Sunday, 8 September 2013

Garden Boors?



You told me in your comments on 'Blue Gardens', that especially in Australia, Ipomoea is a wicked weed .(See also Rosemary's lovely post http://wherefivevalleysmeet.blogspot.de/2013/09/unloved-and-unwanted.html
Now I read in Barbara Damrosch's 'Garden Primer' - a no-nonsense book - about the Perennial Pea - under a headline I don't like very much: "Perennials That Spread". She writes: 
'Perennial Pea. Lathyrus lotifolius. The flowers are handsome and long-blooming clusters in shades of pink, lavender and white.' 
The following sentence has a somewhat threatening undertone, which pleases me even less: 
"Its evils are described on page 145.' 
Fluttering I leaf through: 
' But if someone offers you Lathyrus lotifolius (...) say "Thanks but no thanks.: it does not just crowd other plants - it obliterates them. Once perennial sweet pea is established, you will never get all of its roped roots of your garden.' 
THAT Gertrude J. hasn't told me. She praises the white Perennial Pea (see above), which she planted in a very tricky procedure under the delphinium that - once it has withered - makes a sort of climbing aid. Of course I had imitated that immediately, but the slugs munched away the delphiniums, and the perennial pea disappeared after two years. 
But pink coloured ones climb behind my realization of Vita Sackeville-West's Sweet Briar Hedge. Should I now cry "Thanks but no thanks!" Or is that too late, and my garden is doomed and utterly infiltrated by roped roots? 
And that is not the only garden plague - on page 145 I find quite a lot of my other darlings which had filled me with gardener's pride and joy because they were so vigorous. Till now... 
As there are: 
The evening primrose. The bushy aster. (At least I hadn't bought scarlet monarda, because I never liked her). I tried to remove 'Bouncing Bet', saponaria officinalis, without success, as three pale pink clusters of flowers in a bed show. Damrosch cautions against coneflowered rudbeckia - though I love her heart- warming yellow in autumn. But why does she not speak about sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus), also called Jerusalem artichoke? That is really VERY vigorous. When I bought it in a garden center, a customer warned me, but I thought: "Oh, that's good - the more the merrier." Now I saw at the farmers' market as a last resort that you can eat the tubers, but I still hesitate. 
But let's go on with Barbar Damrosch's list of plants, which I now secretly call 'boors in the garden'. There is 'campanula rapunculoides'. The 'Ribbon Grass', which the English call fanciful 'Gardener's Garter'. It is this pretty light-green-blue grass with the white stripe. Of course I have that too, though it gets less and less. And of course Centrantus ruber, which by now foams all around the house. Viola odorata - oh yes, that's true... And - because I don't own it, I am pleased by the combative spirit of 'The Confederate Violet':
"It will march through your garden faster than Robert E. Lee." says Barbara. 
Here his troops haven't arrived. 
Not yet.     

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Kitchen gardens and Dig for Victory gardens

Brigitta Huegel


When today  I saw the post "Student vegetable plots" on the blog 'What ho Kew?' it reminded me of a text I wrote 14 years ago. 

"Why", asked son, "don't you have a kitchen garden?" (which in Germany is called a Nutzgarten - profit or utility garden). 
I am surprised. Son has French cousins, but this would be the first French character trait I was about to discover: 
"A glimpse into French gardens shows you the equal concern of the Frenchman of his country and of cooking. Fruit and vegetable have priority over flowers and ornamental shrubs", 
writes Brigitte Tillney in her book "Culinary pleasures from the French Kitchen Garden". 
Under the text we see the photograph of a rather sullen looking little French boy, aged maybe 5, loaded with courgettes. 
Well, definitely son had beamed much more when he, at the same age, hold our harvest in his hands: a lot of cocktail tomatoes from a single plant at the warm wall of the house (where now vine and clematis grow). These tomatoes had impressed him so much that he almost couldn't wait for the day to come back from our holidays! In my diary I found this entry about our arrival home: 
"But first he  ran into the garden: he had spoken of it so often in Amrum, even dreamed of and asked: "Maybe a very fat pumpkin will block the garden gate - what will you think then?" 
I haven't forgotten the year before when he had sold a splendid kohlrabi and a few courgettes to the neighbours in our street - with the distinct reminder "These are organic vegetables!" (The amused neighbours told me). 
The shallots were safe, though: we had entwisted them into long plaits, and they lasted the whole winter. Now the organic farmers offer them at the market, and that's why I don't plant them anymore. Besides, there is almost any place here, everywhere flowers are on the rampant. 
                Under the sun shade the gaze of son becomes speculative. "I would turn all this into a kitchen garden." 
I grow pale: "You can do that - when the garden belongs to you. But I will come at night and spook, I will point with pallidly glowing fingers to those prosaic heads of cabbage and hollowly ask: 'What have you done to my flowers?!?
That does not impress him because he already thinks out a perfect sprinkler system for long rows of planned beans and peas - for the "optimum gain". He reminds me of de La Quintine, who gave up jurisprudence to become Royal Gardener in Versailles. (Till now son always wanted to study law. But maybe he'll fall in love with a flower garden in advanced age?)  
As a compromise I now suggest an English cottage garden, where at least vegetable and flowers live harmoniously in the same bed, even to the benefit of both. 
And tell him of wartime (which, being born thank God later, I hadn't to experience), in which in England hungry people dug up the lanes to plant potatoes. And President Roosevelt recommended the Americans to lay out 'Victory gardens', and not to waste anything, and the American women really accomplished to earn over a million tons of vegetable, which was half of what the home front consumed. 
This impresses our son. 
But I am glad that nowadays we don't have any 'Victory' but only 'peace' gardens. Full of flowers.
Just beautiful.    

PS: In 2013 I have to add that son studied successfully law. And read Churchill's biography. The love of gardens will follow, I'm sure of that. 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Sage - and Balance

Brigitta Huegel


I don't know what to make of this: the sage in my garden is getting scrubby. 
There will be enough leaves for Saltim bocca, but it makes me nervous that - on a higher level - it foretells change in hierarchical order. 
We have two sage-bushes: the one near the house seems a bit lackadaisical this year. The second bush has almost disappeared in the sea of evening primroses at the back of the garden: where I was too polite to say "No!" to the evening primroses, they now whisper in a soft moonlight yellow voice "No!" to me and block even the way to the red currants. (Only the birds are happy about that). 
And so this year the sage didn't grow as ample as usually. 
That makes me fret - somewhere I've read that there is an English saying: 
"If the sage thrives and grows, 
The Master's not the Master and he knows." 
A colleague of mine is utterly convinced that women who are more leading in life will become the mothers of sons. I do have a son. And surely I'm not a meek little flower. 
But since I stand in front of two full-grown 2 meter-men (husband: 1.98m; son 2.02m; both lithe and lissom and as pretty as a picture, but I deviate...), sometimes I feel a little bit ... reduced. 
Does the sage sense this? Where is my sceptre, where my crown? 
Speaking of crowns I think of the Quenn and then again of mothers. 
Sage, salvia officinalis, is the Queen Mum of all herbs. It is utterly versatile: it helps against a sore throat, as a herbal tea it shall reduce strong perspiration, and because of its hormone-adequate substances it is traded as a secret weapon against climacteric disorders. 
It sounds like a miracle drug, and actually one of the questions at the Medical School of Salerno in the 14th century was: 
"Why shall a man die, in whose garden sage is growing?" (Cur moriatur homo, cui Salvia crecit in horto?) 
Why indeed? 
As I discovered this interesting question, I rushed to buy another pot of sage at the farmer's market - just in case... 
Alas - then I had to discover that this question sadly was only a rhetorical one. 
The answer was: "Because against death there is no cure." (In Germany we say: "Against death there grows no herb.") 
So there bursts the bubble of the dream of immortality! 

But I can recommend the divine recipe of Saltim bocca - as comfort food



Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Dipsomaniac Hedgehogs



In TV they said that quite a lot of English hedgehogs have a real problem: dipsomania
Though poets like Shakespeare and von Schiller praise  "the milk of human kindness", these British hedgehogs, instead of lapping up that sort of milk from Hyacinth Bucket's 'Royal Doulton hand-painted periwinkle' plates, inspect the gardener's cunning beer traps for slugs and drink that amber nectar in one go. Or enjoy a little sip here, a little sip there, taking the slug-trap as a punch bowl with added slugs instead of strawberries. As likely as not they then will run zigzag across the carefully cultivated lawns, bawl loud soccer songs and tumble utterly pisseded on theirs pricky sides, slurring "I'm your mate, and I will stand by you..."
The German Hedgehog Society (that is not an invention of mine - they really do exist!) state that these stories must be utterly untrue - shocking horror stories invented by gutter press . They demand proof - evidently a German hedgehog doesn't drink beer. (You bet...) 
But I can understand the British: nowadays you have to search a long time to find milk that tastes delicious and not like the cardboard box it comes in.
Maybe when milk tastes like milk again, the hedgehogs will become teetotallers and abstain from beer - although, come to think of it: why should they?
Cheers! 


Britta Hill



Tuesday, 23 July 2013

At the Wayside


Britta Hill

I found a little present at the wayside. Husband also, another one. At our evening stroll we passed a heap of large trash. An old wardrobe, a few cheerless empty drawers, two big blue bin bags, one of them already torn open – and a cardbox with books.
When Husband sees books nothing can stop him. He climbed down the rampart to join another couple that already rummaged busily through the books. I stood in loftily distance on the rampart. But when Husband merrily waved a thick volume about “Women at Goethe’s Time”, I faltered. Curiosity won and I climbed down, wondering why they hadn't given these book to a jumble sale?
And then I became a bit melancholy, because these were evidently the last remaining possessions of a deaconess. It is not much that we leave behind when we go forever… 
When my glance fell on a small volume with white-green stripes and I saw the first part of the title, “Flowers”, that was enough to turn me into a hunter too. I reached out for the small Inselb├Ąndchen, No 281. Inside stood a name and a date, “Strasbourg, June 6, 1941”. Apparently a relative had ripped out the adornment page with a dedication – but otherwise it was as good as new. Inside were quite delicate drawings of  a whole year of wildflowers – snowdrops, daisies, anemones, march violets and others. Drawn very naturalistic, yet representing the style of its origin period, theThirties. Beneath its title “The Little Flower Book” was proudly typed: “In many colours”. And down to the present day the colours are as fresh as morning dew. They were used sparingly, yet expressive. Two sorts of green for the stem and leaves of a marguerite, and the petals not just white but shaded delicately by soft blue.
Some little flowers I welcomed like dear old acquaintances: the pink Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) that I loved so much as a child! (At the same time shuddering when “spit of cuckoo” stuck on it – which is the foam wrapper of a little cicada).
Most of those flowers I still know from growing wild in nature - then, but I can't show them to son...  
But lately one can find again some of the field-flowers at the edges of wheatfields: thick rows of corn poppy, and crown-of-the field (Agrostemma githado), and cornflowers, too. Which makes me very happy – though formerly the farmers hated it. The field-flowers belonged to the “Schabab” – the ‘herbs in a basket’ – and to these three (German) K’s (Klatschmohn, Kornrade and Kornblume) was added the chicory, common yarrow, ragwort and drug eyebright too. When a young man got these herbs from his Adored, he knew that he was rejected (in Germany we say: “To give someone a basket” if we refuse to see him).
Superstition warns not to bring cornflowers (accused to make bread mouldy) nor crowns-of-the-field (make the roof struck by lightning) into the house, and no Englishman will bring hawthorn over his threshold. A colleague put the fear of God into me when she explained that the little bunch of heather I had brought into our flat would bring us early death.
But that was many, many years ago, and nothing happened, Thank God!
But then: one day Death will come, after all, and then such a flower book lies at the wayside.
                                            And delights somebody else







Thursday, 4 July 2013

Chance and Flower sellers




Chances and flower sellers

At our farmer’s market we have two flower stalls, and one of them had cosmos for bedding out. Really beautiful high plants, with vigorous stems. The colour of the stem tells you which colour the blossoms will be: dark red have a much darker red stem than pink ones, and the stems of the whites are just green. And so I snapped the chance and bought 30 plants, although I carried already quite a lot of shopping. But I have learned this in the years of gardening: when the opportunity arises, one has to clasp it, no matter how packed one is. This is true for everyday life, too, you can’t say: “Luck, today doesn’t suit me, I have already so much to carry – please come again next week, on Thursday, at about 12:15 pm, then it will be more convenient for me.” Then luck will walk away and knock at another door.
The other flower stall I passed by quickly, because I have an unexpressed problem with the flower seller.
First I bought a lot from her, because her perennials come out of her private garden and so are from local soil. I was a garden greenhorn then – and at that time she gave me the advice, neither to fertilize nor to water - that would only pamper and wet-nurse the plants. I thought: “Wow, that sounds nice – then I have a lot less to do.”
But in the course of time I realized that the roses sometimes need a little fertilizer although our earth is rich, the lilies, too – and when once in a blue moon the sun shines four weeks without end one has to water too.
Well, and that flower seller, whose garden must be a wasteland by now, demands for her nameless perennials a lot of money. “45 Euro I must have for that peony”, she says for example with slightly pursed lips. Always it is: “I must have”, as if a Supreme Being dictates her the price. (But a number of the hardened delphiniums I bought from her made an ascension to heaven in the same way as the so-called weaklings of the commercial trader did).
Because for a while I have been such a good customer she now looks at me expectantly when I come to the farmer’s market, and that gnaws at my conscience, and I feel as Doctor Vaes’ wife in Timmermann’s novel “St. Nicholas in Trouble” might have felt, when she didn’t buy the luxurious chocolate ship “The Congo” but only two gingerbread cocks on a stick – “and then long time no see” …
I too rush past the flower-seller to the unemotional ‘commercial’ trader, who sells me hardened plants for a fair prices.
And the flower seller follows me with her eyes like Timmermann's Trinchen Mutzer, “whose heart had fallen into a thornbush”…

Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Reading Cultivator: on Tussie-Mussies

Britta Hill

'A dear neighbour brought me a tussie-mussie this week. The dictionary defines tuzzy-muzzy, or tussie mussie, as "a bunch or posy of flowers, a nosegay," and then disobligingly adds that the word is obsolete. I refuse to regard it as obsolete. It is a charming word; I have always used it and shall continue to use it, whatever the great Oxford Dictionary may say.'
- Vita Sackville-West

Britta say: I own lots and lots of little vases - the one above is made of two kinds of glass - and use them often - so easy to bind a beautiful little tussie-mussie, so hard to steal from one's big garden too many flowers.