The Maidenhair or Memory tree, Ginkgo biloba, is a dinosaur of the plant world. Often referred to as a "living fossil", it has existed on the planet for about 200 million years and is the sole survivor of an ancient family that once flourished in many parts of the world, including the British Isles.

It was long thought to be extinct in the wild, although trees have now been found in eastern China, and its survival was credited to Buddhist temple gardens, where it has been planted for centuries as a sacred tree. Botanically, it is a bit of an oddity, because it is a conifer but it has leaves rather than needles. Each of these is pale-green, leathery and fan shaped, like a giant Maidenhair fern, and in autumn they turn buttery yellow and fall.

The Ginkgo is not too fussy about soil, tolerates urban pollution and is fairly disease-free. It is quite hardy, although it prefers a warm, sunny, sheltered position. It makes quite a large tree with a striking, slender, graceful habit. If you have a small garden, plant it in a pot or get hold of the smaller, densely weeping variety "Pendula". I have heard that it can be fan-trained against a wall, even a north one, which sounds mouth-watering.

Under the branches of this ancient beauty an informal planting of the Lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina, interspersed with the Welsh poppy, Meconopsis cambrica, would give a subtle, "natural" look. Both are British natives.The Welsh poppy is a diminutive relative of the famous Himalayan blue poppy, Meconopsis betonicifolia, and about as easy to grow as the blue poppy is difficult. Beg a few seed-heads from a friend, scatter their contents on the ground, and you will have more plants than you know what to do with.

Its cup-shaped flowers are either vivid lemon-yellow or orange and they come true from seed. The yellow are the best and they look bright and fresh among ferns. The Lady fern would make an excellent companion. Each year it will make a clump of elegant, lacy fronds a couple of feet high and wide. It likes moisture but will also thrive on fairly dry soil.

A final note on the Ginkgo - as a herbal medicine this tree is recommended for treating Alzheimer's disease. How fitting for a species with such a long memory.

John the Gardener

Three plants that look good together:

Ginkgo biloba

Meconopsis cambrica

Athyrium flix-femina