A Passion for Plants

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That dreaded question – ‘what’s your favourite plant?’ - can bring all sorts of hidden reactions in the most compromising of situations, like when you are giving a tour of a garden in front of a large group of people or you’ve just done some public speaking on plants or gardening. There is panic, brain freeze, an overwhelming feeling to hide under the carpet or dive into the pond! And all that just because you have so many favourite plants that suddenly appear in front of you like a carousel of amazingly lovely things that you feel are part of you and don’t want to let down.

  A seasonal blast of colour at Fins New British Cemetery, Sorel-le-Grand, France, this week, captured by Tim Thurlow

A seasonal blast of colour at Fins New British Cemetery, Sorel-le-Grand, France, this week, captured by Tim Thurlow

I haven’t got a forever permanent favourite plant just because there are so many and my favourite plant can change from week to week, month to month, or year to year. Of course there are some plants that will immediately come to my mind, but I want to have the freedom to be able to have lots of favourites.

However, in keeping with this week’s National Gardening Week theme of sharing your passion for plants, I would like to tell you about some plants that have caught my eye while at work.

Last week on the way to a conference in Belgium we decided to stop at one of the Commission’s cemeteries. It wasn’t just any cemetery, it was the cemetery where John Nichols, now CWGC Operations Manager for the Africa and Asia Pacific area and who I was travelling with, had worked at as Senior Head Gardener some years back.

As you arrive at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery a beautiful Wisteria envelopes the outer walls and you are immersed in its sublime perfume and colour.

  Wisteria on the outer walls of CWGC Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

Wisteria on the outer walls of CWGC Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

Many of our cemetery walls have Wisterias trained along them. They can be difficult to restore with such mature and unique shrubs growing against them, but the Commission’s gardeners are real experts when it comes to that kind of skilled work.

Walking through the entrance of this Blomfield-designed cemetery, John also went through a gradual transformation. His eyes had a different sparkle, his tone of voice changed, and his office tie virtually came off and his head gardener hat magically came out.

  Pulsatillas in the beautifully kept borders at CWGC Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

Pulsatillas in the beautifully kept borders at CWGC Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

Inspecting the beautifully kept borders I saw cheeky titillating Geums and soft proud Pulsatillas, which you could easily grow in your own garden.

The Geum genus belongs to the Rosaceae family and there are many different species and varieties suitable for sun or shade to choose from depending on the horticultural requirements of your garden. Here are some options:

  • Try 'Totally Tangerine' for blooms from May to October, it’s a real showstopper!  If you deadhead them make sure you cut back the whole flower stem not just the top.

  • 'Herterton Primorose' is a great one for a woodland setting where it will flower until the canopy gets a bit denser in summer.

  • 'Bell Bank' is good for a damp shady area, its flowers are large and a sexy coppery pinkish red. I like to plant Geum with Stipa pennata or tenuissima for a flowy wild feel.

But now, back in the office, John Nichols has his tie back on and when I see him there is a moment of recognition that says: 'I know what your secret passion is. Once a head gardener, always a head gardener!'

  John Nichols at CWGC Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

John Nichols at CWGC Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery