This week I have seen all sorts of exciting plants arriving at Chelsea Flower Show by the lorry load. I was looking through my pictures and trying to decide which one to pick for today’s Friday Flora and vacillating terribly between proteas and phlox, pines and poppies.
Then I realised that it had to be another plant beginning with P. The plane.
Platanus x acerifolia is a hybrid between P. orientalis and P. occidentalis. East meets West in a tree. Well, actually it seems that they may have met in Vauxhall Gardens in the 17th Century.
I think this tree is the tree that does most to keep London green and shady; you see it everywhere in our capital city, and when you arrive at Sloane Square tube station and walk to the Chelsea showground you can see how fine it looks against the handsome red brick mansion terraces. At the showground a towering avenue of London planes shades the rows of trade stands and provides homes for the madly squawking green parakeets which you can hear clearly when you watch the TV coverage.
The trees are long-lived, there are many 100 years old and more lining the streets of London. Being strong, tolerant of pollarding, pruning, pollution and compaction they are the perfect street tree. Their picturesquely peeling bark helps to keep them looking dappled and fresh (and helps to clear the build up of pollutants from their trunks), their foliage makes London bearable in the summer, and then they have entertaining dangly pompoms of seeds. They are absolutely marvelous, except for one thing. Nasty little hairs.
Nasty little hairs (or trichomes) drop from the maturing leaves and from the disintegrating male flowers and get right up your proverbial and literal nose. Just when the hairiness is peaking there are more noses than usual to receive it as horticultural workers and then visitors by the thousand flock to Chelsea Flower Show.
Lots of people blame the pollen, but it isn’t just the hay fever-prone who suffer, almost everyone seems to get the Chelsea Cough while working or lurking under those trees and you can see the little hairs everywhere, often floating on the surface of newly-created water features in the show gardens.
When the weather is dry even the poshest visitors are sneezing extravagantly and blowing their suddenly snotty noses and we are all brought down to the same level by the pesky plane trees.
I still think, however, that these rows of elegant giants are one of the best things about London, and I forgive them, even though just writing about them is making my nose tickle.
Has anyone got a tissue?