I love Honesty (Lunaria Annua), the plant that is, with its beautifully enchanting and intricate seed pods on display every winter. Flowers are not the only attraction in gardens, and I prefer the biennial in this form, when it goes to seed, much more than when it displays pink, purple or white flowers in the spring and summer.
I am quite fond of this unique display that Honesty provides in the winter, as it not only reminds us that plants are remarkable things with such intricate designs, but also of the yearly garden cycle. Despite bare branches lacking colour and flowerless flowerbeds, these seeds will soon provide growth and colour in the garden once again in the subsequent season. And the cycle repeats once again.
Just a few weeks ago I was walking in Botanique in Brussels (the Botanical Gardens of Brussels), and also in Portugal this summer when walking in a forested area. Both times, I couldn’t fail to notice the sun illuminating on the seed pods of the Honesty plant. The pods are disc-shaped, and almost transparent with a hint of brown. The encased seeds are dark in colour, and become more prominent if seen on a sunny day. By early to mid winter the seed will naturally fall from the pods onto the soil below, sowing itself, and new seedlings will emerge the following year. Alternatively, seed can be saved, traded, or given away. I think our gardens could benefit from a little bit of Honesty at this time of year.
Winter violas and pansies provide a much needed flash of colour in the dark of winter. Their consistent ability to flower in winter regardless of cold temperatures, and their tolerance of wet weather and darker days makes them a go-to option for gardeners, particularly in public parks and in public raised beds.
In a botanical sense, all pansies are part of the viola genus, although what we might refer to as pansies tend to have much larger flowers than violas. Typically, what you might refer to as a pansy plant will have 2 or 3 flowers (such as the photo here), compared with 12 or 13 flowers on a viola plant (such as Viola Sorbet Yellow Frost). The variety of plants on offer is more wide ranging than garden centres would lead us to believe, in terms of the size of plant, the shape and colour of flower. And you can also expect to see pansies and violas across the year in different locations and seasons (many wild varieties grow year round).
Historically speaking, pansies and violas have been held in high regard, and the actual word ‘pansy’ comes from the French ‘pensée’, meaning ‘thought’. In addition, herbalists have long associated pansies and violas as healing herbs for skin conditions, and the extract is still sold as a tincture today (although no scientific evidence to reinforce such claims has been carried out). The pansy is also mentioned by Shakespeare in Hamlet, whereby Ophelia, speaking of herbs comments: “And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts…”.. Vincent van Gogh also took an interest in the genus in 1887, and his painting Mand met Viooltjes (see here) showed how this dainty yet hardy plant played a central role in culture and in our imaginations throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and continues to do so today.
All pansies and violas are relatively easy to grow, and will follow the sun or the best light, which is why you will often find that gardeners have placed them in an open and unshaded spot. Be sure to dead head to encourage new flowers throughout the season and water occasionally, if dry. Whichever varieties you can find, plant en masse, for the full effect, and enjoy some colour in the garden this winter.
As autumn comes to an end, the case for stocking up on your indoor plants is strong. Winter approaches, and with it, bare trees and flower-less beds. This is not to say that winter does not have a certain bleak charm, indeed it does, but in the dark months ahead, adding a little – or a lot – of green to your house can make all the difference. I have added several spiky bits of green to my apartment this week: a collection of cacti.
Cacti (plant taxonomy: Cactaceae) are succulents that originate in North and South America. The plants grow in dry desert regions where they have adapted for survival in harsh conditions; such as the ability to store moisture in their fleshy trunks and stems, and this reservoir is then protected with spikes. The prickly reputation that Cacti have developed is absolutely deserved. Their evolution has resulted in a plant genus that can survive in the most arid of landscapes.
Far away from their natural habitat in the deserts of Mexico, the range of cacti in European garden centres and shops is amazing. Two of the most common types sold are the Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus Grusonii) or the Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia Microdasys). The small, potted cacti on offer in most garden centres should be easy to care for, provided with lots of light, warmth and little water (only twice a month, keeping soil dry). Simple. A lovely bit of green that requires little work… that will be necessary for the winter months ahead!
Brut Brussels (Rue Haute) has a great range of Cacti, and other indoor plants. This photo was taken there.