It was a crazy idea from the start. A mixture of the imagery of Vita Sackville West’s White Garden at Sissinghurst and watching Jurassic Park just once too often. Could I have a pre-historic garden like the ones where dinosaurs must have browsed?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger found a lost world, I would create my own lost world.
Do the plants have nice blooms? My wife wanted to know. Unfortunately flowering plants (Angiosperms) did not evolve until the end of the Mesozoic era which also saw the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The pleasure would be in the architectural and structural form of the plants.
My garden patch should be full of Horsetails (Equisetum) to be historically accurate.
Hosretails have ruined many a garden as they grow up from rhizomes however fast you chop them down. They were used as pan scourers at one time. It is said that Napier was inspired to invent logarithms by observing that their nodes on the stems got closer and closer together the higher up the stem.
Dinosaurs did not eat grass. Grasses did not evolve until 60 million years ago, millions of years after the dinosaurs became extinct. Grasses now cover 20% of the earth’s surface.
Monkey Puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana) can reach 40 metres high and after 40 years may produce edible pine nuts. They can live for 1000 years.
I regard these trees like a monkey does; something to avoid. The idea of the closely related and newly re-discovered Wollemi Pine (Wollemi nobilis) was attractive but the soil and conditions here are not right for it.
The Wollemi Pine was thought to be extinct until discovered growing in Australia in 1994 by David Noble, a National Parks Ranger.
The Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is a magnificent tree with a flaky bark which is pink beneath the flakes. I already have 3 of these in the garden and they are abundant in Chandler’s Ford.
There are plenty of other pine species and Hillier’s Gardens has an important collection of them including Metasequoia, another species thought to be extinct. Palm trees did not evolve until about 80 million years ago, towards the end of the Mesozoic.
Cycads are an interesting group of trees. They never learned how to grow branches and the leaves come straight out from the stem and at the top. They have starchy roots which early explorers took for food and became violently ill.
The natives, however, pre-treat the starchy roots by soaking or roasting to get rid of the toxins. Cycads will only grow in hot houses at these latitudes.
In and around Guam there is a common but serious brain degeneration disease, a mixture of Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease and dementia Lytgo-Bodig disease). It was thought to be caused by a neuro-toxin (BMAA) in cycads. Further study showed that you would have to eat half your body weight in cycads to ingest enough toxin so other causes are now being sought.
So I am left with ferns (Pteridophytes). Useless plants in terms of human economy but pretty and decorative after rain with sunshine sparkling on their fronds. In the spring you can almost watch the unfolding of the fiddleheads as they grow. Some ferns species have been around for 185 million years without change.
Bracken (Pteridium aquitinum), the commonest fern, is poisonous to livestock and maybe carcinogenic to man. The male fern (Dryopteris felis-mas) was useful for treating tapeworm.
I have collected a number of ferns. They are all similar but variegated leaves and different coloured stems and variations in the form of the fronds makes each an individual.
Towards the end of the dinosaurs’ time Angiosperms or flowering trees evolved which relied on insects to pollinate them. Earlier tress relied upon wind pollination. Among the earliest were Magnolia and Tulip trees. I have four magnolia but no tulip trees yet. Off to the garden centre then.