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Let’s hear it for the Kaffir lily

When I inherited my present garden it was in blissful disarray and had mostly reverted to grass. I eventually discovered a small clump of grassy stems that weren’t doing much. I cleared a space round them and let them be. Eventually, come autumn, they burst joyfully, into flower. I found the foliage had now achieved great beauty.

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The original clump

The flowering spikes were sturdy and each carried several blooms.

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Kaffir lily up close

These had wide open faces and protruding beyond the petals were the hair-like jauntily curled “style”. At the heart of the flower the stamens stood to attention, upholding long bottlebrush anthers coloured coppery-gold.  The flower petals had a soft sheen like healthy skin and were coloured a bright, tangy red shade. This colour lit up the dullest days, even dank November, and some flowers were still hanging in there on Christmas Day. This plant immediately became one of the most valued residents of the garden.

Over the years I have divided the out-of-season rather ragged clumps and tried them elsewhere. I have passed some to friends but the original clump remains. I was originally told that this plant was called ‘The Kaffir Lily’. I looked it up and found the latin name Schizostylis coccinea. I recently bought a book called ‘Creative Planting with Indigenous Plants. A South African Guide’*. I discovered that it now rejoices in several popular names: the book lists ‘Scarlet river lily’ and ‘Crimson flag’, as well as ‘Khahlana’ and the Afrikaanse ‘Rooirivierlelie’.  In its crossover to ‘garden ornamental’ status it has been rebranded, a complete lifestyle make-over in fact. Even the latin name Schizostylis coccinea has been changed to Hesperantha, the Evening flower which appears to indicate its admission to the classical Greek heritage of the western world.

I understand and appreciate that the Europeans arriving in South Africa imported their own place names and indeed their own plants. For many years they tried to recreate the gardens of their original homelands. Much of the native flora was discounted for years until suddenly eyes were opened and they saw what was always there to be seen. Amongst this assembly stood the Kaffir lily, a plant of great beauty, a perfect ’lily of the field’ that had evolved to thrive in that place.

There’s a message (or several) in there somewhere. The plants in my garden stand proudly under the name by which I first knew them.

The Kaffir lily comes in shades of red, pink and white. A friend gave me the ‘Major’ form, twice the size of my originals, and it came into flower in July this year. Counter-intuitively, the Kaffir lily prefers moist positions and fertile soil. It is very tolerant of abuse.

*The book to which I referred ‘Creative gardening with Indigenous Plants. A South African Guide’ is crammed full of delicious plants that we can now buy, it is beautifully produced and is written by Pitta Joffe, published by Briza Publications.

Susan A. Tindall

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A perfect garden

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Textures and shapes

This is my second visit to a garden that I found perfect. The thought of returning to this garden has made me feel somewhat anxious. This garden is privately owned and has essentially been created by one lady. Such gardens are, by their nature, ephemeral. They depend on the health and wealth of the owner. Wild nature (or developers), wait at the gates, ready to pull it down. However, the garden is still in perfect beauty. It is a month later in the season and roses and peonies are now replaced by the flowers of hydrangeas and white astilbe. The present owner bought the property in 1989 and restored and created the long neglected gardens. The whole reflects her skill and intimate knowledge of the garden and of plants.  She dances on that tightrope where poor judgements can make the garden fail. What can be left to romp? What must be constrained? What must be clipped and what just left, as is.

When we enter and ring the bell she appears, with her wild halo of hair, she looks so happy, so fulfilled, in the thrall of her creation. There are places to sit everywhere in this garden but are they ever used by the owner? She must need to work ceaselessly to manage this whole. It seems impossible, but the garden is thoroughly managed.

Arriving in the village one first sees the exuberant planting that has spilled out of the gate, crossed the road and is marching outwards, into the French landscape.

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Marching into countryside

The entrance could be overlooked as it is through a side gate made of dull solid metal. The gate is ajar and gives a view of a gravel path that turns invitingly. There is a glint of golden bamboo and intriguing buildings, and a sense of beyond. Follow the path and the garden opens into a kingdom. There is a pretty chateau, more formal gardens to the front, outbuildings, a lawn to the rear, and then mature, bare-stemmed trees. The extent of the place is astonishingly revealed as one explores with ever-increasing delight.

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Garden view

In general, most of us major on colour in flowers and foliage in our gardens. There may be some ‘specimens’ chosen for their shape as well as plants primarily selected for foliage. Madame Catherine Guévenoux makes extensive use of texture and shape and the repetition of shape, perhaps designed to be viewed as silhouettes. Parts of the garden can work in black and white.  When within the avenue of tall, bare-stemmed trees the leaves shift constantly with a susurration both soothing and intoxicating and engages the hearing. In the shade of the trees there are cool breezes, like cool water on the skin on this hot day.

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Seating

One finds white doves, ponies, and chicken. There is an orchard and long grass meadows. There are unexpected vistas with long paths that control the design, and everywhere, a cornucopia of birdsong.If you want to find this garden for yourself, it is called the Jardins de Maizicourt, in the village of that name. It is around 39 kilometres NNE of Abbeville, in Picardy.

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Church

Susan A. Tindall

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Terri and Sue go willow-weaving

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We escape from computers, data, pictures, management and marketing. Instead we have willow wands, secateurs, a hunky bodkin and an arm’s length of string. Add to this the hands, the intention of our minds and expert tuition by Christine Brewster. We walk into a large, crammed studio stashed with willow and willow products. Above us a 5-metre long snake looks down. It could unhinge its jaw and imbibe, a woven fantasy. “The kettle’s just boiled,” says Christine, and our day begins.

Settling to the task one realises that you are following a path that’s been there, not just for centuries, but millennia. The line stretches back in time, but also wraps the world. People have always used woven plant material to make receptacles. They carry things and store things. Through observation, cunning and contrivance, techniques have evolved using the most basic tools and ingenuity. “At one time every village would have had a basket-maker” says Christine. The receptacles are ephemeral utilities, generally discarded and replaced, sometimes they are an art-form.

I settle to make an inverted basket – the handle coming from its bottom, a whacky medium for displaying some air plants. The difference between left and right, under and over, can be daunting.

Terri decides to make a plant support. She works with an intensity that is almost ferocious, her wayward wands periodically slapping me. (There is something here for everyone!) Her structure is like a six-foot waisted vase. Whilst weaving, the vertical supports are mounted on a cardboard fruit box – a free available resource. She spirals strands of willow, fingers working furiously as she pokes in further wands. At the top it doesn’t end in a confining point but opens out. It’s not a constraining corset but an enabling structure that will accommodate the plants’ needs. It looks dynamic.

I work on my little basket. The willow can feel silky and there’s the fascination of texture and tints, even in my crude effort. At the end Christine makes the showpiece handle, a combination of fierce use of the bodkin, dexterity, and working willow threads as though sowing silk. I gape like the snake. Terri finishes her plant support, and, being Terri, makes another.

Terri’s garden now has a new dimension with two wild sculptural eruptions. In the future a cornucopia of blossom will spill from them as they are colonised by rampant growth. I contemplate my curious basket with unexpected satisfaction.  My husband stares at it, puzzled, “it’s a new lid for the laundry basket” he concludes.

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Thank you Christine, I will see and understand baskets properly now, it’s an added dimension.

Susan A Tindall

Christine’s website: www.stripeybasket.co.uk

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An orgy or a diet plan?

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As the days lengthen and growth in the garden visibly expands, the compulsion to add to the burgeoning foliage is irresistible. Plant nurseries and garden centres can be addictive; I’ve visited more than seven this month, actually.

Confronted by actual plants, each more alluring than the last, the urge to have them in my own garden to watch them develop, day on day, is like a feast for the famished. Each plant is a welcome individual for which there is room in the infinite space of the mind’s garden. I do, just sometimes, think “Where will this go” and buy a plant that is a solution to a problem. Mostly, I just buy plants. There are a couple of dozen of them waiting for a home in the ground here at the moment. I expect they will go – pro-tem – into pots; we had over 70 pots by the end of last summer.

My friend, JP, isn’t like this. She has a plan. Over the weeks the conception of a new border evolves in her mind. She buys several plants of the same variety to maximise the impact. She chooses a core plant and selects those that go with it in accordance with the theme that has already been developed. She takes account of the longevity of the flowering season and deadheads regularly. She combines shapes quite beautifully. She does, in fact, do all the things I advise others to do. The effect, in JP’s garden, is first class, and even better in the second and then third year of its evolution. That is the diet sheet garden and I recommend it unequivocally.

So what can be said for the orgy? My garden has too many plants and an excess of different plants. There is too much going on for it to be beautiful. However, when I am within it I am in the company of a host of celebrities, a smorgasbord of talent and individuality. It’s a visual banquet, assembled just because I love them. It works, but just for me and it is selfish. In one’s own garden one can be an absolute monarch, perhaps, a despot.

Susan A. Tindall

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The Green Shoots of the Imagination

Piss-a-bed and friend

Piss-a-bed and friend

In my garden the green shoots of spring thrust up amongst the opulent pale swathes of tulip foliage. There are also shiny green stems bearing pointed, shiny leaves that are tinged with mahogany and climb rapidly up in the world. These are of course couch grass and bind weed both of which flourish in my garden despite my feeble attempts at eradicating them. In the corner of my neighbour’s garden I can see a spreading colony of ground elder. It is the far side of their lawn but am sure it is capable of a giant leap.

A friend recently made this comment about my garden – to a third party: “Sue’s garden was less disorganised than usual.” I fiercely resent this. I am NOT disorganised. I am a highly organised person. My garden is well planned and functional. It is just, like me, somewhat unkempt, its hair isn’t combed – in fact, there are weeds growing out of it. I could keep on top of it. I could pull up these weeds for an hour each day and regularise the growth and disposition of my plants. I could insist that they maintain their allocated spaces.

Push comes to shove however there is always the allure of that new project. There is always some area that needs attention, the re-working of a bed or two. Anthony says: “Your garden is like Heathrow Airport, there is always some part under redevelopment.” And that is it really. The imagination gets to work on new possibilities, and on new and interesting plants. It is that world of a virtual garden that has raised its head – a pernicious weed itself, and occupies the time that could be spent in attaining that perfect and harmonious garden. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

Susan A. Tindall

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Children & gardens

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Rowan fruit

While walking round the major gardens, such as those of the RHS, there’s plenty of opportunity to observe my fellow humans. The parent-child situations generally arouse the strongest of emotions.

Three things I have enjoyed:  1) a bitter morning with slushy snow, and a father crouches down to explain the snow-caught prints of birds’ feet to his enraptured daughter; 2) a child who gathers dandelions from a grassy path to take home to her father; 3) a child totally excited by the lush foliage and flowers of the American skunkweed (Lysichitum americanus). Obviously a new window had opened in the child’s imagination.

Three things I hate: 1) parents who call a child away from something the child finds interesting, using the words “come away, it’s poisonous” (generally, it isn’t); 2) parents who take no interest in the object of a child’s fascination with a plant, preferring to call the child away with the promise of ice-cream; 3) those who provide a lecture that displays their expertise, but don’t notice the child becoming bored and resentful. By the way – not having children I am a perfect parent.

Finally, the most amusing incident ever. This took place in the fenced yin-yang garden (within the herb garden) at the RHS garden at Wisley a few years ago. Three small children are tearing round this fenced garden. Mother calls them out with “come away, those plants are poisonous!”. The garden is immediately entered by two young boys, one of whom pees on the pebbles. Mother calls them out and hustles them away. Two further children quickly enter the garden and play with the just peed-on pebbles whilst their mother watches approvingly.

Now, thinking back to early childhood and the plants that first entered my consciousness. These include a rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia). This is an enormous tree to stand under when you’re pint-sized, and the lush clusters of fruit are magic. I have always planted a rowan tree in my gardens. Then there’s silvered, fairy-money pods of honesty at our neighbour’s door (Lunaria annua), and a rich pink rose (Rosa ‘Dorothy Perkins’ probably) that tumbled over the fence and is the prototype for that dream garden that is still an aspiration. These early memories and their family associations provide a direct, be-jewelled link from that distant past to the present fabric of my life.

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Rosa ‘Dorothy Perkins’

You may just use a garden as a safe place to meet friends for a gossip whilst the children are allowed to run wild. BUT, if there’s emotional space and time to enter the clarity and wonder of a child’s perception, you may be planting a deep seed. That seed may grow to become an inheritance, one that entwines your life with that far distant future which lies beyond your physical presence.

Susan A. Tindall

 

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My herb garden

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Herb garden

At intervals I emerge in my herb-gathering garb: a full-skirted dress with dainty floral motive. A floppy hat secured with a large ribbon. A trug and some scissors. I waft and snip in the sunshine. My trug is layered with the texture of aromatics, touched with the blue of borage, the orange of nasturtium, all the scents of summer, romantically laid.

Returning to the kitchen and the allure of rich aromas that arise from the slow-cooking stews, and simultaneously seduced by the prettiness of dew-crisp salads, I sip a fresh-brewed herbal tea. I am seated beneath bunches of herbs drying overhead, and bottles with herbs flavouring olive oil and the rising dough for rosemary bread.

Outside, the un-corseted herbs are comely bushes. Carpets of thyme bounce under the hand like freshly laundered towels, and bees and butterflies flit and gorge. Slugs don’t nibble and though organic the garden is naturally free of weeds.

It is exactly like this in my herb garden, and my herb garden only exists in my imagination. I don’t have a herb garden, the garden is too shady. In the shade the sun-loving herbs stretch towards the light, gangle gracelessly and flop. The mints the slugs don’t eat romp and wage war. Thyme gets patchy and fennel reaches for the sky and self-seeds everywhere. Then there is the couch grass and the bindweed. Your herb garden implies control and management. Exquisite naturalism requires an exacting attention to detail. It requires that you are in control of your garden. This scarcely happens with me. Jobs don’t get done or are completed too late. I like plants to self-seed and destroy my plans, and plants mostly seem to break the rules. Anyway I’m too fat for a full skirt, prefer trousers, and the trug exists but is always full of gardening tools.

If you want to see a herb garden that works visit the discreet walled idyll of the St Valery herbarium in France. They do it right.

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St Valery herbarium

Susan A. Tindall

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Cyclamen gemstones

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Cyclamen coum

The gems of autumn and winter are the miniature cyclamen. In my garden, at this time of year Cyclamen coum is in flower. Their colour is a crisp magenta. The bloom, less than a centimetre high, has petals folded like a napkin. It is raised on a slender stem but bows its head, gaze absorbed by its own beautiful foliage. The leaves, plump and rounded, are like fat rugby balls, patterned exquisitely in shades of green shaded from dark to cream; each individual a perfect miniature.

This small colony started over two decades ago. I bought a few large and hoary tubers from a basket displayed in a local hardware and gardening store, long deceased. I expensively added a few more, of modest proportions, bought at a garden centre. These tubers were planted in a difficult area, largely shaded by the vigorous many-stemmed hazel. The area is seldom watered in drought. They rapidly established themselves, self-seeding on the slate surface of a raised bed, in the crack between stepping stones, tangled in the roots of ornamental grasses and growing in a muddle with Arum italicum pictum which also self-seed there.

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Cyclamen hederifolium

The Cyclamen hederifolium were started around the same time. Their leaves are generally larger, lobed and pointed, reminding me of heraldic shields. A few years ago I bought three upmarket silver-leaf forms at the Cyclamen show at Wisley. As ownership was transferred I was regarded doubtfully as an unsuitable custodian: “On no account put them outside till there’s no danger of frost”. They lingered in the conservatory for ages before the one-way ticket to the great outdoors. I think one died (or was eaten by mice) but the other two thrived. The best is in a hostile spot, inches from the base of the hazel. It is a large clump; the leaves have the same grey sheen as the costly cat-litter our old cat Derek required as a prerequisite to performance.

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Cyclamen coum & Cyclamen hederifolium

Now the showy seedlings are occasionally apparent, mostly in an uneasy jumble with the smaller Cyclamen coum. Though the autumn flowers are long gone, the foliage, joyously, remains.

A few years ago I decided it was advisable to establish two further colonies; one, in an exposed position, is struggling. The other is near the awkward, evergreen shade of a holly tree. The cyclamen like this spot and have begun to spread. Two days ago I moved a Hellebore out of their way. Another is poking its nose through the foliage of an established Pulmonaria. They are in that hinterland between cherished treasure and pernicious pest. Treasure wins, so far.

They are secretive, disappearing for months in summer and then looked for like the return of swallows. Perhaps they too, migrate.

Then, dabbling in the earth to plant bulbs in autumn I find a single hederifolium leaf. It is attached to a lax stem, several inches long, seeking light. The corm is smaller than a shirt button. I clear a space for it, and hope.

Susan A. Tindall

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Planting nurtures the Spirit

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It is early January and friend June phones.

“I’m going to the Garden Centre; there may be still be remaindered bulbs on sale.”

“Isn’t it rather late?”

“I can put them in pots and they’ll still flower.”

June is packed full of excited anticipation and the whole scene plays before my eyes.

At the Garden Centre the remaining packets of bulbs are deeply remaindered. They look sad as they come into growth and the roots emerge within the confines of the fretwork plastic that dangles in air.

Hands disentangle the roots from the plastic in which they are entwined. The lucky bulbs are reunited with rich earth and moisture as hands delve and place them, noses up, roots splayed. They are tucked in, covered in compost and the surface of the soil is smoothed level. Now there is a row of expectant pots, arrayed like pregnant mothers. The instinct to nurture has been fulfilled and the cup of happiness brimmeth. It is almost as good as doing it oneself.

Last autumn I counted my pots that contained bulbs. There were 33 of them, plus of course, the five new packets I just couldn’t resist buying. I planted all 38 sets of bulbs in the garden. This year there are no pots to be moved near to the front or back door at the point of flowering. No pots to be relocated to dry sunny spots for the summer. No pots to be disinterred so the bulbs can be replanted in fresh compost during the autumn. A whole tranche of work has been eradicated.

However, I think of my cache of 33 empty pots, now depleted of promise, of life. I think of those dangling packets with their desiccating lives.

Perhaps just a few packets. It’s not too late.

Susan A. Tindall

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Great British Garden Revival – Episode 10 Herbaceous Perennials & Kitchen Gardens

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Sadly this is the last in the series. Here is a list of the plants mentioned in Episode 10 – click on the plant links for more info about the plants.

To look up more plants:

  • Get the ‘Joy of Plants’ smartphone/tablet app so you can look up plants whenever you like www.joyofplants.com/apps

Episode 10 – Herbaceous Perennials with Chris Beardshaw

Locations:

  • Arley Hall & Gardens, Cheshire
  • The Manor House, Upton Grey, Hampshire
  • Old Court Nursery, Worcestershire
  • Waterperry Gardens, Oxfordshire

Walls & hedges provide both a backdrop and shelter for herbaceous borders. “Island beds” work in smaller gardens.

Creating a herbaceous border is like “painting with plants”. Repetition of colour across the border draws the eye along it.

Planting starts at the back with large, clump forming plants, e.g.

Rudbeckia lacinitata ‘Herbstonne’

Then in the middle more refined plants, e.g.

Aconitum ‘Spark’s variety’ (Monkshood)

Crocosmia x crocosmiflora (Montbretia)

And at the front of the border plants that spill out, e.g.

Phlomis (Sage)

Phlomis chrysophylla (Golden leaved Jerusalem sage)

Asters are used to extend the season and are great for insects.

Astilbe

Achillea ‘The Pearl’

Care of herbaceous borders:

Weed regularly. Remove Convolvulus (bindweed) by carefully unfurling from plants, winding round a cane and treating with weed killer.

At the first decent frost start to cut the plants back. Reduce their size, divide and move plants. Divide plants every 3-5 years to give them space and keep them healthy.

We have over 3000 varieties of Herbaceous Perennials in our apps and Plant Finder, just look at Browse by Group/Herbaceous Perennials, or search for specific attributes using the Find by option.

Episode 10 – Kitchen Gardens with Alys Fowler

Locations:

  • Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons, Oxfordshire
  • Tatton Park, Cheshire

Grow different varieties of vegetables & herbs for different timing of harvest and different uses in the kitchen.

Beetroot (Beta vulgaris)

Kale (Brassica oleracea acephala)

4 quadrants is a traditional design – edge each quadrant with:

Box (Buxus microphylla)

Lavender Lavandula

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Have an archway for runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) – you can walk under the arch and pick the beans

Grow fruits like apples and pears against the wall or fence.

Include flowers for insects, and for cutting for the house.

Position herbs close to the kitchen for ease of picking while cooking. Grow unusual vegetables for extra interest.

Aubergine (Solanum melongema)

Patty pan squash (Cucurbita pepo var. clypeata)

Strawberry popcorn (Zea mays var. saccharata ‘Strawberry’)

Allium (Onions) are very easy to grow

Allium hookeri Zorami

Schisandra chinensis (Magnolia vine) – good for your liver – a hangover cure, also likes growing in shade

Babbington leek (Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii)

Runner bean Csar – you can dry the beans to store them when they grow too big to eat fresh

Micro-greens are useful as a winter crop for the window sill:

Atriplex hortensis (Purple orach)

Chenopodium giganteum (Mexican tree spinach)

French sorrel (Rumex scutatus)

Red radish

 

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