A request that puts fear in the soul of all but the most confident of gardeners is “can you identify this plant/flower/weed”. This is the horticultural equivalent to the doctor’s “I have a pain in my left kneecap”, the builder’s “there is a leak in our back bedroom” and the chef’s “my cake didn’t rise”. It happens frequently and of course I do my best but it is one thing recognising something insitu, quite another in the obscure states that are demanded. Sometimes it is a photo (the combination of a phone camera and me with no specs is a recipe for disappointment), sometimes a verbal description “blue, biggish”, occasionally a real life specimen, dessicated and crumpled, pulled out of a pocket or handbag. Today I was presented with the above flower, admittedly in fine fettle, which had come as part of a florist bouquet. I failed to ask if the gentleman in question had asked permission to raid his wife’s display, I would imagine not. Anyway I didn’t have a clue, what I did know was in this instance I was also eager to find what this splendid flower was. So I did what any “moderne” gardener would do in desperation, I Googled “orange thistle” and all was revealed. This is Carmanthus tinctorius, any the wiser? It is also known as False Saffron or Safflower, sounding a little more familiar? It is grown commercially across many parts of the world including the Americas, Asia and Australasia where the seed is used to make a vegetable oil very similar to sunflower oil. The petals are used as a substitute for saffron. There is evidence that it was used by the ancient Egyptians as a dye and is also used to colour Buddhist robes. It is also used as a nutritional supplement. So many virtues attached to one plant. This overt usefulness is all very well but let us not forget those stunning thistle like flowers which come in varieties of clear yellow, orange or red. The mystery is why haven’t I grown it yet?!
All you need is …..
As it turned out exact directions to Steve and Dawn Morgan’s house in Yelland were not necessary. There was nothing especially wrong with the other gardens in the neighbourhood, the usual mixed bag of tidy, not tidy, tidy but boring, tidy with promise, messy but interesting and then wham, did I just hop on the Malay Express?! Fragrant gingers and large-leaved paulownias screamed “this is not your usual North Devon front garden and wait until you see out the back, you are catching just a glimpse of the edge of my petticoat” or something like that anyway. As it was a Sunday morning and I was early (over eager after checking out their website http://www.devonsubtropicalgarden.co.uk) I decided to wait patiently until the allotted hour, it not being the done thing to catch your hosts in their onesies. I sat in the car practicing my deep breathing exercises trying to control the overwhelming urge to scale the gate and see what delights lay beyond. Luckily there was no need, which is just as well as these exercises have never worked in the past. I had been spotted and was invited in. Where do I begin? Hedychium on hedychium, colocasias with their sails of black, green and purple, passion flowers that remind you why their name is apt, brugmansias on steriods, the words alone are causing me to dribble (again). But the place that I kept returning to, the plants I stroked and lusted after more than any, were the bananas, more specifically the ensete, even more specifically Ensete ventricosum “Montbeliardii”, so beautiful I will even forgive it its unpronounceable name. My visit was an education, the Morgans were knowledgeable, generous and funny, I almost moved in. Actually, all you need to do is wrap me in a double layer of fleece and bring me the odd bacon butty and cup of tea and I will cuddle up with these fantastic plants all winter long.
Guest Photographer – Under Your Nose
Nepotism is such a maligned word. The fact that these incredible photographs were taken by my brother is inconsequential. To capture these images he undertook a long and arduous journey off the settee, out of the back door and into his garden, I would imagine that a packed lunch was involved. And he hunts for creatures. And then he takes these wonderful shots.
Some are classically beautiful ….
A few are on the macabre side …..
With the odd cuddly critter ….
All out there and many more, right under our noses. Each and everyone is part of the ecosystem, doing their jobs to keep things in balance. Most of us are unaware of their existence and more importantly pollute and destroy their habitats. We should perhaps take time to look a little closer when we go out into our gardens. It may give us a new perspective!
At the risk of being irritating, but after all what else is a sister for, I would just like to point out that I am starting a petition for a Under Your Nose blog. All those in favour say “Aye!”
Buy One Get One Free
Today is the my dear friend Hero’s birthday. We had a smorgasbord of delight for lunch, smoked salmon, sausage rolls, smelly cheese, pink, green and orange dips with crudites, all rounded off by chocolate cake and ice cream. There was singing and gifts. However my best present to Hero was that I let her pick her own birthday bunch of flowers, it was bound to be far prettier than anything I could arrange. The chalk on the bench top is the remains of my birthday message from Hero last month, buy one get one free.
Today I have decided that I quite like autumn. Up until this point I wasn’t quite sure. For many years summer was my favourite. Then, as I became more and more embroiled in the quicksand that is horticulture, spring became my No. 1. Something about the feel of things today made me question my preferences, I was softening to the prospect of windscreen wiping mornings, to the soft light and gentle breezes, to the winding down and hunkering up. In the past I have seen autumn purely as winter’s herald, the forerunner of dark and dismal. And then today an epiphany. It is Lauren Bacall, it is Helen Mirren, not trying to be virginal spring or gaudy summer but celebrating itself, mature and majestic.
The Hot Garden at RHS Rosemoor bides its time until early autumn to put on its best performance. It certainly is worth waiting for.
Not everyone has the space, or indeed the spare couple of grand, needed to accommodate a 5m tall jubilant bronze woman in the back garden. In truth those that do are in the minority but this need not exclude us plebs from enjoying art in the garden. By reducing the proportions to suit the size of your estate it is easy to use sculpture to add an extra dimension to any outside space, be it public park, domestic garden or backyard, be it fishing gnome, Henry Moore or Rodin. Somewhere to gain inspiration (and eat chocolate brownies) is Broomhill Art Hotel and Sculpture Gardens, near Barnstaple in North Devon. This late Victorian building perches above a wooded valley and is the artistic equivalent of a packet of M & M’s, every flavour you could ask for: realistic, bizarre, thought provoking, amusing, puzzling, constructed of wood, metal, resin and even recycled plastic bottles. Anyone who fails to find something to please here is beyond hope. In the Hotel gallery there are smaller items, paintings, ceramics and prints (and chocolate brownies). This Carol Peace creation is my fantasy purchase and I remain optimistic that one day I will own it. Foolish, undoubtedly, but I am an advocate of Think Big! In the meantime I will continue to visit this special place to dream and eat the wonderful chocolate brownies.
ps They do serve other food, all of it delicious!
Araucaria araucana – The Monkey Puzzle Tree
This is the puzzle – how could a monkey climb through these vicious branches without doing himself some serious harm?
Answers of no more than 15 words on a postcard please to:
The winner will be notified before the end of time and will be awarded with a great big sloppy smackeroo!