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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


10th September 2017

Begonia cucullata
Throughout the wet July and August I have nurtured the idea that the clouds will part in September and give us a long golden autumn. My optimism is wearing a little thin. This week has involved some frustrating shower-dodging. I was watching group of swallows hunting for insects in the breeze and I couldn't decide if they were the local group getting ready to leave or the first group of migrants heading south. Every time I see swallows now I wonder if I will see them again this year. It is wistful romantic tosh. I have become a wistful romantic tosher.
Between showers on Saturday I was preparing for a plant sale today. Suddenly in the afternoon the sky cleared for a moment. I jumped in the van and went and sat by the coast with a cup of coffee and read the last chapter of my summer book. I laughed, it ended well. The beach was quiet, a few all-weather surfers in reinforced rubber and a wistful dog or two. They will be allowed back on the sand before long and they can bark at the waves again. Summer ends with a splash not a sizzle.
Begonia cucullata sums it up. Fantastic Argentinian collection of the species with tall stems, flowering throughout the summer and seemingly hardy. I had a magnificent tub that I planted up in spring ready for todays sale. On Friday the wind knocked it flat like a fallen stilt-walker with no recoverable dignity. Like the summer, its promise lies spent.


10th September 2017

Colchicum agrippinum
Gloominess, however, is not the theme of the day. I nipped to Wisley at the start of the week and found the ground bedecked in Colchicum. I had been through my own wooded patch last weekend looking for buds and found nothing. The warm south east is in front of us, though we will overtake again as the winter arrives. I went back out yesterday looking particularly for C. agrippinum. It is the first to flower for me, and for no particularly good reason it is growing among the snowdrops (there was a space). From the end of the bed I could see the lilac splash. It has been barely a fortnight since I cleared the weeds. I should remember that I need to get it done before the end of August (but I won't).
The petals are narrow, the flower is borderline ugly and it is hardly increasing. I am very fond of it. Perhaps it's just because I'm getting older, but I have taken to missing things before they are gone. I would miss it if it weren't there. Not enough to replace it perhaps, just enough to wallow in the feckless luxury of the past. I saw it flowering in a pot in the Alpine House at Wisley and started to yearn for the day when I could yearn for my own. Life is complicated isn't it. Perhaps the cold rain is trying to wake me up a bit.


10th September 2017

Rhodophiala bifida
Even the ruby-red of summer has slipped into subtlety. I make no excuse for showing a Rhodophiala again. Last weeks R. 'Harry Hay' has faded and gone as fast as it arrived. Hard on its heels comes R. bifida and something of a surprise. I bought the bulb last autumn from the Nerine Society AGM and when I potted it I assumed I would wait for a decade or so for flowers. I was unduly pessimistic. I am far from convinced that I have any talent at all regarding Rhodophiala, it is a genus like Lycoris or Phaedranassa that I can barely grow and rarely flower. Never in the case of Phaedranassa (but I LOVE the leaves, really, honestly, they make it all worthwhile, they really DO)(no they don't). As a result, flowers in the first year feel like cheating. I have chanced on success meant for someone else but I'll take it.
The genus comes from the southern end of South America (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia) and should be more tolerant of cold than Hippeastrum. Does it matter that the small flowers fade almost as soon as they open? Not this year it doesn't, but it might become tiresome.
For a precious day in the week I had both in flower together and took the chance to cross-pollinate them. In a week or two it will be clear if it has worked and I can at last have my decade of waiting.



10th September 2017

Scilla lingulata
Autumn arrives. I am lulled into an expectation of slow development by the Liquidambar which has been burnishing at the extremeties for weeks. It will slowly build to a fiery leaf dropping crescendo (or the wind will carry them all off one unruly night). Autumn generally isn't like that. It arrives with the abruptness of recognition. I couldn't sleep in the week and it took hours to realise that I had cold feet. In the morning I was pulling on summer socks and I have worn through the heels of most of them. I had to sort through the pile to find a usable pair. The rest went into the bin, their work is done.
So Scilla lingulata can't be expected to give a warning. On the "cold feet" morning it was up, first flowers open. It has been increasing well in a large tub and behind the first flowers the short tongue-shaped leaves have appeared. They seem to resist cold weather well but I think it enjoys the reliably dry summer it gets under cover. Native to the most Moroccan parts of North Africa it can also be found in the Algerian and Tunisian bits. There were once a number of minor variants given botanical status, but the species has recently been moved into Hyacinthoides and all the fine distinctions have been abandoned.
Cold feet, warm socks and the prospect of rain. I am planning to hide in the greenhouse all next week and wallow in Nerine. I may stay there until spring, or at least until there are snowdrops to obsess about.