Some might see gardening as a solitary activity but I think gardening is about sharing – sharing knowledge, seeds and plants, and thinking about sharing plants brought a poignant moment one Sunday in early March when the death of a former parishioner was announced at my church. Although the lady concerned had moved away from the area some time ago to be nearer her family, she had previously been a St Stephen’s regular, in particular at the Wednesday morning service. However, for me she will always be inextricably linked with the pulmonaria that grows in our garden.
Many years’ ago, I am assuming as a result on a Wednesday morning conversation, she gave my Mum a clump of pulmonaria. Subsequently, when we moved here and were desperately trying to fill gaps having just acquired a garden about ten times the size of our previous garden (our previous garden being of postage stamp size), Mum divided some of this pulmonaria and brought some over for me to plant. Since then it has thrived, self-seeding itself generously around the place, occasionally too generously so I have to keep an eye out for when the flowerheads have died back and are about to shed their seed everywhere and dive in to remove the rather hairy stems and seedpods. A few new plants every so often is fine but, given half a chance pulmonaria would probably take over the place every spring.
The type of pulmonaria I’m referring to here is Pulmonaria Officinalis, otherwise known as Common Lungwort. Having looked it up on the RHS website, I am astonished to see just how many alternative names there are for it, many with biblical origins including Jerusalem Sage, Adam and Eve, Jerusalem cowslip, Mary’s honeysuckle, Mary’s tears and Sage of Bethlehem.
Pulmonaria is happy in shady, moist spots and is one of those plants that announces that spring is just around the corner when the first flowers begin to emerge. Unusually the flowers open one colour and turn another, starting off pink and ending up blue, which usually means that you have flowers of both colours on the plant at any one time. They are loved by early bees who attempt to bury themselves in the tiny bell shaped flowers. They also produce huge green leaves with white spots which, centuries ago, were thought to symbolise spots on the lung and the leaves were then used to treat chest infections, hence the name ‘lungwort’. They are similar to that other wonderful spring plant, the hellebore, in that they produce their flowers first and their leaves later.
Last year I did try venturing beyond Officinalis and bought myself the more sophisticated ‘Sissinghurst White’ but sadly a combination of foxes digging them up and a sudden dry spell meant that they failed to survive. They were incredibly tiny plants when they arrived so I wouldn’t mind having another go with this but next time I think I’d want to start out with a single, bigger specimen that had more chance of survival. There are also totally blue varieties (such as Blue Ensign) or totally red ones (Bowles red), although strictly speaking they are more pink / coral than red.
Returning to the theme of sharing, there are many opportunities for doing this. If you have more than you need of something in the garden, why not offer a clump to friends or neighbours? On the other hand, if you’d like to take advantage of other gardeners’ generosity, you could join a seed swap. ‘Seed swap Sunday’ in early February is gaining in popularity. Too late for this year, but perhaps put a note on the calendar to investigate this next year? Equally if you are member of the RHS, you can apply to receive seeds from their gardens each Spring. With summer approaching, it will soon be time to start looking out for the NGS Open Gardens where there are usually plants to be bought too. So whatever you do, don’t make gardening a solitary past-time.