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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


6th May 2018

Paeonia rockii .
I woke up this morning, opened the back door and bathed for a moment in the warm air flowing in. The cold wind has dropped and the sunshine has been relentless (for a day anyway). It is a day for sitting quietly in the sun. I might even find a book to read, there are piles of them stacked around every corner. Unfortunately on a lazy day, there is never one that really captures the mood. I might go and sit by the beach instead where the sound of seagulls will replace the need for literature.
Up in the Agave house the air is hot and Mexican so these Chinese peonies should look out of place but it doesn't bother me. This is only Mexican by virtue of the corrugated plastic, it doesn't do to get too purist about it. I have a small collection of P. rockii seedlings that I am sure come originally from a Chinese breeder. Perhaps they use them as rootstocks for other tree peonies or they are part of the breeding process. Whatever the reason, I am glad they are produced and that some of them find their way to the warehouses of discount catalogues and then on to Mexico-under-Plastic.
The species has white flowers with a distinctive purple mark at the base of each petal. Plants originally introduced to cultivation by Joseph Rock, including the famous 'Rock's Variety' are now thought to be cultivated selections made by the Chinese over centuries. In recent years plants have been introduced from the mountains of Gansu with much simpler flowers and these are thought to represent the species as it grows in the wild.


6th May 2018

Corydalis 'Blackberry Wine'.
The peonies won't last for long, and brevity is also one of the attributes of Corydalis, though 'Blackberry Wine' tries hard to regrow through the summer, each new flush of foliage crested with purple flowers. It is believed to be a selection of C. shimienensis from Yunnan in China but there have been a large number of new introductions in recent years and the taxonomy still seems to be a little speculative. The genus tends to have fragile stems and shares with the rest of the poppy family the ability to shed its petals without much provocation.
I have been trying to resist the short lived charms of the genus and for the most part I have succeeded. C. solida has recently managed to worm its way into my affection but I have lost patience with the blue flowered species which seem to be happy to grow anywhere for six weeks and unhappy to grow anywhere for any longer.
This one has survived in the heat of the Agave house despite being thrown out for dead. It arrived by accident, growing in the pot of a South African Geranium which it rapidly outgrew. When it was clear that the Geranium was dead I dug it up, sorted out the rootstock of the Corydalis and planted it in a more suitable location, where naturally it died.
This one has come up from a piece I must have left behind. It may have a reputation for liking cool shade but it is happier with me under the plastic Mexican sun.


6th May 2018

Pieris 'Firecrest'.
From time to time things get too big in the garden and something has to be done. In the case of the big trees, I just have too many of them and they have to be felled. When it comes to the shrubs, those that will move get lifted and replanted elsewhere. I wish that when I planted things I took the trouble to make a life sized replica out of newspaper and garden canes. Something that would make the final size very clear. Naturally I have the idea in my mind but when it comes to planting, I am always a bit too optimistic about what I can fit in. Garden canes and newspaper might save a lot of hard work in later years.
The result is that there is some confusion among the Camellia. They all had labels to begin with, but after a decade and a move (or two) around the garden they have lost them. Some are easy and familiar, others I thought I knew well enough and it turns out I didn't. It seems that a significant part of identification, at least in the early years, comes from the location.
The older Pieris have had the same problem. Their first move arranged them in a line beside a long path and they were magnificent. Despite seeing the large trees growing in local gardens, I was still convinced that they could be planted a few feet apart, they would be fine. By the time the path became unusable they had thick trunks. I cut them down to about three feet tall, dug up as much root as I could get and planted them around the garden. Checking for labels was a hot, sweaty afterthought. A decade later and they are starting to recover their character. It is clear that this is 'Firecrest', the unhealthy yellowish tone to the summer foliage is less evident in a new, shadier position, but it is still there. It was the only one of the genus that I didn't really like, but planted beneath a large Eucalyptus it has started to grow on me.


6th May 2018

Paeonia rockii .
Confusion among peonies is resolving in a similar way. I was lucky to have about twenty of these young seedlings to plant. If Joseph Rock had introduced the same range, he might not have assumed it was a wild species. So far mine have been white or purple with single or double flowers. This large purple double is at least as good as some of the named Chinese cultivars so the seed must have come from the better selections. While I like the idea of growing the species in its wild form, it isn't as delicious as this double purple. In the same way, I like the romantic idea of a dip in a cool mountain stream but I wouldn't swap my warm bath for it.
Peonies aren't really suited to this garden and I should leave them alone. Unfortunately it is hard to remember that when offered seedlings and a few of the species seem to be thriving, so it isn't a lost cause. I may have to give up on the large flowered P. lactiflora cultivars but the intersectional hybrids have done well in the sunniest places outside and there might be room for just a few more tree peonies amongst the Agave.
The weather is looking perfect for the next day or two and so I have started to worry about drought. I have a watering can that fills in the overflow from the Sarracenia trays. I went to it this week and it was empty for the first time. I'm not going to mow the grass or light the bonfire, I am going to sit in the sun with a cup of tea and worry about why I worry about things!