How plants offer a link to the past

Mouse Plant
Mouse Plant

We have a feast of flowers in the mixed ornamental borders at present and are making the most of it. The next big floral push will come near the end of June with the first flush of roses, early annuals bursting into bloom and herbaceous perennials starting to perform in earnest.

But there’s often something more than mere performance in the plants we grow. This is borne out time and again by those who join gardening tours be it a world-renowned site or the private domain of an acquaintance. There is often an underlying story behind the presence of a particular plant.

I love a garden with history, and as we reach the end of May almost every plant in one of the borders has me reminiscing.

Several travelled with us to this spot (sentimental value!) and some outstayed their welcome years ago, but their eccentricities are tolerated because they came from old friends. One of the spurge family in particular, euphorbia robbiae, was a favourite of my gardening mentor Robert Punton.

One story has it that a Mrs Robb smuggled it into this country in her hat box, giving it the common name Mrs Robb’s bonnets.

The mass of green flowers is ever-present and it’s an attractive border plant but one of the most invasive, spreading via underground rhizomes.

In keeping with most spurges, it exudes a white sap when any part is bruised and this causes painful skin blistering.

By comparison, Robert gave me a sweetheart rose, which has already provided years of enjoyment.

Cecile Brunner flowers continuously from late June until frost arrives. The pale pink flowers are exquisite as they unfurl and are rarely more than 4cms across. It roots easily from hardwood stem cuttings pushed into the autumn garden.

Four plants bring back memories of Northumberland’s most successful fuchsia breeder.

Dr Matthew Ryle’s garden ran down to the River Coquet. It was filled with an amazing array of plants, including Asiatic primulas. Three novelties, currently flowering in our garden, the black lace plant (ophiopogon nigrescens), mouse plant (arisarum proboscideum) and heartsease (viola tricolor), provide this important link with the past.

He was a dear friend but unbeknown to either of us, one of the plants he gave carried a passenger in the soil surrounding its roots.

Ever since that episode, we’ve had Welsh poppies (meconopsis cambrica) springing up all over the garden.