Friday, 31 May 2013

Marguerites - Argyranthemum frutescens

 It's A Dog's Life

Argyrnanthemum frutescens, sometimes called dog daisy or marguerite.

    Rex was a golden Labrador and, for years , he was my constant companion. His areas of expertise were in breaking wind and sleeping, in that order. He was also a keen hiker and accompanied me on all outings, but he believed in minimising effort. For instance, he always required five-bar gates to be opened for him. He was too aristocratic to undergo the undignified squirming under accepted by most dogs as the natural way of doing things. If the gated didn't open, Rex had to be carried.

      I once weighed him on the bathroom scales and came to the conclusion that he was seven stone, although I never had complete confidence in my findings because of the difficulties involved in the operation. Obviously, a dog's legs are situated on each corner. Therefore, in the case of a big dog on small scales, it's necessary to angle the legs inward, resulting in him quickly overbalancing. This means that the scale has to be read in the short time between the last leg being positioned and the inevitable toppling. To even reach this stage was a challenge, because each time I put the fourth paw on, Rex would yawningly remove one of the others onto the floor in order to maintain the status quo. I got the feeling that he humoured me, considering me not a bad chap, just slightly deranged, needing to be kept happy. Eventually I had to encircle the three legs over the scale with one arm, while taking him by surprise by whipping the last paw on and, at the same time, taking an average reading as the needle shot between five stone and nine, before he fell on top of me.

      He wasn't a vicious dog. There was no need - he possessed far more effective weapons than teeth. On occasions when he got indignant about something I had done, I would be treated with disdain, lack of cooperation and even retribution if it was something he felt really strongly about. The ensuing punishment would be meted out when least expected, then  he would revert to his former good humour. For example I, on one occasion, ate a bar of chocolate without giving him any. He sulked until he saw his chance when we had guests later in the day: we were sitting chatting happily until Rex, who was lying at my feet, farted explosively. Not content with this, his head jerked up and he eyed me accusingly through the blue haze, causing everyone else to do the same. Anyway, with this type of vengeance in mind, I let the weighing stand at seven stone. He was considerably more than that on a wet day and I often got plastered with mud carrying him over some gate or stile. On one occasion I refused to carry him, on the basis that the gap under the gate was big enough for him to crawl under:

      "Right", I said, "That's it. You either come under, jump over, or stay and starve. I'm going". With that I marched frostily down the field without looking back. When I eventually reached the other side of the field and turned round, it was to see him sitting, on exactly the same spot, absently snapping at a fly before further relieving the boredom with a good scratch. Inevitably I returned and came a few steps closer to a hernia.

      Then there was the time he fell in love. We were visiting friends and their dog suddenly emerged from under the sideboard. She was one of these miniature things, I don't know what the breed was, but she stood about a foot high and seemed to consist mainly of hair. A dwarf haystack sprang to mind. I'd forgotten about Rex, but at this point he made his presence felt: with a woof of uncharacteristic doggy enthusiasm, he shot in pursuit of her, taking a short cut under the coffee table. Rex and coffee tables never mixed well and so it was on this occasion. A coffee table is slightly lower than Rex and the result of this lack of forethought on the part of the inventor meant that this one momentarily accompanied him rather like a saddle. The tea and coffee on it was liberally distributed over the carpet as pursued and amorous pursuer shot out into the kitchen with me following. He must have thought it was his birthday when the object of his intentions turned at bay, and he prepared to make a final dash across the lino. However, lino is another material Rex didn't go well with. His paws slipped on the smooth surface and all his legs were moving in a blur while he stayed on the same spot, reminding me of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Anyway, this enabled me to grab him and his chance was gone. For a moment, an eye became visible from somewhere within the at-bay haystack and I could swear it looked disappointed. The physics of the intended act seemed to have escaped them both in the rush of passion: the chance of a Labrador making it with the haystack was about as probable as an ant doing it with an elephant, even allowing for the use of a trapeze. All conjecture as to the future of the relationship is irrelevant. We never got asked back.

      'Dog Daisy' is a name loosely applied to the ox-eye daisy and the marguerite, possibly because dogs like Rex enjoy cocking their leg up on them. This really underlines the inaccuracy of common names, because these are actually two different genera of plant. The binomial system of naming plants was brought into use in 1752 by a bloke called Linnaeus and it meant that each subject would have only one name, often Latin, which would be the same all over the world. Bearing this in mind, the true name of the plant we tend to grow in pots for the summer is Argyranthemum frutescens. Rex may have appreciated its lavatorial properties but, on the whole, he preferred lamp posts.

Ox-eye daisies with poppies at Hyde Hall

      Argyranthemum frutescens is still often offered in the garden centre as 'marguerite'. It is a woody perennial and not fully hardy, so most people tend to throw it away in autumn after getting constant flowers all summer. I (with an eye to the cost of the things) have found it easy to overwinter in a cold greenhouse: I simply lug the pot in and leave it in a dry condition for the duration of the winter. It loses all its leaves and gives a fair impression of a totally dead specimen until early spring when new leaves start to appear. If you're not sure whether its still alive, test by scraping back a bit of bark with a thumb nail. A green colour indicates that the cambium, situated just under the bark, is alive. Brown means that you'll have to fork out for a new one. Start this little test at the tips of the branches and work your way towards the base. Usually the tips will be dead while the rest of it is o.k.. To get rid of the dead wood and retain a nice shape, prune back by about a third. Start watering as soon as leaves begin appearing and feed it with rose fertiliser. This is high in potassium and encourages flowering growth.

      The plant is well worth while having this attention paid to it, as it will offer the reward of summer - long flowering in a sunny position. Dead heading is as important with this as it is with most perennials and I find it quite a relaxing part of the daily summertime routine.

      In spite of your best efforts, a vicious winter will sometimes kill the plant even in a cold greenhouse, so hedge your bets by taking two to four inch long greenwood cuttings in spring or semi-ripe cuttings in late summer and bring them through the winter in a slightly more protected place like a closed porch or the unheated spare bedroom window sill.

1 comment:

  1. Ever thought about compiling your stories into a book? I was doubled over visualizing Rex being weighed on the small scale!