Vaccines are rolling out. Skies are blue. Bulbs are emerging. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Unless it’s a train.
What is flowering at Garden House at the moment?
Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’
Ubiquitous, but, treated properly, it can look magnificent and be a glorious herald of spring. In Beth Chatto’s woodland garden, its natural, arching habit has been emphasised by careful pruning, rather than by a butchering cut-back, which is the more widespread approach. This has resulted in splendid shrubs, revealing their graceful beauty. Annual pruning prolongs the life of early-flowering deciduous shrubs, and as Forsythia flowers on wood made in the previous year, it needs to be pruned shortly after flowering. Cut flowered growth back to where strong young shoots are growing lower down the stems. Additionally, removing one third of the older stems every year, allows light to penetrate more easily and facilitates the growth of new wood. Feed and mulch. Many varieties available.
The fabulous Cornelian Cherry at Garden House is much treasured. It’s the focus of a ‘yellow bed’ in the corner of the garden and is valued for the soft, yellow blossoms which decorate its bare branches now. Amazing against a blue March sky. Raising the canopy has enabled more plants to be grown underneath. (More plants? At Garden House??) Good on chalk, where growing Hamamelis is problematic, so a brilliant choice for chalky soils in late winter/spring. Although the insignificant fruits don’t bring much to the party, its attractive bark does. Highly recommended.
Hamamellis x intermedia ‘Jelena’
Witch-hazels are another early flowering deciduous shrub, providing late winter/spring and autumn interest. They are mostly found on clay, loam or sandy soils, preferring a neutral/acid soil, and so are very unlikely to do well on chalk. This one grows in a pot at G/H, making it easy to add appropriate amounts of ericaceous compost to the planting mix and also to shove it into the wings during the summer months – when, frankly, it looks dull. Beautiful now though, when highly scented, spider-like flowers are borne on its bare branches. Beautiful autumnal foliage. 4 m x 4 m.
Heaven sent, heavenly scent. It’s luvverly. The tiny, white flowers of Winter Honeysuckle throw out an exquisite fragrance for weeks on end from December onwards, attracting early pollinators like winter-active bumblebees. Will grow in most fertile, well-drained soils in full sun or dappled shade – but make sure to plant it near a path or window, so you will be able to appreciate the scent. Lovely with Crocuses – maybe a carpet of these –
Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or‘
A beautiful small-flowered narcissus, which can be grown outside or forced indoors. Deliciously scented. Multiple bi-coloured blooms are held aloft on each stem. Good in pots, troughs, in the border or at the edge of a woodland area. After flowering, dead-head the plants, but let the foliage die back naturally, as this helps the bulbs to store energy for next year.
A New Obsession
Snowdrops. Garden House has finally succumbed in a big way and become keenly galanthophile. Galanthomaniac even. Could be dangerous. Good places to see Snowdrops en masse are: Anglesey Abbey Gardens in Cambridgeshire and the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex. More locally, try Southease Churchyard.
Topic of the Week
Herbs. Who doesn’t love a herbert? A plant whose seeds, leaves or flowers have a medicinal, aromatic or culinary use to people. A fascinating and extensive topic, so experts are well worth consulting. The queen of herbs is, of course, Jekka McVicar.
The use of herbs can be traced back thousands of years. Some have changed the world:
Catharanthus roseus. Alkaloids found in this plant have proved to be effective in the treatment of a number of cancers, such as Hodgkin’s disease and leukaemia.
Ipecac is an evergreen shrub from Brazil which has been used in the treatment of dysentery for centuries. Apparently, it’s the most common ingredient in all proprietary cough medicines. a syrup is made form the tuberous roots.
Quinine was discovered in the early 17th century, probably by the Jesuits, as a treatment for malaria. It was the first drug that Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, tested on himself.
Autumn Crocus. Highly toxic, but an important element in the treatment of gout. Cells from this Crocus are used in the genetic modification of plants
The Foxglove. Known for its toxicity, but important as a medicine for regulating the heartbeat in patients with heart disease
An evergreen shrub from South America and the source of the drug cocaine. Erythoxylum coca is extremely important medicinally as a painkiller.
Meadowsweet. In the early 19th century, the painkiller salycin was discovered in its leaves. This is the basis for acid, from which aspirin was first produced. Used also in the treatment of diarrhoea (dire rear?), ulcers, pain, stomach ache, fevers and gout.
Witch hazel has been used for centuries in Europe and North America to treat bruises and sore eyes. Also used today for colitis and other gastro-intestinal disorders.
St John’s Wort
Hypericum perforatum. Traditionally used to treat mild forms of depression. In 1652, the herbalist Culpeper recommended the herb as a remedy ‘against melancholy and madness’.
The Opium Poppy. Possibly the oldest painkiller in the world. Opium, extracted from these Poppies is used in the manufacture of morphine, codeine and methadone.
Serpent Weed, or Indian Snakeroot, is native to Myanmar and is a source of reserpine, the first tranquilliser. Used in the treatment of hypertension and mental health conditions.
Stachys officinalis was used by the Romans to cure many ailments, from respiratory and gastro-intestinal disorders, to gynaecological and skin problems and difficulties with the nervous system.
Then…… A Quiz. Looking at the various headings in bold type, supply the names of appropriate herbs. Between us, we managed an impressive number of answers –
Annual herbs: Marigold, Coriander, Opium poppies, Rocket, Basil, Borage
Herbaceous perennial herbs: Chives, Marjoram, Sorrel, Tarragon, Mint, Lemon Balm, Camomile, Primrose, Oregano.
Biennial herbs: Parsley, Angelica, Chervil
Sub-shrub herbs: Rosemary, Lavender, Hyssop, Artemisia, Helichrysum italicum, Lemon verbena, Sage
Herbs for shade: Parsley, Coriander, French Sorrel, Chervil, Rocket, Dill, Angelica
Herbs which grow taller than 1 metre: Angelica, Bay
Bridge and Liz then set us to work to design a herb pot/container for full sun. Essential to provide really good drainage and a gritty soil. They opted for a mahousive 3 metre wide galvanised metal container, and went for the following planting:
This had thrillers, fillers and spillers. Useful culinary herbs, good colour combinations and attractive. Over to us in groups –
Frankly, Friday Group was masterful. Exuding lots of ideas. We’re as keen as mustard, although, mustard wasn’t actually one of our chosen herberts.
Here are a few of the suggestions:
Look good. Chives, French Tarragon, Golden Oregano, Trailing Thyme
Chives, Marigolds, Curry Plant, Creeping Thyme. A symphony of orange, silver and purple.
Here’s a superb rendering of another group’s concept –
And perhaps most enigmatic of all, there is this –
Clearly, this group have amazing plans, but seem to be reluctant to share them. Very untypical of F/G. Nul points.
Jobs for the week
Prune winter-flowering shrubs after they have finished flowering
Such as Snowdrops and plant those bulbs which need to be dealt with ‘in the green’.
Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over winter
At Sussex Prairie Gardens they set fire to their island beds. Not an advisable approach in most home situations. Now is also a good time to remove dead grass from clumps of evergreen grasses (aka: Give them a ‘comb through’)
General garden tidy-up-time
Plan your herb garden/pot/container
Teucrium chamaedrys (Wall Germander) may be a good alternative to box as edging hedging around your herb garden. Don’t forget to include edible herbs in the scheme!
You know it makes sense