After the preceeding 4 Chelsea Flower Show design related posts we return to PLANTS themselves.

Also with a sense of some naughtiness.

Because nothing of course can be more calculated to make the more pretentious of the ‘garden design cognoscenti‘ (of which there were plenty in evidence at Chelsea Flower Show) froth and spit than the mere mention of something they know very little about: plants!

Little impresses me more in the plant world than something that ‘does’ and flowers its socks off where little else will:

 Erinus alpinus in a limestone wall facing west…… so afternoon sun

Erinus alpinus in engineering bricks facing east……. so morning sun

Erinus alpinus on the top of a 3 metre wall. So sun all the live long day.

OK there is something else growing there, but its a birch tree and they grow in Siberia. So they’re tough too!

Books make me laugh sometimes. The RHS 4 volume dictionary gives very elaborate instructions for the care of this alpine. ‘In periods of drought, ensure that the soil is moist.’

Soil? What soil? Where?

There has been Erinus alpinus in these walls for twenty years and I don’t exactly remember standing there in long periods of drought hosing down the walls! 

Its an alpine, it comes from the alps and the Pyrenees in southern Europe. Once you’ve got the full sun, part shade, well drained bit you’re there and the ‘alpinus’ bit of the name tells you that.

While we are on the subject of its name, (and I am not going to even bother commenting on the Latin which always raises a smirk, especially if reeeled off quite quickly and mispronounced) there are several common names. This of course emphasizes the importance of gardener’s Latin, hate it though some people do. Use that and we do at least know what we are all talking about!

I have heard it called Fairy Foxglove,  which is kind of quaint, and emphasizes its familial link with the Foxglove we all know.

But also Alpine Balsam.

And even intriguigingly Liver Balsam.

Looking in the herbals I have I can’t find any reference to its edible, medicinal use. In fact, since its relative is the true Foxglove, Digitalis, which is medicinally dangerous I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. So I don’t run out there after a night on the lash and grab a handful.  Who knows? Maybe pyrennean goats get  a bit tight and have a nibble on it in ernest expectation of an instant detox.

There is a very pretty red form called Dr. Hahnle which you can buy.

How do you get it in the walls? Find a piece of loose mortar, winkle some of it out and wedge the plant in. Seed is also a good bet. You could sprinkle it in cracks. That is after all how it has spread here. You could even pretentiously mix it with yoghurt and paste it across rough mortar. But how silly would you feel doing that?

Ray Brown at the marvellous Plant World in Newton Abbott sells seed of Dr. Hahnle by mail order.