Now, I realise the photograph of my chosen plant this week may not be everyone’s idea of a horticultural gem, but with each year that passes I become more fascinated with the seasonal change that is autumn. There is an allure beyond the beauty of colour; gentle decay can also be a fascinating, eye catching process and the umbrella plant illustrates this perfectly.
Darmera peltata has a long season of interest. It is a vigorous, hardy, herbaceous perennial (to about 1m.) which is happiest in damp or boggy soil, preferably on the edge of a pond. And it is in this position that it is most striking, and not just in the autumn; for in April and May, domed heads of striking mid-pink flowers are borne on tall, naked stems well before the foliage appears, and their reflections in the water below serve to accentuate their architectural splendour.
Then come the leaves – huge and shaped like parasols with scalloped edges, then shiny green until they start to turn all shades of yellow, orange and red in September. Darmera peltata is probably the best alternative for those who’d love to grow Gunnera manicata but simply don’t have the room. Its dense rhizomes spread slowly and surely but you couldn’t call it invasive. The ultimate ‘no maintenance’ plant, I don’t even tidy it up in the winter, it self-mulches and will be ready to go next spring!
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