A few days ago I agreed to do a talk to my garden club next year. The Programme Secretary asked what I was talking about at the moment, and I suggested reviving a talk I did several years ago for an open day at the plant centre where I used to work, about the things I now knew about gardening that I wish I'd known when I started. It is a good umbrella subject that gives scope for covering some quite useful and serious topics like soil conditioners and mulch, as well as poking fun at your own unwise plant choices, and I recollect it got some laughs first time round.
It seemed an apt choice this morning as I spent half a day chopping unwanted Acanthus spinosus out of one of the rose beds with a pickaxe, and foraging for more roots with a border fork. It is a thankless task trying to remove an acanthus, since they will regenerate from any remaining root fragments and you will never get all the roots out. They are brittle, and go wide and deep. One of the lecturers at Writtle warned us to be very sure where we wanted Acanthus before planting it, since if we moved it later we would have two, the one we'd moved plus the regrowth in the original site. But that was after I'd planted mine.
They are handsome plants, it is true, though now somewhat out of fashion with the rise of prairie planting and the New Perennials movement. The leaves, as garden books used to regularly mention, were the inspiration for the foliage at the top of classical columns, and they are fine, unless they get mildew, which they are distressingly prone to do. The flowers are handsome too, sombre, prickly spires of purple and white. What the books did not emphasise as much as they maybe should have was that the roots would travel energetically through your borders, and that if you let the flowers run to seed they would do with fierce abandon.
On a visit to the lovely and superbly maintained garden at Fullers Mill I noticed they had controlled, not too massive clumps of Acanthus spinosus in their borders and asked the gardener how they managed it. With the use of a pickaxe and glyphosate, came the reply. I am planting potfuls of tulips in the gap opened up by my efforts, and replanting the snowdrops that got dislodged. They will both have vanished below ground by mid-summer, leaving me a clear run until autumn with the glyphosate.
At this afternoon's garden club committee meeting the Programme Secretary expressed concern that the speaker booked for the May meeting was proving very elusive. Could I possibly have something on standby, just in case we found ourselves faced with a hall full of people and no speaker? I shall have to start reconstructing the talk sooner than expected, just in case.