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May 2013

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May 2013

Plants that seed themselves about I count as a real gift from nature. Admittedly some of them can have weedy propensities but most are attractive. At this time of year, forget-me-nots cover the ground in a beguiling blue haze and traditionally combine well with tulips. I don't remember ever sowing forget-me-nots at any time but they are there every year in early summer. Later on when they become unkempt I chuck them away but by then they have shed seed.


Aquilegias obligingly appear in different colours in many places where I have not planted them. One year I noticed a real beauty in violet-blue and cream perfectly matching the filmy violet-blue flowers of catmint through which it was growing. I went to photograph it the next day when the light was better but a neighbour's tomcat was there first. He was enormous, nearly as big as a springer spaniel, and was writhing and squirming ecstatically through the catmint while his massive paws kicked the aquilegia to bits.


Hellebores shed seed readily and produce seedlings, especially if they are growing near a gravel path although you will not find any of the exotic double ones doing so. Instead they are more likely to appear as single flowers in murky plums or muddy pinks so it is best to pot them up as seedlings and grow them on until they flower. Sometimes a beauty in white with pink dots or in plain vivid pink will appear and these are well worth waiting for.


Sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata, appears in February, sometimes some distance from its parent plant. It has fresh green ferny foliage, scented of aniseed, that can be used to enhance the flavour of stewed rhubarb and the flowers are pure white.


I once grew the variegated ground elder because I liked its pale grey-green leaves edged with off white. Never again! It reverted to the hateful weed, plain green ground elder. But there is a variegated relation that is much better behaved, namely Peucedanum ostruthium 'Daphnis' with pale grey-green leaves edged with creamy white and any little babies growing around have the same captivating variegation.


Some members of the geranium family can be rampant self-sowers like the species Geranium endressii with pink flowers, Geranium ibericum with hairy leaves and dark lavender blue flowers and the meadow cranesbill, Geranium pratense, with light blue flowers. They are all good at ground-covering areas of poor soil and are lovely when they flower. The snag is that when they stop flowering, usually in August, they leave an expanse of boring leaves.


Recently I saw a photograph that had blue-painted wooden obelisks covered in red-leaved vines. The beds beside them were entirely filled with purple sage, Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' and lime-green Alchemilla mollis. A lovely picture. Lady's mantle, Alchemilla mollis, must surely be the most prolific self-sower, capable of covering a medium-sized garden in a few years if unchecked. But its neat foliage, that can cradle dew drops, and its clouds of lime-green flowers harmonise with every other plant.


I never plant ordinary foxgloves. They just grow where they want to and add height to beds and borders filled with lower-growing flowers. While I love the vivid blue of delphiniums I have long since given up trying to grow them and fighting the losing battle against slugs and high winds. Foxgloves are slug-proof, never need staking and come in interesting colours.


I found an attractive plant with leaves, not unlike those of Jacob's ladder, and flat-topped heads of light pink flowers growing beside the mill dam at the home of my late parents. Presumably it had been thrown out of someone's garden and had come down the river. It thrives here in the damp acid soil and seeds around but not annoyingly so. Only last year did I discover that it is the wild valerian, Valeriana officinalis. It was growing in someone else's garden and was as valued there as it is in my own.



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