I am still smarting from a passing comment a stranger who thought Caroline and I looked similar, ‘were we sisters, or perhaps mother and daughter?’ The cheek of it! It must have been Caroline’s pink leggings and silver trainers compared to my more tasteful attire that prompted this observation (think Joan Collins versus Judi Dench) but it set me thinking about how some humans and plants age more gracefully than others.
The wild clematis, Clematis vitalba, which thrives on the chalk soils of the South Downs (and is known locally as ‘travellers joy’ ) is one such. Small, creamy, nodding flowers give way in late summer to the most exquisite arrangement of feathery seeds which adorn our hedgerows right up until Christmas, and is our feature picture this week.
Glycyrrhiza yunnanensis, related to plants from whose roots liquorice is extracted, adopts quite an unassuming presence at the back of the border through the summer but knows how to turn heads in its dotage too, with surprising geometric russet-coloured seedpods.
My final example looks good throughout its life (annoying in humans but welcome in plants) Asclepias tuberosa, the butterfly milkweed, has vibrant orange flower heads very attractive to butterflies (is there anything this plant can’t deliver on?) and then produces classy upward facing seedpods that somehow have more presence in the garden than the brash orange that went before.
Louise also has another fantastic late developer as her plant of the moment which reminds her of a glamorous aunt, you have to investigate that!
Anyway, let’s follow these plants example and embrace the ageing process with style and panache, move over Joanna Lumley …..
Laura, don’t faint, I actually agree with you this week. After revelling in all the fireworks of dazzling late summer colour, the seedheads of many plants are a quieter, more considered pleasure, and it’s all about structure, style and form – like the dogged stylish technique of Alastair Cook in his final Test Match compared to the mad excitement of a 20-20 cricketer whacking sixes all over the ground.
Acanthus seedheads have this touch of class as their subtly-coloured hooded flowers give way to prickly spikes of grape-sized seeds.
Eryngium (sea holly) displays satisfyingly geometric seed rosettes, often with extravagant ruffles. The autumnal golden pennies of honesty (Lunaria), the structural brown boxes of opium poppies, the soft confusion of willowherb seedstalks…….all gentle, lovely but easy things.
My favourite seedhead is that of Allium christophii – a huge globe of pale tan shooting stars – ageing, classy AND eye-catching. How about aiming for that, girls?
Well I don’t know, frankly I’m not surprised that lovely Japanese tourist mistook Laura for my mother. Fancy preferring melancholy autumn seedheads over colourful summer blooms, just a dry shrivelled carapace of their former self (I am referring to the seedheads here, not Laura, she’s not that far gone yet…..)
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple….. so I obviously adore my Lablab purpureus ‘Ruby Moon’ bean plants which clearly have the same outlook on life as me, ending the season with dayglow iridescent purple pods. This is a terrific annual climber that I grew from seed this year and has the most delicious pink and mauve flowers on dark twining stems before the pods develop. Soft southerners like E and L get away with growing it outdoors but up here it seems much happier in my sunny little greenhouse (another thing we have in common..)
But if soft fluffy clematis seed heads are your thing, I can still think of better ones than travellers joy (actually an invasive weed). What about the Clematis ‘Bill Mckenzie’s silky balls of fluff? They are a delightful follow-up to his nodding yellow flowers, but make no mistake Bill has balls of steel. This one grows on the railway line and withstands not only a coastal wind but also the Edinburgh to London express passing by at 125mph.
If you also live in a windy location I could so recommend Olearia as a shrub. You probably know about its sage green leaves, its evergreen habit and the gorgeous daisy-like flowers in mid summer, but when it gets it’s autumn freak on (note this is a young person’s expression Laura ), it looks fantastic even to a winter-denier like myself.
Finally, because you’ll all know it and love it, here is that fantastic ‘I shall wear purple’ poem by Jenny Joseph. She could so have been a Growbag…
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.