F is for Fatsia, Fennel and Freesia

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From right to left: fennel, erysimum, cordyline, hosta, fatsia and, the pampas grass that’s crowding out the galanthus.

Fatsias are great structural plants. They’re kind of Sputnik-ish and pre-historic at the same time. It’s the giant seed balls that, in my umbel opinion, look like cartoon astronauts’ helmets from the 60s and the size of the glossy hard leaves. They’re poisonous but we won’t hold that against them (the sap’s sticky and can be a skin irritant or worse).  They’re geometrically dramatic and add texture to a mass of native trees and shrubs with smaller leaves. They’re also evergreen so provide year-round protection from wind and frost.

When I started this gardening lark I fancied myself as the new Geoff Hamilton, ‘oh yes, I can go straight to virtuoso status and mix vegetables and flowers in a suburban garden,’ and (it gets worse) I somehow got it into my head that fennels are posh. Unusual, you know, delicately flavored, but wholesome.

Fennel fronds and tulips

Fennel fronds and tulips

Step away from the fennel. Unless you like aniseed in everything, or if you’re somehow reconciled to licorice-flavored celery, leave the fennel to those who know what to do with it.

Having said that, it’s great for its seeds. Add them to a baking mix for a break from caraway seeds in a cake or bread. It’s also quite good for cut flower arrangements. The stems are a bit awkward – they’re jointed so the fronds can be difficult to place where you want them in a vase – but they’re sturdy and long-lasting. ‘Pretty and faintly aromatic’ goes without saying, just don’t overdose on Pernod or any kind of pastis before including them in your bouquet. You’ll get nauseous reminders of the scene of your last crime every time you pass them by.

Freesias get bought here at Christmas, 12th March, June for the blessing of the graves and August 19th. They were Mammy’s favorite flower and now that Daddy’s joined her they get bought on October 1st too, which was his birthday. He never mentioned a particular preference for any flower, but putting either a golf ball or a pint of stout down there on October 1st is a bit too odd even for me.

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