Being able to combine a love of plants with a love of words is for me one of the side benefits of gardening. Few weeks pass without my learning a new plant name, Discovering an expression for a hitherto unknown garden feature is a rarer occurrence, but this was my experience when leafing through a copy of Tim Newbury’s ‘Garden Design Bible’. In a section about planning a family garden I found an illustration of a ‘fedge’- a portmanteau word to describe a combined fence and hedge. Its purpose is to create a sturdy physical barrier where something more attractive than a plain fence is needed. The book suggests a variety of evergreens to plant alongside the wire netting fence, such a yew, Taxus baccata or Lonicera nitida, the tiny golden-leaved member of the honeysuckle genus whose appearance is more box than woodbine. Evergreen climbers, especially ivies, are recommended for tall narrow ‘fedges’ where ground space is limited.
Discovering ‘fedge’ prompted me to research if there are other portmanteau words, where parts of multiple words are combined into a new word (think ‘smog’, ‘motel’ and, if you must, ‘Brexit’), in use in the horticultural world. This lead me to the practise of ‘permaculture’ which I confess I had heard of but not understood until this week. The word was coined in the 1970’s, as a marriage of ‘permanent agriculture’ and refers to any system of sustainable agriculture or horticulture that simulates features of natural ecosystems. One example of permaculture is where different layers of vegetation in a garden mimic nature and can be exploited to create a ‘food forest’. This might consist of up to seven recognised layers, with a canopy of tall trees at the upper level, descending through an understorey of lower, possibly fruit-bearing, trees, a shrub layer of berry bushes and a herbaceous layer of plants which die back in winter, including culinary and medicinal herbs. Beneath these four layers lie a ground cover layer which grows close to the ground and a ‘rhizosphere’ of roots within the soil which in the productive garden can include root crops and edible tubers, such as carrots and potatoes. The seventh layer is a vertical layer of climbers such as runner beans or vines. A panellist on the radio garden show ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ broadcast on 9 November 2018 favoured this method of raising food crops above the conventional one or two layer allotment plot.
I am two thirds of the way through freshening up a local back garden and two of the plants I have used in the planting scheme share the species epithet ending ‘oides‘. This means that the plants resemble another plant in some way and I suppose might be translated as ‘like’ or ‘ish’. The first of such plants is the evergreen climber Trachelospermum jasminoides, which I have planted near the house so that its jasmine-like scent will drift through the windows on summer evenings as well as perfuming the seating area around the rear of the property. One common name of the plant is intriguing: Confederate jasmine. Until I dug a little deeper I assumed it derived its name from the slavery supporting states in the American Civil War and imagined it entwining the classical pillars of southern plantation mansions such as Tara in ‘Gone with the Wind’. I understand it grows well in the southeastern states of the USA but because the plant originates in Southeast Asia, it is named for the confederacy of Malay states. The other common name of Star jasmine accurately describes the appearance of its waxy white five petalled flowers which contrast beautifully with the small glossy pointed leaves.
In the sunniest flowerbed in the garden I have underplanted a Ceanothus ‘Puget Blue’ with another ‘ish’ plant, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. The intense blue flowers of this low-growing shrub, which appear in late summer, bear a resemblance to the flowers of the tender climber Plumbago. The common name of both plants is Leadwort but it does not seem to be known definitively whether this refers to their lead-blue flowers, the property of the sap which stains the skin a lead-blue hue or the belief of the Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder that leadwort cured lead poisoning. Whatever the derivation of Ceratostigma plumbaginoides‘s tongue-twister of a name it is ideal ground cover in sunny sites and noteworthy for the glorious reds and oranges of its deciduous leaves in autumn. Bill Neal’s ‘Gardener’s Latin’ recommends underplanting it with small bulbs which can flower while the leadwort is dormant in the early months of the year, the dying foliage of the bulbs then disguised by the little shrub’s emerging leaves. This advice pre-empts my agenda for next week’s session in the client’s garden when I plan to plant diminuitive Narcissus ‘Jet Fire’ in the bed in which I’ve put this anything but leaden plant.
Next time I report upon recent planting sessions at Osterley House and Gardens and reflect on my second professional gardening assignment.