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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


7th May 2017

Scilla verna
Another fine though occasionally cold week. Rain was promised, though just for West Cornwall, and just for Saturday morning. It arrived, I got a bit damp, but I think it has done some good. The ground is wet enough to make me regret wandering around at breakfast time in my slippers. Too late now, and they'll be dry again before long.
I used to think that people were attracted to gardening as they got older because it was a nice gentle occupation away from the complexities of life. Suddenly Scilla verna flowered and I had to sit down on the ground, it was almost overwhelming. There in front of me was a lifetime of complicated emotional moments bursting from the ground in blue flower.
I first found them growing wild shortly after I bought my first puppy. We were walking along the clifftop and the turf was blue with the clustered flowers. The puppy was rolling in them from pure joy (actually it was fox shit, but we choose what we remember). I have taken romantic walks among them, sat by them as the sun sets and I have gained solace lying among them in the sunshine, far from the disturbance of the day. I have been told "you love that dog more than me" and not known what to say because it was true.
So here I am again, sitting on the ground by Scilla verna as the emotional undercurrent of life thunders around me like the sea. Several decades and several dogs later I still miss that puppy. Perhaps that is why people take up gardening as they get older. To see how the Scilla are doing.


7th May 2017

Paeonia peregrina
Blood red peonies escape emotional entanglement. It is nothing but the colour. In the last decades pictures have moved from paper onto the screen and at last it is possible to capture the beauty of peonies (and also magnolias). They have colour and shape as well as the amazing structure of the stamens and anthers in the heart of the flowers, but it is the light that makes the difference. Computer screens capture the way peony flowers glow in the sunlight in a way that I have never seen on the page. Botanical artists sometimes get close but the surface is always slightly too dull to portray the real beauty.
P. peregrina was planted as a seedling among the Agave and the annual leafy stem has been an interesting feature among the spiky succulents. This is what I have been waiting for. The leaves were sufficiently forgettable to mean that I have purchased two other seedlings since then, but I won't be forgetting it now it has flowered.
The species comes from southeastern Europe and Turkey, growing on dry hillsides in full sun. The Agave house suits it well, though it would probably grow outside here as well. There are also populations in Southern Italy that could be either natural or introduced.
I am torn this afternoon. To the coast for the Scilla, the greenhouse for the peony or the woods for the bluebells? I should probably get a sledge hammer out and bang away at the old conservatory in the hope that it will demolish itself somehow, but I can't see that happening.


7th May

Scilla peruviana
Scilla peruviana is a giant of the genus from the Iberian peninsula, straying across the Strait of Gibraltar into northern Africa. I grew it for many years in the greenhouse among the mediterranean bulbs where it was feeble. It took me many years to realise that it was the same plant growing in all the local gardens, and looking magnificent outside. It went staight out, partly to get it into better conditions but mostly to make some space. It has been out there for three years now, and it is still a bit feeble. These flowers come from bulbs I was given of the local form which is a wonderful thing.
The species is said to be variable, and it may be that my original stock was a poor one (or I may be a hopeless grower). The new one is much better.
I have been growing seedlings of the white flowered for for several years and they are getting bigger. They will flower eventually. Last autumn I was offered a bulb and snapped it up. The snow white flowers are interesting but not as good. Gardeners are many things, but we aren't generally patient.



7th May 2017

Paeonia delavayi
The tree peonies combine the overwhelming beauty of the flowers with an intractable temperament. In a wet climate like this, with warm winters, they are prone to rots and diseases and even the most moderate storms in summer will destroy the flowers. I have left them well alone. I do have a grandiose plan for a small greenhouse dedicated to them, but so far it is nothing more than an amusing idea for the chill of winter (...if I had a peony house I wouldn't be weeding on a cold wet day, I could be dreaming with the Emperors of China...).
I have resisted the temptation.
P. ludlowii on the other hand is quite manageable. I don't grow it, but I should. It is only a lack of opulence about the nodding yellow flowers that holds me back. P. delavayi would be even worse, with much smaller flowers, but it is rescued by the deep red colour and flowers that face outwards. I have seen it in gardens where the full range of variation from deep red through orange to yellow are grown and I have frequently wondered why the species hasn't been developed and selected in the same way as the classic tree peonies. I was looking for variation when I discovered that the Chinese had already selected dozens of (almost indistinguishable) cultivars, so the process has begun.
This one came to me as P. potaninii and is a smallish flowered form with good colour.
Youthful common sense has kept me from the allure of P. x suffruticosa but older people can be reckless. It is the attraction of gardening. If Morrisons can sell tree peonies for 5 among the lettuces how could anyone walk away?