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


Christine B. said...

The white flowered form of Epilobium, which we call fireweed here, is still coveted by many gardeners even though, as you say, it spreads with abandon. It is a common roadside weed here and an urban myth says that when the fireweed has finished blooming, winter will follow in six weeks. I've had my fill of winter, still plenty of snow here.

Christine in Alaska

Paul Hervey-Brookes said...

Hello Christine,
What a lovely roadside weed to have though. I wondered if Lupinus nootkatensis also grew with such abandon for you? I have tried to grow it several times here with no real luck. I wonder if they need a really cold snap for better germination? I think the blue flower looks stunning and seems to be a little more subtle than the hybridised ones which we can easily obtain. Heres hoping Spring arrives with you soon!

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