12 March 2011

a red carpet for royalty

Looking great at the moment are two forms of Red Deadnettle, Lamium maculatum, that have already been in flower for a month, if rather shyly at first.  Now the weather has warmed and days have lengthened they are really getting into their stride and they make a great welcome for early emerging  queen bees.
The first, under the Great White Cherry tree has foliage marked with a bold stripe of silver and good  purple/pink flowers (stronger than shows in these photos).  It is vigorous and has spread from a small plant new in last year to make a carpet over a metre across.  Under the cherry it gets phenomenally dry in summer but this didn't turn a hair and looked good right through.
The other in the bed to the left of the gate is plain green with soft pinky/mauve flowers.  
It is monstrously rampant and has filled half the bed in two years, but I just love it's rude health and bold nettle-y-ness.  It spreads across the soil surface (and anything in its way) rooting stems as it goes but is easily pulled out to control its spread.  It is paired with vigorous bedfellows; Geranium 'Claridge Druce' and Symphytum caucasicum, these can hold their own but the Pheasant Tail Grass is now at risk.  Newly planted in this bed over winter are a range of shrubs and, with the grasses out, I see the other three carpeting the ground beneath them.  This may work.
The usual forms of Red Deadnettle found in the shops are much less vigorous and not so tolerant of drought.  Some have completely silvered leaves and white flowers and they are very pretty, but I find they shrivel in the heat of summer and eventually collapse from the debilitating effects of the powdery mildew that attacks them in dry periods - a couple of plants hang on in sheltered spots but never really get going.  Our two toughies were grown from seed from Umbria, Italy, and both laugh at drought and remain untouched by mildew.  They will be full of early bees in just a few weeks - keep an eye out for the long tongued and charmingly named Hairy-Footed Flower bees that just go wild for the nectar rich flowers.
Of course the first queen bumblebee to emerge found comfrey flowers more to her taste - but then she was probably somewhat perturbed to be chased about by a camera wielding gardener.  
Damn those paps! 

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