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JEARRARD'S HERBAL




23rd August 2015

Angelica 'Ebony'
One of those weeks that I am sure I will never forget. The rain started on Tuesday night and just kept going. It is curious how accurate the weather forecast can be when you want it to be wrong. I rushed out on Tuesday afternoon to burn the bonfire and get rid of some branches I had cut down. The fire was extinguished mid-burn and now I have a selection of charred timbers in a pile in the middle of the meadow. The thought of building a boat did occur to me. This morning the sun has appeared.
Rain - what rain?
I was also clearing through the herbaceous border. The surface was dust dry and the weeds pulled out without offering much resistance. A couple more evenings work and the whole thing would be done. It is deeply unpleasant to work out there when the foliage is wet, so as soon as the rain started I stopped. A few days later and already I can see the new seedlings appearing. The ground is sodden and the weeds have revived. It is all much harder work.
Angelica 'Ebony' is one of the unexpected joys of the garden at the moment. I bought a seedling in 2011 and planted it in the herbaceous border to see if it was any good (I like the look of Angelica but I'm too lazy to fuss over them). It had a slight contretemps with a rabbit but survived to flower and seed. I have had a few seedlings every year since. Enough to feel secure but not so many that it looks threatening. On that basis alone it is a good thing. In theory it will be enough to hold the display together until the autumn daisies kick in, but there aren't any. My wet soil doesn't suit dry prairie perennials so I may have to bite the bullet and start wittering on about the beauty of dead stems in the autumn mist.
Autumn mist we have.




23rd August 2015

Rhodophiala 'Harry Hay'
Before anything quite has a chance to settle down, everything gets changed again. It's a common problem but it arises from a simple idea. There is always room for improvement. My bulb house suffers. I had what a theorist might call "too many bulbs" (it is impossible to have too many bulbs, the situation is entirely theoretical). They were growing in too many pots, which is a much more pressing problem. There was room for improvement, or rather there was no room at all. The solution was to plant everything I wanted into large pots and get rid of things whose day was done. It has been an improvement. The bulb house is a joy again. I can't remember most of the things that have gone and those that I can have become fond memories and not pressing problems.
In truth, the bulb house is rapidly becoming a Nerine house but there are some other Amaryllids that are safe. Among them are a few species of Rhodophiala. Smaller than Hippeastrum, there are only a few available and they haven't been easy with me. I hope that it is the usual problem with Amaryllids. Many of them have roots that function for several years and if they are dried off it takes the bulb a number of years to regrow enough to be vigorous again. In the meantime they struggle to get enough water, and if they are allowed to get too wet, they rot. Rhodophiala 'Harry Hay' has been with me for a few years now, and was distributed in growth so it established easily. It seems to grow and flower reliably and I am hoping that it will appreciate a large pot.




23rd August 2015

Astilbe rivularis var. myriantha BWJ-8076A
I tried a number of large herbaceous plants at the back of the border, hoping to find something that would fill the late summer with interest once the Hemerocallis had finished. The border lies in a sheltered strip with some trees to the west, so it is shaded for the last part of the day. It lies at the bottom of a slope where the water collects underground and so it is fairly moist. Many of the traditional autumn flowers have failed there, and I went as far as to plant some Fuchsia and Hydrangea in the mix to keep it going.
A few things have been magnificent and it is clear that I just have to put in a bit more thought before I plant. This Astilbe has prospered in the rich conditions. The flower spikes tend to droop forwards but are still taller than I am, so it provides some useful height. I grow a number of related species, but they all look more or less like this collection by Crug Farm Plants, from Baoxing in China.
I was lamenting the fact that they all seem to be the same shade of elegant creamy white. It catches the light wonderfully (and the mist) but it lacks the zing of late summer. That was when I ran into Astilbe 'Mighty Phil', a giant hybrid flowering in August, about five feet tall. Great upright truncheons of flower in bludgeon-pink. Just the sort of thing I was looking for. It marks a break from the tradition of breeding things smaller and smaller to fit into meaner and ever meaner spaces. These giant Astilbe haven't solved the problems of the autumn border, but they have given me renewed hope.





23rd August 2015

Hedychium densiflorum UK4
The Hedychium would seem like perfect candidates for the border, but there have been problems. I wasn't able to keep them from wandering about. It isn't a tidyness thing (I don't really suffer from that). It is just that the border depends on things staying in clearly defined places, or the control mechanism breaks down (mulching and weedkiller). Life is too short for hand weeding as anything more than occasional entertainment. H. spicatum disappeared from its planted locations and started to appear in the middle of other things. I have left it to continue, but I am not going to plant any more.
H. densiflorum is more easily managed but the clustered rhizomes sit at the soil surface and my herbaceous border, which collects water at the bottom of the slope, also collects the frost. Eventually I will find a solution but in the meantime the Hedychium remain in pots that can be sheltered through the winter.
H. densiflorum UK4 is a selection of the species distributed by David Constantine, but originally from Ganesh Mani Pradhan in India. It produces long inflorescences of pale flowers. In this case they are almost pastel peach, but I think they would be darker if we had seen more sunshine this week. It seems to be one of the hardiest forms and reminds me of the Ludlow, Sherriff and Hicks introduction (LS&H-17393) collected in Bhutan and perhaps most notable for having survived in cultivation since 1949.
I had started to worry about the Hedychium outside becoming too dry. I have stopped.