Monday, 4 April 2016

The Great Garden Throwback

I spent much of my childhood viewing gardens upside down. If I wasn't careering around the lawn perfecting cartwheels, I might be socialising over a weather-related handstands game which was snappily named Snow, Rain, Thunder, Lightning. The rules elude me, but I do remember that a handstand with one leg at a jaunty angle signified a lightning fork.
When my best friend and I were feeling lazy, we would dangle upside down from the frame of the garden swing; she on one side, I on the other, putting the world to rights for hours on end and wondering where Speedy my tortoise had scurried off to while we were chatting (he wasn’t called Speedy for nothing). On the rare occasions when we weren’t upside down, we would not have our feet on the ground. Why would we when we could be rockery hopping? This involved skipping from one stone to the next in the rockery, while honing our multitasking skills by having a conversation about something deep and meaningful like Abba, all while avoiding the toad which sheltered in a crevice hidden by Aubretia.
Aubretia was arguably the most ubiquitous plant of my childhood. In springtime it would be romping over rockeries and clambering over walls in the suburb I called home. Then rockeries fell out of fashion and Aubretia became the subject of mockery; the butt of jokes from plant snobs. It is highly likely that the demise of Aubretia coincided with the point at which I found my feet, gave up tumbling across lawns and became an upright citizen. Last spring, as an act of rebellion against plant snobs and the all-too-persistent passing of time, I decided to relive those glorious days of yore by growing Aubretia and attempting a handstand. Needless to say, one was more successful than the other. 

Aubretia is a top bee plant. I had toyed with the idea of growing it for a while, but because my garden is set in a flat landscape, with no rocks or walls over which Aubretia might scramble, I was concerned about where I might place it. I could have popped it in a pot and left it to escape over the side, but I keep very few plants in containers as I find them too time-consuming. I have no memory of seeing Aubretia growing anywhere other than over and down the side of things, so it was with more than a little hesitation that I placed it in a border. What on earth was I thinking? Aubretia is fabulous in a border! Instead of long (and quite frankly lanky) curtains, it forms a neat cushion. When it comes to garden soft furnishings - and if you want matching curtains and cushions - this plant is a winner! 
I grow it in an area which was once a gravel drive. The soil is thin, impoverished and alkaline. The site is the most inhospitable part of the garden. It might face south, but it is also a frost pocket which can be exceptionally windy. Despite this, Aubretia flowers shrug off the frost and the plant holds itself together, blooms for weeks on end, and is a hub of bee action on a sunny day. Clipping it after flowering keeps it neat and tidy. It really is a valuable addition to my borders and leaves me wondering why on earth a plant of this calibre was so badly maligned? 
I would love to tell you with confidence that I purchased plants from the Cascade Series, but since I am relying on my memory and the plants are cascading nowhere, I am happy to be corrected. It is unsurprising that I mislaid the plant labels given the second part of reliving my childhood. I am no Beth Tweddle, but I gave it my best shot and my children were in awe of my handstand abilities. Of course, those might have been looks of horror on their faces, but for reasons of self-esteem, I will stick with awe. Despite reaching the dizzying heights of an almost perfect handstand (dizzying being the operative word - it took quite some recovering from), I shall not be attempting another handstand in the near future, not least because I swear it took a full week for all my internal organs to work their way back to where they started. 
Clearly I made a slight error of judgement in believing that I could still achieve a handstand with any level of dignity; the garden fashionistas on the other hand made a massive mistake when they were so downright dismissive of an excellent garden plant. I am delighted to welcome Aubretia into my garden; it certainly gets the bee seal of approval. Garden fashions have a lot to answer for.

45 comments:

  1. I loved this post! I spent a few years hanging upside down, but I never mastered the handstand, even as a child. Kudos to you!

    It was years after I began gardening that I realized there were such things as garden trends and fashions. Same thing with interior of homes. If it looks great and grows well, who cares what some plant snob thinks! Familiarity may breed contempt and so the common is looked down upon, but what would my garden be without comfortable, easy care plants from my childhood? I love your Aubretia! From my perspective, I am unfamiliar with its name, though it does look similar to a sedum. I should plant this new exotic and start a trend!

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    1. Lead the way - the bees will thank you! It's actually a member of the brassica family, but I see what you mean about Sedum. I agree with your comment about familiarity. It is the same with the kind of shrubs we see on roundabouts and at retail parks here. Some of them are extremely good garden plants, but it is difficult to see past their public space duties and spot their potential for the garden setting.

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  2. You write about childhood almost as well as Harper Lee.

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  3. My mother had an old large drain pipe, out side the bungalow front door, with Aubretia growing in it for years, she had bought it with her when she sold the cottage. it always flowered for ages, I have some growing in my alpine boxes.

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    1. You mother must have treasured Aubretia. I can understand why. It's a lovely plant. I'm pleased that you grow it too.

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  4. closest I ever got is yoga and a shoulder stand.
    One of the plants I cherish now is Abelia, which my mother taught me to love.

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    1. A shoulder stand is good. Isn't it wonderful to share the love of a plant with someone?

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  5. Wonderful memories of your childhood, I never got to a handstand how hard I tried, I was a wild girl and always tumbled over head. Coincidentially I was in a garden centre yesterday and stopped at the blooming Aubretia, I thought of my father who always had Aubretia in his garden, then I walked on, not that I´m a garden snob....but my soil is acid and far too wet....

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    1. You need a drainpipe like Brian mentions above - or a pot. There seems to be much more Aubretia available in garden centres at the moment. I sense a return to favour. About time too!

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  6. we have a couple of aubretia in our pebble garden that tumble down over the wall one is variegated. and the other is just green they look beautiful when in flower and as you Say are kept bushy with a good clipping afterwards.

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    1. Thank you for mentioning variegated Aubretia - I neglected to mention it above, which was remiss of me.

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  7. I do it the other way, no Aubretia, but every evening before my birthday a handstand! Lovely post Groetjes Hetty

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    1. That's a lot of effort! I think I would rather have Aubretia!

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  8. The last headstand I did was in 1982 - I remember it well - after which I spent some time with a very stiff neck.
    Aubretia has enjoyed a revival here - I see it everywhere.....or perhaps it is more likely that gardeners in Victoria paid no attention to fashion and just kept planting. I love it - such a gorgeous burst of colour after the yellows and greens of early spring.

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    1. Well that was a memorable headstand. If you attempt another one within the next third of a century, you might consider stretching first - I can't promise that it will help, but you never know, it might prevent post-headstand neck issues. I like the idea that the gardeners of Victoria pay no heed to the fashionistas. Good on you!

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  9. What a great post! Oh, to shock adult children.....I'm smiling just thinking about it! The Aubretia is so pretty and I love that you have thrown convention to the wind as far as gardening is concerned. It's a wonderful way to express who we are.

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    1. Thank you! I agree wholeheartedly about gardening being a way to express ourselves. As a designer, there are times when having sweated over the minutiae and created a garden which is just as the client wanted, I visit the garden some time later to discover that an object (perhaps a gift or a recent purchase) has been placed there which looks incongruous with the rest of the garden. Some designers get upset when this happens; I view it as the client making their garden their own and expressing who they are.

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  10. This is the first time I've heard that aubrietia was disdained by the plant snobs. In my opinion, plant snobs are a blight on the horticultural landscape. Great post!

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    1. Thank you! I couldn't agree more. I was reading a book by one of my favourite garden writers last night and in it she was being extremely snobby about certain excellent garden plants. I am still seething about it! Expect a post when I finally calm down.

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  11. I really enjoyed your post and reading about childhood memories and the garden. Some of our fondest memories are from when we were growing up. Thanks for visiting my blog and for sharing your delightful story.

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    1. Thank you. The older I get, the more I value my childhood memories.

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  12. I shall require you to do a handstand the next time we meet! Great plant, my childhood rockery was covered in a little campanula, I shall have to go and find out which now!

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    1. I'll do a handstand if you will. We could all line up for a game of Snow, Rain, Thunder, Lightning at Chelsea.

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  13. I never mastered the handstand as a kid, but did cartwheels aplenty! And Aubretia is a lovely plant. I love planting plants that I remember from childhood!

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    1. I do too! I have just popped a few Primula denticulata in the garden. I loved them as a child and when I saw them on offer in the nursery, I knew that I would not be leaving without them.

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  14. Ahh, absolutely lovely – and I have put Aubretia on my (very long!!) wish-list, thanks for introducing me to it, I don’t think I have seen Aubretia before and I have definitely not grown it myself. I have never cared much for garden trends and fashions – I like to grow unusual things and new things, but I also grow very bog standard plants if I like them. I don’t grow anything I don’t like the look of, hence I don’t grow for example Alchemilla mollis. Never understood the craze about that plant, it just looks like something you’d find in any ditch :-)
    Enjoy your nice Sunday weather!

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    1. I am delighted to introduce you to Aubretia!
      I find garden trends a bore. If a plant is right for your garden and you like it, then grow it. In defence of Alchemilla mollis, I enjoy seeing rain on its leaves. It is one of the loveliest plants on a miserable day.

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  15. Great post and one that has evoked many a childhood memory for me reading it. My grandfathers rockery, complete with aubretia and heathers was his pride a joy. Last time I attempted a handstand it was a disaster and incredibly embarrassing not only for me but everyone else watching!

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    1. At least you gave the handstand a go!

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  16. Hooray for you!! I could do a handstand the last time I tried but it's been a while so if I tried it now I might end up in the hospital! Aubretia sounds wonderful! I need to research it because now I want it! As for plant snobs, I wish them a field a plastic flowers. ;o)

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  17. Hello Sarah, we have aubretia in a part of the patio wall and it is currently in full flower and looks stunning. I think we have a seed pack and I was going to grow a load for tumbling over the edges of pots. Now that I've learned from your post that is makes a great border plant in poor soils, there's a good chance that it's going to end up in purple pools on the gravel drive. I'll pass on the hand stands!

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    1. Those purple pools sound delightful! It's a while since I wrote this post and the Aubretia is still in full swing and looking wonderful.

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  18. I forgot about aubretia from my childhood in England. It is quite rare here in US. I have lovely memories of it, Sarah, and will try to get some for my rock garden. P. x

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    1. I am so pleased that you have been reminded of it! I hope you find some soon.

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  19. I can't do handstand Sarah, am too aged now. But I love Aubretia and grew it in my garden until it disappeared after cold winter. Love your post!

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    1. Thank you! Shame about the handstand and Aubretia though.

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  20. What a magnificent post. It was so fun to read. Now, did you take a picture of you doing a handstand ;-). It would have been an awesome addition to this blog-site :-D. I'm now searching for aubretia. Any bee plants are my favorites.

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    1. I think that taking a photo of myself doing a handstand might be multitasking gone mad! I would have to resurrect the skill of the one-handed handstand first. I'm not even sure that a selfie stick would help in this circumstance... come to think of it, I'm not convinced that there is a shutter speed fast enough to capture my one-handed handstand.

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  21. I only became aware that a plant could be out of fashion when hearing someone declare that they would be too embarrassed to have Hydrangea in their garden. I just don't get it, I mean I can understand as to how some of those clothes which were in fashion in the 70s are frowned upon. As for your Aubretia, well I love it.

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    1. Hydrangea?! That takes the biscuit!

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  22. I was never able to do a good handstand - unless against the wall. Aubretia was one of the first ever plants I grew in my first garden, I was shocked at how quickly it spread, but I do love the strong saturated colour of the flowers. And three cheers for sticking a finger or two up at the plant snobs who refuse it space in their gardens. It looks fabulous in your gravel garden.

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