Seed collecting in the wild
Jim and Jenny Archibald were, to my mind, the most important seed collectors of the last decades of the 20th century and the first ten years of this one. From their base and garden in Wales they set out every year to collect seed from such places as the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, southern Europe, Turkey, Iran, South America, the USA and Central Asia.
Whilst best known for collecting the seeds of rare and beautiful alpine plants and bulbs the Archibalds also collected some fine perennials. The following are a few which have settled well into my dry climate garden. The numbers are the Archibald’s collecting numbers and the descriptions in italics are theirs.
481.500 Euphorbia rigida Greece, Lakonia, N. Of Sparti to Tripolia. 500m. Open, gravelly areas. 31.5.84 (This superlative and sought after spurge with whorled, blue-grey leaves and lemon-yellow heads in early spring, from a cold, inland area of the Peloponnese. About 30cm high.)
This superb spurge has been a mainstay of my dry garden for twenty years. An evergreen sub-shrub which has beautiful waxy, blue leaves which spiral around Medusa-like stems. It would be worth growing as a foliage plant alone but during July, August and September the stems are topped by large showy heads of lime green bracts. As spring progresses these bracts turn crimson. I generally cut the spent flower stems to the ground during December by which time new growth is well underway. The plants are long lived for a spurge, some have flourished for 10 years or more. This terrific plant is easily grown as long as it is planted in a sunny, well drained position. Once established it needs little or no extra summer irrigation. Each plant grows 60cm tall by 80cm across.
668.800 Marrubium supinum “Spain, Sierra Nevada, SE of Granada. 2000m. Dryish limestone slopes 25.9.84 Herbaceous perennial with uninteresting flowers but lovely silver-green velvet leaves. 50cm.)”
I selected one plant from amongst the seedlings that germinated from this collection and named it M. s. ‘Scallop Shell’. It’s one of the best carpeting silver foliage plants in the garden. It makes a mat of silver, felt-like, scalloped leaves and whilst the amethyst-mauve flowers set on leafy stems are not show stoppers they have a quiet beauty. I cut this plant back to the ground during winter and remove spent flower stems during summer. It makes 30cm in height by 60cm across. In an email, he sent to me a few years ago, Jim Archibald wrote that he nearly didn’t collect this plant as it looked so unprepossessing in the wild.
847.400 Salvia sclarea “Turkey, Adana, below Hasanbeyli (Amanus Mountains) 800m. In scrub at margins of fields 2.7.85. (This is really something, though we know most customers will probably not even read this! We see this species everywhere- usually a weed of cultivation- but this is ‘Super-Sclary’, obviously perennial with stout stems over 1.5 m. high carrying lilac and white flowers against huge bright pink bracts. We saw only 3 plants in this one spot – if it performs in cultivation it will be a stunning thing)
And so it proved to be. We grow a large patch in the dry garden where every year it astonishes with its extraordinarily handsome flowers. Whilst it may live for a few years it’s best to treat it as a biannual pulling out the plants after flowering although not until they have dropped some seeds to provide plants for the following season. Its height depends on the season. If we have a good spring it will grow a good 1.5 metres tall and in richer parts of the garden we’ve had it nearer 2 metres. As we don’t ever grow any other Salvia sclarea accessions we can be sure that even though nearly 30 year has passed since we first grew this our plants are true to the Archibald’s original collection. I wrote to Jim Archibald a few years ago and asked him why he wasn’t still listing seeds of this plant. He replied that he and Jenny had gone back to the original collecting site but could find no trace of ‘Super-Sclary’.
600.410 Iris unguicularis “Greece, Messinia, above Pilos. 300m. Steep, E, N & W facing shale slopes. 27.5.84 (This Greek race of the beautiful, winter flowering Iris, has darker violet flowers and dwarfer, narrower, grassy foliage than the Algerian type race.)
The Greek race of winter Iris have now been separated botanically from the Algerian race and should be known as Iris cretensis. I selected a particularly dark flowered, dwarf foliaged form which I raised from this collection and called it Iris cretensis ‘Mia’. It is a marvellous plant flowering freely all winter long. The stiffly upright foliage grows no more than 25cm tall and the flowers are displayed above the leaves. It grows best with us in full sun and its only fault is that rabbits find it irresistible.
844.550 Salvia forskaohlei “Turkey, Bolu, near Abant Golu. 1000m. Usually in shade of conifers or Fagus. 19.9.86 (Handsome, rich violet flowers. A plant of wetter areas with cool summers. 60cm.)
This is one Salvia which enjoys shade, even quite dry shade. It makes a rosette of large leaves, some 30cm long by 20cmwide. 50cm tall stems carry violet flowers for much of late spring and summer. Salvia forskaohlei grows well here under olive trees where it gets no direct sunlight and where it is very dry during summer.
Jim Archibald died in August 2010. He once wrote “What are seeds but dreams in packets?”