Thursday, 26 July 2012

The joys of English gardening in July

The garden is a jungle this July. The warm weather and all the rain we have had has produced growth that makes a tropical rain forest look as if it's underperforming. Quite apart from the stupendous growth spurt that most greenery has produced there are various thugs that threaten to overpower everything in sight.

Have you noticed that the most awful of weeds are often the most delicate or pretty? Bindweed is one of the worst culprits. The leaves are small and beautifully formed. The arrow like spades teeter on delicate sinuous curling stems that coil perfectly around any tall plant in their neighbourhood. Turn your back for a moment and there are several sinuous curling stems all coiling around each other like a great rope choking every living thing in their path. Reaching the extent of their host, elegant ethereal white spathes appear on the creepers. White, pure, innocent looking flowers. The bees may love them but what a deadly development this is. Beauty that conceals the beast's seeds. Even if you cut these off before they do their damnest, every inch of stem and root that clings to the plant or stays in the soil will produce a hundred sneaky, suffocating, crawly creepers. No wonder Sleeping Beauty escaped detection for so long. In a twinkling of an eye bindweed totally smothered her castle.

Japanese knotweed is a similarly snake-like interloper. First you don't notice it at all. Mistake number one. By the time you do notice, it has been joined by several siblings. These are all medium height plants with the prettiest most delicate and exotic flowers. Pea-like, pretty and pink. They are far too attractive to do any harm. They add a certain elegance to the border. You decide to let them stay. Mistake number two. Soon, you are aware that these plants have multiplied rather alarmingly and are dotted about between the perennials. Nevertheless, they do look so lovely, now tall and stately. They add rather than detract from the border display. Mistake number three. Because one day – just when you are congratulating yourself for having acquired such ethereal additions to your border - everything changes. Their delicate pretty pink pea-like flowers explode. Yes, EXPLODE. They burst open with such ferocity and force that the seeds are expelled like exocet missiles across the entire bed, border, path, hedge and lawn within a ten meter radius. They will forever populate your garden and ensure that you will be pulling them out for the rest of your gardening lifetime.

Finally there is that attractive little leaf that pops up in the bare earth between your burgeoning perennials. Is it the angelica you planted last year. Yes, the leaf looks familiar. You leave it to develop. You do love angelica. Soon there are several leaves. So attractively shaped, such a fresh green, and they are doing no harm. Soon enough a shoot appears surmounted by a delicate white frothy flower. It IS angelica. Just wait until the stem grows into something worth preserving. Stangely, this takes longer than expected. The leaves now totally cover all the bare earth between every single plant in the bed. A kind friend commiserates: what a shame it is that you have ground elder. You do a little research and realise that you have been nurturing one of the most invasive weeds in existence in the western world. And now it is here and well established, it is with you forever.

That's gardening for you! Lucy

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