Hor­ti­cul­tural cold reme­dies

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Sage Words -

of flow­ers and enor­mous mop­headed blooms as well as spi­dery beauties. Most ex­tra­or­di­nary of all was a sin­gle chrysan­the­mum trained to grow into a dome of 200 flow­ers, all equally spaced and des­tined to bloom si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

This is the art of Kiku and in­volves 11 months of leaf count­ing. As each stem from the main plant grows it is pinched when 11 leaves have de­vel­oped. Imag­ine count­ing to 11 leaves in a for­est of 150 stems and the risk of break­ing one…

Yukie Kurashina, who trained as a hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist at the NYBG, went to Ja­pan to be taught the tra­di­tional tech­niques be­fore help­ing to stage the an­nual Kiku ex­hi­bi­tion in New York.

Some gar­den­ers may shud­der at such ar­ti­fi­cial­ity, but cul­ti­vat­ing any flower in a con­trolled way is al­ways in­trigu­ing. I grow au­ric­u­las, not par­tic­u­larly well, but with more care than I grow other things. They get in­di­vid­ual clay pots and a place out of the rain in win­ter and out of the sun in sum­mer. I do not go quite as far as those who show them. Like them, I do prop the flower stems with tiny twigs, but I draw the line at over­lap­ping each petal with the same lead­ing edge first. I am care­ful about wa­ter­ing, so that the grey green bloom on the leaves (the fa­rina) is pro­tected.

But when­ever I have been to an au­ric­ula show I can see that the dif­fer­ence be­tween grow­ing some­thing re­ally, re­ally well and the ca­sual gar­den­ing most of us prac­tise is enor­mous. As for chrysanths, I grow a few and wish I had man­aged to pot the poor ru­ined things in the kitchen gar­den be­fore the first frost ar­rived. This is the sad mo­ment of the year when flow­ers to pick are in short sup­ply. I am re­duced to spin­dle ber­ries and hips and a few long last­ing roses with plenty of Sar­co­cocca leaves. The scented flow­ers have yet to ap­pear.

But in Vir­ginia I learnt a trick about pro­long­ing the lives of flow­ers. There, dahlias and zin­nias are picked and stored at 40F (4C) for up to 10 days. The tem­per­a­ture of the av­er­age fridge is about that, so next year, when it looks like the weather is about to shut down, I will col­lect the last zin­nias and a few dahlias and put them in the fridge, along with pa­per­whites wait­ing their turn to per­form, in bags. Keep­ing them cold en­sures a stag­gered dis­play un­til Fe­bru­ary, when hy­acinths and other bulbs in pots get go­ing.

Novem­ber is the cru­ellest month (TS Eliot was wrong about April). Too much sweep­ing of soggy leaves, too many cold fin­gers and far too much bare brown earth. Maybe we should all plant more for this time of year. Cor­nish gar­den­ers can grow Sasan­qua camel­lias (an­other Ja­panese im­port). Mine, in a pot, turned up its roots.

But even be­fore Christ­mas and the turn­ing of the year, the ear­li­est snow­drops are up and flow­er­ing and the adorable Vi­ola cor­sica has seeded in cracks of the paving stones. I have pot­ted some seedlings and put them on the top shelf of the ex-privy which houses the au­ric­u­las.

You can do a lot in what is tech­ni­cally an alpine house, where plants can be kept dry but need no heat. The door stays open all year, as do the win­dows. If the privy had not ex­isted I might have adapted a gar­den shed, by giv­ing it a glass roof and leav­ing the short south-fac­ing side open. It is worth try­ing any­thing to keep the gar­den tick­ing for the next two months.

Spe­cial: The Kiku ex­hi­bi­tion at NYBG, top left; Mary Keen’s au­ric­u­las in in­di­vid­ual clay pots on dis­play in the old privy

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