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Plants with ‘provenance’


Over twenty years ago Aunt Monica gave me three paeonias that I chose from the Kelway’s catalogue. “Plants should have provenance” she stated. They are still with me, a part of the garden’s personal archive. There are plants that are associated with places or gardens that have been visited and that feebly echo the work of great gardeners. Other plants that grow differently because they are not in Cornwall or dry Essex, and which therefore, never quite replicate the memory.

 It is the plants that have been gifted, that indeed have ‘provenance’ and therefore provide the most satisfaction. In particular, the annual flush of pleasure one receives as they enter their season of especial beauty. Ownership is never quite transferred and the plant remains as ‘Marilyn’s salvia’, ‘Father’s violets’ or ‘June’s acer’. Tending these is a particular pleasure.

There are other gifts however. Those that turn up their roots, shed their leaves and whither in an embarrassingly short space of time. Some even come with greenfly. Others develop with unexpected vigour and their sturdy roots crack the decorous pot in which they were presented. Such plants do not want to be an incident but a major feature, even, a problem to be dealt with. Friendship can be complex. The identity of the giver becomes fused with the plant. Be careful of the plants that you give to others or you may be remembered as a rampant, mildewed monster or as something with disappointing flowers.

I have, for many years, owned a cycad, given by THAT friend. This dominates our tiny conservatory. It is raised over four feet from the ground so you can, more or less, get underneath it. The fronds brush the cobwebs and the cycad believes itself to be a noble tree fern, rather than a primitive relic of ancient times. Identities can indeed become blurred.

Susan A. Tindall

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