I have been in quarantine for a couple of weeks now with an impressively wheezy chest and have had to experience Christmas and New Year vicariously through E and C’s slightly competitive WhatsApp messages ‘We had 53 people to lunch on Christmas Day and danced till 2 am’ (E); it’s so hot here on Cyprus we spent Christmas Day on sun loungers round the pool’ (C). Grrrrrrr – they didn’t seem the least bit interested when I told them how handy my new Christmas hot water bottle cover had come in.
During a bout of paracetamol fuelled delirium my mind started to wander into imagining which garden plants would exist in a mythical paradise garden. Unlike the dependability of Louise’s Great Plant this Month, these would be a collection of the most wondrous plants you had ever come across. Plants so breathtaking in their perfection that the sight of them stopped you in your tracks, and you always remember when and where you first saw them.
The first illusion to materialise was Paeonia rockii– a simply stunning tree peony with large, semi double, white, fringed flowers with a maroon blotch at the base and a sophisticated scent of expensive hand lotion. It needs space and time (I grew my still meagre specimen from seed and it took three years just to germinate..) and then is only fleetingly in flower in May. So, what with life being short, your best option might be to visit them at RHS Wisley in the beds beside the walled garden where I was first bewitched by them, rather than grow them yourself.
The second mirage to float into my consciousness was Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ an expansive but (despite its name) elegant and feminine climber clothed all over with small, pale blueish pink, nodding, button flowers with an intoxicating scent. I first came across this in my neighbours rambling wilderness of a garden, growing up into an ancient apple tree; neither, she assured me, had been touched for 40 years, yet were respectively laden with flowers and fruit – so don’t believe everything you read in books about the necessity of annual pruning. My neighbour kindly let me take cuttings but it will be many years before I can recreate the cameo of untamed perfection I came across in her garden.
My third dream plant was Euphorbia mellifera, a slightly tender species with more vulnerability about it than the beefier E. stygiana you often see nowadays, but to my mind an almost heaven sent combination of lime green and rusty brown when in flower, surprisingly early in the New Year, with a scent of honey after which it is named. I first saw these growing wild in their native island of Madeira and was lucky enough to be given seed from this stock which I think has better leaf colour than any others. In this country the best specimens I have ever seen were growing in Elaine’s walled garden in Eastbourne – shame she will be too hung over this New Year to appreciate them.
Too hung over to appreciate my Euphorbias? I’ll have you know that I can get a lot more hung over than that! Round here at New Year, lack of Euphorbia-appreciation is for light-weights.
You have only five dozen pine needles left to hoover out of the carpet; you’ve already broken your New Years Resolutions by January 4, the garden is an uninviting sodden mess (oh hang on, is this just me again?), so I think Laura might be on to the right idea in spending a few moments in escapist reflection about her dream plants.
My first thought is the Arums (Zantedeschia aethiopica) growing along a rill in a largely-grassed garden by the road running from Cherbourg to our house in Normandy; simple pure white chalices gleaming against the green….magical. The leaves are untidy in autumn but I think arums are worth it. I must divide mine more.
Next, I am thinking about a Hydrangea querquifoliain the front garden of an ancient farmhouse opposite our old house. This is a shrub with real presence, from its spikes of creamy-white flowers to its extraordinary purple-to-orange leaf colour in the autumn. My last is a memory of seeing hundreds of heavenly agapanthus in the Yve St Laurent Garden in Marrakech a few years ago.
Up until then, I had been immune to their charms – suddenly I needed them urgently in my own garden though I have so far not been able to get anywhere near the wonderful display that a friend of mine achieves in sun by a wall on what appears to be pure sand.
And immediately I want to know the parameters of this game. Does it have to be a British plant? One we might own or one we will only ever dream about? You can see why I was discouraged from joining in games of I-Spy in the back of the family Cortina.
Anyway it’s rather different here in Scotland high above the soft latitudes of Sussex, and plants I’ll yearn to re-experience in my bathchair controversially include Azalea luteum. Frowned upon by the RHS as a non-native pest, the unique, earthy fragrance of their flowers in late May – when Northern nights never darken and all sorts of adventures and misadventures break out after a long winter – evokes memories that never fail to make me smile/faintly perspire.
Not far behind are meconopsis (our feature photo this week). Wonderfully happy in the ericaceous, humus-rich Highlands, their phenomenal cuprous blue seems to magically reflect some expertise on the part of the grower – a huge asset if one should be showing them off to one’s horticulturally superior sisters.
And finally what may have been a mirage remains lodged in my mind. Years ago I’m sure I spotted a fantastic abutilon growing at Brahan House in Ross-shire. True it was against a sheltered south-facing wall, but it was there, alive in the Highlands, its brilliantly coloured ‘paper’ bells lighting up the garden like Darcy Bussell performing at the Foot Tappers and Shunter’s Club. I’ll be building a new home in the Highlands in 2018 – dare I hope to replicate the feat? A lot depends on the wall I feel, it was minus-12 at Loch Glascarnoch last week.
The Growbags would love to know what dream plants you would choose and why, so please do write in and let us know – I bet there are some very special stories out there on this subject……
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