Digging for unexpected floral jewels occupies Toby’s time as he unearths some special self-seeding trinkets…
MY great-great uncle Jack was an 18th century diamond miner, sent to South Africa to scour the Transvaal for precious stones. As well as sending gems to his aristocratic employers for their tiaras, he had a sideline smuggling uncut rubies that he gave to Ada, my great, great grandmother (his sister). And she needed them, as she’d been left pregnant, unemployed and untouchable by the headmaster of the private school – she was the cleaner – and was now outcast from ‘decent’ society.
Despite her misfortune, Ada didn’t cash in all the gems but kept some for future generations, which eventually ended up with my uncles Bob and Jim. Unfortunately, they didn’t know they’d inherited them, as the cache was hidden in the false bottom of a chest of drawers that they burned on the family allotment to make ash to feed the onions.
That fabled plot is now a car park, so there’s no chance I’ll see the stones again – but if there’s a moral to this tale of woe, my hope is that it’s ‘what goes around comes around’. So whenever I’m working in the borders (especially near onions), I’m always hopeful of finding something of value.
And at this time of year, there is a trove – not of gems, but of seedlings – waiting to be trowelled from the soil. Gaps in paving are always worth a look, especially if you grew bedding last year. Thanks to the heat trapped by the stone, everything from snapdragons and poppies to the feathery foliage of golden bidens comes up like cress.
The edge of paths where rain deposits seeds is another good place to prospect. Along mine, the aquamarine seedlings of Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ have
sprouted by the dozen. Although shortlived, this opulent early summer bloom can be kept for years simply by relocating the seedlings (which don’t like being crowded) to an open spot to establish.
Tougher foxgloves, sweet rocket and emerald-green nasturtiums that sprout in the deeper soil of borders are best thinned to prevent them taking over. Extras are useful for spreading to new areas.
Sure, they’re not ‘treasure’ in the fiscal sense, but there’s pleasure in them thar borders. Take your trowel, and your chances, and help yourself.
“Take your trowel, and your chances”