I have been surprised during the past week or so at all the chatter on the GardenMessenger group message boards about Asparagus. This has been exclusively about the edible kind derived from Asparagus officinalis. It seems to be a very fashionable plant to grow at the present time, and it is of course a great vegetable. It has certainly always been regarded as a bit of a connoisseurs’ plant, largely because of the long-standing tradition of growing it in the garden in specially made raised beds. Nowadays it is more often than not grown on the flat, and by all accounts produces just as satisfactory a crop.
This is not the only kind of Asparagus that the gardener can enjoy. There are many tender kinds known as Asparagus Ferns that are perfect for indoor decoration, and several that it is possible to grow successfully outdoors in tropical regions without fear of them becoming troublesome weeds. Although called ferns, none of these are true ferns. They are botanically more closely allied to lilies. They all enjoy positions out of direct sunlight and all those grown popularly as house plants are tolerant of temperatures down to 6°C (43ºF), although they much prefer 15°C (59ºF). Unlike true ferns they do not revel in a richly organic compost, much preferring life in a standard soil-based potting compost.
There are many different species, but Asparagus sprengeri, and A.plumosus are the most widely grown. Asparagus sprengeri is a robust-growing, bright green foliage plant, commonly known as the Emerald Fern. It has plumes of dense narrow leaflets from a central crown. Asparagus plumosus is a scrambling plant, if left to its own devices, although the plant generally sold by garden centres and florists is usually the compact upright variety 'Nanus'. This is the Asparagus Fern that is cut for use with buttonholes by florists and is glaucous green and of very fine texture. The common species is often treated as an outdoor climber in warmer climates, and when unrestricted can become a nuisance. When grown indoors, pinch back any stray shoots that show an inclination to climb, immediately they are seen.
Other popular kinds include the bright green finely-divided A.falcatus and the erect and much-branched woody A.virgatus with its dense dark green whorls of foliage, both of which are frequently seen growing outdoors in warm areas. All Asparagus, are likely to flower. The blossoms are tiny and lily-like, usually creamy and sometimes fragrant. On occasions berry-like red or black fruits follow, but these are the exception rather than the rule, except with A.sprengeri, which seems to fruit quite freely. All decorative Asparagus are kept growing throughout the year without a rest period, although watering is eased up for the winter months. They are easily propagated from either seed or division during the spring. Asparagus are easy plants to manage, and apart from periodically syringing the foliage to keep it fresh and clean, they appreciate an occasional houseplant liquid feed during the summer months.
Although the term Asparagus is properly afforded to the genus of that name, there is another plant that is referred to as Bath or Prussian Asparagus, which is perhaps surprisingly edible as well. This is Ornithogalum pyreniacum, a bulbous plant from southern and south-eastern Europe, and now officially designated a native of the United Kingdom where it occurs very locally in Somerset and is receiving careful protection click here. It received its common name from the fact that it was once sold regularly in Bath market in Somerset. It is the young shoots that can apparently be cooked and eaten, although this seems a shame as the blossoms are very pretty, much like other species in the genus.
It is not the showiest or best known Ornithogalum species. This distinction is shared by the Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum, and the Chincherinchee, O. thrysoides. The former is a hardy plant that is often seen in old cottage gardens in Europe. This produces clusters of elegant star-shaped, icy-white blossoms with a green stripe down each petal. A short growing plant, the stems rarely exceed 15cm (6in) tall and arise from a spidery tuft of narrow green foliage. There are related kinds that are also hardy and often mistakenly called Star of Bethlehem. The flowers are similar being white with a greenish stripe or infusion, in the case of O.nutans being carried on stems some 30cm (12ins) tall, but with O. balansae scarcely clearing its foliage at 10-12cm (4-5ins) high.
The Chincherinchee, O. thrysoides, is known by almost everybody as it makes such a wonderful long-lasting cut flower and with importation from overseas is seen at the florist's all the year around in temperate districts. While this would be possible with considerable manipulation in a greenhouse, most gardeners in cooler climates accept that a summer to mid-autumn flowering period is the best that they can get. Unlike the hardy species, which can be planted in almost any soil, except very wet, and even in grass providing it is in the open, the Chincherinchee must have a free-draining sandy growing medium. Good soil-based potting compost with about one-third by volume of sharp sand added is a suitable mixture. Plant the bulbs either in pots or troughs and keep in the greenhouse except during the height of summer. After flowering encourage the foliage to continue growing as long as possible in order to re-charge the bulbs. Hardy ornithogalums can be left to their own devices from year to year and are only divided when they become overcrowded. Chincherinchees should be lifted and stored in peat in a cool dry place once they have died down naturally.
New Narcissus to be Launched
A new Narcissus is to be launched at the Chelsea Flower Show during May. Named ‘Ffion Hague’ for the wife of the former leader of the UK Conservative Party, it is being introduced by Taylors Bulbs of Holbeach, England.
New Clematis for Chelsea
‘Ice Blue’is one of the latest new clematis to be bred by Evison/Poulsen at Raymond Evison’s famous Guernsey Clematis Nursery in the Channel Islands. It is an early large flowered cultivar with very large spring flowers, some 15-20cm (6-8 in) in diameter. It is one of several new cultivars to be launched at the show.
Shrewsbury Flower Show 2006
Shropshire Horticultural Society,
Tel: +44 (0)1743234050
Fax: +44 (0)1743233555
Contact: click here
This is Britain’s longest running flower show.
Compost Awareness Week
Compost Awareness Week is an annual showcase for composting in the UK. Organised by the Composting Association, it aims to raise the profile of compost and composting amongst the public and the media.
The Composting Association,
Avon House, Tithe Barn Road,
Tel: +44 (0) 870160 3270
Fax: +44 (0) 870160 3280
Details: click here.
Asparagus 'Martha Washington': Natures Hill Nursery
Bath Asparagus: Wildthings
Ornithogalum umbellatum: Wikipedia
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