Sandy’s Garden ... Magna Copia Supervacanea

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Most gardeners will be familiar with Matthiola longipetala bicornis and Malcolmia maritima, if not under these names.

Matthiola longipetala bicornis is … ‘of course’, as my one-time tutor in Anglo-Saxon language and literature used to say of the most obscure and unintelligible terms … better known as night-scented stock, the annual or perennial herbaceous plant named in honour of the sixteenth century Italian botanist Pierandrea Mattioli, who did not have an ‘h’ in his surname; and Malcolmia maritima is … ‘of course’, as the afore-mentioned tutor used to repeat ad nauseam … Virginia stock, the annual herbaceous plant named in honour of the father-and-son team of William and William Malcolm … yes, they were both William … London nurserymen of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. But I expect that most gardeners knew these facts already.

Most gardeners … indeed, all gardeners ... will probably be less familiar with Magna copia supervacana, at least under that name. Yet they will know the plants, which seem to be particularly prevalent this summer. I have been round most of the garden centre within a twenty-mile radius of my home, and there are quite a number; and most of them have Magna copia supervacana on their benches and in their sales areas. Magna copia supervacana are predominantly to be found in the bedding plants sections of garden centres, nearly all in flower in every colour of the rainbow; for Magna copia supervacana are superfluous stocks!

Yes, it seems to me that most horticultural supermarkets have a grossly excessive number of plants still waiting to fly off their shelves. There seem to me to be an abundance of alyssum, an excessive number of nemesias, a glut of gazanias, a plethora of petunias, a superfluity of salvias, a surfeit of surfinias and a surplus of sweet Williams on display at the beginning of the week which includes Midsummer’s Day, the 24th of June, the longest day in 2016. And this superfluity of stock seems to me to be concentrated, as I say, on the shelves dedicated to bedding plants, those summertime delights of the garden and the plantings in parks and public open spaces.

I am not often among the earlier gardeners when the time comes round to set out summer bedding, preferring to wait until there is little chance of frost or of biting cold north-easterly winds; and, since I am not infrequently overseas on holiday at the beginning of June … before my favourite holiday area in Italy is chock-a-block with children … I seem to recall having a limited selection to choose from many a year, granting that my ever-aging memory is becoming ever-less reliable. But I cannot but believe that the garden centres are substantially over-stocked as we approach midsummer; and I have to say that I think it’s as well for the garden centres that don’t have to copy the supermarkets and add ‘best before’ dates to their plant labels, for some of the centres have plants that are definitely past their sell-by date, although it is distinctly difficult to find ‘reduced for quick sale’ price cuts!

So, to continue with my everyday Latin theme, caveat emptor … ‘let the buyer beware!’ There should be bargains out there in the Magna copia supervacana, especially for the gardener who is still in the market for bedding plants. Very few supermarket customers will knowingly add an item to their trolley which is right on … let alone past … its sell-by date; why should we treat horticultural supermarkets any differently? I like garden centres; they offer gardeners a previously unimaginable choice of plants, of tools, of fertilisers and of chemicals. But we really should treat them like supermarkets and refuse to buy stale stock.