Growing up is optional. So says my birthday card from my sister. I’m trying to compose deathless prose whilst being in a lather of excitement to get to my favourite nursery, to spend some guilt free pocket money. Despite the fact that my garden is stuffed with interesting and unusual plants, I feel childishly eager to be wandering around the endless bounty, looking for weird stuff that no-one else has seen before, far less grown. Attila says that he can’t wish me everything I’ve ever wanted; where would I put it? I love a challenge and rise to a thrown down mitten, so be careful with that kind of talk.
Pieris japonica “Valley Valentine” (lily of the valley bush)
Mine is a lifetime’s collection of the most curious, exotic and striking specimens that I can lay my hands on, to the extent that I have difficulty in identifying the more odd examples. I’m not above using a swath of bog standard offerings to make a splash but always I’m on the look-out for a different way to make them into a display. Amongst Zantedeschia (calla) and asparagus fronds, I grow huge purple thistles against the front wall. My happiness was complete when a passing lady of mature years and fixed opinions collared me with her face like a brick hoist and in a voice that would cut through concrete, demanded “Are those artichokes?” Upon my confirmation, the be-hatted harridan replied “How peculiar!” I call that a great result.
Crocus “Prins Claus”
I’ve had little luck in growing vegetables for boiling to buggery and serving up on the dining table. Lack of water makes them bolt in a frantic effort to spread their seeds before ugly and ignominious mortality overtakes them. So it is that my edible crops are grown for their striking foliage or arresting floral exhibition. The leeks were notable for their heavy dusty pom poms of bloom, so I’m aiming at a similar effect by planting sets of red onions this year. I’ve warned my husband that his life may be endangered if he digs them up and to source his produce from the supermarket, like everyone else. Artichokes and cardoons thrust skywards strictly for show, in the company of Crambe cordifolia (flowering sea kale). Perennial Lathyrus (sweet peas) rather than petit pois adorn the obelisks and I’ve given up on beans altogether.
Muscari “White Magic” (grape hyacinth)
I scampered around the nursery like a kid in a sweet shop. I’ve acquired a Calycanthus (California allspice) which I’ve lusted after for a decade; beneath ruby red magnolia-like blossom, every part of the shrub is heavily perfumed. I pounced on a sultry purple Acer palmatum “Trompenburg” (Japanese maple) that I’ve not encountered before and there are some new, bizarre cacti which my collection needs desperately. When they squeeze out offshoots, they will be handy for swapsies amongst other gardeners who have given up bubble gum cards as being too infantile. Also for the conservatory I bought a gift of a Passiflora “White Passion” and a cycad, which is a plant upon which the dinosaurs supped, when the Earth was young. That’s enough, I think; a little immaturity goes a long way.