Sunday, 10 January 2010


It's 9.31 am on Sunday and it's RAINING here in south Lincolnshire!!! The snow is thawing, there are puddles. Only a brief respite, I know, but wow!

Leucanthemum x superbum 'Old Court' - see my list.

A-a-a-anyway. There I was, on Friday evening, minding my own business, fiddling with my new Photoshop CS4 software when my email thingy went boing, boing, boing and again, boing! A smattering of messages kept arriving, including some from such august and revered figures as plant guru Graham Rice, the irrepressibly herbal and organic Jekka McV and doubly Award Winning Journalist James A-S. Each message advised me to visit this 'ere URL.

Well, lah-di-dah! Another rant against the gardener's fave Aunt Sally, the poor old RHS. I'm not saying any more here - there's enough of a pompous riposte in my comment over there - but if you haven't already noted the flurry of invective, you might fancy popping over there for a look.

Meanwhile, back to jollier, more forward looking things.

A friend and colleague of mine - let's call him Phil - is doing an editorial hatchet job on an old, publication which is to be revised. To help him sound out the feelings of others, he asked if I'd kindly spend ten minutes - yes, ten minutes – to furnish him with a list of herbaceous plants that I feel are indispensible. It could, he helpfully added, be 5 or 50.
I mean, is he having a laugh?????

Oh, and I forgot to say - he's also asked other planty friends to do the same.

I should think there are, ooh, about 500 plants that are absolutely utterly must must must haves in almost any garden and if you have to limit your choice to 50, how on earth do you come up with a balanced and sensible list?

The answer is, you can't.

I decided that the knee-jerk or 'intuitive' response was best. In a state of herbaceous frenzy, I imagined what it might be like, if the good Lord - or Professor Dawkins - decreed that all the world's perennials were to become extinct, apart from fifty. And that I was responsible for selecting those fifty survivors - and worse, I had to come up with my list pronto, stat, indeed, within ten minutes. It's a sort of horticultural Desert Island Discs, if you like, but without drearily sycophantic interviewing.

My list follows - for your delection and amusement. However, if I had drawn up a similar list on a different morning, you could be sure that it would be different. Indeed, it's possible that every plant on this list would be absent on another one, drawn up in a different mood, season or at another time of day.

Such as it is, here it is. And being a verbose, garrulous twit, I couldn't help adding a few idiotic comments. Sorry about the lack of italics - couldn't be arsed to click the thingy.

1. Anemone hybrida 'Honorine Jobert.' OK, I know it's boring but I absolutely wouldn't be without it.
2. Kniphofia 'Toffee Nosed' or K. rooperi or K. caulescens. Must have a few rude pokers, even in the most genteel gardens.
2. Schizostylis grandiflora 'Coccinea 'Major'
4. Aster frikartii 'Mönch' Mine flowered steadily for 5 months this year and grew more than a metre high.
5. Aster 'Little Carlow' The lavender-blue flowers sweetly echo the touches of grey in the mildewed leaves.
6. Aconitum 'Sparks Variety' The darkest blue, longest lasting, most branched and therefore best.
7. Penstemon 'Andenken an Friedrich Hahn,' née 'Garnet' - most dependable and hardy of all.
8. Aquilegia vulgaris - best forms such as 'Adelaide Addison' - NOT nasty freaks like 'Norah Barlow'
9. Phlox paniculata 'Fujiyama'
10. Phlox maculata 'Alpha' and P. m. 'Omega' - still the best two, having the cleanest colours.
11. Lathyrus vernus - all varieties without exception.
12. Doronicum columnae -species, rather than named cultivars.
13. Centaurea benoistii - a gloomy bastard of a plant, but somehow, arresting.

Geranium pratense 'Album.'

14. Geranium pratense - all varieties except those hideous flecked things. Wild ordinary by far best.
15. Geranium 'Jolly Bee' one step better than G. wallichianum.
16. Geranium nodosum for dry shade and free seeding for lazy gardeners.
17. Epimediium 'Amber Queen' - well, pretty well any epimedium, really, as long as it has good foliage.
18. Helleborus argutifolius. Many hybrid hellebores now dubious due to overbreeding. Doubles horrible.
19. Leucanthemella serotina. A big boy, but classy and late.
20. Rudbeckia laciniata 'Herbstsonne' Another big, late, lazy boy.
21. Rudbeckia fulgida - 'Goldsturm' or whatever. Seedlings often better than named parents.
22. Digitalis ferruginea or D. Pauciflora.
23. Chrysanthemum rubellum 'Mary Stoker' - taller, prettier than C. r. 'Clara Curtis' which is still OK.
24. Chrysanthemum 'Peterkin' (Pretty pale bronze offshoot from 'Mei Kyo' which is still excellent,
25. Senecio polyodon - every garden should have. Summer constellations of delectable rose-purple daises
26. Senecio pulcher - ditto, partly 'cos it flowers Oct - Nov. Same shocking pinky purple.
27. Achillea 'Terracotta' or 'Lachsschönheit' Don't mess with A. ptarmica 'The Pearl' - wild species A ptarmica much, much prettier.
28. Papaver bracteata 'Beauty of Livermere' - if you can find the real thing.
29. Papaver orientale 'Patty's Plum' or 'Snow Goose.' Big, vulgar, oversized and over-promoted but essential for June joy.
30. Leucanthemum x superbum 'Old Court' or Phyllis Smith' - the ones like shredded coconut are the prettiest.
31. Glaucium corniculatum for leaves.
32. Euphorbia palustris - doesn't need a marsh.
33. Euphorbia amygdaloides ssp robbiae Or plain wood spurge but NOT named cultivars which all get mildew.
34. Erysimum 'Apricot Twist.' most dependable wall flower ever.
35. Trollius yunnanensis.
36. Sedum 'Bertram Anderson' or 'Sunset CLoud.' (The old ones still seem the best.)
37. Salvia 'Blauhügel' - has performed amazingly for me and unlike most European salvias, a nice, clean blue.
38. Salvia uliginosa - yet another tall, lazy job but I think, probably, a girl.
39. Salvia patens - only the true blue one - all others are crap, in comparison.
40. Omphalodes cappadocica - ditto. NOT 'Starry Eyes!'
41. Smilacina racemosa or Polygonatum odoratum. Wild P odoratum better than anything named or hybridised.
42. Phlomis tuberosa. Lovely with grasses.
43. Eryngium 'Cobalt Blue'
44. Cephalaria gigantea. All scabious are great and with this species you get so much more for your money.
45. Roscoea purpurea or houmeana.
46. Primula vulgaris 'Dark Rosaleen' and 'Don O' Keefe' plus P. vulgaris ssp sibthorpii. (Three excellent prims for border fronts.)
47. Primula florindae - if that's what it's still called.
48. Lilium candidum, L. lancifolium and Lilium henryi - all good for lime soils; all seem to cope OK with virus..
49. Corydalis elata - never stops flowering and has status. Not quite so pretty as C flexuosa, but at least it grows and doesn't mope.
50. Nepeta nervosa. A miserable little swine until it has established itself - thereafter, peerless.

Whaddaya think? Comments, lists, brickbats - all welcome.

Penstemon 'Andenken an Friedrich Hahn'

I'm listening to The Photographer General's constant stream of questions as she grapples with the technical challenge of learning how to put music onto her brand new iPod. If it could take pictures, she'd have it mastered in a jiffy. As it is, I think the remedial classes will be going on until Easter.

This day in 1992 I had, apparently, just watched a new TV series called Old Garden, New Gardener. My diary entry reads thus: It should be called 'Old Garden, Clapped Out Gardener.' The shooting was immaculate, as one would expect from Mark Kershaw [a BBC Producer at Pebble Mill] but the subject matter was dreary and the scripts awful. So you see, we were moaning about crappy gardening programmes then, as well as now.

This week's film was Black Orpheus, Marcel Camus' masterpiece treatment of the Greek myth, set in Brazil's colourful and frenetic Rio Carnival. This is pure opera without the arias - tragic, certainly, but amid such joy, such colour! A peerless portrait of human irrepresibility. The leads, Breno Mello (Orpheus) Marpessa Dawn (Eurydice) and Lea Garcia (Serafina) were extremely beautiful, superb at dancing and were winning actors. Also, the kids were great.

Have a nice week!


  1. Oooh! Lovely list. Loads I agree with, plus some I don't know, so off to the encyclopaedia for an inspiring browse over a nice cup of tea (poss biscuit!)


  2. Tee hee! My Desert Island plant list would be 50 different heucheras all with names of food and drink starting with 'Plum Pudding'.

  3. Hmm, interesting list, but can you really survive without a single hosta??

    -Hilde :)

  4. Arabella - would these all be planted in a collection of gabions, in your desert island garden? (It would be rude and unkind to suggest that you need therapy, so I won't suggest it.)

    Hilde - I do grow a hosta, in fact two - well, even snails and slugs need to eat - but like Arabella's heucheras, they are not big features in our garden.

    But that's the lovely thing about plants. We can be as prejudiced and racist as we like about them and no one is insulted. Or, if they are, they really do need therapy.

  5. Good list NIgel.
    I tried very hard to find a couple of ill begotten monsters but,alas, they are all good.
    no Sanguisorbas, Verbenas, Thalictrum or Echinaceas ?
    Shame on you.
    (Although not as much shame as that which should be piled upon the fetching head of Arabella Sock. 50 Heucheras? I would rather be pelted with fifty different varieties of rotting tomato.)

  6. I have really thought & thought about this &, although it is dufficult to believe I conclude that she is just being a wind up merchant!

    Back to the business of plants, so difficult & you have got some good'uns in there. I was really pleased to see Euphorbia amygdaloides ssp robbiae, one of my favourites & I think rather under-rated. In fact I have just remembered using it in a planting scheme during my RHS General exam or whatever it was called.

  7. good list and in fact I might even print it out and go buy them all to put in my new garden :D

    I love big lazy boys (in the garden, not in the house). And girls. Especially Rudbeckia 'Herbstonne' which I started growing this year and rapidly promoted to my top ten wouldn't-be-without plants. We have already exchanged admiring comments about Leucanthemella. I would also add cardoons which are absolutely fabulous and just get on with looking gorgeous pretty much all year with minimal input from me.

    I prefer my Aster 'Climax' to 'Monch' though as 'Climax' doesn't get mildew in my soil.

    and I agree with the Hat: Thalictrum, Sanguisorba, Verbena and Echinacea would bump out the kniphofia (so scruffy in winter!) and lilies which hate my garden (or rather the lily beetles that live there).

    My thoughts on that guardian blog post are unprintable and I decided not to comment over there as I might have got into trouble. Glad to see you have though.

  8. Darn it, I'm trying to reduce the number of different types of plants in the garden but looking at your list has made me want to increase it.

    Am I the only person to mis-pronounce 'superbum' in my head each time I read it? I always end up putting the stress in the wrong place.

  9. Silybum marianum always makes me giggle, HappyMouf - but then I'm quite easily amused!

  10. I'm tickled that you've included one of my favorite plants on your list, Smilacina racemosa n/k/a Maianthemum racemosum a/k/a Solomon's Plume. I'd have to include at least one Heuchera and a Lobelia, probably 'Monet Moment.' For Phlox, I'd list 'Nicky,' which blooms much longer (both earlier & later) than other paniculatas. And definitely a Tricyrtis, either 'Tojen' for sheer stature, or 'Gilty Pleasure' for foliage interest. And a dark foliaged Actaea, they're all interchangeable.

  11. Thanks, everyone, for the response.

    Super Bum, Silly Bum - is there any other pronunciation! Someone once drew up a list of plants with rude names. Such a shame they re-named Uganda's unfavourite plant, Rubus fokeanus.

    Later on, I thought, a couple of specialist lists. The next, I think, might be GOOD WITH GRASSES, aka, OUDOLFIAN PERENNIALS.

    James, McGr's Dau - that will certainly include scads of sanguisorbas and thalictrums. Not sure about echinaceas - some of them are lovely at flower shows but crap at growing. And we always have the PG's 'Turds on Sticks' (Rudbeckia occidentalis) to fall back on.

  12. I've never seen Leucanthemum x superbum 'Old Court' before but immediately like it a lot.

    I'm wondering how much of your list is completely logical and how many plants are in there because of memories associated with them.


  13. Lucy - my list is totally illogical. I just sat and more or less wrote whatever came into my bonce and then stopped at 50. After that, a few other 'must haves' occurred, which I crammed in, removing plants almost at random.

    There are memories associated with almost every plant in my garden - most of them pleasant, some hilarous, one or two unpleasant. More logical lists may follow one day (see my previous comment.)

  14. I have it from a reliable source that the fancy-schmancy new Echinaceas need to have the first buds removed so that the plants won't bloom themselves to death. The straight species E. purpurea and E. pallida are much less fussy and seem to be more favored by the bees (at least by American bees).