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JEARRARD'S HERBAL




6th September 2015

Dahlia merckii
The chill of autumn refuses to lift from the garden. All week long the forecasters have promised that the warmth will return for the weekend. I have watched and waited. I am beginning to think they make it all up. I was planning to spend the weekend burning garden prunings and every time I open the back door, I lose the urge. It's just difficult to be a pyromaniac when it is cold and damp.
At the start of August the daylilies crashed to a halt and the grey weather started. If I had known it was going to happen then I would have filled the garden with scarlet and orange Dahlia. Perhaps just scarlet on reflection. The orange ones always look as though they were printed on cheap paper. Bright but not glowing.
Fortunately I still have one in the garden that has persisted through recent cold winters and come back smiling. It isn't scarlet but it's a survivor. If I had a subtle eye I might have partnered it with Anemone x hybrida 'Queen Charlotte' which has the same colour and shape, but is tinged with warmth. Without a little help the Dahlia looks like it belongs in a mermaids corsage, all watery and wafty. It has perfectly decorated the week of drizzle.




6th September 2015

Strobilanthes nutans
Last week I took a short trip to the RHS garden at Rosemoor and the slopes of the grotto by the underpass were filled with the drooping flowers of Strobilanthes nutans. It was good to see it spreading because I was worried it might not be hardy enough to prosper here. If it grows at Rosemoor, I won't have any problems.
My little plant grows in the shade of a large Rhododendron and is probably drier than it would like though it's biggest enemy is a hungry rabbit which trims it back on a regular basis. Perhaps the rabbit has gone away on its summer holidays (or been eaten by a buzzard) because the Strobilanthes has retained enough shoot tips to flower. Every year I root a few cuttings and every year I seem to give them away to someone. I would root a lot more, but even thinking the thought will be enough to attract the hungry rabbit. Tomorrow there will be no cuttings left to take.
Eventually I will get creative and offer a free rabbit with every rooted plant. Either the rabbits will go or the plants won't. Suits me either way.




6th September 2015

Veronicastrum virginicum 'Roseum'
The prairies of the USA and the steppes of Russia are filled with large herbaceous plants that flower at the end of the season. Unfortunately most of them prefer hot dry summers to perform well. I have tried a number to liven up the herbaceous border at the end of the year but most of them have faded slowly away. Veronicastrum virginicum has been an exception. It is slowly forming a clump and should last in flower for a month. All of the forms have pale flowers but they stand up to the wind well and don't look bedraggled in the rain.
They have a lot of good things going for them and three years ago I made a conscious decision to add more cultivars to the border, perhaps a white one and a lilac one. However it hasn't happened, I still only have 'Roseum' and it isn't because I haven't had the opportunity. I just haven't felt the need keenly enough.
Perhaps I should let go of the idea that the border can perform into autumn and settle for a summer spectacular. These few pale spikes feel like a handful of dried beans thrown into a casserole to stretch it a bit further. They are lovely in a rich mixture but they aren't enough on their own.





6th September 2015

Magnolia wilsonii
I am much happier with the seeds of Magnolia wilsonii. Last week the branches were filled with pods, like strange dangling reptiles. This week they have burst open to reveal the scarlet seeds hanging on the hair-like funicles. I'm not sure why they do it. I like to think it is just because they can. In a week or two the seeds will drop and lie under the tree as precious as gem stones.
I am very fond of Magnolia wilsonii. The summer flowers are magnificent and the scent is wonderful. It represents my release from the bloated clutches of Magnolia x soulangeana which suffered a thousand deaths on my parents heavy clay, looking like heartburn on a stick and was finally released from a decade of despair in a freak bicycle accident.
Magnolia wilsonii takes me away from all that. It doesn't ever look miserable or uncomfortable, it looks relaxed and joyful. I have collected seed every time it has produced any. A row of seedlings in the greenhouse have been one of the delights of this year, just for being there. One day they will be a forest of perfumed wonder. This year I have so much seed that I will harvest a few and allow the rest to fall on the ground as a carpet of rubies to tempt up the snowdrops.
The morning dawned bright and clear, the sun shone and temperatures in the greenhouse rocketed. Suddenly it is summer again. The pile of old leyland branches smells as fresh as a pine forest and all it takes is a single match!