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June 2003

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Echiums, thalictrums, a shabby notebook and hoeing

Forgive me if I mention echiums again, but the hardiness of ‘tender' species is of constant interest to me. As I mentioned in the April Notebook, just one plant of several I had of the most common Echium pininana survived last winter and is well on the way to flowering. It's generally accepted that Echium wildpretii is more tender and yet it has survived in a very open position. This confirms my previous experience - usually when I've lost this plant it's been through drowning rather than freezing. During the few years it takes to build up to flowering size it forms a particularly beautiful rosette.

Hoeing is one of the most useful and relaxing garden operations.

A far hardier race are the thalictrums. In fact it is a most amenable, trouble-free genus. Earliest and easiest of all with me is Thalictrum aquilegifolium which has the useful habit of seeding around without becoming a nuisance. The fluffy flower heads are an indefinable and variable purple and the foliage has a grace reminiscent of the nicest aquilegias. Even more striking is Thalictrum delavayi and if you like double-flowered plants ‘Hewitt's Double' is the one to buy. The flowers on this last longer. Among other species I have grown, Thalictrum diffusiflorum was the best but I recently heard a most enthusiastic report on Thalictrum chelidonii, a native of Sikkim and I've added this to my long list of ‘wants'.
A twenty-year-old shabby notebook holds my ‘wants list'. Many were noted during almost forgotten visits to Botanic and other gardens. Many more were quickly scribbled down in the dark while a slide of the plant in question was being projected at lectures. When seed lists and catalogues arrive in spring I quickly scan through my ‘wants'. In many cases I have long forgotten the appearance of the plant when it finally pops up. Occasionally I have seen the ‘wanted' plant again, or read that it is in fact an unstoppable ‘thug' and changed my mind. I've acquired many plants in the garden several years after I first noted them.


Hand weeding is the norm here in early spring. By June the hoe is in almost daily use. Hoeing is one of the most useful and relaxing garden operations. The knees and back finally get some rest. Emerging weeds are snuffed out before they get a chance to threaten and at the same time the surface soil is broken up, enhancing the overall appearance of the flower beds.

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