Archive | November 2014

They call me Daisy…..that’s not my name!


“A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet”…the problem is I don’t know any of the names of the roses in my garden. I bought most of them from a famous German supermarket in the sale for Eur 1.49 and I’ve thrown away the labels. I will be forgiven for this, I’m sure, they’re  not old roses or special roses after all. But I have a far worse problem, in that I’ve planted quite a lot of different plants, both bought, borrowed and occasionally even stolen, (albeit it only little pieces) and I don’t know the names of most of them. This is starting to cause me problems, as friends ask me the names of plants they particularly like and I haven’t a clue! Actually, that’s not strictly true. I know an Aloe from an Agave, or a Salvia from a Penstemon, I just don’t know what comes after that. It’s a shame really, as according to my mother, one of my first words was Aquilegia. Being a rather precocious two year old I corrected a visitor, who called the plant a Columbine. It’s all been downhill since unfortunately.


When I was a teacher, I once had a class with four Jason’s. I could never remember their surnames, so I invented them. One was called Jason The Red (he had ginger hair) Another, Jason Basin (pudding bowl haircut) Jason Mouse (he squeaked a lot) and last, but not least Jason Fireraiser (He once set fire to the class notice board) Now I am doing this with my plants, in the absence of my ability to identify them correctly. I walk round the garden checking on their progress, I note Agave Biggus Spikus is getting bigger every day, whilst Agave Variegata Pipsqueaka is not really doing much. Penstemon Freebius Seedpacketia is bursting into flower, whilst Aloe Aloe Aloe Whatasallthisthenus, (which is what I imagined I might hear any minute as I was furtively half inching the cutting this plant grew from) has put up several baby plants.

Harebells from Canada

To complicate matters further, I am learning the names for plants in Portuguese as well. I can never remember the English for Coriander nowadays, because I am too busy thinking of it as Coentro. A lot of wild flowers are called Boa Noite, according to neighbours, which means Good Night and I am still thinking of some flowers by the nicknames we had for them in Wales, Snapdragons for Antirinhiums, Roarydumdums for rhododendrons and Wet-the-bed for dandelions. No wonder I get confused! Then, instead of fields of purple clover, there are fields of something which has similar leaves called Bermudan Buttercup, or whatever its proper name is, and Giant Hogweed is replaced by Alexanders, or Black  Lovage. Then there are the orchids, The Naked Man orchid (don’t ask!) the Mirror orchid, the Bee orchid and a myriad others.


And I guess all this confusion is why I need to learn the proper names for things, although how I’ll remember them, I don’t know! I realise I have never really thought about how plants are classified, so after a bit of a Google session I discovered this:
Whoever thought it was so complicated? Plants have families, subfamilies and tribes!
And thirteen-barrelled names! And I have to remember to spell the name of the Genus with a capital letter! Gordonus Bennetius!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut for the sake of trying to at least sound like a real gardener, I am going to make a serious effort get to grips with calling things by their proper names, although it’s difficult identifying the plants I already have. I have found this tool from the RHS website ,which is quite useful and I’ve resolved to try to learn the proper names for one of the plants in my garden every day. I’ve posted some photos of plants I can’t identify throughout this post. If you know the proper names of any of them, it would be great of you could let me know. I’d love to be able to sail around the garden, with a glass of something cool in hand, reeling off the names of the plants we walk past, and although I don’t think I’ll ever manage it, I’m sure it will keep my ageing brain cells active for many years to come. To get us off to a good startI will tell you I bought a lovely Ballota pseudodictamnus at the Mediterranean Garden Fair this year. If only I could remember which of the twenty plants or so I bought was called that!


The grass that keeps on giving – Vetiver


A clump of young vetiver “slips”

I have fallen in love with a particular species of grass. (No, not that kind of grass, man.. I’m a teetotal great aunt!) I found this grass whilst looking for something to stop the erosion of a steep bank in our brand new garden, which began its life as bare earth a couple of years ago. It was hard to find and we went on a wild vetiver chase. A Kenyan farmer was growing it on a mango farm only 15km from here and I was very excited when we went to pick it up. It won’t grow where there is prolonged cold, and they haven’t really cottoned onto using it in a big way, here in the Algarve, but they should. It’s a wonder plant for anyone gardening on a slope in a dry climate and I’m about to tell you why.

Vetiver or Chrysopogon zizanioides, to call it by its proper name, originally comes from India. In northern and western India, it is popularly known as khus. Its roots are very fragrant and used widely in men’s perfume products, which is why you I can be seen inhaling deeply and swooning with desire every time I dig up a bit of root! Some examples of vetiver used in perfume products include Dior’s Eau Sauvage, Guerlain Vetiver, Zizan by Ormonde Jayne and Vetiver by L’Occitane.The plant can grow 1.5 metres high and form clumps as wide. It has a brownish purple flower, although I have never seen one yet as my clumps are only two years old. Once established it is fairly drought resistant, Unlike most grasses, which form horizontally spreading root systems vetiver’s roots grow downward, 2–4 m in depth. That’s deep! Which is why it has two wonderful properties, it holds back soil, making a natural terrace and it holds in water. In other words, it’s a living terrace wall-and a very pretty one at that!


Clumps of vetiver interspersed with Pennisetum “White Ladies”

I bought the grass as “slips” which are the side shoots taken from a living plant. I made a bit of a mistake planting them in Autumn during a rather cold damp spell and they sulked for quite a long time, but as soon as the weather warmed up, away they went. They should be planted in two rows along a contour line and within a year or so, they will be strong enough to form a terrace to hold back earth and water.

I quickly saw the advantage in my vegetable garden which is on a slope. I didn’t want to make stone walls, so have planted lines of vetiver and I plan on making lasagna beds behind them. The other advantage is that you can trim the hedges to any height and use the cuttings as a very useful mulch. In fact if I had any water bison they would eat the cuttings as fodder, but I don’t think a water bison would be very conducive to a beautiful garden;  the chickens are bad enough.

And speaking of chickens, they are descended from Indian jungle fowl, and love hiding amongst the clumps during the heat of the day. I am thinking of using hedges  of plants as living chicken proof fences down the bottom part of the garden where my chickens have free range.

Propagation is easy by taking slips from established plants. They do well with a little organic manure to get them started and away they go! The most commonly used commercial genotypes of vetiver do not produce seeds which are fertile which means they don’t spread widely in the garden and are easily controlled.

One of the other benefits of vetiver is that it cleans the ground of pollution such as wastewater contaminated with chemicals or heavy metals. A wonder grass indeed!

You may want to know where to source plants from and I’m sorry but I can’t help you much. Mine aren’t quite big enough yet to be giving any away. The Kenyan farmer has gone back to Kenya, but I did see some at the Mediterranean Garden Society plant Fair recently. There is an organisation on the web which might be able to help you with suppliers here and they have a Facebook page too, with lots of examples as to how vetiver is used across the world.

I find vetiver one of the most useful plants in my garden. So put that in your pipe, but don’t smoke it!