Tuesday, 1 December 2009


Daphne bholua 'Darjeeling.' Evergreen, compact, though rather columnar in habit and intensely fragrant. I also grow D. b. 'Jacqueline Postill' and am never sure which I prefer.

Our lovely, lovely daphnes are beginning to stir. Just outside our back door I planted Daphne bholua 'Darjeeling' five years ago and each winter, the intensely sweet fragrance wafts indoors and on still days, lingers in the air. The first blossoms usually open around New Year's Day but this season has been odd and, though hardly in full bloom yet, it has enough blossom to make an impact.

Daphne has always been a favourite genus. When a schoolboy, I wickedly uprooted a seedling of what I thought was a strange looking laurel, one Easter Hols, in a Cambridgeshire wood and brought it home to plant in my parents garden. To everyone's amazement, the following spring it produced green, fragrant blossoms and I was able to identify Daphne laureola in my fathers British Flora by Bentham and Hooker. The common name, spurge laurel, suits it to a tee - it's spurgy and laurelous.

Now, as an old man, I remember that exciting discovery every time I cycle past the spurge laurel bushes that are so abundant a few miles west of where I live. On the calcareous soil of South Kesteven and Rutland, they love to grow on shady dyke sides but elsewhere in Britain, I guess they are relatively uncommon.

I don't uproot wild plants these days, I hasten to add, but am not above filching a few seeds or taking the odd cutting. But not of anything that isn't dead common.

I cannot understand why so many people stick to Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' - a miserable thing unless it happens to like you - when there are so many other fantastic daphnes. There was a brilliant article in The Garden a while back, with pictures of the various winter varieties in bloom at Wisley.

D. mezereum, our other native species, but extremely rare in the wild, is a fine garden plant until it succumbs to the virus that seems to shorten the lives of almost every member of the genus. At our village post office, years ago, where the postmistress would polish her copper drain pipes to a startling brightness - she also hoovered and dusted the village phone box every day and sometimes even put flowers in it - there was a vast D mezereum in the tiny front garden. It must have been more than 2 metres across and massed with magenta blossoms each spring. Small tortoiseshell butterflies, still woozy from hibernating, would feast on the flowers before going off to lay eggs on nettles.

One spring, in the 1980s, it was late coming into leaf, and then half the bush died, followed quickly by the other. And that was that. This specimen may not have been a champion oak, nor was it a a noteworthy rarity recorded in some plant knob's directory. But it was still a rattling good example of an endearing little shrub, once ubiquitous in cottage gardens, now becoming like twin sets and Ford Cortinas - a bit old hat.

The trouble with the English autumn is that the weather gets stuck into a groove. Weeks ago, I was on the whinge about how dry it was and how it was hurting my wrists and elbows, trying to plant bulbs into hard soil. Since then, we've had a deluge or five. My lawn squelches when walked upon and things which I ought to have done have been left undone.

My plan had been, in the Photographer General's parlance, to 'do a James,' as inspired by geezer whose latest post is here. (Doing a James means reducing lawn area to make more border space for good planting schemes.) If you follow the process to a sensible conclusion, you end up with no lawn, skinny grass pathways and extended borders, all equipped with 'personnel paths' which give access for servicing plants, weeding, etc. but which don't break up the line and flow.

The PG insists that our Tea Lawn must not shrink too much more, but supported the idea of doubling the bow-fronted autumn border with a twin. I marked out the area and began to double dig, burying the live turf.

The PG arrived. soon after I'd started and said, 'Ooh, a sausage! How funny!' Well, I was concerned that the curve had the grace of a banana, rather than a swan's neck or rainbow, but was rather hurt. 'Only fools and children judge a half done job,' I muttered, and sulkily drank the mug of tea she had brought. I think, when it's done, it will be an attractive, curved double border, but she's badly shaken my confidence.

I'm also well aware that my notions of line and form can be inferior to those of my 6 year old granddaughter, sometimes. Well, most of the time, probably. That's why my attempt to be a professional garden designer was so unsuccessful.

Finally, Ahem! ahem!! I'd like to conclude by quashing the wicked rumours that I have been limbering up for Boozy Thursday by imbibing double pints. The GMG lunch may be looming and with all the fringe partying that seems to be going on around the main event, it may be necessary to get one's liver into robust form.

But that is not done by whapping back aldermanic quantities of ale, thereby trying to turn the aforementioned organ into shoe leather before Thursday. Oh no!

That is done by feverish cycle riding, by double digging, and by hefting large bags of horticultural grit onto Wendy's staging.

The picture below, therefore, is a disgraceful calumny on a par with Stalin faking photographs by magicking his rivals out of them. I can't deny that the two jugs I'm holding are about a litre apiece, and I think it would stretch your credibility to claim that they contain iced tea.

The fact that the word 'Brasserie' figures in the background is merely an attempt by the perpetrator of this visual libel to lend a semblance of authenticity. I was asked - not by the PG, I hasten to say - but by some scurrilous photographer to pose while holding the handles of a water divining device.

And what do I find? The dousing thingy has disappeared and these revoltingly large beer mugs have been Photoshopped into position, thereby basting, roasting and serving my goose. It seems almost pointless, now, to deny that I was on a booze cruise to Europe, recently, but deny it I will. If I lie, call me Mr Archer.

I'm listening to As Time Goes By, not in actuality, but in my head as I'm off to a film party tonight. We're going to watch Casablanca for which I've written the interpretive leaflet.

This time on Saturday I was agreeing to present the PG with my car, as soon as I've found a replacement.

This week's film was The Train, a fine duel between Burt Lancaster as a grumpy rail traffic controller and member of the French Resistance and Paul Scofield, the German officer who loved art but lacked humanity. It's long, action-packed, well told and well shot. Thought provoking, too.

This picture is entirely fake. I don't even like iced tea!

If you're going to the GMG bash - hope to see you there!
Bye bye.

1 comment:

  1. After spending many a happy minute or 2 over the years with my nose stuck in a 'Jaqueline Postill' at Wisley I bought one at greta expense last year. It has to live in a pot so I am keeping fingers crossed that it will be happy enough to flower!

    Shame that picture is fake: I love it!