Monday, 31 December 2012

End of Year View (31 DEC 2012)

These photos were taken a few days ago during a brief interval between rainfalls.
 

view of front patio  -  primula  -  bulbs disguised
 
I thought squirrels/cats/foxes were supposed to keep out of the rain, but they managed to snatch a few moments to dig up newly planted bulbs which I attempted to hide under the primula, leaving the latter with dirty faces. They didn't outwit me completely though because the bulbs I poked into a weedy planter are still safe.
 

winter jasmine  -  view of front left bed  -  frost-bitten marigolds
 
I didn't celebrate Christmas, the sad state of the garden is pretty much a reflection of how I'm feeling. This year was the worst in my life so far with two deaths in my close family. It's the first time I have experienced how quickly life can slip away without even a good-bye and how easily loved-ones let go and move on.
 
sedums  -  view of rear patio  -  heather & swiss chard
 
The sadness has been increased by reports in the British media about sordid events which may or may not have happened several years ago before the word celebrity was a derogatory term. Apparently, some of my childhood idols, assumed to be reliable, trusted and true, were not so heroic. 
 
hellebore buds - view of rear left bed - viburnum
 
Up till now I have always felt personal and public sadness in different ways; events I heard in the news affected me but didn't get to my inner core. However, this year they have amalgamated into one. A cup of tea and a biscuit doesn't make a bad situation a tiny bit better, for the first time.

reinvigorated foxgloves  -  view of woodland by the back wall  -  iris shoots

 
Gardening in the rain is what's kept me going through the festive season (though there isn't much evidence of this in the photos). It's been almost three years since I became a gardener or at least had the idea of becoming one, but the seed was planted much earlier.

jasmine didn't flower but presented red leaves instead  -  view of rear right bed  -  wall flowers 
 
When I was sorting through some of my mother's things I found a letter that I wrote to her when I was about ten while she had to take a trip away from home. It described the flowers in her garden that she was missing. Even then it seemed to be one of the few ways we could communicate and now it is the way I interface with the outside world.
 
remains of ammobium  -  view of front right bed  -  japanese quince (my final Dozen for Diana nomination) 
 
Joining in with the Dozen for Diana meme during the past year was a way of sharing what I understood about plants beyond just their appearance. I'm not a fan of the colour, so it was a surprise when I followed Diana's example and assembled my twelve tried and tested plants together to find there was a definite bias towards pink.
 
Dozen for Diana - my choices for reliable, trusted and true plants
 
Inspecting this collection charts my progress as a gardener : the blue moon roses I sniffed as a child; the nicotianas which I was given to start my own gardening journey; the marigolds which germinated in my kitchen; the lavender revived after being rescued from the sick plant shelf; sedums divided, then divided again; foxgloves introduced to a gloveless garden, now taking over.

It seems a shame to end Dozen for Diana with just a collection of photos. I have my eye on two plots of land which might give me an opportunity to start from scratch and arrange these plants properly having learned from experiments in my own garden.

 
Neither of these plots belong to me, they are owned by non-gardeners who don't mind giving me access. The first is the rear section of my late mother's garden. If you dig around you'll find toys from mine and my brother's christmas crackers tossed away decades ago and cassettes of my favourite songs which my brother taped for me then stamped on after we had arguments. The second belongs to my friend (& fellow engineer) T who thinks a garden is just a place to set up a shed. The problem is that neither my brother nor T are into pink or developing relationships with well-behaved plants. That's a small issue to be dealt with next year ...
 
Today I'm linking up to :

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/12/end-of-year-view-31-dec-2012.html

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Harvest (26 DEC 2012)

When I was small, a frequently-practised ritual at meal-times was to save my mashed potato side-dish till last, then shift it centre-stage and splat on a dollop of tomato ketchup. This gruesome-looking mound would then be homogenised by my fork into a fine delicacy (to my palate) - pink potato. My mother turned a blind-eye as she wasn't a stickler for table-manners, however she warned me not to do that when visiting other people's houses. It made home seem like a special place, where I could just be myself.

I probably eat potatoes in some form every day. As an adult, one of my comfort foods is jacket potato with baked beans in tomato sauce and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese. If I'm alone, the last few forkfuls get mashed into my childhood treat. My kitchen larder always has a plentiful supply of potatoes, onions and garlic regardless of what recipes I've planned to cook during the week - you never know when there might be an emergency situation requiring a spanish omelette or fluffy jacket potato. I don't like to throw away food but these vegetables have to be discarded more often than I like to admit as they sprout quicker than they can be consumed sometimes. Considering that plant propagation isn't the easiest skill to master, it seems a wasted opportunity to deny plants which are begging to do so.



These surplus vegetables were planted in a compost bag in May. I prepared the potato for planting by cutting away its bulk, leaving sections to which the sprouts were attached.

Within a month they were already showing signs of taking root.

 
 
By early August the plants were flourishing. I don’t know if they flowered, as I wasn’t gardening for a while, neglecting them till the beginning of October. 
 

I cannot describe the feeling of anticipation when I finally decided it was time to peek into the compost bag. I didn’t know what to expect because I wasn’t aware of how root vegetables are formed, I certainly wasn’t prepared for woodlice! It was amazing that they only damaged the tiniest potato which had four woodlice curled-up inside it. I discovered on-line that potato halves can be used to lure woodlice out of houses. It’s not clear how to lure woodlice away from potatoes though.




The potatoes were pale and satisfyingly smooth with regular shapes, I’m assuming because they were grown in compost. The onion and garlic were still undeveloped but at least I could see how they were multiplying.
 
 
This year was a bad one for tomatoes in the UK by all accounts. It was too wet during the summer so they didn’t ripen beyond the green chutney stage.
 


I saved a couple of the sunflowers from my mother’s garden, just in case they turned out to be Jerusalem artichokes after all. I waited till the plants died down but there were no signs of those delicious tubers.

 
 
Rainbow swiss chard was effortless to propagate and grow. Unfortunately I missed picking them in their prime. I’ll definitely be growing this vegetable again next year and hopefully I’ll get a chance to try a Giorgio Locatelli recipe where he stuffs the sauted leaves and fontina cheese between sections of the stalks, then coats them in egg and breadcrumbs before deep-frying.



















Finally the dwarf flowering quince only produced one mature fruit this year, despite flowering excessively and initially presenting a promising number of babies. Does anyone know if you’re supposed to pick off some of the fruit so that the bush can concentrate on what’s left?



 
I didn’t intend to grow edible produce when I started gardening, but year by year I’m getting hooked onto the idea.
 
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/12/harvest-26-dec-2012.html

Thursday, 20 December 2012

London Plane Tree (20 DEC 2012)

This is the last post about london plane trees in this series of Seasonal Celebrations linking up to Donna's meme. Last season she shared in return a photo of her ash trees, explaining how they have been struck by a disease which means some have to be put down and asked for our suggestions of suitable replacements. You can guess my first thought, but then I remembered an article I'd read about a new disease which was attacking them too - massaria. This disease has already damaged some branches of plane trees in London's Royal Parks but at least it doesn't kill off whole trees.

The 42,000 plane trees in France whose roots bind the banks of the Canal du Midi are less fortunate. They are being culled as I write despite their contribution to this man-made UNESCO World Heritage Site as they have been infected by incurable canker stain. The story is that a fungus which grows harmlessly on native plane trees (american sycamores) was transported to France by the US army during the Second World War in some wooden packaging which hadn't been dried thoroughly. It seems that the same fungus is fatal if it comes in contact with oriental plane trees or their hybrids. (London plane trees are a hybrid of american sycamores and oriental plane trees.)
 
I wondered what it would be like to take a peaceful ride on a canal boat shaded through the entire journey by plane trees on both sides and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't a possibility any more. Then on a sunny day in mid-October I was perched on the front seat of a double-decker bus when I saw trees in the distance which made my heart skip a beat.



 
To my delight they were banks of plane trees which had been allowed to grow more fully than their brethren which usually line our suburban streets. Cruising by in a stream of traffic was a surreal experience (though the other bus passengers didn't seem so affected!).
 
Those were fine trees indeed, but in comparison it seems difficult to believe that a favourite tree in my local park is of the same species. There wasn't much to report between summer and autumn but as autumn changed to winter, I visited often to make observations.
 
To capture the moment when the leaves started to fall ....


Mid - October 2012

 
They turned pale yellow then dried and fell quicker than the surrounding trees still celebrating their autumn glory.
 













 
However, the plane tree doesn't let go of its dark-brown, prickly, round seed clusters as the wind will determine their destiny.





 
By mid-November, most of the leaves formed a thick carpet around the tree and its magnificent framework was revealed.

Mid - November 2012



 
After a few windy days (or a clean-up by the groundsmen), the carpet had disappeared. The tree is certainly not shy to be naked now, presenting its symmetrical form as one approaches, the lower branches bearing a resemblance to the Angel of the North.

Mid - December 2012






.
... but if you turn back, you'll catch a glimpse of its mischievous off-balance persona.


 
 
This tree has taught me many things during my visits this year, but most of all it made me realise that you don't need to own something to love it.
 
Today I'm linking up with Donna Abel's meme : Seasonal Celebrations... and Lucy & the tree followers at Loose and Leafy.
 
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/12/london-plane-tree-20-dec-2012.html

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Succulents (12 DEC 2012)

If I had to choose twelve plants to start a garden from scratch, sedums would be a must-have. Their tiny leaf buds which start poking up in December between the dried stems of the year before, become juicy and turn jade green in spring through to summer when I find them most attractive. The baby pink flowers in autumn are a bonus. This photo taken last year shows their only flaw - the way they splay out as they grow taller.

2011

Janet @ Plantalicious commented that she administers the Chelsea Chop to her sedums in May to control their growth. This treatment seems to have worked on mine this year. I probably wont perform the operation with a pair of shears again though. The sedums made a disturbing squeaking noise as I hacked away and the remaining amputated stems were an unpleasant sight for a while.

MAY 2012                                                                            SEPTEMBER 2012







 
In July while tidying up, I was surprised to find that the chopped-off stems which I hadn't bothered to clear away were lying on the patio still succulent and hardly shrivelled. Not only that, but there were new leaves sprouting from the centres of what I had initially discarded as excess. I immediately planted them as cuttings, and was rewarded with several flowering sedum plants in September.

JULY 2012                                                                                             SEPTEMBER 2012

I love the word succulence, it makes my mouth water just saying it, reminding me of biting into a ripe peach quenching thirst more than any beverage. It's almost as if the act of biting and bursting cells turgid with juice sends messages to the brain faster than gulping water and waiting for the digestive system to attend to rehydration. I understand that water retention in humans is undesirable, associated with weight gain and bloating. However, our nomadic ancestors were grateful for it, evolving to store water during times of drought. Consequently, our modern bodies store water as we eat too much when mistaking thirst for hunger.
 
Covergent evolution is when totally unrelated species in different locations find the same solution to a problem as generations progress. When planet earth started to dry out between 5 and 10 million years ago creating more arid landscapes, succulents and cacti started to diversify. Cacti are a sub-set of succulents characterised by their tufty areoles, stunted branch buds from which spines (vestigial leaves) and flowers are produced. Their barrel-shaped stems feature, minimising evaporation from the surface area of the plant. Spines have a dual purpose of keeping predators away as well as condensing moisture in the air.
 
I tried to grow cacti from seeds this year but was unsuccessful. The few which germinated after several weeks eventually died after being dislodged by accident during watering. Anyway, I've now got my eye on a section of my Aunt's cactus. I'm relieved that she didn't take my advice to re-pot it, as I later read that cacti should be planted in as small a pot as possible to prevent their roots rotting in wet soil, which seems to be their only major vulnerability. 



Ever seen a Christmas Cactus that isn't overloaded with blooms at this time of year?
I keep moving this plant around the house to get the most of it.
It makes me wonder if cacti kept as house-plants are evolving even further to attract human pollinators.


 
In case that fails, their segmented stems are almost begging to be snapped off and propogated.
Why wouldn't you?
 


 
Today I'm linking up to the Dozen-for-Diana meme @ ElephantsEye
 
 
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/12/succulents-12-dec-2012.html

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Orchids (28 NOV 2012)

Instead of counting sheep at night, I often look through the thousands of photos I've taken over the past two years. All of them feature plants, most of them are unposted - waiting to fit into the context of a story. A photo taken in early August had been dismissed casually when the sun was shining and the garden was filled with flowers. However as the rain poured and the wind howled last weekend, the image made me do a double-take.

Anyone can grow sweetpeas.
I constructed a bamboo cane wigwam for them in my first year of gardening because I thought that's what you were supposed to do, but it was unecessary.
In the second year, they sprouted at the site where the dried peas which produced their parents were sown the year before, and clambered through my winter-flowering dwarf quince bush filling it with summer blooms.

I only noticed the similarity when I looked at this photo three months after they had faded ...

Why wish for orchids ?
 
Not that I'm a fan of orchids. My mother couldn't throw her spent orchids away, and now I don't know what to do with them.
 
When I was small, orchids were almost sacred in our house. I was always being told off for sticking my fingers in the roots though I was wise enough to not even breath on the flowers. I couldn't understand why they were so precious when there were plenty of flowers just as pretty in the garden - I could just about get away with plucking those petals to make perfume.
 
These days it seems I can't escape from them. Orchids can be found in the dentist's reception, my local Chinese restaurant, in the DIY store and at the supermarket, cloned by tissue culture for mass production I presume.
 

Orchids on sale in a food hall

I was just trying to find out if orchids and sweet peas were related when I found an anecdote which warmed the cockles of my scientific heart :
Apparently, during his travels Charles Darwin predicted that the comet orchid in Madagascar had evolved a spur over a foot long with nectar at the base in order to lure a specific pollinator with a proboscis of equal length. People thought this idea was absolutely ridiculous, until after his death when the adequately equipped nocturnal Sphinx moth was discovered in the same region.
 
This isn't the only example which illustrates how well orchids, which are among the first flowering plants on earth, develop relationships to ensure their species survive - a fine example of a team player in the plant world.
 
The simple process of germination can only take place with the help of an infecting fungus which provides nutrition as tiny orchid seeds don't contain an endosperm food source.
 
Moth orchids have mutated over generations to be attractive (in an opposite sex kind of way) to their desired pollinators, while paph orchids offer them a drinking cup.
 
Epiphytic orchids are sometimes mistakenly labelled as parasites because they climb trees to increase their exposure to sunlight. They sprout root-like structures from their stems to cling to the surface of the bark but they absorb nutrients from rainwater not their hosts.
 
Having learnt about some of the adaptations orchids have made during their evolution, I now find them quite intriguing. Actually, the Darwin story was enough to change my mind. It seems unfair that the mass-produced specimens in the supermarket wont get that opportunity.

Hope this is an orchid

PS. Orchids and sweet-peas are not related.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/11/orchids-28-nov-2012.html

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Capsicums (18 NOV 2012)

In spring my mother bought a small chilli plant, I planted some sweet pepper seeds and we planned tacitly to share our produce.

I should have followed her example and bought a plant as it took months for my seeds to germinate. I was so happy when the sprouts finally emerged, it slipped my mind that the whole point of the exercise was to grow vegetables to fulfil my side of the bargain. It wouldn't be the first time that I'd short-changed her.

I assume that one of these is a pepper plant

Chillies and peppers are in the same family, capsicums.
A defence mechanism employed by some members of this family, to protect their seeds from being digested by mammals, is to transfer some of the energy that they usually expend on coating their seeds to producing capsaicin which induces a burning sensation. The varying levels of heat produced is measured on the Scoville scale : zero for a sweet pepper, over 10,000 units for a serrano chilli and over 100,000 units for a scotch bonnet.

Instead capsicums rely on birds to spread their seeds. Birds have different taste receptors which are not affected by capsaicin and capsicum seeds pass through their digestive systems unscathed. In fact the RSPB advises that a light coating of chilli powder on bird seed will deter squirrels while leaving birds unharmed.

Many humans have learnt to balance the heat of controlled quantities of chilli with the feel-good factor of natural painkillers triggered by their mammalian taste receptors, a kind of addiction. It's thought that ancient humans noticed that hotter chillies were less prone to fungal diseases after being bored through by bugs which gave them the idea of adding chillies to their cooking to prevent food poisoning.

A research project is currently in progress to understand the compromises involved when chillies produce high levels of capsaicin, asking the question : why aren't all chillies hot ?  One theory is that plants with hotter pods are less tolerant to drought.

When my Mum died in the summer, most of her potted plants died too.
The chilli plant survived as it was dumped in a bucket of sand left by a builder which turned into a pond.


My Mum's chilli plant

I didn't know about the antifungal properties of chillies at the time, even so I sensed that a plant growing in stagnant water might not be safe to eat and threw it away. My own sweet pepper plant will be sanitised by planting it in some fresh compost, then brought indoors for the winter so it can have a head-start next spring. I thought I might buy a small chilli plant too.
 
Then a couple of weeks ago, I went for a medical check-up in London. I always try to turn it into a pleasant experience by taking time out on the journey back home. On this occasion I popped into the shopping centre at Stratford, specially commissioned to open in time for the Olympics. A short stop-off at a Mexican snack-bar appealed; a small packet came with the bill. It was a split-second decision to put it in my pocket as I don't smoke, but recently we've been searching around for matches to light a candle.

When I got back home, the packet flipped open as I took it out of my pocket. It contained chilli seeds.

not matches ...

 
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/11/capsicums-18-nov-2012.html

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Asters (11 NOV 2012)

Last year I grew asters from packet seeds, they were lucky survivors following the slug attack in my plastic greenhouse which later blew over in a storm and has remained disassembled since.
I was delighted when three invincible seedlings finally produced blooms in three different colours. The dark lilac was my favourite, but I collected seeds from them all to help re-produce their offspring.

Double asters in 2011 - grown from packet seeds

I definitely remember collecting the seeds but not planting them. Anyway, two of my seedings planted this spring and propogated on the window sill of the visitor's bedroom, went on to produce daisy-like flowers. I didn't recognise them till a third plant with the same leaves presented a familiar, fluffy white pompom. Then I realised that the first two asters had reverted back to their ancestral single-form. If I was a statistician, I would be able to calculate the probability of re-producing flowers the same colour as the previous generation from an envelope containing a pinch of seeds of each. I'm guessing its 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 = 1/9 (assuming that there were the same number of seeds in each pinch and more dubiously that offspring have flowers of the same colour). I can't guess the probability of the offspring of a double aster reverting back to a single with the same colour. I suspect that most gardeners don't bother themselves with such calculations.

Aster variations in mid-autmn 2012 - grown from double aster seeds produced last year

After the carefully propogated asters died, my attention was drawn to the wild asters which were still in their prime, the only autumn flowers left apart from perennial sunflowers and fading sedums and hydrangeas. The wild asters, held behind the bars of the gate of my front garden, protested against the flowerless car-parking space. While those in my mother's garden challenged the sunflowers by climbing up through a rhododendron bush. I didn't even realise that these were in the aster family till I read US blogs where New England asters are celebrated as a native plant which attracts Monarch butterflies. Even these are dying back now.

Late-Autumn 2012 : Wild  or  New England Asters ?
 
It has been known for Monarch butterflies to make an appearance in the UK, blown off course during their migration from Canada to Mexico. It's a phenomenon of nature which I only discovered yesterday, that during autumn, monarch butterflies migrate towards the sun as it lowers towards the southern horizon, then return a few months later. This is made possible by their inherent instinct to orientate themselves in longitude and latitude. Even more incredible is that the same journey is travelled by different generations every year, as non-breeding butterflies have a lifespan of six to nine months, while butterflies breeding during the return journey only last six weeks. The great-grand-child finds itself back at the same spot in Canada that its great-grand-parent left and receives the calling to start the migration cycle again. Tourist guides recommend visiting Mexico between October and May as the weather after is hot and humid then freezing cold - it seems that the Monarch butterflies have got it figured out.
 
After reading about this migration pattern, I went in search of the last asters of the season wondering if the turbulent weather in the US may have blown some travellers across - maybe they would stop off for a snack in transit. I found a few lonely blooms hoping that their pollen would be spread as far as Mexico but no butterflies unfortunately.

Yesterday - a wild aster waiting for a migrating Monarch butterfly
 
The Monarch invasion of Great Britain, 1995 :
 
New York Times article about Monarch migration :
 
 
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/11/asters-11-nov-2012.html

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Lavender (27 OCT 2012)

Last year I grew a lavender bush which flowered twice. Cuttings from this plant survived while the rest died so I pencilled it in as a contender for a spot in the border of an imaginary courtyard; freely-reproducing plants are most welcome in my real and unreal gardens.

My French Lavender (lavandula stoechas) in 2011

Care-free, I pruned and removed some woody branches from what I believed was a robust, reliable specimen, intending to rejuvenate it. I hope that this didn't cause its demise but suspect that it probably did.

Pruning doesn't seem to have harmed the lavender garden in my local park.
Recently trimmed bushes have already produced fresh growth in October.

OCTOBER 2012                                                                JULY 2012



























Back in July, the view and scent wafting through an archway leading into a space almost completely dedicated to lavender, with just an accent of white roses, persuaded me to ink it into my Dozen for Diana list (tried, tested and true plants to start a small garden from scratch). Please don't be put off by my own failure, I'm convinced it's a one-off ... remember that it did flower twice beforehand.




 
Whoever commissioned this garden in the middle of a public park deserves an  award.
It wasn't just the sight and the scent but the sound too. Intoxicated bees were not bothered by an equally overwhelmed human stumbling along. This small space was humming to the point of vibration.
What would it be like to walk through a whole field of lavender ?

If I had to choose one plant to fill a field ...


























The idea of planting lavender fields for harvesting essential oils originated in ancient times. The Egyptians and Romans used it for embalming, freshening the air and as a tonic.

Today it's cultivated for the aromatherapy and perfume industries. Though it has never been proved that scents like lavender have healing properties, it's effect as a mood-enhancer with a strong placebo effect can't be denied. Scientists discovered that there is a direct link between the olfactory system and the part of the brain which concentrates on emotional learning and memory. In fact, just a whiff of lavender transports me back in time to the warm, sunny day when I took the photos above, when I had nothing to worry about except whether they were in focus.

It's claimed that levels of the more potent chemical compounds in true lavender oil increase with altitude, like wine. Lavendula angustifolia of the Haute region of Provence in France has been designated appellation d'origine contrôlée as long as it grows at an altitude above 800m. (Even so, the lavender in London smells pretty good considering that we are just above sea-level.)

For beautiful photos of lavender growing in other mountainous regions  try googling images of : "lavender in ..."
Mona, Utah
Bridestowe Estate, Tasmania
Mount Fuji, Japan
Stellenboch, South Africa

These demonstrate that just one lavender bush isn't enough.
My cuttings had better start growing quickly before lavender turns into yet another fantasy plant.

My lavender bush and its cuttings in  2012





Today I'm linking up to Diana's Elephant's Eye Garden blog : http://elephantseyegarden.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/octobers-choice-in-dozen-for-diana.html

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/10/lavender-27-oct-2012.html

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Rudbeckias (17 OCT 2012)

Sometimes a gardener just has to indulge themselves ...
 
Rudbeckia and Echinacea are in the same tribe as sunflowers but there's something about the way they push their centres forwards and pull their petals back (hence their common name coneflowers) which makes them more attractive than sunflowers to me.
 
This year I decided to introduce them into my garden after drooling over photos in other blogs for over a year. Echinacea seeds were easy to find but the pinky/purple seedlings in my mixed seed-tray (sown in desperation when spring was nearly over) grew into something else which may be the subject of another post.
 
Then I thought I had achieved a head-start with a cut-price rudbeckia plant until it frizzled during the only hot week we had this summer. The label advised "water daily". Plants like that should know that they're not safe in my garden. Maybe I would have put in more effort if it had been a more sophisticated variety like WellyWoman's cappucino or Linnie's cherry brandy.
 
labelled rudbeckia
 
So that was the end of this year's indulgence ... almost.
 
The other day, I was sitting on the back doorstep of my mother's house wondering how much longer I would be allowed to do gardening there. The perennial, yellow sunflowers were in their prime; she would have tried to convince me yet again how beautiful they were and I would have been dismissing them as just a huge weed.
 
unlabelled
 
Their tall stems and foliage gradually take over the right side of her garden during late summer, crowding out my favourites : tree peony, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and roses. I was certainly never tempted to plant a root cutting in my own - that's all it would have taken to recreate the sea of bobbing, yellow daisies. She appreciated them, mainly because they are the only flowers apart from wild asters at this time of year. In their defence, they are easy to control because it just takes a gentle tug to pull them out of damp soil, even though their roots grow as wide as the plant grows tall.
 
brown-eyed susan ?
 
It was my annual job to pull them out just after they had finished flowering to keep the roots in check, while being reminded several times to leave three or four by the fence to creep forward for the next year. I was planning to continue the tradition, unsupervised for the first time, at the end of the month.
 
I never tried to identify them before writing this post - I was that uninterested. Could they be a primitive form of rudbeckia before they evolved the cone-shape?

life-cycle of a yellow flower with no name
 
After googling images, I couldn't believe that the closest species I could find was an American native Jerusalem Artichokes or sunchokes - a plant with a tuberous root which can be used as a substitute for potatoes. I'd heard about them before, when I was going through a temporary heathy-eating phase because they contain a substance called inulin which passes through to the gut (as it's indigestable) and feeds the beneficial bacteria there. Unfairly, it's more reknowned for the resulting windy side-effects, which is probably why they can't be found in the supermarket. 
 

I'm trying not to get too excited about this discovery as I'm not absolutely sure that the plant has been identified correctly and the roots in their present state don't look particularly edible. Jerusalem artichokes are supposed to be harvested when the leaves start withering. In my Mum's garden these sunflowers have always been removed before this stage and they will be this year too - this is not the time or place for experimenting.

However, my own garden is ready and waiting - who cares about coneflowers !
 
 
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