What is quite striking about the wild flowers so frequently encountered along the roadsides in this part of southern Valencia is their similarity to their domesticated English relatives, so beloved of cottage gardeners. Take one of the earliest blooming perennials in spring – the valerian (Centranthus ruber). Valerian also happens to be an English wild flower, and is a mainstay in the famed garden, Gravetye, created in the mid- 1880s by William Robinson, the earliest proponent of wild or natural gardening. It’s allowed to seed itself freely all around — on steps, cracks in the walls. Robinson’s style apparently had a great influence on Gertrude Jekyll, the most renowned of English gardeners. Wild valerian, which is pink here, and a pinky red in Catalonia and close to red further north across the border in France, brightens the roadside verges in generous clumps.
Following close and growing as tall as valerian, and often mingled together, are wild snapdragons. These wildlings look so much like lean and attenuated foxgloves from a distance — not at all surprising because, as I found out later, they belong to the same plant family. I much prefer these willowy wild pink snapdragons to their rather top-heavy domesticated varieties in diverse colours that are commonly seen in English cottage gardens.
Euphorbias are another plant genus frequently used in English gardening, whether as accents, like robust Euphorbia characias, or as low-growing groundcover, E. polychroma. Both are endemic in this part of Spain and E. polychroma in particular often forms carpets of acid green in almond orchards in spring.
The valerian and wild snapdragon have finished blooming now, set seed, and gone sere, but with the rainier conditions that pertain in England, their domesticated versions go on blooming much longer there, often until the autumn frosts. The same goes for the Euphorbias – all dried up in my garden and the nearby groves together with the other spring bloomers, but here and there on the roadsides I see some survivors; perhaps they have access to moisture from an underground spring.
In my garden, the wild flowers still blooming are chicory (Chicorium intibus) with their heavenly blue flowers, and they are especially thick in one spot several meters square and slightly sunken, where we’ve been informed is the cottage’s septic tank. Among them are yellow-blooming St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) and fuzzy-coated Andryala integrifolia with lemon-yellow flowers. I was looking forward to one terrace being covered with blue chicory and pink field scabious, but by the time the chicory got going, the field scabious were winding down. Perhaps with watering, the scabious might have lasted longer, but this year I have decided not to intervene with the natural progression of flowering. The domesticated relatives of field scabious and St. John’s wort can also be found in English cottage gardens.
Another yellow late bloomer still going strong is Blackstonia perfoliata, whose blue-green leaves look like those of cerinthe, an exotic annual that became the darling of English gardeners when it made an appearance in the Chelsea Flower Show some years back. Perhaps at some point, Blackstonia may find its way into the English cottage garden.
The green sward in the back garden has turned golden in summer’s heat. So it was with joyful surprise that I came upon starry white blooms on the ground just behind the woodshed, and they turned out to be on the vine of a wild Clematis flammula. White garlands of these can be seen draped charmingly on the endemic evergreen oaks (Quercus ilex) along the mountain roads. It is a rare English garden that does not have at least one species of Clematis. I haven’t detected the sweet scent of C. flammula, as reported by the don of British gardeners who passed away a few years ago, Christopher Lloyd, who highly recommended it. But, scent or no scent, it is most welcome in the garden, and I shall entice it to climb all around the woodshed, whose walls are sorely in need of plastering, but a coat of clematis will do just as nicely. The Clematis’s dainty stars echo the white of Queen Anne’s lace, a few of which are growing here and there, as well as the white of the oleander hedge, now getting into its stride. (Update: this morning I went to photograph Clematis flammula and got a lovely whiff of baby-powder-like perfume. I stand corrected — it is quite definitely scented.)
On the mountain road verges, wildflowers can still be seen that are not to be found in my garden, but that’s for another day.