Free Flowers (they only look expensive)

Seed heads on a pulsatilla

Each plant I grow has a story. I can bore for hours.

One year I grew pulsatillas from seed. It was good seed, and at the end of the summer I had twelve or fifteen plants.* Half or so of these I gave away, one to the new neighbours next door, who, upon moving in, had hurriedly lain flower borders around the house (barrier fabric covered in bags of soil mix and bark chips — lots of pouring and spreading, no digging).

They were new gardeners, keen to be growing. Their first spring, they went out to Hole’s, the famous garden centre, and brought home a carload of big plants — designer rhubarb, designer sunflowers; ordinary perennials (lupin, daylily, oriental poppy) in extraordinary designer sizes and colours. On the other side of the fence, exotica abounded.

The next spring, I noticed the pulsatilla I had given them, opening its first blossoms, was bigger and had more flowers than the ones I had kept for our garden. “The pulsatilla is doing well,” I said to this neighbour. She said, “For what I paid Lois Hole, it had better!”

Big enough to have come from Hole’s Garden Centre (famously family-run, in spite of the apostrophe).

Lois Hole was an admired gardener, businesswoman, literacy-promoter, and, in later life, sub-regal dignitary. She remains something of a folk hero, fondly remembered as a bounteous hugger. (Her efforts in promoting literacy are less well remembered, certainly by her children, who built a new home for the family greenhouse business inside a consumer destination they named The Enjoy Centre.)

To the gardeners among her public, Lois was and still is a powerful brand. If a plant you have grown and given away is later claimed to be the thriving produce of Lois Hole, you take it as a compliment.

A mural depicting Lois Hole in the afterlife brightens a deprived neighbourhood, as for many years her barrel planters of petunias have decorated inner-city streets.

*Pulsatillas are easily grown from fresh seed. The feather-tailed seeds can be plucked as soon as they come away easily. (Leave them and a wind will carry them off.) The seeds are arrow-shaped, with a sharp point. Holding the tail, poke the seed into the soil. Sow them in the garden where you want them to grow, or put several seeds in a pot and plant out the seedlings when they have two or three true leaves — plant them into the garden, or into their own 4″ pots and then into the garden in the fall. Seed sown in summer will germinate the following spring. The young plants make only a few small leaves in the first year (the main action is underground). Plants may have one or two flowers in the second spring. If grown in good conditions — snow-melt in spring, sun in summer — they will thrive from the third spring onward.

Pulsatilla seeds

Seeds sown, feather-tails in the air (look closely)


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