Where am I at? No idea. Why did I post a ‘Wordless Wednesday’ on a Tuesday morning, only to add something for my normal Sunday evening post on Tuesday night? Personally, I think this is a symptom of my confusing lifestyle in France. More of that later.
Did you catch my two posts about my School Project? Growing hyacinths bulbs in water seemed very exciting. I was going to take pictures every week. And then my enthusiasm went off the boil a bit … I think this must have been a premonition that all was not well with my two little bulbs. Purchased from Lidl in November, they never lived up to their promise. This is – believe it or not – a picture of one at blooming perfection. It never really managed to clamber out from its little nest of foliage before the flowers started to dry up slightly. The second is doing the same – if anything it’s even smaller. There was a waft of scent for about a week in January, but nothing much. On first sight in the shop I thought the bulbs looked rather small and wizened – I purchased them late in the day when they’d probably been hanging around in the shop saying, ‘Choose me’, for a little too long. Any ideas? I’ll try again next year.
Moving swiftly on: more ‘from me to me’ plants. I live about two hours from Nancy where the redoubtable nineteenth century nurseryman, Victor Lemoine, started his nursery in 1849. He is perhaps best known for his double lilacs and bred over 200 named cultivars. The Americans still call these modern forms ‘French lilacs’, a fine tribute to the impact his hybridising programme made on the flourishing horticultural world of the late nineteenth century.
He was the first foreigner to received the Veitch medal from the RHS. The nursery was only closed by Victor’s grandson in 1960 and I believe there is now a school of horticulture on the site. I’m quite excited to visit this year, since he has definitely become one of my heroes (I’ve always wanted to run a nursery myself).
Nancy at that period was a wealthy town with a thriving textile industry and apparently its mercantile population supported as many as 13 horticulturists, 4 nurseries and 40 market gardens in this heyday – maybe by British standards that’s not impressive, but if you were sitting here, right now, where I’m sitting, your jaw would be dropping …
I have a small love affair with lilacs because they remind me of the house of my Canadian grandmother (a great gardener), where I lived for a couple of years when I was small. My grandparents were fruit farmers with quite a lot of land, but it is the steps descending from the kitchen into the garden, shrouded in lilacs, that are my most enduring memory. She and that scent are inextricably entwined.
Apparently lilacs were taken to the New World by the colonists who planted them for luck around the door when they threw up a new homestead. In Scotland we plant rowan – same difference. Lilacs are not the most beautiful shrubs when out of flower, but our garden is large and my memories strong, so I’m hoping to add quite a few. In the first year I purchased purple-red ‘Charles Joly’ (picture above, introduced to the world 1896). He thrives here now, although it was touch and go when his toes were eaten by voles. ‘Madame Lemoine’ went in at the same time.
Apparently Victor suffered from failing eyesight in his late forties and was increasingly unable to do the delicate work of pollination essential to the hybridising programme he commenced in 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War (his most important crosses were between S. vulgaris and S. oblata, if you are interested). His wife, Marie-Louise, took over and the superb (not yet superb here!) white cultivar, ‘Madame Lemoine’, was named for her. Her portrait is below, introduced 1890. I love having real people living in my garden. This year I’ve purchased another of Victor Lemoine’s cultivars for the Hornbeam Gardens. ‘Belle de Nancy’ (left) was introduced in 1891 and will be much more the normal deep mauve lilac colour, unlike redder ‘Charles Joly’, but double, fully double, so still one of the lush French hybrids. Another ‘from me to me’ present back in November was Syringa ‘Primrose’ (below). As far as I am aware this has nothing to do with Victor Lemoine’s nursery. Do let me know if I am wrong?
But it has everything to do with my brief time with the Notcutts’ landscaping team in Woodbridge, Suffolk. I was elbowed sideways there by a wide guy with a bigger mouth than mine, but in the interim I learned to love this lilac, thanks to some of the pots in the garden centre that I walked through every day. Those days are not happy memories, thanks to the Notcutts’ management, but there are some golden images lingering in my mind’s eye, among them Syringa ‘Primrose’ (and Fraxinus angustifolia subsp. oxycarpa ‘Raywood’ – but that’s another story). I’m really looking forward to growing ‘Primrose’ in my own garden for the first time. What can you say – a creamy yellow lilac? It’s got to be good for vases with ‘Charles Joly’, never mind anything else.
The final lilac I have chosen this year is Syringa pubescens subsp patula ‘Miss Kim’.
Now what I was really after was Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’. I think I met ‘Palibin’ first at Branklyn Gardens, Perthshire. Branklyn is near where I come from and last summer I went back to worship the original plant again. Unfortunately the name on the label was not as remembered … I think/hope this is indicative of the fact that I am behind the times with horticultural nomenclature (rather than simply a symptom of my bad memory). Was anyone else in Branklyn at lilac-time last year? Or perhaps I saw ‘Palibin’ somewhere else at the same time ten years ago and the memories are confused?
It doesn’t matter. I had met a superb, small-growing lilac with really quite a fine shape (for a lilac), and I began to dream of other ”dwarf’ lilacs. ‘Miss Kim’ is known as the ‘Manchurian lilac’, as opposed to Palabin’s ‘Korean’ common name. Plants make me want to wander … She’s bigger than ‘Palibin’ (to about 2 metres) and looks like being more upright, but I’m up for a lesson in what lilacs can do. And maybe ‘Palabin’ will come later?
My final from ‘me to me’ this week needs no explanation. I bought Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’. When I lived in Suffolk, straight after my student time at Kew, a dark-leaved elder was one of my first plantings. How can you beat a shrub with such good foliage and all the virtues of our native elder? And remember you can coppice it to keep it to size in a border. Next week I’m going to give the ‘from me to me’ shrubs a miss to visit the ‘bourse aux greffons’ (a kind of ‘scion market’ for fruit trees) at my local branch of Croqueurs de Pommes (the French heritage fruit society). I’m a member and I’m excited! Hope you’ll be interested too … but back soon with the final additions in the from ‘me to me’ purchases.