I was once told that in winter it’s best to eat lots of comforting food and not look too closely at oneself in the mirror. It’s good advice, which I follow, and I am extending it to not expecting too much of the garden – of course it looks dreary, it’s the end of January and we are shrouded in foggy grey damp dullness:
So my first Six on Saturday is a form of escapism:
1 Podcasts are a great way to enjoy plants and learn fascinating things about them when you don’t have much opportunity to get up close and personal with them in the garden. Here are two I have been enjoying:
Gardening with the RHS: The UK’s Royal Horticultural Society had a great one recently about a farming to rewilding transformation the Knepp estate in Sussex, UK and an amusing take on an invasive species from an American naturalist from the Deep South of the United States. He discusses Kudzu, known as ‘the vine that ate the South’. Turns out it was a bit of a case of ‘fake news’ with wild exaggerations of its spread and consumption of entire houses and cars, although yes, apparently it does grow like the clappers. Then there was an interesting discussion about how the infamous Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) came into the UK – from one single male plant! Gardeners were encouraged to plant it. But there’s also the question of whether all native plants are good. Is bracken in the UK good? It’s a native plant but anyone who’s been to the lake district in the north of England knows it creates monocultures that are not good for biodiversity. And are all non-natives bad? As all plants have migrated around the world, where do you draw the line on what is ‘native’ and what is ‘non-native’?
Completely Arbortrary: I am learning so much about trees from this podcast, hosted by a young dendrologist from Portland, Oregon, in the US and his ‘tree skeptic’ friend. Now I imagine this isn’t going to be for everyone, there’s a lot of banter and the odd profanity, but I like that they don’t take themselves too seriously and there is a serious message beneath the larks. For instance their episode on Tilia cordata (a close relative of our European lime trees, Tilia x europaea) and the awful tragedy of the Wilsonville bee kill, in which 50,000 bumblebees died after the trees they were feeding from were sprayed with a neonicotinoid (a pesticide now banned in the EU). Unintended consequences: the pesticide was deployed to kill aphids that were dropping sticky sugar-water onto the cars parked below the trees (which could simply have been washed off with a hose).
2 Cardamine hirsuta, better known as hairy bitter cress, is an ephemeral weed. I recently learned that this means it is able to have multiple generations in one growing season – germinating, growing fast, setting seed, then doing it all over again, several times over. I’ve got it growing in that awkward spot, the boundary with one’s neighbours, in which what’s growing on whose territory becomes pertinent. I’ll have to ask them nicely to weed their side of the fence. On my side, I’ve used a hoe to chop the plants up and dig them into the soil. The ground is quite compacted here so this should help aerate and break things up a bit.
3 The first herbaceous perennial pops up. This is always a great moment. It’s a plant I love for its deeply divided foliage, its beautiful deep purple flowers held on spikes, and its mysterious and dangerous side – it is highly poisonous. Can you guess what it is? Answer at the bottom of the blog post!
4 Primula vulgaris. Another cheerful plant, just putting out the first lemon-cream flowers.
5 Asiatic salad greens. What’s that sunshine doing? And what are those lovely fresh salad greens doing at this time of year? These are my seeds but they are growing in my friend’s mother’s garden in Bangalore, India. I gave my lovely friend Meena some seeds before she left to visit her family there. Don’t they look good?
6 The glade path is complete. Ta daaah! I got it done, just needs edging now and planting up along the sides.
That’s all for this week, I’ve got my head down as have RHS exams coming up week after next, and there’s a lot I need to commit to memory! I might not post next week as we’re away for the weekend (to the original ‘Spa’ in Belgium, from which all spas derive) but I’ll be back in due course. Meanwhile The Propagator as ever will be hosting Six on Saturdays from around the world.
*The first herbaceous perennial to reappear in my garden is: Aconitum napellus.