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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Garden Design Magazine

You may remember that a month ago I said a I would be writing a guest blog on the website of the one of America's most popular and informative garden design magazines, Garden Design.

The people at Garden Design have recently had a total overhaul of their website making even more informative and it looks really fresh.  My blogs can now be found under this link and I will adding more over the coming days to bring it up to date.

There are some other really fun guest bloggers currently with lots of interesting ideas, along with galleries of mouth watering gardens from across the world.

Sunday, 18 April 2010


One of springs 'love it or hate it' vegetables which is in season now is Rhubarb.  Dreadfully sour or deliciously sharp depending on your taste buds there is no denying its return to favour over recent years.
(Photo: Rheum palamtum var. tanguticum)
Traditional culinary Rhubarb is a hybrid cross classified by the Royal Horticulutural Society as Rheum x hybridum, but one of its parents is Rheum rhabarbarum.  In England and similar cooler climates Rhubard is forced from early spring to produce sweet pale shoots before being left to grow naturally for the rest of the growing season but interestingly the same plant will produce good edible shoots all year round in warmer climates.
(Photo: Rheum officinale) In China Rhubarb has been grown for 1000’s of years as a traditional form of medicine and was written about as early as 2700BC in The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root compiled by the Emperor Yan.  Its roots are rich in anthraquinones a strong laxative being used for well over 5000 years and it also has an astringent effect on the mucous membranes.  For this reason Rhubarb has occasionally found itself fashionable as a slimming agent.
Rhubarb also naturally occurs along the banks of the river Volga but it is technically a separate species and known as Russian Rhubarb.  During the Mediaeval period Rhubarb was so expensive to transport from these far flung places to Europe that it cost several times that of cinnamon, saffron and opium and it was in the Tangut Province of China that Marco Polo, rather excitedly found it being farmed on the mountainous hillsides.
Rhubarb was first introduced to the United Sates in the 1820’s first arriving in Maine and Massachusetts before traveling with early settlers across the country.  In England Rhubarb was first grown in the 17th century with the advent of cheap sugar to improve its sharp taste and was most popular in the interwar years.
(Photo: Rheum palaestinumThe name Rhubarb is derived from the Greek for the Volga, rha and barbarum.  As a genus it belongs to the Polygonacea family which includes Rumex, Muehlenbeckia and Persicaria.  Within the Rhubarb clan there are some stunning showy plants which given a large herbaceous border make a fantasic addition, Rheum Palmatum has a number of garden worthy selections, but outside of some of the most unusual species plants Rheum palmatum var. tanguticum with its deeply cut rich red leaves which age green and its huge plumes of blood red flowering bracts would be my plant of choice.  Although thought of as an ornamental we grow this one to eat first and become decorative later in the year, finding its stems naturally a little sweeter then the better known culinary Rhubarb.

(Photo: Our Rhubarb Fool)  If I have made you slightly curious about Rhubarb and you want to try it another way than crumbled to death this really is a lovely Rhubarb Fool Recipe, which we made today.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Woody or Fluffy

Recently I saw the most rigid plant its curious almost stunted growth make me think it had grown up in a draught.  The plant is question was Ilex crenata ‘Tee Dee’.  
(Photo: Ilex aquifolium 'Lichtenhalii)
I have to admit I was rather smitten by it and at the other end of the spectrum its cousin Ilex aquifolium ‘Lichtenhalii’ was also a ‘to die for plant’.  In fact recently I have found my self liking and wanting to collect and grow a number of woody plants.  For a firm herbaceo-file (I have made this up) its been rather an odd experience swooning over Danea and obscure crataegus sp. and a wonderful Chinese Betulus to name a few.
Therefore I have had to be strict on myself and think about a few really fluffy herbaceous plants which capture my attention and none seem to do that currently as much as the wild free flowing types, such as Epilobium angustifolium ‘Album’.  The white flowering form of the rose bay willow herb just screams ‘Love me’. Its soft elongated green foliage and tall spikes of simple white flowers are made for the garden and being slightly invasive it also means it grows fast and will make a good sized plant.  Of course such a beauty which spreads like wildfire can become the ‘Plant Gift’ we all seem to give at dinner parties.  Sometimes you get something really thuggish, after all if you are digging something up to give it alway its never because its the most precious plant you have! But in this case you will be forgiven by 90% of the people you pass it on to.  
(Photo: Epilobium angustifolium 'Album')
It naturilses well also colonising those places which you want to look nice but don’t hit the radar as the place to weed, such along the edges of drives and banks.  Another delicate looking beauty which colonises well and looks stunning in combination with the Epilobium is Anthriscus.  Now I can remember when dark purple form of this  plant was still rather unheard off and customer to the specialist nursery I started out at almost had kittens upon seeing it.   It is a beauty the lovely fern like leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace but in rich maroon topped with frothy white umbells and all coming true from seed makes this something special and tough in the garden.   You can raise it easily from seed or buy a couple of plants from a nursery or increasingly a garden centre and let it seed merrily around.  A bit like the purple leaved celandine, Ranunculus f. ‘Brazen Hussey’, I can’t imagine you would get to the point where you needed to start removing it from the borders.
(Photo: Daucus carota)
So the combination of white spires of the Epilobium with the dark foliage and white umbells of the Anthriscus certainly do look good but I would add to this naturalised bank another Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) to the mix and its something you can go into the hedgerows and collect.  Its soft grey-green fern like foliage has a slightly transparent edge to it which catches the sun and the fluffy creamy-white flat topped flowers make this really worthy of being in the (rougher) garden.  In England we call Daucus ‘Bishop’s Lace, and I say this because I know in parts of America Daucus is known as Queen Anne’s Lace and I have already mentioned that.  But Daucus carota makes for a lovely plant in these slightly wild free parts of the garden.  If eaten when young the wild carrot is perfectly edible and a teaspoon of crushed seed has long been used as a form of birth control, first recorded by Hippocrates over 2000 years ago.  I have to admit there is a point just after flowering when the flower begins to pull inwards on itself that I really love this plant.  The outer most flowers are just still in flower but the centre has been pulled down forming a a bowl or bird nest like shape.  For a short second its like a black hole in the center of a plant.
(Photo: Todaroa montana)
Sticking and also ending on a carrot note the last plant I might add would be Todaroa montana, the Giant Mountain Carrot.  We have been growing this plant from collect seed for a couple of years now and it is such a fun plant.  Native to the Canary Isles it reaches up to 2.5m and is reliably perennial given rich soils partial shade or sun.  The only difference here it its a rich acidic yellow but towering about the pastoral scene I rather think it would add a touch or drama or at least humour to the scene.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Starting Pistol

Easter weekend is the traditional start to the gardening year.  I never fail to be excited by the thought that this is the real beginning, the soil is warming and the days are longer, nature herself appears to want to get growing.  The Sorbaria at the nursery seems to be breaking bud as we watch and Thalictrum, Astrantia and Geranium to name a few are stirring.

I read over the weekend that two of England's most well known and respected Garden Centre groups planned to open on Easter Sunday.  Hillier, a distinguished named which needs no introduction and Wyevale both said they would open, in Hillier's case only its planteria's and Wyevale only to its garden club members.  I have to admit if I had not been busy potting on at our own Nursery then I think I would have made my way to the garden centre and had a little look.  I love unusual plants and finding something new to me, however this does not always have to happen in an obscure seed catalogue or from making collections abroad.  Often under our own nose's new exciting introductions along with the everyday gardening essentials can be found in a garden centre.  Once at one of the above mentioned I found a staggering array of Pseudopanax an evergreen New Zealand native with roughly 20 species rare to cultivation in England and perhaps not so surprising but equally staggering in sheer quality of plant a vast array of Hamamelis.  At this time of year they are stuffed with a mass of exciting plants from vegetable plugs to fresh shrubs and a staggering choice of seasonal plants.  Most importantly you can actually smell growing at this time of year in garden centre's and nursery's, its terribly exciting and I often think it does not matter what we grow as long as we enjoy it and can stand back at the end of the day with a cup of tea and reap enjoyment from our gardens.

So the starting pistol has been fired and the growing year is upon us.


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