Thursday, 19 April 2007

God in the Garden in April: Variety and Variation

Oh how we have been blessed with fine weather and sunshine since Easter! Growth is bounding ahead, but with Election duties I find I cannot give the garden the time it needs: the weeds will look after themselves until they threaten to seed, I fear, and the grass will grow longer than usual. But we badly need rain: my heavy clay soil is already starting to break into hexagonal cracks, down which the rain when it comes will simply vanish. Susanna has already been seen out with the hose. We gardeners are an ungrateful lot, aren’t we, never satisfied with what the good Lord sends!

But there are reasons in variety to be grateful even so. Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’ planted last spring, one of the few of the tribe to tolerate a limestone soil, delights me from my study window with its delicate pale pink stars before the leaves.

Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, is a Judas tree from California: grown from seed by Susanna, its pea flowers sprout purple-pink straight from the bare wood, harmonising with new bronze shoots.

And mixed red and yellow ‘Apeldoorn’ tulips blaze through a crescent moon of grass in Susanna’s labyrinth garden, smiling wide in the sunshine to show the black marks inside their petals.

Every tree in the lime alley is in a different stage of bud-burst, some in full brilliant green leaf, some just starting to show, and one yet to show at all. The nursery-man told me he grew the plants from seed, not cuttings, and it shows. This variability suits the species in the wild, because it allows individuals to adapt to the micro-climate of the site: early starters will be favoured in sheltered sites, and late starters in exposed. I suppose such variability will help the species adapt to our warming climate, as it has adapted before to the ebb and flow of the ice-ages.

And the different fruit blossoms are following one after the other, providing a phased supply of nectar to hoverflies and bees, in return for their pollinating services. As well as delighting our eyes, we can enjoy in anticipation the delicious fruit to come. First to flower were the blackthorn and then the bullace or damson in the hedges, rapidly followed by the Victoria plum. Now they are going over, and their place is taken by the cherries, the wild Prunus avium and the cultivated 'Morello', and the pears. And the apples are just starting.
Pear Blossom, Apple Blossom, Morello Cherry Blossom

All of these belong to the great plant family Rosacea, which also includes apricots, peaches, medlars, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, as well as roses. Why is it, I wonder, that so many of the fruits we enjoy belong to this rose family? I imagine an exceptionally robust and stable three cornered relationship formed by their distant common ancestor, with the ancestors of the insects which pollinate them, and the ancestors of the birds and mammals which distribute their seeds. By the grace of God, a natural variability, like the variability of the lime, did the rest. A host of rose descendents radiated out in the tree of life, dancing with a host of evolving pollinators and seed distributors, all satisfying each other’s needs. And fruiting plants, insects and human kind continue to dance variations on this same dance.

O all ye works of the Lord bless ye the Lord:
Praise him and magnify him for ever!

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