Thursday 23 April 2015

A plant I don't even like ...

As previous posts have detailed, I am buying a plant every month to ensure that I have all year round colour in my garden. This was suggested by the late, great Geoff Hamilton, and it is a great idea. I am trying to go beyond my own personal comfort zone a little, by ensuring that I purchase a plant I have had little previous experience of. It is a great opportunity to buy things which I would not normally buy.

In the early months of the year there was, unsurprisingly, less choice, as there were less plants in flower to choose from. This month it was quite overwhelming, and there was endless choice and variety. I had some plants in my hand which I had to put down again. I REALLY wanted a blood red Erysimum, and coveted it quite badly! They are some of my favourite plants and I have lots in the garden anyway, so it would have felt like cheating! I also picked up a clematis, but the same applies !

I had limited time to look around, which was perhaps a good thing, as it crystallised the mind somewhat. In the end I went for ... a Carnation! A plant I hate, loathe and detest above all others! But this is an exercise to push me out of my comfort zone, so I decided to go for it. Hopefully I will learn to love it, and find things that I like about it.

All the carnations were inside a greenhouse, at the nursery, which led me to wonder about their hardiness but when I researched it, I found out that they are fully hardy, so I don't know why they were under cover.

The first thing I noticed as I moved towards them was the perfume which filled the air. Smells can trigger memories faster and more intensely than anything else, and one whiff of those carnations and I was five years old again, playing in my grandfather's sunny garden, while the adults drank tea inside the house. I could almost feel the warmth of that long ago sun on my back.

There was a choice of  three colours in the nursery - a striped raspberry pink and white; a solid shell pink; and the one I finally chose, a pure white. All had soft grey foliage with narrow spear shaped leaves. The stems were rather stiff and formal, and  jointed, like arthritic old women. They are a plant with little natural grace and fluidity, and remind me to a certain extent of Auriculas, in that they both have the same formality and lack of grace. The habit of the carnation is a stiffly upright plant with comparatively large flowers borne at the top of the stems.

My personal reaction to Carnations is to find them faintly depressing, because I think they conjure up the grimmer aspects of the late 1950's and early 60's. I was very small then (honest!) but I think they evoke long hidden memories of this time in me, when austerity ruled the day.

Carnations were very fashionable then and most gardens had a clump or two. Front gardens tended to be formal, and carnations were often planted with bedding such as Lobelia and Alyssum, which was often planted alternately, giving a very regimented feel to gardens. Carnations were also planted in back gardens too, as part of  more informal cottage gardens.

Apparently, there are several types of Carnation - annual, border and perpetual - flowering. Their Latin name is Dianthus, which was bestowed upon them by the Greek botanist Theopharastus, who took the  Greek words 'Dios'  (God) and 'anthos' (flowers), so that there name literally means 'Flower of the Gods'.

They need several hours of full sun every day, and like to be kept moist, although they do not appreciate over - watering. They prefer deep, friable sandy loam - so they may have a shock moving in with me ! They need to be fed, dead headed and watered regularly if they are to keep producing flowers.

My new best friend should grow to around 30 cm in height, with a similar spread.

I will try to learn to love them, but there are no waves of warmth towards them at the moment ...

Sunday 19 April 2015

The Marmite of the plant kingdom !


It's true ! Auriculas are the Marmite of the plant kingdom, as, for every gardener who adores them, there will another one who cannot stand them. For every one person who collects every Auricula they can lay their hands on, there will be another person avoiding them like the plague. So why is it that a plant can divide opinions to such an extent? It is perhaps more complex than it initially seems.

'Blue Chip'

Auriculas have fallen out of favour to a large extent and are languishing in that deep, dark hole still filled with Pinks, carnations and Chrysanthemums. Dahlias were dragged out of the hole, kicking and screaming into the light, a few years ago, but for many years they were out of favour too. Hard to believe how gardeners can be so fickle, I know, and overlook plants which have so much to offer.

'Jeff Scruton'
The Aurcicula was loved by the working man, from 17th century onwards , indeed it was a plant which  was almost revered. Men travelled from show to show to exhibit them, in the hope of winning the big prizes offered, and they were collected and displayed by working and middle classes alike, often in Auricula Theatres. I  posted about their  fascinating history last year, so here is the link if you are interested       'Auricula Spectacular'.

'Golden Hind'

'Golden Hind'
It is the aesthetics of the Auricula which divide people into lovers or haters however, as they are a bit of an acquired taste. There is something very stiff, formal and almost artificial about them, and I must admit, it took me a long time to see beyond that to their true beauty. The flowers are just perfect. Those tight , rounded buds give a clue to the colour of the flower which is extremely tantalising, then when they open it is such a joyful, open face that they present to the world. I love the simplicity of the flower, the wide range of colours and the way that they feel precious. This preciousness is nothing to do with money, as they are cheaper than many plants to buy. I feel the same way about certain roses, and find it hard to analyse why. They are very fleeting flowers, but then so are many others. They are very beautiful flowers, but, so then are many others. They just feel special somehow. Maybe it is the sense of history that they bring with them, and that is also true for the roses. I love plants which have history and reach out to me from across the centuries.


There is a rich, velvet quality to the petals, and a real depth of colour, yet some look so delicate that they almost look hand painted. For most of the year they sit there, down very little, but the excitement is palpable when the first flowers stems start to grow.

Buds of 'Red Gauntlet'

Buds of 'April Hunter'

There are some Auriculas which are extra special and those are the Farinas. They have glaucous grey foliage and look as if they have been dusted all over with flour, hence 'Farina' (also referred to as 'meal'). They almost look iced or frosted ! The Farina is usually washed off by the rain, so that is why many enthusiasts choose to keep them under cover, in order to preserve it.
There are many fantastic historical Auricula Theatres used for displaying them over the years, and they are traditionally displayed on black cloth to show them off to advantage. Mine, however, are in a  (cough) 'Theatre' which cost a few pounds from our local Architectural Salvage yard - a pair of old wooden steps, with the paint peeling off. I use terracotta pots to display them in, but there is a school of thought which prefers plastic pots, which do not dry out as readily.

I am a couple of weeks away from the height of my personal display of Auriculas and they are nearly all budding or starting to bloom. My only problem is my big, fat clumsy fantail doves which insist on trying to perch on the top of the steps and knock off the pots, usually resulting in breakages !

Last Autumn I divided lots of my Auriculas and potted up all the babies, so I have a good selection of young plants in the greenhouse. I intend to sell these on the plant stall at our upcoming NGS plant stall in June.