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Cornucopia - Are you really the Boss?

Are you really the Boss?
Keith Hare

While to mention the importance of climate in gardening would be platitudinous, we cannot escape the fact that whatever aspirations we may have, all that sun, wind, rain, hot, cold and dry are really the final arbiters governing our achievements. About thirty years ago I saw growing in the steps at the front of a stately home - forgotten which - a little bright green carpeting plant. Its leaves were as big as a pinhead and it spread horizontally and vertically all the way up and all the way along and looked very good against the dark stone. This seemed to me a covetable plant. My investigations revealed that this was Soleirolia soleirolii named after Joseph Francois Soleirol d.1831 who collected Corsican plants. As well as being known as Helxine soleirolii, it is called Baby’s Tears and Mind-your-own-business - which I am sure you all know! I thought it must be a truly noble plant having a name which reminded me of the Sun King, Louis XIV. I found it available at the florist’s shop. Unfortunately, it was not hardy but could be kept in a pot.

When setting up our present garden 23 years ago my son thought he would like to incorporate this into one of his planting schemes and pushed me hard enough to seek out a variegated form. For a year or so we protected these little jokers against the cold. Gradually they outgrew their protection and were sadly decimated by the frost, but, fear not, they came back stronger than ever and have continued to do so ever since and all last winter they continued growing, colonizing all our paved area, all our walls, parts of the lawn, growing into every desirable plant it came across especially into slow-growing choice and valuable miniature cushions. We can pull it off walls like the fleece off a sheep but always, no matter what, a few bits remain and off we go again. And where is the frost? The frost that used to set this thing back to square one every winter. When I note its inexorable crawl, I think back to a flight of majestic Roman steps at a stately home.

Another invader, this time more acceptable, is Pratia repens, from the Falkland Islands. This ground covering plant is part of Campanulaceae. About 10 years ago, I planted a specimen of this out of a 3" pot at the front of a border and 3 feet from the end of a wall. The lawn goes round the end of the wall and becomes a sort of orchard. In the first year it stayed where it was but in the second year it began the long march. It did not go NE into the flowerbed but SW into the lawn, along the lawn to the wall, round the end of the wall, whereupon it began its revolutionary campaign. To this brave little fellow the orchard must have seemed like the Steppes of Asia awaiting conquest. It came to a flowerbed on its left flank but ignored that, putting all its energy into reaching the Pacific Coast. In about 7 years it has advanced 30 feet on a front 6 feet wide and all summer long it adorns the area with a scattering of miniature flowers. Most of these are too short for the mower and the foliage is so low that it is never cut. It has become quite an asset.

It increases by fleshy roots about as thick as a pencil lead and a little bit half an inch long will root. Pratia is a colonizer, staying in one place a year or two before taking up temporary residence a foot or so further on. Near the original site there is no sign. The blue carpet has moved away. I hope to live long enough to see it reach the bottom fence 114 feet away. I wonder if my optimism is a little on the flexible side.

First published in the East Yorkshire Group Newsletter November 2007
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 25
© Copyright for this article: Keith Hare

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2010. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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