Gardening: Interesting plant with many and varied uses

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The streamside is bursting into life at RHS Garden Harlow Carr; one plant in particular that has caught my eye is Polygonatum x hybridum, more commonly known as Solomon seal.

It is easily identified by its tall slender stems which have paired oval leaves all the way up the stem. Beneath the leaves are small graceful white bell liked flowers which are green at the tips.

You can find it planted in amongst Matteuccia struthiopteris, the ostrich fern on the Streamside and on the Woodland edge at Harlow Carr.

The ancient name ‘Solomon’s Seal’ comes from the inner markings found inside the rhizomatous roots. If cut through vertically, to form discs, the pattern was thought to resemble Hebrew script. Herbalists used the roots to make a tincture for serious ailments and it’s still used to treat sports injuries today. Historically, it was used an aphrodisiac too.

Polygonatum x hybridum thrives in cool damp shady conditions and likes to be in rich humus soil, it can be heavily attacked by saw flies which devour the leaves all the way back to the stem within the space of a week, these can be treated for by nematodes but this is can be a very costly exercise and not a route we use at Harlow Carr. At Harlow Carr we tend to sacrifice the Polygonatum and let nature take its place.

The name Polygonatum means ‘many knees’, its thick rhizomes bend and curve resembling knee joints. Polygonatum prefers to be planted in cool shady positions as it will not thrive in hot positions, although they don’t seem to mind dry shade once established, especially if leaf litter covers them in autumn to provide mulch. With Polygonatums you might find that they need moving in the spring as they start to grow, this is because they can be fussy before they find a spot that they will really thrive in, and they will spread but not invasively.

The Matteuccia struthiopteris which can be found accompanying the Polgonatum x hybridum, has fantastic architectural foliage that can be located in numerous places on streamside. It can be identified by its completely vertical crown with its fronds growing 100-170cm tall and can be as broad as 35cm. The fronds are long and tapering to the base but short tapering to the tip so that they resemble ostrich plume hence one of its common names.

This is why the Matteuccia struthiopteris and Polgonatumn x hybridum works really well together and they also enjoy similar growing conditions.

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