A many splendoured thing: life-enhancing: all-in-all... But, too often a misused, over-used word ... More, Love sadly proves transient. Ephemeral ...
In our horticultural world it is frequently misapplied, as in conversational snatches, we hear “They love their garden!”, or “He loves his cacti!” (a potential prickly association), or, upping the stakes, “She adores her magnolias!!”. Now we have had a miserable summer after a third severe winter and long-bending gardeners, generally despondent, are cutting back, or giving up. More seriously, here in the south west a few nurserymen and the owner-manager of a large garden centre cannot cope with the winter losses of stock and severely reduced turnover in spring and ‘summer’.
I believe in global warming. I believe it chiefly arises from now irreversible changes produced by mankind’s greenhouse gases. I believe the adverse world wide climatic changes will progress. In the face of such major problems, the effect on a few Half Hardy gardeners is not of importance. But, of interest?
We will at least need to re-evaluate just what we mean by ‘half hardy’. In our parochial situations, perhaps all we can do is to experiment to increase knowledge under the changing conditions. I am too old to take up cycling again or golf - or stop gardening, therefore I will continue to try variable Proteaceae - a favourite family (for hardiness in garden conditions, such as leucodendrons and telopeas) or enjoying the annual display of drama queens like Roscoea purpurea f. rubra (or 'Red Gurkha' if you wish) as it becomes even more beautiful as it dies through rich purples to a final indigo.
And just enjoy memories attached to plants. The small group was returning to Kathmandu from the village of Lang Tang on the Tibetan border, following a high track contouring the mountains. Suddenly, half a mile below we saw a small croft in the wilderness. Descending the scree approach, there was a woman brushing the packed earth of the yard and bare house floor. Our guide, and each of us in turn, greeted her “Namaste!”; Deepak Gurung told us that she wished us to take tea with her – “a Tibetan refugee family” he continued, the husband then returning from Dhunche, 15 miles away, where he had bought essential supplies. Their three young children made up the family, surviving in a limited economy based on rearing chickens, a few pigs and fewer cattle plus a limited range of vegetables.
The high-cheeked, smiling woman pared flakes from a house-brick block of black tea and poured boiling water obtained from the glacier a thousand feet above. Through Deepak Gurung she told us proudly of her four year old son, who quietly appeared, and the two year old twins. In the seventh month of her second pregnancy, Hsi walked to the road head at Dhunche, to take the long journey to Kathmandu by lorry, and the reassurance of the only maternity hospital available.
When we left, she proudly declined any rupees but eventually accepted a package of gifts - soap, toothbrushes, balls, pens and paper for her son, sticky plasters and bandages, a shirt and jumper, and - obviously the more important to Hsi, a couple’s spare rucksac.
The plant interest? As we sweated back to the high path, the group crossed a narrow river-formed gully, pausing to soak hot feet in the ice cold water. In the cool shade, hanging from shady banks, was a succulent leaved plant, flowerless but with paired seed pods. Later, the seeds produced plants of, I believed, Hoya longifolia, now reminding me of that gentle, happy, proud Tibetan.
Increasingly, I feel that it is not the plants we grow which matter, but their associations with and memories of people.
This year, everything seems referred to or connected with Shakespeare and his works. I cannot say that I appreciated these in English Literature lessons at school, only discovering some of this wealth much later in life. Of these, the Sonnets have given most pleasure.
And, above any, 116. “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds; or bends, with the remover to remove: O no! it is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests, and is never shaken ... “
I hope your love for plants and gardens persists in the face of tempests - and rain - and cold - and drought. And all those human frailties.
First published in the Half Hardy Group Newsletter Spring / Summer 2012
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 32.
© Copyright for this article: Rob Senior
This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2013. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.