Friday, 19 October 2018

Meadow without the grass

Candytuft - memories of my childhood
A new use for my vegetable garden - although I have kept the asparagus plus a few french beans

The most admired feature by this year’s garden visitors has been my big blob of sweet selling gaudy annuals.
Variously dubbed ‘meadow’ or ‘wild flowers’ it is neither. The flowers are all garden hardy annuals (with a few sneaky short lived self seeding perennials such as Verbena bonariensis and gentian-blue commelina). In the old days it would have been called a hardy annual border. Once popular amongst keen gardeners but found to be labour intensive they never really caught on.

Verbena comes freely from seed
On the contrary this year mine has been no trouble at all. I was exceedingly lucky in that at sowing time in early April the ground was still saturated with all that Winter rain. Better the rain continued for another ten days before the long Summer drought set in. I did not need to water despite in the next four months barely receiving an inch and a half of rain. An inch of that very fortunately came on a single night after ten weeks to revive the flagging flowers.

Just before raking off debris before sowing (I have allowed a few carrots)
‘Throw to grow’ mixtures now have the image of being naturalistic labour saving garden features. Unlike my experience this year this is not usually so! Many gardeners just can’t handle the weeds that out grow the annuals. They are fine for the first year but in the second they need further soil preparation and with an enhanced bank of self sown weed seed and sometimes strengthening nasty perennial weeds soon run out of steam.
Do not confuse this situation with that of a genuine meadow filled with perennial flowers and annuals such as yellow rattle that have evolved to favour agricultural meadowland. Unfortunately such lovely features reproduced in a small garden can be labour intensive too.

The corn marigolds in my new border came originally from seed from the farm field
Many of the annuals suited to my annual ‘border’ evolved to colonise regularly ploughed farmland and would compete with newly sown farm crops. Things like poppies and corn marigolds.
(Such annuals have usually been ‘improved’ and selected by plant breeders).

I have earlier explained how two years ago I took my bat home and more or less ceased to grow vegetables. My 200 square metres of vegetable garden suddenly became vacant. My first pilot year worked reasonably well and this year I decided to go the whole hog and sow the whole plot with a ‘throw to grow’ annual mixture from that excellent seedsman Mole Seeds.
As a no dig gardener my plot was ideal. There was little surface weed seed as my methods don’t bring dormant weed seed to the surface. As a user of glyphosate I have zero perennial weed. Couch, ground elder, mares tail and bindweed does not exist in my garden. My undug plot is settled and cohesive but if disturbed has an excellent crumb structure partly because there has been years of worm casting - not to mention regular surface mulching  of charcoal from my bonfires.
My plot is highly fertile, that is something not usually recommended for annual flowers. I thought my eighteen inch high annuals some flopping together looked rather fine.

A few weeks after broadcast sowing. Note absence of weeds
Early April is a good time to sow an annual mixture. My plot almost weed free, I made sure that any small weed seedlings were totally absent. In my case a quick spray round, although a light hoeing would do. My £20 seed packet was far too much for the site but I used it all anyway. With weed-seed free soil the flower seed was just scattered. As far as I remember I very lightly raked the otherwise undisturbed soil to cover much of the seed.
On my firm cohesive none dug soil I had no inhibitions that the surface was wet and it was going to rain. In fact it was welcome
The only further maintenance was to spot treat the very few weeds on my regular garden spray round. As my plants developed I moved to any necessary hand pulling.
That’s all that was needed.

The dominant flowers have changed as the season progressed
I don't know all their names - but white alyssum has pervaded a honey scent throughout
My reward has been nearly five months of flowers

Pictured in the farm field fat hen would have grown much more lushly in my fertile soil

The previous year I had been careless and let the odd fat hen and nettle set seed. Both can seed prolifically, particularly fat hen which as an ancient crop for thousands of years was grown for its grain. I needed to be very alert to pull out perhaps a total of a hundred fat young chickens over the season. I needed gloves for the nettles. At the back a few dense patches of nettle seedlings had to be mass sprayed. A total of about three square metres. The annuals soon covered the gaps

This lovely foxy grass seeds rather too freely in my garden
Although most of the annuals densely germinated at about the same time a few later and/or slower varieties filtered in later and provided some continuity as some early varieties faded. 
The beautiful honey like smell that pervaded this part of my garden for all of five months was alyssum. This was generous in the seed mixture and gave the whole scheme a lovely white backcloth. It was starting to fade as the severe drought cut in but revived strongly when three months into the project it did actually rain.

I love the name of this calendula variety - Oopsy daisy
There were a few ‘cheats’ where I welcomed a few self sown remnants of the garden's previous life. Verbena bonariensis came in as lovely purple curtains. The lime green flowers of edible rocket looked really nice and a lovely fox tailed grass whose name I don’t know looked superb - but might be a problem next year!
At the back of the border I still have my asparagus. It looked rather nice as escholtzia scrambled up into it

Late Autumn seeding
I do not know how many of the prolific seeds of the annuals will germinate next year. This will be a voyage of discovery. I don’t know yet to the extent that I will need to resow. 
A visitor asked what I will do with the prolific Winter dead vegetation. I expect it will more or less collapse and disappear. I am prepared at the turn of the year to rake off strawy remains. There will of course be no soil cultivation! No weed will be tolerated during this Winter period. My regular spray round will take care of that.

Looking back to July
I have already collected and scattered seed in other places where I have ongoing garden projects. Lyndi’s field needs more colour in Summer and the village plot has been denuded of some of its perennials by two Winter’s flooding. There is even a place in Cathi’s grass verge. 
Perhaps certain seed will not stand the cold of the Winter. I will hold some back to sow in the Spring

Only from mid August did nasturtiums come into their own
And annual lupins were pretty late too
I said at the beginning that it was flowers without the meadow. In truth I did sow thinly that lovely fine grass Chewing’s fescue. This was more in the expectation that I might use a few grass plants to later patch up my lawn. It was completely outgrown although there are a few lovely dark green grass patches looking nice on the fringes.
You can read about my exploits in the girl’s garden by putting Cathi or Lyndi into my search box. The search box is very efficient at digging out my previous posts such as wild flowers, charcoal, fescue grass, Mole seeds and named plants. 
Last year’s article on today’s topic gives more information

Now in mid October my annual display looks scruffy but nice  

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Still a no dig gardener

A curious incident
Sometimes I think Roger is not all there
Recently I was party to a strange experience when I was advising on the maintenance of a garden. It was only when I got home that I thought that what happened might be untoward!
I have heavily disguised the circumstances as I do not wish to hurt anyone’s feelings (if I have not already done so). I can fairly safely write this as few of my friends ever read me. 
Two other very dear friends Mike and Isobel promise they will fit in a viewing of my blog into their very busy lives every time we see them.It’s now been six years.

The actors in this scenario were a longstanding friend, a friendly enthusiastic gardener and myself.

This particular sycamore is in Cathi's garden. Mea culpa, I am her gardener
Garden centric as ever and unaware of anyone’s feelings I pointed out a two year 18 inch high sycamore seedling in the middle of a sturdy clump of a herbaceous perennial. 

Suddenly I found myself with a spade thrust into my hands. So foreign is the idea that a spade had anything to do with this seeded tree I just thought I had (typically) lost the thread of the joviality of the occasion and muttered something about it being a very fine stainless steel spade.
It was grabbed out of my hand and my young friend with some purpose dug out the young sycamore. I took no exception admiring the vigour, enthusiasm and energy of youth. It’s only now I wonder.
How that thrust of that spade would have jarred my arthritic wrist! Any damage to the plant was incidental (but unnecessary).

The point of my story is that most gardener’s instinct is to dig something out. My own first choice in this case would be to cut it out to the ground with secateurs, if possible going below its juncture to the soil minimising the not unlikely chance of it regenerating later. Perhaps problem deferred but so speedy and easy. I might catch any regeneration on a future spray round or snip it again.

Had the sycamore been a little smaller I would have just grasped it at ground level and yanked it out using  an ascending controlled gradient of pressure with my strong arms and avoid straining my back. If it does not budge I would get out my saw or secateurs. Sprains take longer to get better at my age!

Leaving the soil alone
It’s this thing about gardeners constantly stirring the soil with attendant chopping out roots. As if it is the necessary thing to do. It isn’t. The more the soil is left alone and nature’s healing and building properties are left to get on with it the better.

To this end several years ago I posted about chopping unwanted trees down rather than digging them out or grinding them down. Of course such measures are occasionally necessary but in my life I must have sawn down hundreds of trees and left the roots in the ground
Not for me breaking my back and my spade. It seems to be a badge of honour to expend endless energy heaving things out. For me gardening should be gentle, un-intrusive and easy.
A gardening innocent once said to me if he did not dig out his small tree how could he dig!

This stump might take a long time to decay
My only regret about my previous post is I did not direct reader’s attention to the nuisance of stumps. Of course they can be sidelined into some pleasant garden feature but left alone they can be a serious hazard. The times I have cursed when I have tripped or stumped my toes is legend (no pun originally intended). Stumps don’t quite last for ever but might take several years to decay. For large trees decades. When my stumps rot too far I eventually knock them out with a single blow of a sledge-hammer.

The answer of course is to cut stumps sheer to the ground. A contractor will be reluctant to do so as soil contamination blunts his chainsaw edge. One way round is to use an old saw or chain for this final cut

It is only in recent years I have got wise. Rather late considering I invite garden visitors to walk wherever they want to! If you come on my Open day beware.

Read my earlier post to preserve your health and sanity

Monday, 1 October 2018

Don’t fluff up your soil

Use it and lose it; show off your crumbly soil and its gone!

Blogger Sue Garrett took great delight in picturing me with a spade (Damn it I was digging up an alstroemeria for her)
My older readers have heard all this before but I feel today I need to reclaim my no digging credentials. In particular I want to challenge the crazy outmoded idea that regular stirring the soil around  established plants somehow aerates it.

It’s the wrong type of aeration. Instead of a network of channels made by natural causes such as roots, worms and natural cracking that facilitate air movement and drainage instead there is imposed a complete destruction of soil structure. Oxygen reaches the most intimate organic structures and oxidises them away. Soil particles are torn apart and exposed in tooth and claw.
Worse when settling out after this damaging process, wetting and drying impose rocklike hardness and it becomes necessary to cultivate again. The trouble with intensive soil cultivation is that although it provides excellent short term conditions for sowing and establishing new plants the effect fades away and a gardener or farmer needs to cultivate again. In particular fluffing of the surface soil turns  gardeners into soil stirring junkies.

Mangling roots and soil amongst growing plants is particularly stupid when extensive surface roots are just chopped away. Deeper digging is even worse and for example autumn disturbance in the herbaceous border kills the roots which sustain life over Winter when drainage is poor. Such cultivation is bad for both plant and the soil

Crumbs and soil particles
Intimate mixtures of particles, organic matter and living organisms are made in a worm's gut
A mystery to new gardeners, particles and crumbs are completely different. Particles are those indivisible particles of sand, silt and clay. You can see them as they settle or float when you stir a handful of soil in a beaker of water. They only change their nature over multiple thousands or millions of years. Don’t be taken in by those shysters who claim particles like ‘rock dust’ will improve you garden.(although of course large additions of silt, sand and clay can make for physical change, sometimes a bad one)

Millions of tiny clay particles all squashed together. Even here look at the benefits of worm action
Crumbs are aggregations of particles and organic matter. They are particles mixed together loosely combined by natural gums and glues and other beneficial organic manifestations. In the last couple of decades the significance of fungi in this binding together has been discovered. Strands of mycorrhizal fungi and their (relatively slow) breakdown product glomalin has transformed our understanding of soil structure.
Water stable crumbs are the gardeners dream. Clay rich soils come closest to making them

Worm casts at the  surface on stony undug soil in Worsbrough cemetery
Worm casts are not essential to form water stable crumbs but are often part of the process
Frost mould - just give it a kick
It is sometimes appropriate to make a seedbed. Traditional horticulture exploits Winter frost to breakdown lumps and clods A thwack with the back of the spade or a kick of the foot works wonders
Farmers these days sow all year round and have wonderful machinery to prepare the ground for them. Well actually brute force.
So too the gardener, although I do believe many gardeners prepare their planting tilth excessively fine and too often.
Tilth making is a delicate process and where followed by heavy rain or irrigation can damage the soil in the same way as soil is damaged  in the afore mentioned beaker!
Unfortunately tilths on certain sandy soils slake down in heavy rain and if followed by rapid drying form a hard cap.
The good news is that most UK soils are very resilient and occasional seedbed formation does little long term harm

Tilth and the no dig gardener
The settled soil in a no dig garden is firm and cohesive. It’s softer where the gardener uses extensive mulching of compost but this is not my way. Don’t confuse a settled soil with compaction and if the surface is disturbed by a light forking its lovely crumbly structure is revealed. Don’t do this to tell the world you will have a beautiful soil - exposing it induces its destruction. Don’t confuse soil with your childhood buckets of loose sand on the beach! Good soil should be a cohesive whole, not lots of loose granules.

After two years of no dig the surface heavy clay soil in Lyndi's field is starting to crumble
Although benefits of stopping to dig can arise after six months or so the real benefits arise over the years. The longer soil is left undisturbed the better. In due course the surface starts to reflect beneficial natural processes not least the action of worms casting their intimate mixtures of soil and organic matter. Should the gardener wish to make a seedbed all he needs to do is to lightly scratch the surface with a rake or for larger seeds make a drill with a stick or a hoe.
Not that the no dig vegetable gardener needs to make seed beds too often. For most vegetables it is best to raise plants and pop them in. (Do it yourself of course, garden centre plants might cost more than the value of the produce)

The seed of these annuals was just scattered and lightly raked in
No dig ornamental gardens only rarely need seed beds. Let plants seed themselves or just scatter them around

Can the no dig gardener hoe to control weeds?
Yes, but not deeply in the traditional way loosening all the soil surface. Just hoe the weeds severing them at or just below ground level and leave them to desiccate and die.
I generally control weeds with glyphosate but sometimes hoe in dry or windy weather.

I would find it very uncomfortable to use the hoe on the right
Unfortunately most dutch hoes these days are manufactured with turned up blades. Madness and totally useless. I cannot believe any owner of such a hoe, hoes at all! You need to find a traditional hoe

My own sandy soil grows luxuriant liverwort in wet weather. I treasure it around my pond and generally tolerate it in my borders. My friend Peter has a consuming hatred of it and in dry weather lightly hoes or rakes it away!

Dust mulch theory
This old idea that loose soil around plants conserves water is complete nonsense and was first discredited by research sixty years ago. If you want to know more about this read my article here

It is sometimes necessary to disturb the soil Keep it to a minimum. Let the quality of your plants tell the world what a good soil you have and what a good gardener you are.

I wrote about hoeing here
Thank you Sue Garrett for the opening picture. Sue visited my garden recently and made an excellent video of my acre garden. You won't find very much loose soil.

Despite my above comments I prefer not to look at too much of an open soil surface. Use my search box to find mulching and ground cover

I am starting to use Chewing fescue grass as ground cover in wilder parts of my garden

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Nearly myth, you can visually determine your plant’s nutrient status and fertiliser requirement from examining the leaves

He has not got a clue why the chaenomeles on the wall below me is dieing
All this interveinal chlorosis tells him is that it is having a bad time!
My hastily assembled definition off a ‘nearly myth’ is something that is sometimes true but is either grossly inaccurate or only achievable by someone with rare expertise. I scurry to add that such a person is not me.

Perhaps I can illustrate what I mean with an example. Suppose a tomato grower has years of experience of growing this single much researched crop and has had the benefit of the whole paraphernalia of cultural and scientific advice available to growers throughout his lifetime. Such is his experience he can look at his tomatoes and immediately read the tea leaves and give you chapter and verse of his plants nutritional needs. (An unfortunate analogy as tea leaves tell you nothing)
Not only do we not have his experience we have to deal with thousands of different plants that all behave differently

Leaves tell you a lot - but what?
Brenda asked me recently why one of our agapanthus had a few yellow scars at the tip of the leaves. I received a scathing reply when I announced I did not have a clue. I had not noticed or cared!
This set me thinking as to what you can tell from a plant’s leaves. An awful lot really and not just about nutrition. Such things as effects of weather, temperatures, drainage, light levels, pests, diseases such as virus, root disorders, watering or merely senescence. The trouble is these very diverse sources of leaf colourations, markings and distortions often look the same.
You really have to read the runes and consider your plants history. The longer you have gardened the more likely that you will come up with a correct diagnosis of any problem

Just the fungus disease powdery mildew but has it been predisposed by dry weather or lack of water or wrong position  or varietal susceptability or...?

You might take your plants to a so called expert and get a correct diagnosis. Alternatively a sufficiently beguiling snake oiler might confidently tell you a whole lot of gobbledegook and send you away happy even though your plants may be destined to die. Indeed it gives you a kind of satisfaction to ‘know’ what has killed your plant.
Life is too short to worry about every blemish on your plants.

Difficulties of diagnosis

It is tempting to think that certain symptoms will tell you whether a plant lacks a specific nutrient and that this can then be corrected by soil fertilisation, manuring, liquid or even foliar feeding. Dream on

My tomatoes turned out ok
Even where a leaf symptom is correctly interpreted as a shortage of a particular nutrient it is not necessarily deficient in the soil. 
For example Peter Williams was flabbergasted at the phosphate deficiency in my newly planted tomato seedlings last year. An extended period of cold, not enough to kill them had reduced phosphate take up and the leaves where so very purple - classic phosphate deficiency - that you could scarcely visually pick them out from the soil. Warm weather returned and they grew away a healthy green and gave me one of my best crops ever. Cold had inhibited phosphate uptake as Peter well knew. (In fact I did not know until he told me)

Just old age
Robert Pavlis wrote a very fine post on my subject today presenting reliable leaf diagnosis as a myth and gave the illustration of correctly diagnosed phosphate deficiency symptoms due to shortage of nitrogen! One nutrient may be essential to take up adequate amounts of another.

I have already emphasised that there is a myriad of causes of apparent deficiencies not least toxicity caused either by excess of nutrient, or maybe herbicide. 

Temporary low temperature chlorosis on Acanthus spinosa
Iron uptake is frequently inhibited by cold soil early in the season and especially when excessively wet. A perennial plant I know well, Acanthus spinosa invariably goes through a spell of chlorotic young leaves due to this deficiency as it bursts into Spring growth. I remember at horticultural college every year a young lecturer would take the students out to see this ‘herbicide damage’!  I did not have the courage to tell him. The boot is usually on this same foot in gardens where herbicides are used - nutrient deficiency is wrongly blamed on a weedkiller.

A very common cause of nutrient deficiency is ‘induced’ by some factor such as soil pH or excess of a different nutrient. The nutrient is not short in the soil, it is just that the plant cannot absorb it.

I had to pinch myself to really be sure I was looking at rhubarb under the chlorotic vine
Lets face it the real problem of using visual leaf symptoms as indicators of deficiency is that amongst thousands of garden plants there is just too much variability 
And as a final salvo, some plants might carry yield reducing deficiencies for which there are no symptoms at all.

A more positive view

Multi nutrient deficiency (I think not) or is it just senescence or is it merely damaged stem....
What a gardener can recognise is multi nutrient deficiency where his plants are generally starved. A hotch-pot of chloroses and discolourations.
Most often these will be plants in containers that are subject to leaching and not fertilised at all. Many modern amateur composts have abysmal nutrient reserve.

I have discussed fertiliser practice on numerous occasions. It is too big a subject for today but readers will know I take the view that if you use a modern plant fertiliser that is formulated with all the important plant nutrients; major, minor and trace element most (but not all) deficiencies will be automatically corrected.
Plants take up the nutrients they require and there is no need for special formulations tailored to individual plant needs My Yara Mila general fertiliser satisfies virtually all my plant nutrient needs although I always emphasis there are many garden situations which need no fertiliser at all.
It might surprise you that for most gardeners including myself I do not advocate soil analysis. It’s just playing at being a professional grower. 
Do not use amateur ‘kits', they are completely useless perhaps with the exception of pH widgets that provides a very crude guide.


An unusual chlorosis caused by sun scorch on one of Peter's shade loving woodland plants
The description of lack of chlorophyl is much bandied around. The most usual cause is lack of nitrogen although there are a plethora of alternatives. 
Interveinal chlorosis is sometimes seen where the veins stand out green. Occurring in new leaves at the growing point it is generally associated with lack of iron; if in old leaves it might show lack of magnesium although where leaves which are naturally becoming senescent it is of no significance at all.

There are some acid loving plants such as rhododendrons that if grown at too high a pH show interveinal chlorosis around the growing point. It might not just be iron deficiency It might equally be lack of manganese.
The good news here is that fertilisers dubbed sequestrene or chelate are usually cocktails of those chemical molecules that can be absorbed from alkaline soils. (If your rhododendrons are in really alkaline soil they just die).
Against huge odds I hit the jackpot this year when I chucked some old rusty looking chelate which had mouldered unused on my shelf for thirty years over a sick plant and watered it in. It revived in a week.
I looked at this years wonderful crop of tomatoes today, (August) and noticed the new growth was a little chlorotic and sprinkled on a further top dressing of my Yara Mila all nutrient fertiliser

What is wrong with my chaenomeles?

These symptoms are caused by stress but what?
They have performed wonderfully for twelve years and before this season had grown eight foot high. One on a west facing wall, one one facing north. They are now dieing back and are showing apalling symptoms of interveinal chlorosis as well as complete yellowing and partial leaf fall.
Is it magnesium defficiency? Almost certainly not and even if so it is only one symptom of a much more serious cause.
I used to lecture on pest and diseases (and other topics I spout about) and ought to know. In fact I do not have much of a clue.

There is no classic disease of chaenomeles although Swedish research shows that stressed plants - and mine are certainly stressed - succumb and die back from all manner of combinations of very common diseases such as botrytis!

Has my chaenomeles outgrown their position and dehydrated all the soil under the house and garage? On the contrary did last Winter’s repeated deluges cause root death by flooding? 
It has been a very long hot dry Summer.
Have they just exhausted the soil’s supply of essential nutrients - after all the roots are exclusively under buildings or paved (but porous) drive.
Why have two separate varieties both started to die? I think in this case I can absolve this year’s beast from the east!
There is one clue. There are just a few scattered healthy dark green shoots emerging from the chlorosis.

I have taken them in hand. It has been necessary to prune back the dieback. I have generously applied Yaramila  ‘complete nutrient’ fertiliser and heavily watered on a couple occasions. I have scattered a dose of magnesium limestone (My soil is acid, although foundations might be alkaline).
It looked better after I blasted the plants with a heavy deluge from the hosepipe and the dead leaves fell like confetti.
I will report in six months if my false quinces are alive or dead.

Fingers crossed
Robert Pavlis was much more forensic discussing this myth
I wrote about the water scorch myth a long time ago
If you want to know about Yaramila all nutrient fertiliser use my search box

Monday, 10 September 2018

Should we worry about poisonous plants?

Irritating plants

Oleander is one nature's most poisonous plants
My opening comments are about this troublesome weed
Yet again I rub my eye in Pavlovian response. My itch becomes more intense and my eyes start to water. I have been weeding again and it’s that damned petty spurge. I prepare myself for a couple of hours discomfort. I am lucky of course and it could be very much worse. 
Last night Cathi thought I had an eye infection and I had to explain

Do not rub your eyes after weeding this plant
This nasty pretty little weed is Euphorbia peplus and has toxic white milky sap. So do the rest of this huge family Euphorbiacea which includes numerous loved garden and indoor plants - not least poinsettia. Handle all of them with care and beware getting their sticky white milk on your skin.

Petty spurge is of delicate nature and pervades almost un-noticed amongst and within your plant clumps. You are more likely to have a problem if you are rather good at weed control where it has less competition and you are at first blind to its presence. It is an extremely common weed and few gardens avoid it.
It comes from seed and is easily controlled if you remember to do so. One just forgets.

Just pull it out at the roots with a gentle pull. Take care not to snap the stem and get toxic sap on your hand. Leave it to desiccate and die or if you are just too tidy take it to  compost. You ought to wear gloves but I constantly lose them somewhere round the garden. None of mine match

Petty spurge has had a field day in this Summer's drought
Very shallow hoeing is ideal and is the safest method. Unfortunately most modern Dutch hoes are next to useless and difficult to skim with. My own onion hoe would be ideal but I have lost it.
I do not find spraying works very well. The weed  starts so very small and the glyphosate tends to run off and I suspect it does not translocate very well.

Even the nice euphorbias have toxic sap
Hot chillis
I am told if you have been slicing hot chilli the sap on your hand can cause very similar stinging sensations in sensitive places.

A different kind of irritant

Rue, Ruta graveolons
Another plant to which I have fallen victim is rue, Ruta graveolons. This so called herb is a nondescript  dwarf evergreen glaucous shrub I have encountered in past client’s gardens when I have pruned. This has a photosensitive sap that causes phytophotodermatitis. You might get away with exposure to its sap on intact skin but any cut or graze - common when pruning, especially if you catch yourself on a cut ruta stump, is real nasty. You will recover but it’s not nice at the time

The affect of sap of the herb rue is not very nice
Many plant sensitivities are specific to just a few people. I once had a student who after pruning common ivy came out in a dreadful rash. I myself hate handling Christmas trees which give my hands a sore feeling. The house plant Primula obconica is rather notorious for causing a rash (and breeders have bred a safe variety called ‘Touch me’). 
Less well known is that chrysanthemum sap can irritate, so can the small tree rhus

Rhus sucker
Really poisonous plants

Deadly wolfsbane can be extracted from Monkshood, aconitum
It’s not my intention to prepare a compendium of poisonous plants but merely to make a few observations. 
There are hundreds of garden plants that are poisonous. Some fatally so. Should we be worried that many much loved plants have the capacity to kill you?
I do not think so but be very careful. Never eat any plant part unless you know it to be safe. 
I have at least a dozen really toxic plants in my garden including an oleander that I struggle to grow! My only concession to their nature is to thoroughly wash my hands after any close contact such as cutting or pulling. 
Last month in a French garden I very carefully pulled out a very strong growing deadly nightshade with my bare hands and I am still here. (I don’t mean in France).

Weeds such as ragwort are deadly poisonous to grazing animals

If you read a list of potentially poisonous plants you might give up and grow nothing at all. I am firmly against any suggestion that poisonous plants be compulsory labelled. Such is human nature that most of the plants in the garden centre would be so marked. Just think of a few examples

Lily of the valley. Now that’s really poisonous

Arums.  Although there are several cases each year of hospitalisation when the red berries have been eaten it is a long time since there were any recorded deaths.

Asparagus. Its berries are poisonous albeit mildly. 

Tomato. The only edible and none poisonous part of the plant is the tomato fruit. (Fortunately there are no dangers growing them)

Rhubarb. Fears of oxalic acid in the leaves are grossly overrated although the leaves contain another chemical which is also toxic

My poisonous pokeweed is regularly asked about on my open days

Parsley. My favourite herb that I safely devour in some quantity in sauces or in sandwiches contains five times the concentration of oxalic acid as rhubarb leaves

Aconite. I am not about to prepare wolfbane from this plant's deadly content

Potato.  Young tubers exposed to sunlight produce deadly solanin  indicated by the presence of harmless green chlorophyll 

Even my beloved dicentra are toxic

Narcissus. There have been cases of thinking they were onions with nearly fatal consequences

Laburnum. A client gave her pet rabbits a treat placing them in a bottomless cage on the lawn under a laburnum that was casting its seeds. Oh dear.

Digitalin is extracted from poisonous foxgloves to treat heart disorders
This is an excellent reference list of poisonous plants in wikipedia which will either reassure or persuade you gardening is not for you.

There is a garden of poisonous plants in North Yorkshire. I understand you can only go round with a chaperone. That sounds a gimmick to me.

And a final thought, most vegetables contain tiny levels of toxins and there is very strong evidence that this is the reason why they are good for you

I write about the 'nearly myth' of poisonous oxalic acid in rhubarb leaves here

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...