Thursday, 31 May 2012

Old Nick’s porridge

If there was a plant star of the show at Chelsea this year the award must go to Cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris. This didn’t so much sneak its way into just about every garden as proudly proclaim itself a key part of those schemes in which it appeared. On the television coverage designers like Andy Sturgeon could be heard extolling the virtues of the ‘umbellifer’ – basically a big carrot. In the kitchen garden dill, fennel and angelica all fall into this group, although it’s not a genetic classification but a description of how the plant holds its flowers; in ‘umbels’ (an umbrella-like structure). Cow parsley is similarly classified, and while the posh red version Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Raven’s Wing’ was in evidence, it was the humble species which we know from our country lanes and hedgerows that seemed most popular, and with good reason. Six weeks ago, clumps of delicate, fern-like foliage could be seen nestling on the ground, glowing lush green in the damp undergrowth where they’ve been bulking up since last year (Cow parsley is a biennial). Then seemingly overnight, aided by record rainfall and then unseasonable sunshine, the plants achieved a height of about a metre, sometimes more, topped with a froth of delicate, creamy white flowers.

Friday, 25 May 2012

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012

The sun came out for Chelsea this week, baking hot on Tuesday when I visited the show on the day the medals were announced.

There was a tremendous amount going on, and it was good to see an awareness of the the environmental impact of gardening, with a noticeable emphasis this year on water conservation, drought tolerant plant selection and naturalistic styles of planting, although it was evident from overheard comments that, to a significant number of onlookers, the designers’ painstaking attempts to recreate romantic meadow effects were often interpreted as patches of weeds – “there’s a bit like that in my garden behind the shed!”. I thought it was rather lovely, but that’s the challenge for the garden designer keen to promote this aesthetic with all its environmental, bee-friendly worthiness, when many clients just want things to look neat. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

You don’t know Jack

Garlic mustard, or Jack in the Hedge (Alliaria petiolata), glowing white and emerald green following a downpour. It’s everywhere at the moment. Find it popping up alongside pavements and in the hedgerows, obviously loving the wet weather and growing away quite vigorously, although not as uncontrollably as in North America where, following its introduction for culinary use in the nineteenth century, it’s become an invasive pest. Like the nettle which it superficially resembles – and in whose company it can often be found – it has a square stem, but the emergence of the vertically-held seed pods after the flowers point towards its true placement in the brassica family, reminding me of canola (the rapeseed plant), a solitary specimen of which occasionally escapes from the fields and appears in similar locations. I’ve yet to introduce it to my own herb patch, or anyone else’s garden for that matter, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the creation of a wild, naturalistic effect, perhaps in the company of cow parsley and a deadnettle or two.