garden notes 31, giving up the inula, salvias patens and uliginosa, scientists, Heathrow, myrtle – old wood and new wood

  1.  At Heathrow airport, in Terminal 5 departures a series of glass cases show artefacts and copies of artefacts which were found during the building works. One of the biggest archaeological investigations in history. Obviously, since Terminal 5 goes on for miles. The plain of the Thames to the west of London was among the richest agricultural land in Britain, and given our sometimes perfect climate, world beating. It’s where some of the first inhabitants of this land settled, and where they camped and wandered even before there were such things as settlements, 5000 years ago. There are pictures of the land, flat, serenely wooded with glades and openings and the smoke from small fires curling up and thatched huts. There are arrows and axeheads. I didn’t see anyone else glance at the cases. They were catching up on their feed.
    Some amazing big signs caught my eye. One said, and I know because I wrote it down: ‘The FA is solving for turning performance insights into stunning plays and epic victories’. You see why I had to write it down. It’s very hard to remember things which don’t mean anything. Another sign said: ‘The FA is solving for the hopes, the dreams and the goal of a nation’.
    On my return I was struck by the signs which said welcome to great britain where the word great was huge and the word britain was small. and there was a big picture of some smiling beefeaters and one of them was a woman. and there were union jacks. and other signs which said UK Border Force. Smiling welcomes shadowed by an obscure menace.
    Outside in the Terminal 5 car park you can see what has happened to the vast site they carefully combed for flints. That place of rich, easy soil where we began, has been so thoroughly obliterated that you couldn’t begin to even imagine it any more. (We need archaeologists to imagine for us.) Every green thing is an imported landscaping plant. We couldn’t even find the car. We were at the nerve centre of the anthropocene.
    Since I’d only ever been to the airport by public transport before – I had to avoid that this time because I was headed for quarantine – I was amazed at how many cars there were. You had that same sense of vast space you get from the sea, lines of cars away into the tiny distance. Or that sense of playing extravagantly and boastfully with space, like at Versailles. Yes, more like the crazy fantasy of an absolute monarch than the ocean.

2. I dreamt I was on a fast bus between airports. I could see all the detail of thecity           architecture but though it was familiar I still couldn’t tell where I was. home or America?  someone sat next to me and I tried to tell him where I’d been but I couldn’t remember the name. pleased when the name of the chief town appeared: Funchal. but it meant nothing  to him. in the end the word Madeira came into my head.     We went to Madeira maybe thirty years ago.

3.    After a long pause, Salvia patens is flowering again, on a mass of stems which have all sprung up from near the base of the pants, after I’d cut away the old shoots.  I’m learning its habits.

4.   We stayed in Soller years ago, on the west coast of Majorca. Our window overlooked a shady courtyard where a big hydrangea grew in a big pot. It was the end of May, but the heat had arrived early, every day it was well over 30 degrees. Every morning an old lady came out and gave the hydrangea a good soaking, Such an ordinary, easy plant for us I thought, but how exotic, difficult and demanding there. Now of course, thirty years later, I wouldn’t dream of planting a hydrangea in London. It could still do well in a shady corner, watered every day, but here it still doesn’t have the exotic status (= I think they’re boring, most of them) that the hostile mediterranean climate gives it in Spain. There it’s actually quite difficult to buy native mediterranean plants. Spanish garden centres follow standard northern european tastes and also look towards the tropics, in the same way that we look to the mediterranean or the himalayas or China. Even if the grass isn’t greener, people still want it.

5   I decided I should give up my inula, which is a shame because it’s so beautiful. big insect loving yellow daisies with hundreds of narrow soft rays, spreading quickly from the roots to form a nice group with dozens of flower stems. But it’s not drought tolerant. Every year there are times when it wilts and shrivels like a sad Himalayan refugee, but it has great powers of recovery. Even if it dies back miserably at the end of an unhappy season it will send out strong growth the following spring. And it keeps spreading, as if looking for a better home, and as it spreads the centre tends to die away. There’s always a dry period at flowering time – July to August – when battered daisies sit on top of ruined stems. I ‘ve watered them with the hose three or four times this year and they still look unhappy two or three days later.
I won’t just throw the away. I’ll send pieces of inula to friends in the west. It’s a plant of the monsoons, even though it seems to have the resources to survive a failure of the rains. Of course since I decided about the inula it’s begun to rain and rain. But this time I mean it.

6    I’ve still got lots of plants to sell for charity, hope to do it before the end of the year or before they all grow out of their pots, though I’ve given lots away. Here are Salvia Blue Note and Pelargonium acetosa.

7    I heard a scientist say a brilliant think (I wrote thing) on the radio: ‘if our brain was simple enough for us to understand it, we’d be too simple to understand it. I love scientists. some times it seems everybody else is talking nonsense.

8    At St John’s we have a sign which says to the flowers the bee is the messenger of love. Kahlil Gibran said that. He was a fraud, it seems. I read a review of a biography.     And I heard Professor Brian Cox say on the radio: to the flower the bee is a flying penis.

9      myrtle

Occasionally, long after the flowers have faded and the little green berries are growing, a little cluster of new flowers appears on the myrtle. They are growing on a new shoot, on ‘new wood’, an exception which proves the rule. The myrtle flowers almost exclusively on the ‘old wood’. Knowing about new wood and old wood is the key to understanding pruning. More another time, but here, to show the difference, is a picture of some old wood – it doesn’t have to be old old, it could just be last year’s, whereas new wood is this year’s:

See the difference? The vigorous young branch in the other photo is part of the growth springing up again from where half the tree broke away in a snowstorm, see garden notes no 26, myrtle , the photo above shows a branch that has flowered profusely, put nearly all its energy into flowering, and has just a short new shoot growing away from the little green berries.

10     Salvia uliginosa

If I give up the inula I definitely going to keep this, I’m not going totally dry. I can water this. It can have my shower water, I don’t need to wash very often. This is a just a little flowering shoot of Salvia uliginosa, shoots up tall and waves around, lots of side shoots,  likes something it can get tangled up in and flowers curiously – individual blooms opening apparently at random on the inflorescence which is full of buds. It should go on flowering till the end of October. Doesn’t like to be dry. Same colour as morning glory. It’s already appeared here: garden notes no 29, dahlias, bees, Keats again, a little rant, a mountain memory

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