Here I am, with the thermometer in the low thirties Fahrenheit, and a chill wind coming off the last dirty patches of snow, and I am thinking of a warm, sunlit garden. An example of an English country garden - well, suburban, really, but REALLY close to the countryside.
The grass is left long, on purpose, to encourage wild flowers and other plant life; actually the guardian of this garden is a member of a U.K. charity called 'PlantLife' which is dedicated to the survival of wild plants of all kinds, hence the attempt to encourage a diverse habitat. If you look to the left of the photograph you can just make out the yellow flowers of Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) amongst the grass. This member of the Buttercup family is classified as a noxious weed in certain areas of the United States, and can be fatal to livestock if they are allowed to eat too much of it; the toxin it contains, protoanemonin, fortunately breaks down if the plants are allowed to dry out, so hay made from meadow grass which contains the plant is quite safe. It thrives in moist soil, and the area against the hedge is very damp.
To the right of the photograph you can see the lovely white 'foam' of the Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), see diary. This is a member of the olive family and can be a little less hardy than you would expect. Since it can grow to around 20 feet, site with care in your garden! Next to the Lilac you can see the purple blooms of a much more difficult 'invader'. Rhododendrons were brought back to Great Britain by Victorian plant collectors, many from the foothills of the Himalayas. One Rhododendron species in particular, (Rhododenron ponticum), has spread over large areas in my native Derbyshire, and since there are no native predators, and the leaves, seeds and bark are toxic to sheep, cattle and most insect life, the only means of eradication is to dig it out, plus remove all leaf litter, etc. This has lead to the National Trust for England & Wales asking for volunteer 'digging parties' in a number of areas of the country.
The hedge is interesting, in that it is a mature Beech, (Fagus sylvatica). This is much more attractive than the hawthorn or privet as is usually found in this part of the world. Ferns flourish in its dense shade, and you can just make out the lovely blue of a Common Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus). This beautiful plant is now rare in the wild, but makes a beautiful splash of blue in the garden. Dried flowers may be used in tisanes, of course, and have other herbal properties.
On the edge of the rock garden, you can see a few dwarf yellow poppies, and a mass of Virginia Stock (Malcolmia maritima) a very popular annual in British gardens. The mature Black Poplars (Populus nigra) at the end of the lawn were once over 60 feet tall, but a tree surgeon has considerably reduced their height, for safety reasons.
Very well then, I must confess that I have a vested interest in this particular garden….it’s ‘back home’ in South Yorkshire at the end of May, and my relatives had just called to me that tea was ready!