Who’s Humphrey, At a Loss with Moss & 50 Shades of Hooray!

Taken from Lynne’s weekly column ‘Green Scene’ for the Western Mail. 18th March 2017

Who’s Humphrey?

I have been planting comfrey around the cottage, as ground cover, for a few years now and it is lovely at this time of year with the daffs growing up through it. It’s not the common comfrey, Symphytum officinale, but Symphytum tuberosum, (tuberous comfrey) a much smaller species at about a foot tall, with masses of creamy yellow flowers. It grows as ‘eagerly’ as the common comfrey, which is what makes it such good ground cover, is also drought tolerant, and the bees love it. It is what I call a ‘hard-working plant’.

Comfrey belongs to the borage family and the apothecary’s plant was grown for the healing qualities of its roots, which would be ground up into a poultice and liberally applied to broken bones or open wounds, hence the common name, knitbone.

I also grow another variety, S. orientale, an elegant comfrey growing to 3 ft high, with bright green leaves and an open crosier of lovely white flowers. Unlike S. tuberosum, it forms a neat clump, and self seeds in a restrained manner. And the revered plants woman, Beth Chatto told me that one of her favourite varieties is the robust, moisture-loving S. asperum (prickly comfrey), which she grows in her woodland garden. This tall comfrey, which can reach 5ft in height, has gentian blue flowers encased in ruby red buds, but is a plant for the wild(er) garden.

I was recently advising a client to include comfrey in their garden and couldn’t resist telling her that my brother calls comfrey, ‘Humphrey’.

“Oh how sweet,” she replied. “How old is he?”

“48”, I had to confess!

At a Loss with Moss?

I am having a lot of enquiries about how to deal with moss in lawns at the moment. It is the same at this time every year. The tufted, mat-forming moss that turns your lawn into a bouncy moss carpet is ‘winter moss’ and thrives in damp, cold conditions. Ceratodon purpureus appears to die in spring when grass growth starts, and the weather improves, only to reappear in the autumn. It tends to become progressively worse, unless checked. There are two periods of growth each year. The first period is in the spring, and then following the compaction of the soil surfaces during use over the summer.

At this time of the year, lawn owners often begin tackling the problem in earnest, including thorough scarification, feeding and over-sowing. But if the germinating moss spores are not controlled, prior to scarification, the mosses will spread by vegetative reproduction and produce another crop of spores. These will remain dormant, protected by actively growing turf grasses through any dry spell until the autumnal rains occur. Once again the moss spores will germinate and moss growth will be rapid while the soil is still warm.

The best answer to moss invasion is to cultivate strong, healthy turf, but this remedy is often overlooked. Encourage thickening of the grass by regular application of a suitable lawn fertiliser every three months from February to October.

By the time advice is sought, the lawn usually consists of more moss than grass and can be difficult to remedy. Scarifying, aerating and over-sowing are all-important procedures but be prepared for your lawn to look worse before it looks better! And if you choose to use a moss killer, be warned that the Sulphate of Iron will turn your lawn black (or at least the moss) – and it is not a long term or quick-fix solution.

50 Shades of Hooray!

Thank you to all the kind readers who have wished me all the best for my 50th birthday today (Saturday). I have to admit that since the beginning of the year, nearing 50 has felt a bit like trying to herd feral cats through a narrow gateway. But now it’s here, I am enthusiastic about it and looking forward to exploring, embracing, and probably exploiting, whatever the future has in store.

Readers and friends have imparted great advice and shared their own fabulous experiences. One lovely lady told me that she got married at 50, scuba dived in Australia at 60 and now at 75, has purple highlights in her hair.

A good friend assured me that the first 50 years are the hardest and cartoonist Karl Dixon from Brecon (toonart11@gmail.com) was kind enough to send me this fantastic cartoon (click image to enlarge).

Thank you all very much. See you on the other side!



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