The Chelsea Flower show usually falls in a week that is suspended between spring and summer. That is one of the things that gives the show its charge, the freshness and feeling of anticipation. I was not involved this year other than as a spectator and it was a delight to return home after a busy week of looking to find that we are still in this teetering point and haven’t missed the moment.
Marking it with today’s posy brings the meadows and the garden together. Ranunculus acris, the meadow buttercup, is at it’s zenith. It is one of my favourite components in the grassland, rising up tall above it’s neighbours this early in the season. Where we have over-seeded the old pastures with meadow seed from the neighbouring valley, the buttercup is now in evidence three years on. I like the way it is so light on its feet and that there is so much air amongst the bright pinpricks of yellow.
I have brought it up close on the vegetable garden banks and used it to bring together the clumping Valeriana pyrenaica, which I am trying to naturalise in the grass. This European species has been grown in Britain since at least 1692, and was first recorded in the wild in 1782 as a supposed native, and it could easily be part of our landscape. It has been in flower for a month now and though you wouldn’t think that the brightness of the buttercup would sit well with the lilac pink of the valerian, such colour clashes are commonplace in wild plant communities.
I also have it growing alongside the Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Moorland Heather’ close to the compost heaps. This is a chance seedling of our native comfrey found at Moorland Cottage Plants in South Wales. I first saw it at the Chelsea show and was taken by its darker violet flowers which are alive with bees. It is not allowed to seed as it is a coloniser and the roots grow deep, pulling minerals up into the foliage which, when harvested, make a fine green manure or compost tea. Before the plants set seed, all the growth is cut to the ground and used as a mulch or green manure to turn into the soil. To make an evil smelling brew of compost tea, fill a large plastic bucket to the top with it, trample down and fill with water. Allow it to ferment and then skim off the pungent liquid feed rich in nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and calcium.
I have Camassia leichtlinii ‘Alba’ growing in the grass under the crab apples. They are at their best this week as the crabs are fading, racing up their stems like sparklers almost as fast as you can enjoy them. I like the creaminess of the flowers and this single form the best. I have made the mistake of planting it in open ground amongst perennials and had a million and one seedlings to contend with. The double form is sterile and better in the beds, but I’m hoping that the singles will seed into the grass where it runs thin with yellow rattle.
I might try Centaurea montana ‘Lady Flora Hastings’, Amsonia orientalis and Tragopogon crocifolius together as they are currently disparate in the garden. This is the first time I have thought of doing so and the advantage of throwing things together in a bunch. Amsonia has a short moment of flower, but great longevity of life as a plant and the tragopogon is a delightful self-seeding biennial that adds flux to the mix. ‘Lady Flora Hastings’ is perhaps one of the best centaureas, flowering for weeks and then again if you cut it to the base when it starts to look tired. Like the comfrey its roots run deep and come easily as cuttings. Move the parent plant and it will reappear with the certainty of a perennial that will probably outlive you if you find it a place in sunshine that suits.
The Welsh poppy, Meconopsis cambrica, is at is peak in these first few weeks of the growing season. My plants were strewn as seed on bare earth a couple of years ago and are naturalising happily. They are best when emerging as an incidental in places where other plants might think twice about flourishing. Cracks between paving see them at their happiest and they are unflinching in dry shade. They also thrive in full sun, but I prefer their pure, clean yellow when it sparkles in shadow.