Stowed out

Like keen students returning to school after the summer hols, the September meeting of the Surrey Plant Heritage group was very well attended.  Nuserywoman, author, botanist and lecturer Marina Christopher of Phoenix Plants gave us a whistle stop tour of the plants to use in your autumn plantings.  Very keen to provide a safe haven and foodstop for wild life, Marina favours plants which ‘haven’t been messed about with’.  So single flowers and wild flowers are among her favourites.

Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’

Very niche thirty years ago when she opened her wild flower nursery, Marina’s style came into its own in 1996 when Piet Oudolf did his first naturalistic garden at Bury Court.  Since then she has developed a list of plants to extend the season for wild life in our gardens.  Generally we are good mid year, but need to consider nectar rich plants for spring and autumn.  Crocus tomasianus and winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) are good in the spring and the huge daisy family fits the bill in the autumn.

Instead of bringing slides or a Powerpoint presentation Marina brought examples of the plants so we were able to experience the heights, appreciate the colours, hear the rustling and smell the chocolate – perennial sunflowers smell of chocolate, Mercy take note.  We were also stimulated by the bright yellow T shirt Marina was wearing – apparently yellow is not a popular colour for flowers.

I couldn’t write quickly enough to take down all the names but recommendations included; single dahlias, asters (novi-belgii-great range of colours and size but get mildew, novae-angliae-narrower colour range, taller, mildew less of a problem but with a yellow eye-see comment above) heleniums, Echinaceae, Rudbeckia, Centaurea, Eupatorium, Vernonia (Iron weed), Echinops, Achillea, Dianthus, Sanguisorba, and Scabious.  Dianthus cruentus was popular at Chelsea last year and D. knappii will be next year’s darling.

Then the grasses; Miscanthus, Mollinia and Panicum.  One of the recommendations M. ‘Zwerg Elephant’ came with a health warning – don’t plant it unless you have enough room or a strong constitution/son/daughter to dig it up when it gets too big for the space.

Finally Marina showed us her tools of the trade – a Japanese rice sickle which reduces the time taken to cut down stands of grasses by 80%, a Japanese razor hoe as also recommended by Alys Fowler and small secateurs suitable for small hands.  Marina is giving her talk to the Dorset group on Saturday 15th September, so take your wallets.

Stowed out-pronounced to rhyme with ‘ploughed’ not ‘toad’ is Geordie dialect for full, busy, and caused some amusement when I used the term to describe the meeting to the others in the office.