Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stolen Plants Always Grow

In her first year of gardening at Hill Top Farm, Beatrix Potter acquired plants in a variety of ways.

Gardening neighbors showed up with donations. At one point Beatrix Potter wrote to her friend, Millie that she was being inundated with plants. I suppose that everyone in the village who had been putting off dividing those perennials got out their spades when they saw this newbee on the scene.
Mrs. Taylor showed up bring "a very well meant but slightly ill-time present of saxifrage… she brought out a large newspaper full."

Beatrix shopped at a nursery across the lake, easily accessible by the steam ferry that traveled from Far Sawrey to the opposite shore. About obtaining plants, she was not shy. "I went to see an old lady at Windermere, & impudently took a large basket & trowel with me. She had the most untidy overgrown garden I ever saw. I got nice things in handfuls without any shame."

My hands-down favorite of Beatrix Potter's plant acquisition strategies she described thusly, "… Stolen plants always grow, I stole some ‘honesty’ yesterday, it was put to be burnt in a heap of garden refuse!"

The honesty to which Miss Potter refers is this plant:

Honesty (Lunaria annua) in bloom

Lunaria annua is a biennial, germinating and forming vigorous plants one season and blooming the following spring with a four-petalled magenta flower.  It is related to cabbages and kales in the Brassica family.  I always called it money plant, as it is really grown not for its blooms but for the papery sheaths that surround its seeds:

The sheathes of Honesty after the seeds fall

I suppose it is also called money plant, because it tends to multiply as, one hopes, as ones money does. Still, "honesty" is the perfect name for this Potter-pilfered plant.  I feel a particular affinity because I have been known on occasion to pinch seeds from someone else's garden.  Every year when a certain chartreuse-flowering tobacco (Nicotiana langsdorfii) blooms in my garden, I have a tiny twinge of guilt.  Or is that a frisson of pleasure?

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