Our garden writer Michelle Chapman looks more closely at the plants in her garden and discovers there's a different way of exploring the world, without the need to leave home.
Are you off somewhere nice for your holidays this year?
No matter where your destination may be, I bet there’s a huge tour just waiting to be explored in your garden. Here in the UK we’re blessed with a temperate climate, which combined with the efforts of centuries of conquests, traders, explorers and plant hunters—who brought all kinds of plants to our shores—gives us the widest possible of planting palettes to choose from.
There is nothing considered more quintessentially English than a garden which has lavender and roses. However, our English lavender (Lavendula x intermedia) is a cross between Lavendula angustifolia and Lavendula latifolia, both from the Mediterranean. This helps to explain why our lavender has a preference for warm, well-drained, and nutrient poor soils.
The English Rose
The origins of the English rose are even more complex. Whilst we find the native briar rose in our hedgerows, it’s thought our cultivated forms originate from ancestors such as Rosa gallica var. officinalis (southern Europe), R. damascena (the damask rose from the Middle East) and the musk rose from western Asia.
Take a closer look
We’re also noted for our cottage garden style, yet peer more closely into that garden and you’ll find many of the popular plants such as wallflowers, pinks, peonies, sweet peas and pot marigolds all hail from southern Europe. Hollyhocks (western Asia) and columbines (Canada and USA) add an exotic touch from other continents, and the classic edging often surrounding these plants—box—originates from North Africa and Turkey.
Our diets would be much poorer if it weren’t for the Romans. As well as introducing many native edibles from their home, they also adopted the best discoveries from their conquests and brought them along to the UK.
We have many herbs to thank them for, such as mint (their stronger flavoured varieties overtook our native pennyroyal in popularity), parsley, sorrel, coriander, chervil and savory (both summer and winter varieties). Then their lettuce forms the base leaf for many a salad today, and it’s believed they may have brought along peaches too, as well as grapes. The opening up of the New World (particularly South America) during Tudor times brought along further discoveries such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash and corn.
Journey through continents
A quick stroll around my garden takes me on a journey through all five continents in just a few yards. In my terraced beds, I have the coneflowers Rudbeckia and Echinacea from the American prairie, exotic dahlias from Mexico, Astrantia from the Alps, and a fuchsia from Chile.
A couple of pots on the patio have geraniums (of the pelargonium kind) from South Africa, plus my oldest garden plant—my favourite Japanese maple tree—has followed me around a number of house moves over a period of nearly 30 years. A Callistemon from Australia, whose red bottlebrush-like flowers always make me smile, completes my global tour.
Where will your garden take you today?
Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and garden blogger from Wiltshire. She writes the award-winning blog, Veg Plotting, where her small town garden is a regular feature alongside any topic which springs to mind whilst at her allotment.