Growbag Blog

To plant, perchance to dream

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.

Paeonia rockii

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.

Paul’s Himalayan Musk – this one with Elaine posing beneath

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.

Euphorbia mellifera – a structural and scented triumph

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.

Zantedeschia aethiopica

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.

Hydrangea querquifolia

 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.

Azalea or more correctly Rhododendron luteum – such an arresting aroma!

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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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

6 replies on “To plant, perchance to dream”

Well, Irene, I am not sure that any of us particularly thought about this aspect when we wrote the blog, but yes, it does make a change from all those dreary and depressing January articles about how we should be detoxifying, and pumping iron, and all the rest, doesn’t it!

January dream for me is an enormous Victorian glass house (think small Stately) with rank and file of ‘infants’ (some quite impossible for the Cotswolds). The smell of Jasmine and a beautifully trained and pruned vine. More than anything, room to manoeuvre and a glorious space of light and smell and activity.

Oh my goodness, Jane, that sounds like heaven! I bet a lot of people would agree with you about this dream glasshouse. Not on the same scale at all, but I am being given a greenhouse for my January birthday this year. The last one that I possessed was seen cartwheeling across the lawn in the 1987 Great Storm, so I am ridiculously excited about this new one! Now, I think there will be room for jasmine, and there may even be room for a grape-vine, but then of course there are a million other things I want to grow in it as well….Elaine

I had to rush out into the garden((pouring rain freezing rain nearly dark )to see if I could find any flower buds on my paeony rocking .Too dark to see anything!

Hello Lois I am very impressed that you have the skill and patience to have nurtured this capricious beauty to the point that it might realistically have some buds forming and even more impressed at your foray into the dark and the elements to check up on it,(C and E.note – this is what really keen gardeners do)It is a plant that it is very good at giving the impression it might have given up the ghost over winter – all spiky awkward, inanimate looking branches then, as if from nowhere succulent green flower buds start swelling, and the miraculous metamorphosis into gobsmacking gorgeousness starts to occur. Keep us posted!

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