Saturday, 24 September 2016

autumn lecture season

Now it's September the Plant Heritage lectures in Suffolk have started again.  I like the Plant Heritage talks.  They get speakers of national stature, and with gossip, plants for sale and the opportunity to eat home made cake, really what's not to like?  The car park is the answer, which is barely large enough to accommodate a hall full of plant enthusiasts' cars, let alone on days when the sports field behind the village hall is in use as it was today.  Stowupland is a very linear village with a moderately busy road running through it, and if there isn't space in the hall car park it's not immediately obvious where else you could leave your car, short of trespassing on the high school's drive.  I got a space, though.

The lecture was by Marina Christopher, author of a book on late summer flowering perennials which I have read, though today she was talking specifically about choosing plants to attract insects.  She had driven all the way from her nursery in Hampshire in her van full of plants, and didn't arrive until two thirty when the meeting was due to start, after a bad passage round the M25.  The organisers must have nerves of steel to have looked so outwardly calm as the minutes ticked away with still no speaker, though the blank space at the front of the room was a giveaway that something was wrong.  It seems to me that the traffic in the south east is so unpredictable and potentially so bad that the only way to reliably commit to doing a talk in Suffolk when you live in Hampshire (or vice versa) is to aim to be several hours early and fill the time doing something else when you arrive if you aren't caught in a jam, but I suppose busy people don't have the time to spare to keep being that early for things.

I was heartened by her view that many of the new varieties of Echinacea released in the past decade with flowers in exotic shades of pink or yellow were inherently unreliable and apt to die during their first winter, and to hear this view echoed by the voices of other people around the hall.  It's not just me, then.  Granted, our soil is meagre and our rainfall pitiful, but the consensus is that most of them are not good doers.  Apparently the RHS is now conducting a five year trial aimed purely at assessing longevity, before even starting to worry about how pretty or garden worthy any of them are.  One promising red variety died in its pot before ever making it into the trial ground. They like their own space too.  Enough of Echinacea.  Life is too short to keep buying (at vast expense) and planting things that will go into a decline and die if any of their neighbours lean on them, then probably die anyway come the winter.

The Plant Heritage organisers are looking for people to grow rare breeds of daffodil, to keep them in cultivation, but I didn't volunteer.  Our garden isn't ideal for daffodils, being dry, crowded, rooty and with shifting patterns of gradually increasing shade as the trees grow.  By a process of experiment and winnowing I have ended up with some areas where a limited number of daffodil varieties cope, and even those are topped up every other year, while my spreadsheet of things planted in the garden bears painful witness to the many types of Narcissus and locations that have not made the cut.  You would not want to entrust rarities to my doubtful keeping.

Instead I answered the appeal for somebody to arrive in time to put the chairs out at the start of the meeting.  I thought it would be friendly to make myself mildly useful, and getting there an extra quarter of an hour early should guarantee me a parking space.

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