Tamarix: Behold the perfect windbreaker
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Tamarix: Behold the perfect windbreaker

I CONTINUE to mourn the loss of garden folklore and legend.

The mythology of flowers, fruit and herbs are being lost, I fear, to future generations.

Since modern medicine took us mostly beyond the reach of herbal remedies, no one bothers now with the traditional stories of garden plants.

However, I am concerned about the ancient associations (mostly Christian) that are slowly disappearing and more is the pity for myths and legends that have been gathered and treasured for centuries.

I also feel that it is imperative to know something of the history of what we grow and eat almost as a courtesy.

Take as an example a shrub called Tamarix.

This perfect windbreak was introduced into England by Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury in the fifteenth century, and its name comes from the Hebrew word for palm/pine tree.

To be honest, is not a showy plant.

It does not shout ‘look at me, here I am’ like so many other plants.

Its effect on the viewer and the garden is much more subtle, more like a distinguished old lady; incredibly beautiful, though at first you hardly notice her.

In some odd way it looks like it smells: alluring with a smoky suggestiveness and faint scent. It has of course a certain elegance and charm and is excellent for use as a reliable windbreak in coastal areas, having the ability to withstand the strongest salt-laden gales of winter.

The leaves of Tamarix are tiny and needle-like (hence its Hebrew name for palm/pine tree tamar) giving a feathery appearance to its pink flowers which appear from late summer to autumn.

Regular pruning is important because the plant is vigorous in growth habit and unless reduced annually may become top heavy and eventually become unsteady.

It may also need protection from cold easterly winds especially in northern inland counties.

Tamarix as outlined may not be a showy shrub and it is sometimes described as ‘harmless in appearance but very invasive’.

It is also often blamed for altering wildlife habitats and increasing the number of wildfires across southern Europe.

As to myth and legend it is mainly associated with the Flight into Egypt by the Holy Family. Pursued by Herod’s men, the family hid in the shelter of a large Tamarisk.

As the helmeted soldiers grew near, the shrub gently lowered its huge branches to hide completely the Virgin, Joseph, and the Christ Child.

In acknowledgment, the Child touched the pine leaves and anyone who picks up a pinecone today (splitting it lengthways) will see the imprint of a tiny child's hand!

Phisog or lovely story, who can tell?