Wednesday, 21 August 2013 00:00

Outing bad plant labels

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As you may know (if you’ve read other blogs) the heron has depleted my fish stock in the pond quite considerably, so this month I decided to give it a boost. My pond pump had also finally exploded so I needed a new one of those urgently because the fish need the water oxygenated.

Finding live garden pond fish in South West London is now pretty tricky but I rang my last supplier, James, who now specialises only in pond management, and he directed me to an independent garden and aquatic centre I didn’t even know existed – Court Farm Garden Centre, just East of the Tolworth roundabout off the A3.

I went just to buy fish and a pump but I was entranced by the garden centre plants. They have some really unusual things, they also have standard roses on huge (1.5/2 m) grafts – something I had found hard to find last year for the front garden – and some very healthy and happy looking plants. It was very exciting to visit so, as well as buying some new fish, a pump and a new heron water scarer, I obviously came away with some new plants.

For the pink bed I bought three small tubs of Gomphrena. They are pink and white mixed, they had been covered in bees at the centre and they were unusual. Well, I don’t see them very often.

For the front bed I bought an additional white, mop-head Hydrangea, ‘Black Steel Zebra’, which has fabulous, strong, black stems and large white flower clusters.

And for the Hot bed I bought two Asclepias which are orange, red and yellow and I had never seen these before. So I was thrilled with my purchases (both fish and plants) and returned home a happy and excited woman.

Then I studied the plant labels in more detail. Putting the Hydrangea aside, the Gomphrena and Asclepias labels both said “A main season variety”. I take that to mean that they are annuals or non-hardy perennials that won’t survive in this country. However, on checking online, I find that Asclepias comes in different forms. It is known as Milkweed, Butterfly weed, Blood flower and Pleuresy root in its native North America because most have a milky sap, attract butterflies and humming birds and the Indians used to eat the roots to help with lung and throat infections.

And apparently I have bought two types. I seem to have Asclepias tuberosa (the orange one, without milky sap and which should be hardy in this country) and Asclepias curassavica (the red and yellow one) which won’t be. They are both self-seeding from seed pods that will develop after the flowers. Why don’t the plant labels tell me which type of the plant I have and what their prospect is in this country? It’s all very irritating.

And then the Gomphrena, also a ‘main season variety’! After researching this online, I now understand that it is a tough annual that loves sun and can tolerate drought. The species version is ‘globosa’, magenta/purple and tall, so I think I have one of the dwarf cultivars. Almost all the information online about Gomphrena is American. The plant is native to Panama, Guatemala and Brazil. It is very attractive to butterflies and lasts all season through into autumn. It makes a great cut flower because the flower heads (actually bracts) are papery and last a long time, and also makes a great dried flower.

None of this information was available on the labels which were printed by Hortipak Ltd and the plants were grown in the UK which makes it all the more surprising.

My trusty RHS Encycopedia of plants has details on them both but few photos, so I had to resort to Google and Google images for proper identification. And even this is a hit-and-miss process because lots of people label their online plant photos incorrectly. I have to go back to the original site each time to check the veracity of the nomenclature. Surely, there’s something wrong in labelling if this is required every time I buy a new, less well-known plant?

I had similar problems, earlier this year, when I bought plants from small nurseries at the London Garden Show. Then they weren't even named properly, let alone had cultural and planting details. But I was able to ring them and get the necessary information. For plants bought from larger garden centres and non specialist nurseries this is much more difficult.

In the past I have also unwittingly bought plants that look perfect for a bed but turn out to be massively rampaging "weeds" with multiplying underground root runs (like Physalis) with absolutely no warning on the labels, and garden centres still sell the little violet "weed" with no warning of its abilty to spit its seed long distances in vast quantities.

So I think this is the beginning of a personal mission to try and get improvements in plant labelling. Who will join me?

 

 

 

 

Read 42066 times Last modified on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 09:19