Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Much ado in the garden

A welcome sign of advancing spring is the flowering of Mezereon, Daphne mezereum. Although for a century or more botanists have tended to regard this shrub as a British native, opinion now has shifted and it falls in the same category as the Common Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, with the suspicion being that it was brought to this country, perhaps as much as a thousand years ago, by travelling monks.
Mezereon in flower in our back garden, Stefen Hill,
Daventry. 9 March, 2017
The fact that, like all Daphnes, it is highly poisonous gave it potential importance as a medicinal plant. Indeed, only a century ago it was still being recommended, because apparently it 'acts favourably in syphilis, scrofula and rheumatism' (Potter's Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, Potter & Clarke, Ltd, 1923). Well, if I'm struck down by any of these ailments I'll know where to turn. I have little use for rouge either so its nineteenth century use for producing rosy cheeks leaves me unmoved. In fact, when a paste of mezereon was applied to the cheeks it caused the blood vessels to dilate but when the danger and implication of this was understood it rapidly fell out of use.
Of course, if fickle fashion demanded pale cheeks, then a different plant might offer a solution and John Clare's advice could be heeded:
                                          A Fumitory too - a name
                                          That superstition holds to fame -
                                          Whose rare and purple mottled flowers
                                          Are cropped by maids in weeding hours,
                                          To boil in water, milk and whey,
                                          For washes on a holiday,
                                          To make their beauty fair and sleek
                                          And scare a tan from summer's cheek.
                                                                                            Clare's Shepherd's Calendar, 1827
Alpines and rock garden plants are doing nicely. The Hacquetia we brought with us from Byfield took a while to establish but this member of the carrot family, with its curious green 'flowers' (the 'petals' are really bracts) has now settled down.
Hacquetia epipactis in our front garden, Stefen Hill, Daventry.
9 March, 2017
Hacquetia epipactis, to give it its full name, is said to be fairly common in central Europe, enjoying dappled shade beneath trees but, although I have kept an eye open for it in northern Italy, the Tyrol and the like, I have never found it. But for this plant Balthasar Hacquet, the Austrian writer after whom it is named, would probably be forgotten.
When, a few days ago 28 February) I photographed Saxifraga oppositifolia in our sink garden, I felt that it couldn't flower any more. In fact it is now impossible to see any leaves. This species is native to Britain of course and is said to be locally common in north Wales, the north of England and Scotland. All forms are lovely but I am growing a selected strain of the plant.

Saxifraga oppositifolia is flowering quite remarkably in our sink garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 9 March, 2017

Another saxifrage, Saxifraga x irvinii 'Jenkinsiae' is also doing well, forming a neat dome of white flowers, each with a pinkish heart. Its parentage is unknown but apparently, unusually for a hybrid, it can be propagated from seed. 
Saxifraga x irvingii 'Jenkinsiae' has yet to reach its peak in our back garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 9 March, 2017

Several more alpines have yet to flower but I don't want them to be all over before summer. I need some thing to look forward to.

Tony White  E-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk


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