Where do plants come from?


I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Not only have I just managed to offload recycle some of the many Geranium macrorrhizum albums which are taking over the garden,

but I’ve also been given a couple of lovely black cow parsleys and obtained (also via Karen of The Artist’s Garden, who found it in a nursery) a black elder. And in case you think I’m exaggerating about the G. mac, look what’s in the far pot behind the elder. Once upon a time it was tarragon; now it isn’t.

Now I’ve wanted a black elder ever since I encountered the most amazingly camp pink elderflower cordial made from its flowers; bubble gum wasn’t even in the running (it tasted good, too). I know it will be a couple of years before I get a flower head from this, and it will also be a couple of years before I clear the space in which it is to go, but hey.

Karen was also partly responsible for me finally finding the wonderful Fron Goch Garden Centre at Caernarfon. I’d been avoiding looking for it it because I knew what would happen, and growing things from seed or begging cuttings instead, but it had to happen sooner or later.

They’re all in and flourishing. And I’ve just been back.

(As far as the cuttings go, some have really been very successful indeed, like the Crinodendron,

which unfortunately needs to be moved.)

I’ve got lots of gift plants in my garden, some of which go back many years and have moved with me. My last garden was also my first, and I kept an over-excited  list of who had given me which plants, or where I’d bought them. Train-spottery it may have been, and it did only last a couple of years, but some of those plants have moved with me and are still alive and thriving. The donors, in some cases, are not… I’m not sure if that proves anything – not so much ‘that which remains of us / is love’, but more ‘that which remains of us / is an Aethionema Warley Rose’.

On which subject, here it is:

It gets its name from Warley Place in Essex, the home of the redoubtable Ellen Willmott. She’s perhaps more horticulturally familiar as the Willmott of Miss Willmott’s Ghost, Eryngium gigantium, though about 140 plants either bear her name or the name of one of her gardens. She was described by Gertrude Jekyll as ‘the greatest of living women-gardeners’…

This plant was the subject of a major hunt in our family years ago when the Plant Finder was in its rudimentary state, and it wasn’t in (it now has an AGM and you can find it easily). My mother, a great gardener and every bit as determined as Ellen Willmott, decided she wanted one, and couldn’t find it. Most people would have given up, perhaps decided to find a substitute while they waited. Not Ma. And I’m not like that in the slightest. Hmm.

We all became involved in the quest; every plant fair, every garden centre, every nursery was examined for about two years, and then I went to a hardy plant fair at Nymans. No Aethionemas, but one of the stallholders knew a man who knew a man – and I managed to get my hands on a couple of plants. I took them up to her in North Yorkshire, and she gave me one back. I uprooted it when I moved, and the Lithospermum Heavenly Blue with which it has become entwined (it also came from her garden), though the little Herb Robert is all this garden’s own. I need to take some cuttings from the Warley Rose, as it tends to lose its vigour over time and I want to keep it going.

Ma was also responsible for my huge hellebore, among many other things.

It’s looking a bit thinner than it was, too – I think I’ll pay it a little close attention.

The single plant which goes back the furthest – with me, anyway – is a simple pale purple aubretia. It came from my mother’s garden again, and to her from her father’s. He had great banks of it, and told me he had brought it to his garden when he moved there – in 1939.

It’s a bit like your great-grandfather’s axe – you know, the one where your dad had to replace the head, and his dad had to give it a new shaft, but it’s still your great-grandfather’s axe.

The slightly wistful tone of this post is probably inevitable. For eight years I’ve had help in the garden, once a week, when the lovely Midge came to supervise what her owner, P, and I were up to. Well, that and be fed dog treats, remove sticks from bonfire heaps and – er – do other things. Last week, old age caught up with her.

Thanks for the company, Midge, teddy-bear face.

But there’s always life in a garden. Amazingly, when I was fiddling around checking for new growth in the hellebore I had an unexpected discovery: there are two minute spikes of growth coming from my apparently dead Melianthus major. Definitely a result.


12 Comments Add yours

  1. Ahh, lovely picture of Midge.

    Hurrah for the Melianthus major making a reappearance! Good news. I have enjoyed this post – particularly the bit about your Mother and the Rose hunt

    Sorry if I am being a bit of a bad influence ….

    1. kate says:

      Couldn’t let Madam go without a last appearance… and do not worry in the slightest about being a bad influence (ho, ho); it is well known that I have the willpower of a maggot. Hm.

  2. hillwards says:

    I love the way every garden is a tapestry of stories – gifts from friends and family, cuttings given (or taken!), seeds acquired and nurtured, gifts from the birds, and acquisitions from adventures. I think our oldest will be the rhubarb crown, real Yorkshire rhubarb from my grandfather’s garden, that has moved with me time and again during university and now on to real gardens and a long term home at last. A piece went back to mum and dad this summer and is thriving too.

    1. kate says:

      It’s great, isn’t it?

      The rhubarb saga is really lovely – how fantastic that it could circulate and return ‘home’ like that! Grandpa’s aubretia is our equivalent, but it’s gone beyond returning to him (alas) or our parents, but both I and my brother have some. Now my nephew needs to graduate from student digs (I shall mention the rhubarb as a hint) and then he can have some too…

  3. Bridget says:

    That’s what gardens are I suppose, a gathering of plants with associations. Makes ’em special!

    1. kate says:

      Doesn’t it, though? and the best thing is that even if you don’t know the associations, you can still appreciate the beauty…

  4. Having to trim the occasional leaf OFF our Melianthus. It grows year round and is, as tall as I am! Sprouting is something it does with enthusiasm ;~)

    1. kate says:

      Sob!! Jealous, moi??? 😉

      Seriously, it’s a bit of a risk here – but It’s been very happy up to last year. A couple of years ago it was HUGE, flowered and everything – and then we had last winter. Bad, even on the west coast of Wales. I was staggered when I saw the shoots – hardly dare look to see how they’re doing!

  5. Janet says:

    We mulch our Melos thus every autumn. We lost one or two over the years then I found you could grow them fairly easily from seed. That makes me very happy. I would just like them to grow a little big bigger….and flower? I wish!

    1. kate says:

      Seed!! Now that’s a fab idea – I can generally persuade things to germinate, even if they don’t last through a vile winter.
      (I came to the conclusion I’d rather they didn’t flower, btw – the flowers are very strange and transformed my elegant, beautifully leaved but admittedly large plant into a giant prehistoric triffid. Very deeply strange.)

  6. What a lovely post Kate. I know all too well what a thug Geranium macrorrhizum is, but invaluable groundcover in shady areas. I love it when plants have stories to them, many of the plants I really want to take with me are special because they came from cuttings from friends, or were gifts. I have a fuschia that is definitely a little “Grandfather’s axe”ish, though strictly speaking that should be Nan. Sorry about Midge.

    1. kate says:

      Thank you – plants are so often more than just plants, aren’t they? (Mind you, sometimes they’re just flipping plants, like my G.mac – I’ve met another gardener who wants some, though, so that’s a help. And I have warned them…)

      Poor old Midge – but she had a fantastic life as a garden helper and wasn’t unhappy / uncomfortable for too long, always what matters in the end.

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