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The churchyard in Waterloo #1: Plant Portraits

Following World Environment Day, we're now exploring the Churchyard at St John's Waterloo, a historic green oasis in the heart of London. Jonathan Trustram from the Churchyard of St John's, provide us with interesting article about plants (and images) from the same garden.

Onopordum acanthium

1. Onopordum acanthium. A fabulous self-seeding biennial, softly woolly and prickly at the same time. It's found in the wild fron Spain to Kazakhstan, so why we know it as the Scotch thistle I don't know. Maybe the answer is heraldic. By scattering the seeds we've managed to push it to the back of the border so that it doesn't behave like a bully at the front. The name derives from greek and means donkey fart!

Onopordums and a teasle

2. Onopordums and a teasle, another biennial. Both are loved by bees.

3. We don't know the name of this lovely, sweet scented rose, added to the long established rose bed in about 2009. It's a floribunda picked more or less randomly. Should keep better records!

Melianthus major

4. Melianthus major. Just hanging on after the Years of Neglect this bold shrub is now thriving and seedlings have begun to appear. It's typical of those plants which profit by the extra warmth of central London during winters which would kill it elsewhere.

Geranium psilostemon

5. Geranium psilostemon. Maybe the most dramatically coloured of all geraniums, big, easy and a good self-seeder.

6. Indigofera amblyantha. There are several of this indigofera's more common cousin, I. heterantha in the churchyard. This one seems dainty and fragile but has slowly grown to a great cloud of pale pink.

7. What's that doing here! My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense / As though of hemlock I had drunk... Yes, it's hemlock and it's seven or eight feet tall . It's an umbellifer, a Jekyll and Hyde family which includes herbs and vegetables; carrots, coriander etc. as well as poisonous plants. It will die after it's flowered.

Eryngium bourgatii

8. Eryngium bourgatii. This perennial, a native of the Pyrenees is edging out the other, better known eryngium, the biennial E. giganteum, which has unfortunately responded by invading the territory of less vigorous plants on the other side of the dry garden. But we're encouraging it to emigrate to the wild-life garden nearby, where it should be neither threatened nor a threat.


9. Cardoon. This close relative of the artichoke might be the absolute favourite of the bees. Its huge purple flower heads will soon be open...

Silybum marianum / Blessed Mary's thistle / Milk thistle

10. Silybum marianum. A most unfortunate botanical name. The English name is blessed Mary's thistle, or milk thistle, referring to the whitish marks on the leaves. The beauty of the leaves begins to fade as the flowers are about to open.


Jonathan Trustram is a gardening volunteer at the Churchyard of St John's Waterloo. You can follow his blog here.

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