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 :

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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.
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 !
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Gentians (03 OCT 2012)

The problem with blue flowers is that they could just as well be called lilac or purple. Not that there's anything wrong with those colours; it's just a case of what's elusive being more desirable.
Agapanthus and corn flowers are as blue as it gets in my garden this year.

Hence ...
Fantasy Plant #4 : Bavarian Gentians for their true blueness, imagined since I was a school-child sitting in an English Literature class.

Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto's gloom,
ribbed and torchlike, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off light,
lead me then, lead me the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness.
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness was awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on the
lost bride and groom.

Last year I put forward my deep purpley-blue primula as the next best thing. I didn't guess that there would be an opportunity to mention this poem again ...

A lady at work advised me to take time out to grieve properly for the loss of my Mum or it would catch up on me eventually. Gardening has helped a lot in this respect as it was a passion that she passed on. I had the idea of dedicating a patch in my garden as a memorial, to focus my thoughts, and with that in mind went plant-shopping.

Larger plants would make a bold statement but they didn't seem appropriate.

Unassuming plants captured her spirit better, especially the salmon-pink geraniums.

Then I came across them, there was no mistaking the colour, and I almost had to look away when I read the label.
What are you supposed to do when you come within reaching distance of a fantasy plant ?
I couldn't possibly buy it ... could I ?

I decided not to.

Instead, I made a routine visit to the sick-plant shelf to distract myself but was delighted to find a tired-looking, pot-bound specimen of the same, just waiting for me to rescue it.
My Mum would have been proud as she had a keen eye for a bargain.

Splitting it into four revealed several tiny, blanched shoots. The most promising quarter was planted at the forefront of the "woodland" between a fading hydrangea and spent rhubarb, where it has the choice to reach foward to bask in the sunshine or spread behind into the shade. I hope it does the latter so that its relative brightness can light up the woodland floor just like in the poem.

On that point, I have to admit that after imagining gentians in my head (their form and colour) for a long time, I was disappointed when I finally googled images last year to find that even though they were definitely blue, they were not as dark as D.H. Lawrence suggests. Some photos show darker flowers than mine though. Having said that, my newly acquired gentian is, thankfully, a hybrid, so Bavarian Gentians can remain a fantasy somewhere between royal and (closer to) navy blue for a while longer.

And the memorial ?
In fact my whole garden will be a memorial as scattered around are cuttings and seedlings which she presented or which I took without asking in most cases.

three apple trees

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for
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