garden notes no 29, dahlias, bees, Keats again, a little rant, a mountain memory

  1. What bees and sparrows have in common is their ability to ignore the human presence. This makes it easier to “take part in their existence”. (Keats, see Garden Notes no 21, but here it is again: “I scarcely remember counting upon happiness—I look not for it if it be not in the present hour—nothing startles me beyond the moment. The setting sun will always set me to rights, or if a sparrow come before my Window I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel.” You can get closer to them. Also, bees are not menaced by cats (only by stupid puppies) which gives them an advantage over small birds.

2. The relationship between Salvia uliginosa and Clematis viticella was going so nicely, they decided to tie the knot. The salvia is the one with willowy leaves, it’s tall, late flowering, sky blue.



This dahlia, the famous Bishop of Llandaff, attracts bees. (You can see its foliage in the background in the picture of the salvia and clematis.)  On the next one, name unknown, you never see a single bee.You can see why. The Bishop shows its private parts, the other one keeps them well hidden. The cult of the double (why ‘double’? – there are hundreds of petals!) flower is a kind of denial of sex. This does have the advantage of prolonging flowering, which fertilisation quickly stops since it no longer serves any purpose, and it leads to some spectacular blossoms.
Dahlias can be satisfyingly dramatic or merely ostentatious. They long for green surroundings. Don’t plant them with their mates and rivals or the result will be like a royal wedding, a squabble of swords and finery coloured by a three year old. I wish now that I had put my three bishops together to make the look of a shrub. Alone they don’t, so far at least, grow bushy enough, they’re too leggy. They’re in big pots, I don’t trust my soil with them, but big dahlias are generally better in the open ground if you have good soil and can keep the slugs and snails off.

It’s a question of consciousness. Devotion, even. Because slugs and snails rarely finish a plant off in one sitting, you see the damage the next morning and you do something about it before or during the next evening. But if you’re the kind of gardener who looks at the garden once a week or worse, it’s all over before you can intervene. Years ago the Sunday Times had a series called the Two Hour Garden. Two hours a week, for everything. And they liked the concept so much that they made a book of it. Do children play for two hours a week? Is A and E open for two hours a week? Do Harry and Mo and Kevin and Bobby and Alexander Oxlade-Chamberlain train for two hours a week? Do you brush your hair twice a week? Unless your garden is like the shrubbery delineating a supermarket carpark you need to give it your attention. But of course it’s not essential to look out for slugs, it is possible just to scatter slug pellets thickly and retire.
So lockdown has allowed obsessive behaviour to grow. And sometimes the dahlias look ostentatious, sometimes satisfyingly dramatic. I long for the mountains. The spaciousness of the high slopes of Piz Nair in the Engadine where a single androsace or geum or doronicum can be alone on a great carpet of stone with the next nearest plant several yards away. Not having to do anything except wander about…. No intervening.

Ranunculus glacialis and Doronicum species.

see also on Piz Nair

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2 Responses to garden notes no 29, dahlias, bees, Keats again, a little rant, a mountain memory

  1. Judith Trustram says:

    I know that thing about spaciousness that you mention towards the end of this post. I visited the jardin botanique alpin du Lautaret (2000m) last week and while it was wonderful to see so many flowers from around the world it was nothing like the wonder of discovering a single plant among the rocks. I know I don’t scale the cliffs like you do but the delight is still there.

  2. Pingback: garden notes 31, giving up the inula, salvias patens and uliginosa, scientists, Heathrow | like a little black book

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