In the Gar­den

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Charles Quest-rit­son

Charles Quest-rit­son fights against bindweed and ground el­der

IT’S im­por­tant to recog­nise beauty wher­ever one sees it. I re­mem­ber watch­ing the huge white trum­pets of Ipo­moea alba jerk­ing open on the one oc­ca­sion that I suc­ceeded in bring­ing it to flower. We used to call it Calonyc­tion ac­ulea­tum and the generic name tells us that its in­tensely sweet-scented flow­ers open in the evening, which is when they’re pol­li­nated by moths in those parts of Cen­tral America to which it is na­tive. The Amer­i­cans call it ‘night-blos­som­ing moon flower’, but it seemed to me, on that lateSeptem­ber evening, no more than a su­per-duper con­volvu­lus and the thought oc­curred to me that, ac­tu­ally, the con­volvu­lus would be much eas­ier to grow.

Robin Lane Fox tells the story of a group of Ja­panese plant lovers who came to his gar­den. They said that in all the gardens they had vis­ited, there was a plant that they had ad­mired enor­mously, but hadn’t been able to find for sale. It had a twin­ing habit and white trum­pet­shaped flow­ers—did he know it?

Botanists call it Ca­lyste­gia sepium, but we call it bindweed and it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to ex­tract from herba­ceous plants once its fat, white stolons get into a bor­der. If you try to pull it out, the pieces of root that re­main will sprout again.

Es­ther Mer­ton and her gifted head gar­dener Sue Dick­in­son de­cided some years ago that the only way to be rid of it was to dig up the dou­ble bor­ders at Burgh­field, pull out all the roots of in­ter­twined bindweed and move the gar­den plants to an­other part of the gar­den to grow on in fresh soil for a year.

The beds were then sprayed with glyphosate for a whole sea­son un­til ev­ery trace of con­volvu­lus had dis­ap­peared and the herba­ceous plants moved back in the fol­low­ing year.

I had two large in­fes­ta­tions of bindweed in my last gar­den, both in bor­ders that were largely put to roses and other shrubs. Ev­ery April, I hunted un­der­neath for their quest­ing shoots and sprayed them with a strong dose of glyphosate. The roses didn’t like the spray and, any­way, it didn’t work, be­cause, at that stage of growth, the bindweed just puts up new shoots and, by mid­sum­mer, when spray­ing might have been more ef­fec­tive, the shoots had twined their way to the top of their sup­port­ing shrubs.

So, I com­pro­mised: if the bindweed pulled its sup­port out of shape, which it tends to do, I yanked it off to let the shrubs grow prop­erly, but, if it clam­bered up a strong shrub like Rosa moye­sii or a deutzia, I let the bindweed grow up and give a fine show in Au­gust and Septem­ber when white flow­ers are few and wel­come.

It is im­por­tant, I said, to recog­nise beauty wher­ever one sees it. The odd thing is that, although I brazened it out and told visi­tors how clever I was to be so un­snob­bish about bindweed, I al­ways felt, deep down, that I had failed as a gar­dener by let­ting a weed get the bet­ter of me.

In my new gar­den, Pub­lic En­emy Num­ber One is ground el­der. We de­cided when we moved here, two years ago, to spray it into ex­tinc­tion. I dug up any­thing worth keep­ing—some pe­onies and Ja­panese anemones, for ex­am­ple—then pulled them apart, ex­tracted the ground el­der and planted them in clean soil.

The rit­ual of eat­ing your de­feated en­emy is, of course, the ul­ti­mate as­ser­tion of vic­tory

Ev­ery­thing else, in­clud­ing swathes of those hideous poly­gon­ums that herba­ceous gar­den­ers so adore, got treated with glyphosate. All died away ex­cept the ground el­der, so I sprayed it again last year. It still came up this year, but per­haps less en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, so I may be win­ning the war.

Any­way, I shall start plant­ing the now empty beds this au­tumn and en­deav­our, in future, to keep ground el­der at bay by hand weed­ing. It is pos­si­ble: Diana Hart Dyke’s im­mac­u­late chalk gar­den at Ham­ble­don is now free of it after 20 years of dili­gent weed­ing. How­ever, Eg­bert Barnes, a great gar­den­ing friend of my youth whose Wilt­shire gar­den was de­signed by Percy Cane, used to say that ground el­der had a pretty leaf and was a good ‘doer’— did I like the var­ie­gated form and had I tried it in sal­ads?

The rit­ual of eat­ing your de­feated en­emy is, of course, the ul­ti­mate as­ser­tion of vic­tory. Charles Quest-rit­son wrote The RHS En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Roses

Next week: Self-sow­ing plants

Spell­bind­ing: Ca­lyste­gia sepium is very pretty, but dif­fi­cult to shift

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