Monday, March 26, 2012

Fashionable Plants - And Those Also Rans

Recently when Madame La Poste was visiting she admired a plant in the garden, which surprised me mightily.  It was this “shrimp plant” as I have always heard it referred to, and I immediately responded by saying, “Take it, you’re welcome to it.  I can’t stand it!”  Madame La Poste explained that she always thought of it as being a particularly Victorian or Edwardian plant and that it may have been one of those plants brought home by intrepid plant hunters.  Though it became a little bit more interesting to me, it is still not one of my favourites but last weekend yet another visitor to the garden was observed actually fondling the flowers, which made me realise that indeed there is no accounting for taste!


This started me thinking about the strange fashions which plants are victims of as much as anything else we have in our homes and gardens.  I recently bought this aspidistra plant for the sum of $2 at a local market. 

It has happily remained in its plastic bag waiting to be potted up, with never a complaint or a sulk.  No languishing like a Victorian heroine here, thank you very much!  Rather a stoical disregard for unfavourable conditions.  Aspidistras were a cliché of Victorian parlours, I suspect chiefly because of their ability to cling on to life despite neglect and having to live in dark and dusty corners.  But now they are hopelessly out of fashion and the person who sold me mine for $2 obviously could hardly give them away.  What a shame, because with their strappy leaves and longsuffering nature they are a very pleasant indoor plant to have around.  Also remember such old indoor favourites as “mother-in-law’s tongue” (both variegated and plain) and philodendron (Swiss cheese plant as it was then called).  I wonder if they are in danger of becoming extinct now that few people like them and there is no space for them in our homes?

Then there is the "chain of hearts", a lovely hanging indoor house plant which was ubiquitous when I was growing up.  It is rarely seen now and it was hard to locate one when I had a sudden longing for one.  I managed to secure a plant from my mum, but never see them for sale anywhere. 

Sometimes there are plants which don’t gain the attention and popularity they deserve, either.  One plant which I believe should be a lot more popular is what we call the “Pea Plant”, for obvious reasons.  I have never heard its correct name or seen it for sale, it is another one of those under appreciated specimens which you only ever acquire by begging a piece from a friend or relative.  (Once again, this one came via my mum.)  It will happily look after itself and is not particular as to temperature or location, but it does reward you if you place it in a nice bright window sill. 

Whole tides of gardening fads have washed over us by in recent decades from the overblown cottage garden obsession of the 80s (still a firm favourite with me, I am ashamed to admit) through the subtropical 90s to the minimalist cacti and succulent trends of the early 2000s.  It is all fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable while we live through these fashions, but sometimes I feel for all the casualties, poor specimens which are tossed aside when the garden is full and another “must have” new plant comes on the scene.  Sometimes oldies are goldies too.   

And then there are the plants which come highly recommended by all and sundry and turn out to be thugs and bullies in our gardens.  I have a book on the flower arranger's garden but I was horrified to see that this plant was selected as a "must have" and a treasure in any garden.  I beg to differ!  In every garden I have ever possessed the plant below is a noxious pest which pops up in every corner, in every season, and always amongst delicate treasures which will be irreparably damaged if the trowel is plunged in to remove the offender.  I don't have a very good photo of it in fact, because I had just spent a prolonged period of time trying to remove it when I realised I wanted to show it to you, so you can be on your guard.  This was the last remaining specimen but you can be sure there will be plenty more by next weekend.  

Here is another example of the kind of escapee which makes our garden endeavours so challenging.  When we bought Shoestring Cottage one of the borders was completely infested by these "spider plants", which were a big hit in the 1970s.  Well do I remember them hanging in macrame holders, do you remember those?  Somebody must have "released" their unwanted plants into the garden, because the roots are like a thick fibrous mat just under the soil in places.  I have tried to dig out as many as possible, and placed a couple in pots as a memento - it seems cruel to destroy them all.  

I think this is the last rose of the season and I suspect it is Compassion, though I am not completely certain.  It is very vigorous and ignores the lack of care and spraying and blossoms away thanklessly from earliest spring to the very end of summer.
The acorn buttons I made last weekend are looking quite realistic with their paint on them.  There a few places where they need a bit more attention, but on the whole I am pleased with them.  They have little holes through them so they can be used as buttons.  I have moved onto crabapples, which hopefully will dry enough this week to be painted next weekend.  The possibilities are endless in Autumn!
And speaking of Autumn, we went for an even longer ride along the rail trail this weekend.  We spotted these barberry fruits (none of the blackberries were quite ripe yet) and research has shown that they are in fact edible - much to my surprise, they certainly taste poisonous in their unripened state).  When they have ripened we will try to harvest some and make something out of them - nothing very impressive, I fear because they certainly have a reputation as being somewhat unpalatable.
There had been a lot of rain during the week and some pasture was flooded, giving the effect of a lake.  The swallows were swooping over the surface of the water for insects and the birds were all around.  (Though I must admit that the flock of spur winged plovers was making a horrible shrill cry and I can understand now why my friend hates them so much.)

While we were out on our bike ride a lovely doyley mysteriously appeared on the front porch.  I know it must have been left there by Madame La Poste, and isn't it beautiful?  I can see that with this addition to the swallow doyley collection there must be a project in store for them - but just what, exactly, will it be?
And last but not least I have to share with you the present daughter number three gave me this week.  She knows how much I want a cat (as do we all in our apartment), but for the time being it is impossible.  So we have a cat doorstop instead, not quite the same but a good substitute nevertheless.