener. I would love to skip out into the garden and rummage around in the soil without a care in the world, getting dirt under my nails, letting it run through my fingers, lifting it up high so I can smell the earthiness, but I can't ....

This miniature rose bush and strawberry patch in bloom today at the bottom of my mother's garden was planted by my schoolfriend and I when we were eleven years old. This should have been the beginning of my gardening adventure but it was aborted abruptly after countless creepy crawlies manifested themselves as I dug about in the soil which had laid undisturbed for several years. Slugs, snails & worms were enough to put me off. I gave up gardening, preferring to indulge in teenage hobbies which didn't involve confronting nature. 

The only effect of growing much older is that instead of being afraid of little things, I am now afraid of big (and little) things. The realisation that my life has been inhibited by fears of all kinds didn't occur to me until I kept discovering slugs under stones and pots in my own garden, taking me back to my initial attempt at gardening as a child. I decided enough was enough and bought a thick pair of gloves, promising myself that I wouldn't allow my fears, of garden creatures at least, to get in the way of my life any more.

Fellow garden bloggers have suggested various ways of dealing with slugs and snails. I haven't taken action yet, maybe out of laziness: Do I really want to be emptying out slops of beer with drowned slugs floating on top?  Perhaps the hide-and-seek games that I have been playing with them (I plant seedlings when they're not around, they eat them when I'm not around) have endeared them to me in a way. I do find myself searching out slugs and snails these days instead of being shocked when I find them.


The fact that the photos below of a slug and snail found in my plastic greenhouse are in focus are testimony to how far I've come in managing my fear. I got the idea of taking photos to cure myself from One@Onenezz .  The advantage with digital photos is that you can magnify until you can't see the form anymore, then when you reduce back down, what you found so repulsive before is much easier to look at. I've also been trying to learn more about them.  Apparently, due to the mucus that they secrete, they can creep along the edge of a razor blade without harming themselves. Their tentacles mainly sense by feeling but they contain eye spots too. This approach means that I can now handle slugs, snails and worms at arms length (with gloves on and a twig), which is progress considering where I was a year ago.


The advantage of growing my seedlings in the plastic greenhouse is that it holds moisture and protects the seedlings from the direct heat of the sun. These conditions are also ideal for rearing colonies of slugs and snails. After my mixture of annual, biennial & perennial seedlings, carefully chosen for short to long term plant life, were decimated over a weekend, I made a rescue effort to save at least one of each variety by planting them in two pots outside and protecting them with netting. This has been surprisingly successful so far, though the seedlings still look rather immature, considering that summer has started already.

My lesson learnt is that I should have persevered with growing seedlings in the kitchen. Last week I bought a packet of mixed annual seeds and sowed them indoors. They have started germinating already. This is plan b to fill out the flower beds for the summer season, in case the older seedlings in the pots outside don't survive.
Plan c is to plant all the foxglove seedlings that have germinated because the garden friends don't eat those, but they wont flower till next year.
Plan d is to distribute the invincible pot marigolds over the entire garden. (I just shook some seed heads into a small flower bed last year and it seems like every seed germinated.)

Hopefully one way or the other, I'll have a garden filled with plants soon !

late-sown annuals                                   strong & runt foxglove seedlings        self-sufficient marigolds
plan b                                                       plan c                                                     plan d

More information about slugs & snails (the picture of slugs mating is not for the faint-hearted) :

Did you know that slugs evolved from snails by reducing the shell to a hidden membrane ? (You may not want to scroll down to the picture of the dissected slug.)  :

Slugs & snails get the blame for most things that go wrong in my garden, though I have never caught them in the act. Have you noticed how they don't eat weeds ?

borlotti bean                                            peony-style poppy                                 giant hollyhock 

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Patio Weeds (05 JUN 2011)

What would you think if your garden looked like this ?

These are my thoughts :

I worked hard to get this garden.
Even so, I am lucky to have one.

I wonder if I have wasted the opportunities that this garden has offered to me.

I have certainly wasted many opportunites in my life so far ....

At least it's not too late to realise the full potential of this garden ... it might take a while though.

Years ago one of my bosses informed me during an appraisal that I sometimes use a sledge hammer to crack a walnut. I've thought about this ever since, especially when I am on my hands and knees swiping at the gaps between the paving slabs of my patio with a knife, while most of the people I know use weed-killing chemicals completing the task in a few minutes.

It was winter when I first viewed the back garden before buying the property, the major extent was paved with just a handkerchief-sized lawn and flower beds at the borders, giving the impression of requiring low maintenance. At that time it wasn't obvious that the paved areas were so fertile.

The weeds made their first appearance in spring. I assumed that they were growing in the soil under the paving and considered laying a sheet of weed barrier material underneath. However, lifting the slabs revealed inpenetrable layers of sand and stone.

Apart from at the edges, the weeds are not growing up from the soil beneath. They are in fact growing downwards from the soil trapped between the slabs. This fine textured soil which blows across from the flower beds, leaving the stones and clayey clumps behind, is not only appreciated by the weeds but also by slugs and worms.

They lay lengthways snug between the slabs on damp days and can even be seen contracting and expanding their way along straight edges and around corners as if making their way through a maze. After quite a few unintentional lacerations, I carry out weeding operations only when the patio is bone-dry for their benefit (and mine). The more I weed, the quicker & easier the job gets, it's just a monthly activity now,  and maybe it's my imagination but it seems that my selective weeding is resulting in prettier weeds replacing the coarse ones.

Last autumn I removed eight patio slabs, excavated down to the soil and used this central area to highlight my favourite plants. I daydream about replacing the entire patio with plants but this must remain a fantasy while I'm still going to work, as it's a struggle to catch sufficient daylight hours to grow plants for and tend the existing flower beds. Most of the people I know buy display-ready plants to fill their gardens, while I struggle to keep slug-eaten seedlings and cuttings alive or bring sick plants back to life. Expecting them to populate the empty spaces left after the spring bulbs died seems a mission quite impossible at the moment.

On the other hand, plants without stories don't mean anything to me. My sledge hammer approach to gardening is a long-term project which will probably last the rest of my life. Luckily for me, there are no objectives to meet or appraisals.

So in the meantime here are my rewards for not applying weed-killers to my patio & paths - little pockets of loveliness :



I am posting this picture of a self-seeded marigold on my weedy patio in response to Rosie@MyGardenHaven's Mission Quite Impossible #4 - Capture that Vision of Loveliness :

Carol@maydreamgardens writes about the satisfaction of pulling out a dandelion with the root intact :

David@tropicaltexana writes about the infamous sticky weed which has stuck to his patio. We have it in London too ! :

Carolyn@thisgrandmothersgarden reports on her project to lay down a weed-free patio, which she achieved with the help of her Honeyman and family :

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.
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