Saturday, August 25, 2007

Japanese Anemones

In my garden are two great displays of these tall Japanese anemones, far too early for this time of the year as they are supposed to be autumn flowering. There exuberance is extraordinary probably down to the strange weather we have been having this summer. But suddenly I realised that they have a story behind them. A small plant of these flowers was given to me about 25 years ago by a person who lived in Box in Wiltshire, and they have now grown from small beginnings to giants dominating their positions. The garden they came from, had the remains of a large roman villa under its surface. This villa was enlarged in the 3rd or 4th century by a wealthy owner, and apparently has the largest collection of roman mosaics in the country, with mosaics being found in 20 of the 41 rooms in the complex. The villa was excavated by Hurst in 1967, there are probably pottery and mosaics at Devizes museum somewhere in a dusty box.
The people who owned the Georgian house, obviously had a love of roman things, for I remember that Kate had decorated her house with that dark orangey/ochre affect dado, and the rooms all had strong colour washes.
But leaving aside roman villas and returning to anemones, the following is taken from W.Robinson - The English Garden 1895 -

I have a feeling that these steel engraved plates were copied from photos, for they have a precision only seen in a photograph.

He says of these plants that they are useful for borders, groups, fringes of shrubbery in rich soil, and here and there in half shady places for wood walks. Obviously a different era..... apparently the plant was introduced in 1858 so was relatively new when he wrote his book.
Plants were brought back by plant hunters through the 19th century, and my garden is part of a 19th century garden/parkland. In fact traces of the old garden can be found running through the bank at the bottom. A great rockery that spans four gardens (200 feet) can still be faintly seen falling down to the small valley below, which once had a stream running through. The victorian person who made this large garden also was responsible for the Botanical gardens in Victoria Park, so he was also obviously interested in exotic plants from afar.
When we first came to this house, at the bottom were two old Japanese trees, now both dead, one pink,double petalled, and the other single petalled of a deep carmine pink. On the bank, under the large sycamore tree, also grew bamboo, but one year it flowered and then never appeared again. Also in this bank the notorious Japanese knotweed makes an appearance every now and then. This knotweed was introduced during the Victorian era, has creeping underground roots so that it now takes over large patches of ground and is fairly indestructible. It has become a garden escapee and now can be found rampaging along rivers, canals and damp ground.
Luckily it does'nt like the dry conditions that the sycamore tree creates, so it is not a problem, though ground elder is. But before we dismiss ground elder as another tiresome weed, it was also introduced by medieval monks because in the early months of spring it can be eaten like spinach, sorrel or Good King Henry (fat hen).....

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