The Orange Tip

mattcollinsgarden.co.uk

Category: wildflowers

Chelsea Flower Show 2019, Spectator Life

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A pleasure to visit RHS Chelsea 2019 yesterday for The Spectator Magazine, making sense of all the woodlands, wildernesses and environmental worries this year, and noting some very beautiful planting features. Among the highlights were various – and somewhat feral – forms of Rodgersia, Echium, Persicaria and Verbascum, pioneering plants of wonderfully rogue character.

As I concluded in the piece, ‘Show gardens of years past treated visitors to a spectacle of ornate, often innovative back gardens; inspiration that, at a push (and with money to burn), might be applied back home. Currently presented among the grand plots are depictions of yet wilder scenes, natural landscapes skilfully mirrored with light, sympathetic embellishment. Commendable or wildly off-brief, the Flower Show has responded in its own way to the current environmental conundrum, lamenting a paradise-increasingly-lost through Arcadian motifs reminiscent of 18th Century romanticism.’ In other words, a comfort blanket of bucolic British countryside amidst an unsettling time.

Read the full article here.

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Central Oregon

Verbascum

My preoccupation with the landscape of western America has grown steadily over the years, beginning in 2014 with a pivotal road trip through the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and Oregon. Articulating the West’s magnetism for naturalists – why it remains a draw for environmentalists and gardeners alike – is a task better left to professionals: Jonathan Raban (journalist and Englishman moved to Seattle) summarises it perfectly, writing in Granta Journal back in 2008;

“In the dry and lightly populated West, for all the ranching, farming, logging, mining, damming and city-building that have gone on for the last century and a bit, (…) Americans have altered the land less immutably than the Romans, Saxons and Normans altered the face of England. Most of what has been done here still looks like a recent project, a work in early progress, that could yet be stopped..

(…) here, where the lust for the antique is no less keen than in Britain, the true antiquity is wilderness. Old mining towns, chasing tourist dollars, deck themselves out with false storefronts, wooden boardwalks, faux shoot-’em-up saloons, but nobody’s fooled. The real thing – the pricelessly antique antique – is deep forest, the river running wild, the open prairie. There is no second nature here to fall back on, only an either/or choice between nature as it was before we came and the dreck we’ve piled on it in the recent past..”

The concept of ‘Second Nature’ explains it all for the European, whose natural world appears wild, yet reflects centuries of human alteration. In the West, however, primal Nature remains visible just under the surface.

I have passed through central Oregon three times now, each time more enthralling than the last. Here are a few photos I took, with my dad’s old Canon 35mm, during the last, all-too-short visit.

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Oregon Diary

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Urban flower

Wild chicory, Detroit MI, USA

Weeds

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Viola odorata

A little while ago I moved on from the garden which, for the most part, provided the recurring inspiration for this blog. As a near full-time gardener employed by its owner, this small yet indomitable and humbling landscape stimulated within me observations of a certain variety; reflections that would sit comfortably together on a page. This is one of the factors which made the act of updating and maintaining this blog relatively effortless, and something of an enjoyable process. Since my departure from the garden however, it has been difficult to continue at the same pace, having yet to settle on any particular focal point or muse.

I thought for a while that I might instead turn my attention to ‘weeds’. Living in a dense city, when your feet experience little besides concrete, tarmac and mortar, the rosettes and protruding stems which unfurl along the surface have become a new novelty to me. Their contrasting green against the pavement and my insatiable need to identify and familiarise myself with any unknown plant variety combine to form an inquisitiveness that regularly stops me in the street. During the winter months it was the thought and visualisation of what flowers would soon spring from the green that most interested and excited me. Recognising leaves beneath their coating of dirt (kicked up by the street-cleaning vehicles and passing pedestrians); knowing, but often not knowing, what colours and forms they would provide if left to flourish or simply survive, this was to me a kind of secret thrill, an escapism or even refuge perhaps. So I began to take photographs and to log the details, with the intention of beginning a new chapter on this blog.

Sadly both time and preoccupation got in the way, and in place of the garden I’ve been absorbed in a couple of garden designs and a book commission. However the photographs remained on my phone and having spotted a particularly colourful curb-side display this morning, I felt compelled to make use of them.

Forget me not

Forget me not

‘The more we seem effortlessly – but temporarily – to eradicate weeds, the less we bother to understand them. They were regarded as powerful medicines, and more pragmatically as important contributors to domestic economy. Their appearance now sparks reflexes, not reasoning. They are regarded as inexplicable and impertinent intruders, quite unconnected with the way we live our lives’.

Richard Mabey writes this in his popular 2010 book, Weeds. It’s a fine observation of the cultural shift in the association between man and weed. To write much more on this subject would be to power-phrase Mabey’s fantastic work. So I wont. But the question that most often reoccurs in my mind when I stumble upon these unexpected ‘conquerers of the concrete’, is one relating to ornamental quality. To me this is the most interesting; what is it in us that will allow some plants to thrive and others not. Why do we take pleasure in a roadside violet, but chemical spray a dandelion. Is it ignorance? Practicality? Taste? ..Or is it a far more complex response. I have always believed that in taking time to learn about the plants around us, we grow to appreciate and often cherish them. However I myself am guilty of overlooking a Shepherd’s Purse flower (Capsella bursa-pastoris) in favour of another, perhaps more showy plant.

Primrose seeded into the wall of Highgate Cemetary

Primrose seeded into the wall of Highgate Cemetery

Shepherd's Purse flowering with forget me not in the background

Shepherd’s Purse flowering with forget me not in the background

Wild Columbine

Aquilegia

Kingcup

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Marsh Marigold flowering stoically in the pond. The more this area of the garden develops (now in its 6th year since filling and planting up) the more I’m drawn to it. Garden ponds, no matter what the size or scale, are forever an eye witness source of evolution. You begin with a few periphery plants and before you know it you have all kinds of aquatic growth appearing from water mint and iris to frogs and damselflies. Marsh marigold however (Caltha palustris) is the true beacon in the bog, so to speak. It’s one of our oldest native wildflowers in fact, having pushed its little yellow light bulbs up through the thawing ice-age.

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Bulrush

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White fluff floating across the garden and in through the door of my shed – it’s only this year that, on opening one of the deep brown rush heads into my hand, I noticed how tiny each single seed is. Such a number cast into the wind. It’s no wonder enormous swathes of bulrush spring up in and around lakes and still shallows.

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Working in the Wood

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Back in the woods again. The paths have held quite well, edged with the fallen or cut branches from last year’s tree work. Although the boundaried areas of copse have subsequently been afforded uninhibited (and un-trampled) freedom of growth, it is now necessary to clear back the bramble before it has a chance to take over.

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

Splitting our little wood up into five sections, I’ve been slowly digging up the thorny blanket by the roots and amassing them at the centre of the copse, ready for a bonfire next week.

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Bramble pile for burning

Bramble pile for burning

As with the work last winter, I’ve loved spending a solid block of time devoted to this section of the garden; probably my favourite place to be at this time of year. The birds in the canopy are a hive of constant activity, preparing new nests and scoping out material with which to construct them. On the copse floor, flowers of snowdrop and winter aconite are now in full flower, lighting up the ground as beacons for awakening bumble bees.

Snowdrops in flower (

Snowdrops in flower (Galanthus nivalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Arum leaves under large English oak

Arum leaves under large English oak

One plant I’ve always ensured gets a good footing in the wood is burdock. Around four years ago I found a small clump, having presumably made its way over the park wall via wind or wing (or more likely, attached to a squirrel), in full spread beside one of our ash trees. Ever fond of its shrub-like form and broad, rhubarb-esque leaves, I’ve made sure each year to gather and redistribute the seed, collecting directly from the dried heads that remain at the top of dead stems over winter. Taking note of the plant’s edible qualities from the wildflower bible that is Richard Mabey’s, Flora Britannica, I even once dug up some of the burdock’s roots and had a go at stir frying them. Nothing special..I’m not going to lie. Flora Britannica is very much a book worth having to prop up anyone’s interest in the history of our British wild flowers though.

Burdock seed heads (Arctium sp.)

Burdock seed heads (Arctium minus)

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Burdock seeds released

Burdock seeds released from capsule

'Flora Britannica', by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

Flora Britannica by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

Meadow Strips

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Given the success of last year’s annual meadow, despite sowing so late, I decided to repeat the process, however this time sowing either side of the central path up to the house.
The annual strips form new edges to the native and already-established perennial meadow through which the path cuts. My hope is that the annual flowers will add an extra dimension of interest, both by way of colour and the insects they will ideally attract.

To do this I began by measuring a 50cm death away from the path using a tape measure and scaffold plank, and then cut away the turf with a half moon. I then used a spade to lift the turf strips and stacked them over by the wild garden hedge.

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Once again I used ‘Pictorial Meadows’ for wildflower seed. The quality was excellent last year so they are very much tried and tested. I went for their ‘standard mix’, incorporating a few handfuls of additional seed I’d collected such as poppy, musk mallow and cornflower. As with last year’s process, I mixed the seed with sand in a bucket and sowed as evenly as I could, having soaked the ground first. Rather than rolling this time however, I just trod the seed in by foot. Hopefully the timing of the sowing; early in the season and with good weather, will deliver some decent results by mid Summer.

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Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celendines

There are celandines in flower, blue tits cleaning out a nest box and frogspawn in the pond, Spring is very much here and I haven’t even ordered my seeds yet..