Monsters in the Garden; Alexanders War

it went down something like this ..

it went down something like this ..

It all started so innocuously. The Alexanders (Smyrnium olisatrum) were placid, if vigorous, as they established themselves in a sunny spot by our back door. There were few signs that these giant relatives of parsley would take after their ancient warrior namesake and wage a determined, aggressive War against their neighbours.

Once Alexanders were valued as both a medicinal and pot herb. A decoction made from the whole plant was used as a diuretic. Well into the 17th century, it was eaten to aid the digestion, especially during Lent. The practice is still alive in some regions of the Northern UK, where it has naturalised as a weed. I had wanted to grow it for the strong salty-celery flavoured leaves that impart a slightly myrrh scent to winter stews and soups. I had wanted to experiment with vodka liqueurs flavoured by the shiny black, peppery seeds. I allowed the Alexanders to colonise, even to expand their territory a little, partly because the plant is pretty, mostly due to its clusters of dainty yellow flowers attracting tiny hover flies, native wasps and bees.

Feijoa (Acca sellowiana)

close up of blossoms

close up of blossoms

It’s worth growing this tough, rather striking tree just for it’s glossy silver-backed leaves and gorgeous scarlet and cream flowers. My Parents had quite a few planted as windbreaks, and late autumn would find my Brothers and I foraging under the hedge for windfalls. We were not supposed to pick them from the trees as Dad wanted them for jam .. but you’d be surprised how many “fell off” while we were there .. they were “bruised” and had to be eaten before they went rotten and attracted fruit fly .. aaahh kid logic 🙂 Actually I am surprised we got much fruit at all once we realised the flowers were delicious too!

Salvia Somalensis

A decade long drought in South Eastern Australia has seen gardeners demanding alternatives to tender annuals that turned their toes up when water restrictions were imposed .. and none of this compromise on colour and form nonsense!

Salvia Somalensis

Salvia Somalensis

We want interesting yet tough plants dammit! May I present Salvia somalensis, a native of the mountainous regions of Somalia. That makes it super-tough and so water-miserly you’d think it was part camel.

Pretty blue flowers for most of the year and foliage that boasts an interesting musky-floral perfume make it a nice specimen plant.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia Elegans syn S. rutilans)

Salvia Elegans in Autumn

Salvia Elegans in Autumn

We don’t (yet) have smell-a-vision, so you are missing part of the true joy of this plant. Remember “Honeymelon” whose fragrance so beguiled me that I had to bring it home (Oct 2008)? It is now about thriving in a semi-shady spot, nestled against the back steps where I can find frequent excuse to brush against it. An unnamed cultivar (possibly “Scarlet Pineapple”) with bright lime coloured leaves lives by the front door for pretty much the same reason and “Golden Delicious” with it’s chartreuse yellow/green foliage is destined to go under the Lemon Verbena.

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia Citrodora)

Lemon Verbena in Autumn

Lemon Verbena in Autumn

This shrub takes pride of place my list of must-have plants. Sure, it’s a little untidy looking, but one whiff of the delicious perfume and all is forgiven. To the dedicated sensualist, asymmetry is a small price to pay for interesting textures, glossy leaves and delicate sprays of flowers .. and that heady perfume. There are lime and orange peel scented cultivars which are pale in comparison to the heady lemon-musky original. To me it evokes memories of limoncello liqueur or Gran’s lemon delicious pudding. I love it so much that it’s positioned so that I brush against it when taking out the trash!

Tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica syn P. ixocarpa)

Tomatillo "Grande Verde"

Tomatillo "Grande Verde"

Low growing annual from the Solanaceae (nightshade) family originally from central America. It grows with an upright habit that becomes increasingly spreading as the smooth 60 -90cm branches are weighed down with developing fruit. The 5cm long, dark green leaves have between two and six 8mm “teeth” along their jagged edges.

Bright yellow blossoms, sometimes with faint greenish blue or purple spots and pale blue or greenish blue anthers, are around 2cm in diameter.