Thursday, 8 March 2012


And the top of the world to you and yours!  Saint Pat's is past and spring is almost here.  Calloo callay!!

Now, then. . .where were we?  Oh yes!  
Why do plant breeders try so hard to turn natural beauty into abomination?  

 Primula vulgaris – a naturally occurring, pale form of our wild primrose, but not truly albino.  It seeds true and, though an aberration, is cherished in my micro-woodland garden.  (Click on pix for bigger view)

I have great respect for plant breeders – one or two of them are even good friends – and what they have achieved, over the last couple of centuries is, mighty impressive. We have a staggering excess of garden plant varieties. Too many?  Well, if 90% of all rose and hosta cultivars were eradicated tomorrow, there'd still be a gross surplus of both. But the surfeit of varieties results from competition coupled with a long breeding history. And anyway, it's better, don't you think, to have too many to choose from, rather than too few?

So, breeders have given – sorry, sold – us a huge and valuable legacy of superb garden plants. Frequently, a garden cultivar is more beautiful, more dependable, less variable and better behaved than its wild forebear. We have breeders to thank for that.

But breeders have also perpetrated genetic atrocities: petunias which look like black holes, in clammy sub-fusc foliage; evergreens such as Photinia davidiana 'Palette' whose young leaves resemble haemorrhagic vomit; or antirrhinums whose child-delighting, dragon-snapping flowers have been morphed into gaping, malformed foxgloves.

And primroses.
I believe these to be some of our loveliest wild spring flowers and although I collect interesting forms, there is nothing so beautiful as the original. In Britain, they are pale yellow; travel east and south, in Europe and western Asia, and lilac or pink forms are more frequent.

Perhaps that's why the name 'prima rosa' - first rose - was coined, presumably by the Romans. Whatever the origin, it is the earliness of this plant that helps with its charm, not to mention the pristine quality of the petals, subtle fragrance and the way the blooms sit so beautifully among the rugose foliage.

And then, at the February RHS Show, I was reminded of the abominations wished upon us by plant breeders.  Like the next picture. . .

BUMROSES.  I cannot bring myself to call these things 'primroses.'  There is nothing to commend them.  They are barely hardy, the flowers are grossly outsized, the colours of the pollen guides don't harmonise with the main petal colours, the growth is coarse, the flowers are badly presented and they die badly.  These are market stall horrors, unsuitable for gardens and unpleasant anywhere.

They seem to have gone as far as they can, with ugly paintbox colours, so now breeders appear to be taking a darker path. Polyanthus have turned up with flowers resembling dirty denim jeans. Theres a brutally ugly green-flowered thing called Primula 'Francesca' which, like Dante's Francesca da Rimini, should be blown away to hell in a whirlwind of souls.

And there are now mud coloured objects like the one below. (I couldn't be arsed to note down its varietal name.)

A dirty blue bumrose. If an admiral in full dress uniform had fallen overboard, drowned, and was then fished out of the sea three months later, his uniform would have looked more attractive than this plant.

At that same show, I was wryly amused by a trade stand, set up by a firm called Implementations, offering a range of expensive-looking tools which appeared to be made of copper. I learn that these are actually bronze and Implementations' website lists selling points as follows:

They're rust-free, hard wearing, soil doesn't stick to them.
Much like stainless steel, then – but here's their clincher: copper is known to deter slugs and snails.

That's true. Snails which crawl onto copper are said to be disturbed by an electrochemical reaction between the metal and their mucus.

So if you happen to discover that snails and slugs are eating your tool blades, switch immediately to copper. But remember, that scrap thieves are especially interested in copper and might nick your posh bronze fork and trowel set before you've had time to try it out. And it's a safe bet that the metal thieves will move significantly faster than the molluscs. 

Suitable for that bijou gardenette in Kensington - bronze tools, marketed by Implementations.

I'm not listening to anything.  
On a mad impulse, I decided to subscribe to Apple's iTunes Match and am in the middle of uploading my entire music library onto iCloud. It has taken about 48 hours of constant computer running, to upload nearly 8,000 'songs.'  Only 660 to go!

This day in 1986, 
when we ran a small nursery, I potted up 65 successfully rooted cuttings of Daphne blagayana, prepared our garden for opening and berated my then 12 year-old son for breaking a rake which, my diary wails, 'I've had for years and years!'  What was I, an octogenarian?  Can't remember the rake at all but can vaguely recall the son. (Only joking,)

This week's film was 
We Need to Talk About Kevin, about a nasty kid who does nasty things. It was compelling stuff, but when I viewed the interview extras, on the DVD, I realised that I had entirely the wrong take on the whole thing.

My interpretation was that the kid, if not born nasty, was pretty much a sociopath in the making, possibly because of the sterile lifestyle of wealthy western (must be careful not to say American) society, or maybe because some folk are simply born nasty.

But according to the star – the incomparable Tilda Swinton – and according to what I could hear, of director Lynne Ramsay's almost incoherent babble, Kevin was the way he was because of a bad mother who didn't bond with her baby.  I have to say, too, that the father is an absolute prat of the first order and the locals show up in pretty poor light, too.

I was so disturbed by my hopeless misinterpretation that I determined to break my current rule ( to avoid literature written post mid-Seventies, because most of it is so crappy) and have just started to read Lionel Shriver's original novel.  So far nothing to report, but I can see why she won the Orange.

'That's it from me,' as the weatherman used to say, 'bye bye for now!'


  1. I agree about the Primroses...but then look at Auriculas..

    Bronze tools...very Celtic!! I wonder if they are strong enough?

    Read the book in preference every time- otherwise you are generally getting someone else's interpretation of the original

  2. Those truly are horrendous primroses. It's as if someone went through a cupboard of food colourings from the 1970s thinking that brighter is better. That nasty blue/purple colour - it's definitely intentional? Maybe the plant breeder who selected it doesn't realise he's colour blind? (apologies for my assumption the plant breeder is a he... but as it's International Womens Day I can hardly lay the blame at the door of us girls).

  3. I was being lazy (should have grown them from seed), but last week I tried to buy native primroses from our local nurseries of which there are many. Zilch - no demand apparently, but a plethora of the coloured flamenco dress types which, I agree, are an abomination. I do have a soft spot for "Francesca" however, which is very muted in colour although difficult to place anywhere in the garden.

    Don't knock the bronze tools, we have one of "Implementations" Nunki weeders which is a dream to use. Admittedly, a bronze trowel is rather more of an extravagance

  4. Bum all the way. Primrose horrors, but am sure we'll sadly see them lining up somewhere in council carpet bedding. I can't help but wonder who could possibly want a blue primrose or worse still, who decided growing one was a good idea?

  5. I have two bronze trowels: both gifts from kind people.

    They are lovely to handle (especially the thin pointy one) although the idea behind them - that soil tilled by bronze will magically become more fertile and molluscs will run screaming is a little hard to believe.

    I also have a copper dibber which is very sharp and always reminds me, and please forgive my crudeness especially on such an august blog as this, of the unsavoury death of Edward II (alleged).

  6. Thoe trowels are marvellous to use - thats all they should say on them, rather than whether they affect the libido of the local mollusc life.

    That weatherman Dan thingy is actually quite spooky..the one who ends with 'thats the weather...*pause* *scary face*..for noooow'

  7. I've just had a bumrose flower in my garden which I didn't realise was there until it produced its dirty pink blooms. Just nearby on the bank were the most exquisite little wild primroses: proof, if proof were needed, that you can't 'improve' on perfection.

    The bumrose is now on its way to forming compost: much more useful.

    I had a very strong reaction to 'We Need To Talk About...' - hated it, I'm afraid. I read the book and didn't (and won't) see the film: I had Tilda Swinton's interpretation of the story and it made me furious that Lionel Shriver could write such a terrible and facile interpretation of why troubled young children kill.

    It would have been far more insightful if she had tackled the question of whether someone can be born evil (or not). As it was, it was a condemnation of all mothers who have not bonded with their babies - many of whom go on to form perfectly loving relationships with them later in life. I just pray that no poor mother of one of the now several children who have sprayed their local school with bullets ever reads it. Unfortunately I suspect some of them already have.

    But rant over: personally if I were you I'd put down the book right now, which is not something I often advise where books are concerned. But it really is moral poison. It is telling that Lionel Shriver does not have children: I think if she had kids of her own her understanding of the subject would have been more profound.

    Rant really over now - and I've never used a copper (or bronze) trowel: after James and Mark's comments I might have a go though :D

  8. You know those muddy ones, you often see them where some fancy primrose pollen got sprinkled in amongst the proper ordinary ones - woodland edges to suburban gardens and such. It seems a strong gene, hangs about and will sometimes see off the pale yellow ones leaving you with what I can only call murrey. Hoick 'em out - that's what I say, but no-one listens, imagining them to be a bit special. No they're just nasty.

    Anyway, re Kevin, my view is that the book is fantastic, a true modern classic, haven't seen the film. I never thought the book was about bad mothering, the whole thing seems to me to be about the risks of being human, we all have to recognise and somehow live with the evil in the world. Dealing with it is the issue and where the difficulties lie for the characters in the book. I saw the book as a complex metaphor and honestly believe the book allows for such a reading, therefore NOT moral poison, not at all.

    I heard Lionel Shriver talking about the book and it seemed some of it was inspired by her experience of a difficult brother. She expressed no animus, only pity for her mother.

  9. I used to love snapdragons purely to see a bee's fat bottom sticking out of the flower shimmying about. Less so when we moved to the current garden where they had self-seeded everywhere and not the nicest colours either - but not as bad as the bumroses

  10. Thanks for all the comments. I rather dementedly said that Saint Pat's was past - which it was in my head, as I'd just written my copy for 17th March.

    Arabella - I think you need to bend your mind away from bee's fat bottoms because whenever you mention bees, I'm reminded of those little Beardibum fairy creatures that you're inclined to animate with hilarious results.

    Jane and Constant G - thanks so much for the enlightening reaction and discussion on LS's Kevin novel and the film.

    Mark D - We're not nearly posh enough to drive bronze tool, in these parts, but I take the point.

    James, disregarding Edward 2's bottom, to anyone who has a manufactured dibber, rather than a smoothed off, broken spade handle, all I can say is 'Theres Posh!'

    And to all who responded to the bumroses - my thanks.

    gz - do you dislike auriculas, then? Cos i grow a few border varieties which I adore, partly because of the flower shapes and strange colours - provided they're clean, not muddy - and, above all, for the wondeful, knockout fragrance.

  11. Bumroses indeed. Those garish primulas are absolutely hideous. We inherited lots of the wild variety growing here, which I'm very happy about, and I've been escorting them around the garden where I can, to help them colonise further. A good auricula I can admire, though I'm not moved to own any yet, but I don't think those primroses have any saving graces!

    I read the Kevin book, but haven't seen the film. Ashamed to say I can't quite recall my reaction to the book now, so it can't have been very strong. I do have a lousy memory though - already! I'll probably have dementia by the time I'm 40.