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Friends and AlliesCreated by Verity in Being You, Home and Garden
Never mind what the weather brings, health January is prime plant catalogue time. They shower onto the mat with their seductive pictures of wonderful flowers, ed cheap the promise of warmth, erectile sunshine and abundant colour. So tempting when the world is cold and dreary.
I’ve succumbed to their blandishments as often as any, and over the years a few ordered plants were winners, but mostly they’ve turned out to be rather disappointing. And what we older gardeners really need, as perhaps our backs get stiffer and we can’t do as much in the garden as we once did, are plants that do their thing without fuss, just get on with life without demanding to be fed, watered and deadheaded daily, and protected from frost in winter. They may not be the prima donnas beloved of nurserymen, but these are a gardener’s loyal friends.
Broom, Cytisus scoparius, is native to this country and Northern Europe, so the vagaries of our climate bother it not at all. One, variety name forgotten, planted nearly twenty years ago in a border outside my kitchen window, is a delight every May when the four foot high bush is simply smothered with soft peachy blooms. Perhaps it was this mass of flowers that gave rise to the idea of the plant symbolising fertility in marriage, for in times past a bunch of broom tied with ribbons would be carried at Whitsuntide country weddings to bring good luck and children. But the plant also had a much more mundane use. ‘Scoparius’ means broom-like, and traditionally the dried branches would be tied round a pole and used to sweep cottage floors. It’s this kind of homemade broom that was supposed to transport witches round the sky at night. Wouldn’t work for me though, because after the flowers have finished I give the plant a shearing over to encourage thick, rather than long, branches. It’s the only attention this broom gets or demands. Now that’s the kind of plant I like.
Grasses have been fashionable for the past few years, but their attractions mostly pass me by. One though I consider a very useful friend. Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ does flower, but not so as you’d notice, they’re little brown spiky jobs. It is however the gold and green variegated leaves that earn this Japanese sedge’s place in the garden – they look just as good in late December, when the photograph was taken, as they do in spring or summer. Slowly the clumps get bigger, but they don’t have aggressive roots, and the thing doesn’t seed. Sedges are mostly inhabitants of damp, marshy places, so this ought not to put up with my dust dry conditions and gravelly soil. It does though, and in return I value its year round contribution of gentle green and gold.
Day lilies retreat underground to escape the cold, but make up for leaving a bare patch in winter with a spectacular show in summer. Originating in Asia, hemerocallis have been the darlings of breeders in this country and especially America for years, and now there are hundreds of different varieties to choose from. I grow about fifteen, some flower in May and June, but July is the month that most do their thing. Okay each bloom lasts only a day, but they’re simply beautiful, ranging from yellow, orange, and pink to the thrilling maroon of H. ‘Starling’ (pictured). In recent years an insect has infected some buds, which have to be picked off. Curse it. But otherwise the plants are completely trouble-free, demanding no attention, and giving pleasure every year.
We older gardeners need such friends and allies.
© Alex Pankhurst