No, Purple tooth wort isn’t auditioning for George Lucas…

Lathraea clandestina (Purple tooth wort) Mar 15
Lathraea clandestina (Purple tooth wort) Mar 15

This will date me, but this plant could have been invented by George Lucas as barfood in that sleazy intergalactic bar that Han Solo frequented.

But it is a living thing and such a bizarre plant.  You see it in woodlands for a few weeks at this time of the year, and it’s name, Lathraea clandestina, kind of says how it likes to grow- secretly, tucked away in a crevice of a tree or amongst the roots, and it will often look as if it is a flower belonging to some other plant, so you might not realise how disguised it likes to be. And the colour is spectacular. As if someone had upended a pot of vibrant, purple crocuses.

I’m not sure if it flowers every year, but I do know where I first saw it, in the woodland near the River Adour. And that year, funnily enough as if the universe tries to help you when you need an answer, Gardens Illustrated published a short piece by Roy Lancaster about it, and there it was, identified with no effort on my part.

Lathraea clandestina close-up Mar 15
Lathraea clandestina close-up Mar 15

You can see why it is called ‘tooth wort’.  The flowers are teeth-shaped, and only colour up with this deep purple and elongate themselves as they mature. Here you can see the greyer toning of the buds in a more junior clump that I spotted this morning.

Lathraea clandestina, Mar 15. A more junior clump.
Lathraea clandestina, Mar 15. A more junior clump.

It is a root parasite which, apparently, causes no harm to the parent tree or roots, and is becoming more popular as a cultivated plant, according to Kew Gardens.  And you can buy it from Avon Bulbs, though be prepared for a bit of effort to get it established, and have some patience.

For me, I think I would rather come across it growing mysteriously than actually try and cultivate it.  It seems something intrinsically of, and for, the wild, and all the better for being where it wants to be.  But, for the colour alone, and only for a while, it is very desirable. I like to think of Han Solo biting down on a Purple Tooth Wort canape.

Bright sparks for a slow Spring…

Well, maybe it’s not that slow. If I was a meterologist, I would probably say that and reel off statistics to prove it. But, right now, with deluging rain and winter temperatures, it all is a test of faith somehow. But, the lengthening light is helping some plants to make a show in any case. Yesterday, I bumbled out and almost fell over these…

Tulipa linifolia Mar 15

So red it hurts...Tulipa linifolia, Mar 15
So red it hurts…Tulipa linifolia, Mar 15

I had forgotten- as I am not a great list-maker- that I had bought these and actually planted them where they want to be. Species tulips are small gems, which generally prefer gravelly, well-drained conditions and then they must be left alone. Very slowly, they will clump up and come back each year, as long as you remember where they are, and don’t stick a fork through them when dormant. They withstand poor weather pretty well with their stumpy legs, and so are ideal for times of low morale, like these. Pillarbox-red doesn’t get close to the brilliance of the red. I didn’t buy these from Avon Bulbs, but I could have, and Avon Bulbs always have a stand to remember in the big tent at Chelsea. The link shows you their display which won a Gold again. And there you can see from the planting list, Tulipa Abu Hassan, which I have often read about and coveted. It’s a normal tulip, if you see what I mean, and it is quite gorgeous. And the name is enough for me!

And, whilst bumbling about outside, surely one of the finest activities in the garden, the sun came out and, for about half an hour, Spring was back. You could almost hear the energy in the garden changing. Blooming for once at the same time as the white Japanese quince, Magnolia stellata, the only magnolia I grow, had burst its buds. Looking for all the world as if a flock of tiny doves had landed in the garden, it is a delight right now. Against the papery last-year flowers of the Hydrangea quercifolia, it brings real life into the garden.

Magnolia stellata Mar 15
Magnolia stellata Mar 15

And just along from the magnolia, the big, fat, unfurling buds of the Paeonia ludlowii var lutea. This was a purchase back in Scotland from Dougal Phillip’s nursery outside Linlithgow. Which, by the way, has a really good tearoom, albeit no longer in the walled garden of Hopetoun House, soup and a cheese scone, fantastic. But back to the paeony, it was in a ‘lost and found’ section, for desperate, homeless plants that had lost their tags, and their looks temporarily. So, for £3 a total snip.

It is a stately plant. It may take some time to get going, but when it does, from the fat buds you get gorgeous papery bright yellow flowers and the most refined, dissected, bright emerald green foliage. in fact, it would win for the foliage alone.

Fat buds of Paeonia ludlowii var. lutea Mar 15
Fat buds of Paeonia ludlowii var. lutea Mar 15

And then I turned round, and the sun had backlit my rather muddy coloured deep pink hellebores, and I had to breathe out. Really lovely.

Backlit hellebores, Mar 15
Backlit hellebores, Mar 15

And now, it’s raining again!

wp-image-204″ /> So red it hurts…Tulipa linifolia, Mar 15[/caption]