Just when you think you’re doing the right thing

It’s diabolically windy out there.  I’m wondering if guy-ropes might help to keep the house on location, like Gulliver pinned to the ground by the Lilliputians.  Must get me some decent pegs.

It doesn’t help that we’re perched half way down a shallow valley that runs North-South in a climate where the worst winds come from those directions.  Or that the house runs East-West, impeding its flow, and sending it with extra force round where my main garden is.  Nor that this valley nestles at the Western end of an East-West facing mountain range, so that all the wind looking for an escape on either side of the mountain eventually finds it, with amplified anger, down our valley.

But that’s just scene setting.

Ferula with Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter. He asked me to take this for his Mum. So if you’re reading this, Fergus’s mum, and he never forwarded it to you, this one’s for you.

My friendship with Ferula communis goes back about twenty years.  The relationship has never quite developed into full-blown love.  I’m not sure if I like it because of its oddity, or if its oddity is what prevents me from loving it.  Perhaps both.  I’m in no doubt that part of the affection arises purely from an association with a place I love.  Part of me is a little embarrassed to confess that, expecting that my discernment should trump sentimentality, and the other part of me can think of no better reason to grow a plant…

An eerily similar pic taken twenty years earlier, with Christopher Lloyd, also of Great Dixter. This was Christo at his most idiotically lovable, waggling those stems about and making some demented noise like an eight year old kid

Ferula’s big selling points are its fabulously tactile lacy foliage in late winter/spring, and its outrageously rapid bolt into bloom during spring, going from go to whoa ie zero to up to three metres in a matter of weeks.

The first of its character faults, on the other hand, is that it collapses in early summer, and having been in growth since late winter, isn’t at all easy to find a permanent companion for – one which can fill the large space it leaves behind in its downtime.  The other is that its thrilling growth is kind of gangly.  In full bloom it’s often too tall for its taper (though the pic above would suggest otherwise).   But that’s nit-picking.  All up it’s a very exciting thing.

I planted one the year before last, and with drought and countless other hiccups, it has taken until now for the crown/rosette to attain any real size.  It didn’t take that long for a nearby self-sown buddleja to achieve full size, and in doing so, swallowed up the Ferula.  That didn’t worry me for the worst of winter, as the Ferula was burnt by frost last year and the Buddeja offered some protection.  But a couple of days ago I decided it was time to release the Ferula from the grip of the Buddleja.  It wasn’t dangerously intertwined, and the separation was easily achieved.

Dying leaves of Ferula. Having been groomed from the decaying plant from the pic above, some staff member has clearly considered them too ornamental to chuck away just yet.

Then over night, the winds came.  We didn’t get 140 km/hr like Melboune, but it certainly achieved Ferula-ripping ferocity, and my poor, vulnerable, recently emancipated Ferula was duly ripped, whipped and torn.

It causes me to wonder – which of the USA’s recent peace-keeping angles should I have applied in these troubling circumstances? Should I have taken as my model the spectacularly slow retreat from Iraq, leaving skeletal occupying forces in place while my Ferula built up its resilience?  Or should I have gone all Afghanistan, and worked a lot harder in the first place to avoid the establishment of an oppressive regime.  Probably the latter.

Hopefully I won’t make that mistake again.   At least until next time.




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4 thoughts on “Just when you think you’re doing the right thing

  1. Ferrula communis is a massively glorious creature when seen rising up through the verdant spring perennials and tumbling rocks of a Greek hillside. I’m not confident I could site it comfortably in my suburban garden though!

  2. Hi Michael

    Great post and good timing- i’m reading this in garrigue territory as i write. Agree with you- this plant is amazing.

    Do you know the French saying- “etre sous la ferule de” – i think that’s correct spelling- means to be under someone’s rule.

    Schoolmasters’ canes back in the day were made from ferule ie Ferula stems. The nuns who taught me had only wooden rulers at their disposal- not sure which is worse!

    In greek mythology Prometheus defied the gods and stole fire from Mount Olympus to champion mankind. He used ferule stems to carry the fire.

    So many more references could be found with some googling, I’m sure!


  3. Not having seen Ferula in the flesh, I can only say that it must improve a lot on close personal acquaintance. Maybe this was Nature’s way of saying very firmly “Michael, just don’t.”

    • Really? didn’t make you want it?
      In total contrast, I’ve just read the latest post on Gardendrum.com about Beaumontia, and it made me want it real, real bad. I remember it growing up the garage at Bronte House, and I’m filled with longing.

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