Driving around Pennsylvania or Northamptonshire, while keeping my eyes on the road, my peripheral vision always takes in what’s growing by the roadside. And there’s plenty to see.
One of the very first posts on this blog, way back in 2007, was about unexpected roadside plants and here we are almost ten years later and over the last few days I’ve spotted some more.
First, let’s revisit the Heathrow euphorbias (above). Having driven round the exit from London’s orbital motorway, the M25, for Heathrow every few months for more than fifteen years – about four years ago I spotted Mediterranean euphorbias bursting through the barrier. Driving my wife judy to the airport last week she snapped this picture on her phone through the car window as we whizzed by. Those euphorbias are still going strong.
Later, on the way home to Northamptonshire, I spotted something interesting as I turned off the northbound M1 motorway to head home. And it turned out to be a strange mixture of plants: stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) (below) scattered by the side of the road along with Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, grape hyacinths (Muscari), jonquil daffodils, flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and more: a strange mix of garden plants at an exit that’s a long way from a garden.
And then just yesterday, on the way back from the recycling centre, doing very nicely by the roadside – two or three patches of another Mediterranean plant: Alexanders (Smyrnium olustratum) (above right). The Flora of Northamptonshire tells me that it: “originates from it formerly being grown as a medicinal herb”.
Now that our roadsides are not treated like lawns and mown every two or three weeks, there’s more and more interesting plants to see.
I’ve been doing some weeding. This is in our British garden where the weeds are always jumping at this time of year, especially when it’s been so wet and it’s been unwise to get on the soil.
I’ve also been having a clear out, bringing files and folders out from the back of the file cabinets and what did I find? My weed collection, three fat folders of pressed plants, that I made when I was a student at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London almost forty years ago (below right, click to enlarge).
And the first pressed plant I found in the first folder I opened was the same plant I’d just been pulling out of the garden: hairy bitter cress (Cardamine hirsuta). We have a close relative, Pennsylvania bitter cress (Cardamine pennsylvanica) in our American garden.
And this brings me to my first rule of weeding: our top weeding priority should always be to pull out are the weeds that are in flower or developing seeds. Hairy bitter cress rarely grows more then 10in/25cm high but can still can produce 700 seeds and fling them 31in/80cm, but it can also produce seeds when just two inches (5cm) high. So pull it out. Now.
Many of the traditional rules of gardening have little value but “One year’s seeding makes ten years weeding” really is true. Dandelions (below), which as annoying in Pennsylvania as they are in Northamptonshire, can produce over two hundred seeds in one seed head. So - obviously - don’t let them seed.
My second rule of weeding is always to shake the soil off the roots after you pull out the weeds and before they go on the compost heap or (in those cities with green waste recycling) in the green waste bin. You can ship out a huge amount of good soil if you’re not careful.
And my third rule of weeding is this: get them when they’re young. When nasty perennial weeds like bindweed come through at this time of year, a one inch shoot is often an indicator of yards of root underneath. Later, when their twirling stems become entwined with our garden plants, it’s all but impossible to remove them. It’s so much easier when they’re just an inch high and, at this time of year, if you disturb the plants you’re trying to protect when extracting bindweed roots they’ll soon settle down again. By the time the bindweed is strangling your cistus (top) it’s far far FAR too late.
My final rule is this: Don't spend half a day weeding and then the rest of the week nursing your aching back. I did half an hour this morning and half an hour this afternoon and I’ll try to keep that up. But if I’d spent two hours forking out weeds at a single stretch this morning (as I was tempted to do) I’d not be able to get out there again tomorrow or the next day or the rest of the week. Little and often…
OK, it's time to get back to the bindweed and dandelions and the dreaded hairy bitter cress.
Guest post by lawyer (and nephew) Jonathan Weisbrod
I distinctly remember the first Flower & Garden Expo I attended. In the mid-90s, my family went to the Philadelphia Flower & Garden Show. It was a rather grand experience, between floral displays and booths upon booths of plants I had never heard of or seen before. Admittedly grandeur to someone under the age of ten is easy to come by.
Over the years since I’ve attended a lot of festivals and conventions celebrating everything from hot air ballooning to chili peppers, but beyond “craft & garden” fairs – nothing with horticulture at the forefront. As a recent transplant from New Jersey to San Francisco, it seemed appropriate to try and take in my new coast. Why not spend a day at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show? #throwbackthursday or in this case Saturday.
To be fair, I knew my past expectations needed to be tempered, still I was surprised by the amount of craft fair wares available relative to the garden vendors (how many people do you need selling aged balsamic vinegar?). The event felt more like a crafts fair with gardens added on than a garden expo colored by craft vendors. The proliferation of gutter cleaning devices, new windows, and college-student MLM king Cutco takes a bit away from the whimsy.
Oh right, the garden displays. There were some very pleasant, zen displays. However, they weren’t just an afterthought in this reflection on the show, they felt like one at the show itself. The actual garden displays numbered just over half a dozen but with rather narrow scope. As such a novice, perhaps it's not surprising the water displays jumped out at me most – but they certainly felt more the focus of each set up rather than anything floral (though a raining bridge is cool concept for a few minutes).
All-in-all mixed feelings, not an overwhelming disappointment, but far from a success in my book. I was able to learn a bit about products to implement in my own garden which certainly a big plus, if only I gleaned more about plants to put in it…