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Cornucopia - Onwards and Upwards

Onwards and Upwards
Febrin LePadden

Although the garden is packed with plants and there is realistically no room for more, I have been sowing seed as usual. It’s a compulsion, I confess - but fortunately a harmless one. But I’ve had only partial success: germination has been disappointing, and I don’t think I’m entirely to blame. I’ve taken to using individual small pots for most of the larger seeds, sowing one or two seeds to each pot, and I can therefore assess quite accurately how things are going. Alas, the germination rate has been as low as 25%, which is really not very encouraging. I hope that the problem lies not with my technique, but with the poor viability of some seed - and I must say that when I’ve had success, it has been with my own home-collected seed.

At least I’m sure of what I’m sowing when the seed is from my own garden, whereas last year (I must put this tactfully) one packet of HPS seed turned out to be rather surprising. It was listed as Leonurus nepetifolia, and I selected it because I already grow two other members of the family - Siberian motherwort (Leonurus sibiricus) and heart’s-ease motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) - and find them highly attractive to bees, and garden-worthy in their own right. Although I could find no information anywhere about this new species, I assumed it would be not unlike the other two - and when the seedlings (five, from six seeds) put in an appearance, there was indeed a resemblance. The young plants grew apace, possessing (as I thought) the characteristic vigour of the family, and before long I was transferring them to their final pots: two in one pot, three in another. For lack of space these had to be accommodated on a sturdy bench, about two feet high.

‘Onwards and upwards’ summed up the next few weeks, but when the plants reached 5' without a sign of a flower-bud, I grew uneasy. Another twelve inches ... and at last the buds started to form. But my suspicions had been aroused, and further investigations now led me to conclude that I was, in fact, growing Leonotis leonurus - and so it proved to be. All five plants continued skywards for another two feet, so - adding the height of the bench - they terminated ten feet above the ground, soaring over the lock-up garage next door. Passers-by were intrigued, and one Rastafarian gentleman begged for seeds - but not one was produced. I somehow doubted that bees could reach down the long tubular orange flowers to pollinate them, and it occurred to me that they were probably unaware of the blooms so high above them, anyway.

When the autumn winds began to blow I had to resort to desperate measures, tying the containers down and supporting the plants with canes - not because the stems were weak (far from it!) but because their wild swaying threatened to topple the whole set-up. I let the plants remain until well into November, then, when the first frosts came, took the secateurs to them... only to retreat to the house after a few minutes to exchange secateurs for a saw. Even then it was a tough job, as the fibrous stems clogged the teeth of the saw time and again, and at one point I found myself thinking of my six-pound timber axe.

Some time later, a friend asked, “Will you grow them again next year?” - then, seeing my expression, laughed and answered her own question: “No, you absolutely won’t!”

First published in the Correspondents Group Newsletter, September 2010
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 28.
© Copyright for this article: Febrin LePadden

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2011. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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