Lunaria annua

Plant of the Month – May

When in Corfu in April, you see hillsides stretching away into the distance covered in a lilac haze. This is Lunaria annua. We have it here, shimmering under the yew trees, where it survives in bone dry soil and glade-like shade and occasional sun. It is very obliging, self seeding around in profusion and needing no intervention other than pulling out any that appear in the gravel path or in amongst plants that would be overwhelmed by it.

We have two colours; the lilac and a strong magenta. The two are kept ruthlessly apart, segregated by the main lawn over which they eye each other up, preening in an attempt to make you chose which is the fairest. To keep the colours pure we can’t mulch the beds with our own compost as the seeds would get mixed up as we cut down the old stalks in late winter.

Our visitors often see things we overlook. An American couple last year were amazed that we grew it because, frankly, in a couple of months time, it will look ghastly, if only briefly. After the flowers have fallen, the seed heads form. These start as green discs before turning a mucky sand colour. But then . . . their second season of beauty begins as the discs turn white and then as the outer sheath drops away the transparent inner disc appears that shines through winter and gives the plant one of its names – moonflower.

It’s also known more commonly as honesty. Very appropriate really, as this is a family of barristers, solicitors and generally upstanding people!

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Paeonia mairei

Plant of the Month April

What do you buy a girl who has everything? Or in this case, what do you take as a gift to another gardener who has tried everything and has either killed it, thought better of it or got bored with it?

Well if you are John Grimshaw (that name again!), you take them a Paeonia mairei. He told us it was the first peony to flower and it is. Despite the snow and howling gales, chestnut brown fists of foliage could be seen breaking through the ground in February. It has increased steadily to a good foot and a half across in three seasons, withstanding drought one year, deluges the next and this years ever protracted Spring.

In fairness, peonies seem to like us. Paeonia veitchii var. woodwardii has been moved every year for the past three and still comes up and flowers. What’s this about peonies sulking if they are moved? Ours should be spinning with dizziness by now.

The second picture shows Paeonia mairei drooping with frost but up it came later in the day. I’m not sure Paeonia cambessadesii would do that!

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The Ides of March

9 March, 2013.
It is not the end of winter after all, it is freezing cold again and trying to snow.The one plant that we have in the garden is masses of primroses which have self seeded everywhere. It makes me laugh when I think of one of my best friends who actually bought 150 from Jamie Chichester, and then was only left with 20. I went down to the paddock this morning where 5 years ago we planted 200 Crocus Vernus Vanguard, 200 Crocus Vernus Pickwick and 200 Crocus Queen of the Blues. Vernus Vanguard flowers first. E.A. Bowles said crocus vernus were the best to establish in rough grass, and he was going to plant 200 crocus vernus Margot each year. Margot is not available now, so we are going to choose Crocus Vernus Grand Maitre instead, and order it from Avon Bulbs. The last two years pheasants have eaten them all, and they have been a disaster, but this year, despite Polly doing her best to mow them over, we have more than 700 with crocus vernus pickwick proving the dominant one. We have them interspersed with snowdrops and they seem to flower at the same time. The idea was to sit with a cappucino by the winter circle in the paddock and look across at them. There is a new crocus tommasianus called crocus tommasianus ‘Yalta’ which is beautiful beyond words, and similar to a small edition of vernus vanguard. I must remember to order it next year. Val Bourne brought my attention to it by describing it in the Saturday Telegraph, she does write inspiringly.
Last week we went to see our two friends at Woodchippings, Richard Bashford and Valerie Bexley. How amazing it all was, only a third of an acre and every inch planted with the choicest hellebores, ferns, cyclamen, different snowdrops which are constantly divided, and lots of corydalis. This year they have discovered species crocuses, and have made several trips to Little Heath Farm Nursery, which is near Berkhamsted. This nursery is coming for a Rare Plant Fair at Evenley Wood on April 7th. We must try and remember to go as it is near us. I came back from Woodchippings in a complete haze, and we have decided to replace all the white hellebores on the left hand side, as they are all seedlings and rather muddy in colour. Rich would not give them pride of place. You live with something and you do not notice that it is simply hopeless until you see something that is quite perfect and you cannot fail to make the comparison. Polly and I got on to Ashwoods website, where everything was completely mouth watering. At the end of the telephone conversation, Steve said “how did you hear of us” and I replied that I had fallen into their clutches a long time ago.

Plant of the Month

We decided to do a plant of the month after reading John Grimshaw’s blog on his plant of the year. How do you choose that we thought! Having already taken a photo of Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘The First’ earlier in the day this was the obvious choice for March. It’s taken its time in coming up and flowering during to the persisting cold weather and now more snow. The tips of the leaves showed at the beginning of February, the flower buds arriving suddenly about 3 weeks ago. It’s one of those plants that appear over night and if the sun is hot can be over in 3 days. But this year we’ve already had a week of tight buds, now garlanded with snow. Even with the sun shining directly on them, the flower buds are refusing to open. There aren’t any bees around to pollinate them anyway – I’ve seen only about 6 so far this year, rather worrying.
We have this tulip planted in an east facing border in well drained and probably quite poor soil at the roots of a large cotinus. The shrub will keep the bulbs dry during the summer and as it’s deciduous it won’t cast any shade during the spring when the tulip’s leaves are up. The poor gritty soil keeps the slugs at bay too – the reason Christopher Lloyd gives as to why he couldn’t grow them. Other than keeping the molluscy critters off it seems you just need to plant them deep and leave them alone. I like plants like that!

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