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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


19th March 2017

Asarum maximum 'Silver Panda'
A mild and dry week that has seen spring gain a firm foothold in the garden. The last two days have seen a cold wind blowing as well, and for the first time this winter I had to wear a second sweater to keep warm. The thermometer in the potting shed registered 10degC but I'm more inclined to believe the second sweater.
I have been potting Pleione in the spare moments this week, as the flower buds develop. A few have opened already and I had a picture all ready, but it isn't a good one. Perhaps next week. Surely nobody wants orchids when they can have Asarum? (Don't try it with a corsage).
Asarum maximum comes from the low mountain forest of Hubei and Sichuan in China. It doesn't climb to great altitudes, about 800m recorded in the Flora of China, but it seems to be hardy despite the lush exuberance of the leaves. I find it far better in a greenhouse however. It does best in a warm summer and the greenhouse helps to make that happen. Natural populations are mainly green leaved, but inevitably in cultivation those with silver markings are selected to the extent that the green leaved form has now be called 'Green Panda' by a curiously circular Alice-in-Wonderland process of seeking out the unusual.
What is not so obvious is that it has also been selected for the flowers. Some forms are a bit "muddy" in colour, the black and white less sharply defined. Many have narrower corolla lobes which makes them appear less opulent. If I had the time I would raise a thousand seedlings so that I had every possible variation. Perhaps that would be too many.
Too late, they've already done it!


19th March 2017

Soldanella 'Sudden Spring'
It is said that the flowers of Soldanella rise up through the melting snow in the mountains of Europe at the first touch of warm weather. It has never happened here, the Soldanella and the snow have never coincided. Perhaps if I had more snow I would have fewer slugs and more flowers, because if there's one thing that slugs enjoy more than hostas, it is Soldanella buds. I grew S. villosa outside for many years, and only had a good display from it once, perversely that was the year I saw the largest slugs. Real quarter-pounders.
There is plenty of scope for breeding with the genus. Very few named forms exist and the genus has been neglected. It's strange because they prosper in pots and last well in flower.
S. carpatica and S. pusilla have been hybridised and from the seedlings Robert Rolfe selected this particularly floriferous cultivar. It has been dwindling in a pot for several years until I finally knocked it out and repotted the remaining fragments. Slowly it is recovering, and slugs permitting, I am hoping for a return to spectacular form next year.


19th March 2017

Pterostylis curta
There are daffodils all over at present. The earliest have gone over and are looking a bit tatty, but there are some beautiful doubles at their best. N. 'Eystettensis' has ten flowers this year, and I am overjoyed. I got very close to losing it a few years ago, and the single remaining bulb has struggled back to become a small clump. In the case of N. 'Eystettensis' it had been overgrown with brambles, and I forgot it was under there. Pterostylis curta has been on a very similar journey, but suffered more from my own ego. I had read the books and I was quite certain that I knew how best to grow it. As a result it struggled by year after year, varying from small to pathetic. Nothing I did made very much difference and the only times it was ever good were the years when I potted it up and ignored it. I had been growing it badly for 25 years before I saw great clump in a friends greenhouse, under the staging. Shove it in a big pot and leave it to get on with it was his advice. That is what I have done, and it has worked. I was trying to be far too clever, and not for the first time.
P. curta comes from moist forest on the eastern side of Australia, from southern Queensland to Tasmania. Water it when it is growing, stop watering when it dies down. It is a very simple process, I am amazed at the time it took me to get the hang of it.



19th March 2017

Iris suaveolens
The Bearded Iris are another group of plants that has presented problems, but the reason is simple. The garden is too wet and shaded for them to prosper. A friend in the next valley grows a selection in a poly-tunnel where they are magnificent for about 25 minutes in late spring. They flower earlier with protection but fade faster as well. I am still tempted from time to time to put a little space aside for them in the greenhouse. It is just the attraction of growing something slightly beyond the climatic possibilities. Just a little rain shelter and they would be fine.
In the meantime I have started to grow a few dwarf bearded Iris in the Alpine house, and when I saw it, I. suaveolens was immediately added. In the wild it grows from the Balkans through Greece to Turkey and comes in either yellow or purple. This was described as the "wine purple" form when I bought it. It has been vigorous in a pot. I split it into single heads last spring and already they have filled the pots with fans of 10cm silvery green leaves. The fat buds appeared last week and brough a touch of warmth and romance to the garden.
I have miniature roses as well. Perhaps I could have a miniature summer.