Of Swings And Daisies

What is a garden? An ever-changing expanse of blue, lightness, the rush of air, freedom and energy. Swinging aloft, earthly concerns forgotten in the airborn joy of movement. In childhood days I thought little of seasonal changes, of buying plants or raising vegetables from seed, of compost, plant labels and copper tape as hosta protection from the ninja slug brigade whose mucilaginous forays even surmount the uppermost greenhouse shelving. There was no thought of gardens as outdoor rooms for entertaining, no knowledge of how to design herb wheels or construct fruit cages as I picked fresh peas, discarding any maggoty pods as I went. Behind the vegetable beds a shed, no pots or tools committed to memory, only scratched legs from wading through a sea of raspberry canes to emerge, variously reddened at the shed door with its rain-softened label marking the secret meeting place of myself, my brother and our friends.

The garden was a place of physical intensity and a portal to other realms – the immeasurable expanse of sky or the miniature world beneath my feet. Hours spent stretched on the grass amidst the daisies, reading, eating, revising and playing with the cat, grass blades tickling my feet, the whole world buzzing and vibrating with insect turmoil. Flower borders mattered little, but the mesembryanthemums fringing the beds, opening and closing their candy petals marked the passing of summer days in a wash of colour.

These peripheral details seem outside my adult experience of the garden as I hurry from shed to greenhouse, from washing line to flower border proceeding along task-oriented lines. Or as I view the garden from an upstairs window whilst watering seedlings, writing articles on how to extend the strawberry season and when to plant new potatoes. From my elevated vantage point I can appreciate the developing maturity of the fruit trees, the seasonal highlights of bulbs, blossom or annual flowers, but distance and haste detract from my physical relationship with the garden. 

I don’t have time to swing with the kids for as long as I’d like, watching the sky with the childlike fascination which contemplating the immeasurable so easily engenders, but I would do well to remember my childhood experience of a garden and pause for a while in wonder. Just to be, in a garden, at times should be enough.

Mesembryanthemum

What’s In A Name? Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

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Ophiopogon in my gravel front garden

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, also known as black lilyturf, black mondo or black dragon, is an evergreen perennial native to Japan. Despite having a grass-like appearance, it is a member of the Asparagacaea family, as is the similar grass-like Liriope muscari. ‘Ophiopogon’ comes from the Greek ‘ophis’ meaning ‘serpent’ and ‘pogon’ meaning ‘beard’. The name presumably alludes to the linear leaves being the beard of the snake or dragon. ‘Planiscapus’ refers to the flattened scape or flower-stalk ending in a loose raceme of lilac flowers and ‘Nigrescens’ to the black colour of the foliage and scapes. In summer, after the flowers fade, blue to deep purple berries develop leading to the French name ‘Herbe aux Turquoises’ also referred to as the ‘barbe de serpent noire’.

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ can be a tricky plant to use in a garden situation. Its deep purple/black foliage when used sparingly or dotted through planting can look straggly and disappear into the undergrowth. At its best, en masse, it is an attractive groundcover plant adding a deep saturation of colour to a design and setting off brighter, lighter colours well. It makes a pairing with plants with silver foliage like Stachys byzantina or, in my garden, Lychnis coronaria and Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tormentosum) and looks stunning alongside plants with orange foliage such as Libertia peregrinans and Carex testacea.

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Used as an edging plant in Regent’s Park

Ophiopogon also works well in erosion control, binding soil with its rhizomatous roots, and it thrives in containers. I’ve used it successfully in pots with dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’) and white violas as a winter combination and last year I underplanted my French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) with ophiopogon, then dog violets also colonised the pot. A rather random combination, but the silver and black foliage alongside the purple flowers looked attractive and the ophiopogon is increasing, a sure sign that it’s happy in its environment.

Containers with ophiopogon in my garden in autumn, spring and summer

Ophiopogon prefers full sun to partial shade, moist but well-drained soil and likes neutral to acid soil (but it seems to do fine in my alkaline front garden). So whether you want some foliage interest in a container or larger scale groundcover impact, the black serpent’s beard with flattened scapes is a good way to add some lustre to your garden this year.

More images of ophiopogon in Regent’s Park border designs

My Garden Right Now: A Mini Tour

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Over at Veg Plotting this weekend Michelle Chapman has created the #mygardenrightnow hashtag for people to use with a picture of themselves in their garden (or allotment) to show what our growing spaces really look like at the end of winter – with all their glorious intimations of spring and their untidy, bare spaces (at least in my garden as you’ll see). I thought this was a great idea – so here’s my contribution. As well as the picture where I’m hiding and waving in the winter filigree willow den, I’ve taken a few short videos of different areas of the garden just before all the daffodils open, the perennials start to romp and the vegetables are sown. Vlogging is a new one on me (as you’ll see in the videos!) and nowhere near as comfortable a medium as writing, but I hope you enjoy the quick tours…

dsc_0054-3It’s interesting that last year the daffodils were poking their noses through on Christmas day and by the first weekend in March weekend they looked like this. I guess most bulbs are later this year and I’m looking forward to the start of the daffodil/tulip/wallflower cycle in a couple of week’s time and all the colour which I’ll be enjoying as I go to and fro through March 🙂

The hashtag is, of course, open to everyone, so do download your garden picture with #mygardenrightnow this weekend and join in the post-winter celebrations 🙂

I’d be really interested to know how your garden/allotment/pots are looking right now. Please leave me a comment below – I love reading your thoughts and ideas.

The videos show several areas of #mygardenrightnow which aren’t as organised as I’d like and where tangled winter debris has played its part in harbouring insects and needs clearing ready for spring growth. So I thought I’d also share some photos of some of the winter/early spring highlights in the garden…

If you’d like to follow the garden as it begins its spring journey you can subscribe below. Thank you 🙂

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If you’d like to read more about how the different areas of my garden were created, you could take a look at the following articles:

Out With The Ugly, Bin With The New

My Hard-Working Garden: An Ongoing Transformation (Part 1)

My Hard-Working Garden: An Ongoing Transformation (Part 2)

Side Gardens And Shared Spaces

My Secret Garden (A Guest Post on the hidden edibles in my front garden on The Unconventional Gardener’s Blog)