Introduction to Gardening and Plants
The Whole Plant
Flowers and decorativehave an important role in all our lives. They do not serve the practical function of providing us with food, but they do form a living part of many homes and offices and are an essential part of our personal environment.
The garden can offer us a great variety of plants and flowers to enjoy. There are the: the and , usually started from seed, and the , which come from seed, , or division of established clumps. There are , which are planted in autumn and spring, providing welcome early colour and (particularly with and ) statuesque grandeur. And there are shrubs and trees, that vast army of labour-savers that take a little time to establish themselves and reach maturity but then, as a rule, require little or no maintenance.
Plants reward the gardener with a fine display of colour, and often perfume. Their power to please is immense; their range and scope is bounded only by the space available and the confines of the gardener’s own imagination. Yet the cold fact is that really the flower is not there for our benefit at all. It is part of the plant’s own struggle for survival. Its colour, and any perfume, are mainly to attract pollinating insects so that it can produce seeds and continue its own race.
In general, plants are propagated either by seed or vegetatively — that is by cuttings or roots taken from the parent. Like all tender young life, they have to be cosseted in their early stages. They require, apart from warmth to make them comfortable, a correctly proportioned diet of nutrient from the soil or compost. In time, they reach maturity, giving pleasure to the eye and to the nose and the palate, but as the year progresses decay sets in. The petals and the foliage die and fall to earth, many of them to be dragged down by the. The worms aerate and benefit the soil in the process, and the leaves provide working capital for the bacteria to enrich the soil so the next season’s plants can thrive.
This may be an over-simplification of the cycle, but it is broadly both accurate and universal, for it applies to all plants in their. The flowering plants have a further responsibility from an early stage in their career, for they secrete in their blooms a very fine dust that is collected by pollinating insects and transferred to other plants. This provides the essential extra ingredient that makes them bear fruit, whether it be edible for humans or the seed from which the next generation will come. Some plants are self-pollinating; others have to be crossed with pollen from a different breed, and this — again over-simplifying — is the origin of all plant life.
All garden plants contribute to the ecology. The annuals, which grow, mature, and die all in one season; the biennials, sown in one year, to mature in the next; and the, which go on apparently for ever — each of these plants settles its debt yearly by ensuring a supply of food for its neighbours and successors.
Most of today’s cultivated varieties have their origins in the wild flowers that inhabited the globe before humanity became civilized. One of the more praiseworthy of man’s achievements over the centuries has been to help the propagation and improvement process. In doing so he has produced millions of plants that give so much pleasure it would be a pity to let them merely fade and die. A huge world-wide industry has been created, which in effect results in the vast majority of the flowers that grow being surplus to Nature’s requirements for the reproduction process. So we have this enormous range of blooms available to delight us, either on site where they are growing or indoors to provide a vast and ever-changeable decorative display.
The great appeal of the ornamental plant is that in all but a comparatively few cases, little skill is required on the part of the grower. Generally, he has to provide just the right soil and reasonable conditions. There is a great temptation whento pack it with what you want to grow. You won’t get a good result unless the plants co-operate, and they will make their own terms.
The first, and obvious one, is that the soil must suit them. The classic examples here are the rhododendron and azalea, which will thrive on a diet of acid from abut will make no progress if imprisoned in chalk. So study your soil, take samples from every few square metres (the structure and type can vary astonishingly) and carry out a few simple tests with the equipment that can be bought at most garden shops. A good plan is to see what is being grown successfully in your locality. Don’t be put off if you cannot see what you want; it may be merely that nobody else has thought of your idea.
The rules for obtaining a successful display are few and fairly straightforward. In spite of what has been said, the great majority of plants will survive, if not prosper, in most kinds of soil; only a comparative few have idiosyncrasies about, chalk or sand. But there are certain requirements, or at least preferences, concerning position and situation. Some — most of the rock plants — like a dry situation; others, like the mosses, prefer . Other extremes are the sunflower, needing all the sun it can get, and the of the valley, capable of making a shady corner a bright one.
The whole operation ofis very simple. The gift of so-called ‘green fingers’ is as much one of common-sense as anything: the wider knowledge of names and varieties and their individual quirks comes with experience.
But all of us, novice and expert alike, experience the same thrill when we see a shoot emerge, or a bud form, or a leaf unfurl. We don’t have to understand plants and flowers to get tremendous enjoyment from them, for their variety and range is infinite — and the ability to enjoy such an infinite range is one of the many rewards all gardeners have.