‘That plant gets everywhere. It grows like a weed!’ Stella, my mother-in-law, liked her plants but she liked them to stay in their place. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t like plants to grow vigorously but, with limited garden space and unlimited enthusiasm for plants in all their variety, she was always on the look-out for a spare corner to fit in a new acquisition. An expanding drift of a successful species, however beautiful or dramatic, couldn’t compete with the attraction of a space for some new small treasures. In Stella’s garden each plant had its story. With a prodigious memory for people and places, she could trace every plant back to a nursery or garden plant stall, a cutting from a friend or relation, a day out or a holiday.
Stella was generous with her plants, always ready to dig out a spare root or seedling, but she could never quite understand why I’d choose clumps of the Alchemilla, Euphorbia and Pulmonaria that were her ‘weeds’ in preference over a delicate rarity. I’m not immune to horticultural acquisitiveness but I like plants which make themselves at home, spreading or seeding abundantly. In planting the borders of my new garden I’ve missed Stella’s weeds.
This garden is already a place of stories and connections; campanulas and pink primroses from my sister Jan’s garden; Iris sibirica from Ruth M. and Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) from Ruth C; foxgloves and pink opium poppies sprung from nowhere, bright yellow Welsh poppies too. John, our next door neighbour, has warned that the foxgloves will take over given half a chance. I’m encouraging them for now.
One of the plants I brought from our York garden is a paeony with big and blowsy, deep red flowers, a wonderfully unlikely birthday present from my mum, Audrey, not her usual taste at all. When the plant burst into flower some nine months later she promptly disowned it. ‘I’m sure I didn’t buy you that!’ With Audrey in mind I’ve also been planting some of her favourite flowers, dark purple bearded irises and buddleia for the butterflies.
One group of plants on which Stella and I were in complete agreement were hellebores in all their variety. Hellebores hybridize and seed freely so every new seedling holds the possibility of an unexpected rarity. The beautiful dark pink hellebore which was a birthday present from Stella was one of the plants I dug from our York garden, along with a dozen of its younger relatives, purple-flowered and palest pink, spotted and plain. Every spring there’s a new surprise. The hellebores had a bad start this year when the local rabbits developed a taste for their early shoots. Now the rabbits are busy eating fresh, young grass (my newly seeded lawn included) and the hellebores are thriving. The persistent, bracts surrounding their developing seed pods are as eye-catching as their early spring flowers. Soon (given half a chance) they’ll be spreading like weeds.