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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


11th February 2018

Fatsia polycarpa .
A wintery shower on Tuesday delivered a snowy spring. I woke up with a bright light shining through the curtains which means that either there has been a nuclear catastrophe or it has snowed in the night. A light dusting of snow was a relief in many ways. I had thought that we might get through the winter without much of a chill, but the temperature dropped below freezing for a couple of nights in the week, the snow arrived and the garden was finally cleared of the last of Autumn's fluff. That is to say, the Impatiens have died off even if the Fuchsia are still flowering.
It's good to see it gone. It gives a sense of the proper order being restored. I did some victory pruning of Hydrangea to celebrate and then flushed with the excitement of it all I felled a couple of trees. Who cares where they fall, I want them down now! In the end it all worked out very well (I'm spontaneous, not reckless) and if it ever stops raining I will tidy up.
The snow has brought out the best in some plants. Fatsia polycarpa is a nice enough thing. For a couple of decades it has been doing what Fatsia japonica has done for a couple of centuries. Perhaps the presentation has more style and less gloss but there's not much in it. A dusting of snow emphasises its quality. By the time it reached this size the outer leaves of Fatsia japonica would have folded back towards the ground like the matted hair on a wet Yeti (anything's possible). F. polycarpa has retained its youthful poise.


11th February 2018

Dicksonia fibrosa .
I doubt that the ferns in the garden enjoy the snow but it does wonders for their appearance. I have a friend who spent most of Friday gazing in controlled panic at a dentist while a major problem was rectified. He didn't enjoy it but the same comment applies. Both have survived the experience.
Dicksonia fibrosa went outside when it became clear it had spent too long in a pot. My big old specimen died because I just couldn't keep it wet enough through the summer. A terrible waste of a decades growth, and 19.95 (those were the days). The two small ones went out before they followed it into oblivion. They have grown into large rosettes of leaves to match the original. I think, though I'm nervous of looking too closely, that the trunks have started to extend as well. They have had 30cm of trunk for ten years but I think that after three years in the garden they may have doubled it.
I'm not sure how hardy they will be, we have had a string of mild winters and although the chattering folk-lore suggests it is almost as hardy as D. antarctica its absence from local gardens suggests that may not be true. It comes from the South Island in New Zealand and the RHS say it is hardy but "may be deciduous in cold areas". I think their verve and optimism gives us all hope. Their picture however shows it growing in the warm section of their greenhouse, where snow is uncommon.


11th February 2018

Lophosoria quadripinnata .
I don't like fast surprises but I adore slow ones. Allow me to explain. If you are planning to jump out of a giant cake for me at a surprise birthday party then I would really rather you didn't. I'll try to be jolly but don't expect me to smile unless you have a proper cake as well. Saltimbocca sweetie, saltimbocca.
Slow surprises come like Disa uniflora, the impossible orchid of Table Mountain. Impossible by reputation at least until you try to grow it. I first had it in 1983, a bundle of plantlets from a microprop laboratory. I was amazed beyond words that they didn't simply die. It took me almost 30 years to accept that they were easy and hardy. Blechnum tabulare from the same mountain is behaving just as well in a cold greenhouse. Slow surprise.
Lophosoria straddles the equator, growing south from Mexico as far as Chile. Fussy about its habitat, choosing moist valleys, there isn't a lot about it to suggest the wonder of its appearance in the garden. Mine has been in for eight or ten years, and every year it has been better and more beautiful. The last run of bad winters didn't seem to upset it and the recent string of mild ones have suited it very well. It even seems to enjoy the constant rain. I enjoy it so much I planted a second one and I look at some of the Dryopteris about the place with benign pity. I walked past it last night as the evening shadows filled the garden and it didn't jump out at me. Perfect pace for a surprise.


11th February 2018

Mahonia siamensis .
Part of the pleasure with surprises in the garden comes from the trouncing of timidity. I have a garden at the milder end of the country. Nobody locally would ever claim to have a mild garden. Oh no, you should see the way the frost catches it. We see snow most decades you know, sometimes it even lasts until lunchtime. Terribly cold this garden!
So I garden in the South West, almost obliged to grow the tender things and suffering from the self-delusion that it is cold. Eventually the greenhouse can't cope and things have to go out whatever I might think of their chances. Mahonia siamensis was one such. A species from Thailand that is said to grow here and there in the UK, often against the wall of a greenhouse. Sometimes against the inside wall if read between the lines accurately. Plants from Thailand often exhibit a curious form of hardiness where they claim absolute toughness on the label and then die of completely unrelated factors in the first winter. It's a mystery, isn't it.
So I planted the Mahonia in the Agave house (well, it's prickly) and crossed my fingers. It hates it, too dry and too shady. I had hoped it would be astonishing and instead it was dull. I was given a second plant and it went straight outside where it has grown rapidly into a Mahonia of distinction. The whole genus has promise, but only a select few realise it. This has been one of them. Timididy trounced!