Wednesday, 30 November -0001
A passion for plants
This new book brings flowers to life and enlivens those drab autumn days, finds our expert
By Sarah Langton-LocktonIt is compulsory nowadays to have a ‘passion’ for the job we do, even if it’s the lowly bureaucratic task of smothering innocent human endeavour in red tape. Debased as the word has become, there are times nevertheless when it is the only one that serves. In Carol Klein’s case, the word is unarguably apt. Carol is a consummate plantswoman, with a passion for plants that she delights in sharing with others. In her writing she draws on a vast fund of knowledge gained from growing plants in her own garden and in the nursery in North Devon she has run for more than 30 years.
Carol Klein’s Favourite Plants is a new edition of her popular first book, published in 2004 as Plant Personalities. The plants that feature in the book have all been grown for many years at Glebe Cottage. The more intimately she has got to know these plants, writes Carol, the more she is struck, not just by their individuality, but by the extent to which they often share qualities with plants to which they are botanically unrelated.
The first group of plant personalities Carol identifies are the Cinderella plants that ‘shoot to stardom in a matter of weeks, accomplishing their whole cycle – flowering, pollination, setting seed – then disappearing into dormancy before the clock strikes 12’. They are the wood anemones, the snakeshead fritillaries, the snowdrops whose flowers are described as ‘a feat of biological engineering’, primroses (‘an irresistible stalwart’) and Erythronium dens-canis, the dog’s-tooth violet.
The next group are the bread- herbaceous perennials that are the mainstay of our gardens in summer. They have robust foliage, flower over a long period and often have attractive seed heads. Carol explores the virtues of aster species and hybrids, opting for Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ as the perfect blue daisy, one of the most desirable plants in the garden. She also admires Aster divaricatus for the way ‘it makes clumps of rich green leaves, from which rise wiry, branching black stems producing myriad tiny white flowers’.
Gertrude Jekyll, she tells us, recommended it for growing over the unsightly remains of plants past their best, such as dog-eared bergenias.
The perfect partners for blue daisies are the perennial rudbeckias, and her favourite is Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, ‘an archetypal “Indian summer” plant’. Other North American daisies she grows are Echinacea purpurea and heleniums, particularly ‘Moerheim Beauty’ and ‘Summer Circle’. Geraniums, bellflowers, astrantias – ‘one of the most reliable and useful of garden plants’ – and achilleas are all members of this large group.
And then there are the shooting stars, the oriental poppies, irises, peonies, the plants that contribute a ‘fleeting sparkle’, followed by the ‘will-o’- the-wisps & wafty whisperers’. This is more than a bit over-written, even for a chapter heading, but the plants in this section are, happily, those ‘that add sound, light and movement’: the grasses, Thalictrum delavayi, that star among plants that catch the breeze, Gaura lindheimeri and another of my own favourite plants, Gillenia trifoliata. Other chapters cover prickly and downy plants, the low growers that one needs to inspect on hands and knees, and the gatecrashers, their seeds ‘deposited by birds or parachuted in on the breeze’.
The final chapter is on drama queens, ‘the sumptuous exhibitionists’ that bring the season to a spectacular climax. These are the show-off salvias, cannas, red hot pokers, the perennial sunflower, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, knock-out dahlias and the fiery flowers of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.
The last section gives information about plant heights, habits, suitable sites and any special condition or treatment that might be needed. The book is gloriously illustrated by Jonathan Buckley’s photographs. It is an informative work of reference, but also perfect for browsing on a miserable autumn afternoon when gardening is unappealing.
Carol Klein’s Favourite Plants by Carol Klein (Mitchell Beazley, £16.99).
Contact Sarah at email@example.com
A blackberry feast
It has been a wonderful year for blackberries. The hedgerow harvest is largely over, but I am still picking luscious berries from a highyielding cultivar that I grow in the garden.
‘Loch Ness’ is thornless, with attractive dissected leaves. It is trained in a fan shape against a west-facing boundary fence and thrives in partial shade. Plants flower on old wood, so when the crop is over I cut down some of the older canes and tie in new ones.
The crop ripens over many weeks and there will be berries to pick until the frosts. The granddaughters like to help make this delicious ice cream. The ingredients are:
- 1lb blackberries
- 3oz icing sugar
- 10fl oz whipping or double cream
Mash the berries firmly with a potato masher and remove any unripe, woody bits. Add the sugar. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks and fold in the fruit. Put in a container and freeze until set. Simplicity itself
Plant of the week
Salvia viridis var. comata (painted sage) is a half-hardy annual with striking bracts and tiny colourful flowers. Sow in spring when the risks of frost are over, and pick from summer to October. It looks wonderful in a vase with herbs and flowers. u £1.90 for 100 seeds: www.jekkasherbfarm.com
Daily tip from the lady archive
"DEEPLY-ROOTED is the idea that men are indifferent to dress, while the ladies, God bless them, think of nothing else"The Lady, With Prejudice, 8th January, 1942
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