Saturday, 18 November 2017

Falling in Love Again

When it comes to the garden, I've given my heart away too many times to contemplate monogamy.  This week, I look at what's currently active in the garden that also, somewhere along the way, captured my heart.

Earlier in the summer, goldenrod w/queen of the prairie.

1.  Goldenrod is that boy who's friends with your brother, the kid you grow up tripping over & treat like family, but never fancy.  Before I emigrated, goldenrod covered acres of field along my drive to work, putting on its yellow headdress at the height of summer.  A coupla months later, frost would outline every stem & seed head in breath-stopping beauty.

A few years after arriving here in the UK, the sudden sight of that unmistakable yellow gave me a different feeling.  Not acres, but 4 lonely plants in a neighbour's garden.  I'd never seen goldenrod in captivity before.  As it would happen, the very next place I lived had a huge flowerbed taken over by the stuff.  When I left there, this time I took some with me.

My late father called it wild mustard, the familiar name learned from his herbalist mother & said it in his gentle southern accent.  I never met my grandmother, a woman born in the 19th century, but she gives a 4 generational provenance between the mustard family & my own.  Goldenrod & me, we're two old friends reunited in this new & strange place.

Goldenrod as it looks now, w/o a hint of frost yet.

2.  One of my many UK homes had a flagstone area outside the back door.  Some stones had been removed at the far end to allow space for what, to me, was an extraordinarily exotic plant.  Because of its pink blooms, I called it the Gigantic Mauve Thing.  Makes no sense, but that's me in a nutshell.

After learning its Latin name, I called it Roger.  As is my habit, I lifted a few Roger rhyzomes each time I moved.  Then at my last place, taking a little bit of Roger would ruin the balance of his flowerbed, so I left him behind.

Once settled here, I enticed Roger's more handsome brother, Bronze Peacock, into my garden & planted him by the water feature.  Perhaps knowing my heart belonged to his brother, he frittered & frazzled & threatened to die, so I plucked him from the bog & stuck him in with the tomato plants.  No bloom this summer, but knowing I've left all thoughts of his brother behind, perhaps next year Peacock'll do better.

Rodgersia reminds me of nights on the flagstone patio, waiting for the tawny owl to cry, of mornings watching the pheasants feed, of a time when I thought Good was bigger & stronger & more likely to happen than was Evil.

Rodgersia Bronze Peacock - when it's healthy, it is bronze.

3.  One of my moves took me to a smaller garden than before, overshadowed by my neighbour's love of trees (& dislike of pruning).  I confiscated the one small sunny area of lawn & put in a circular rose garden with lavender around the edges.  Starved for room, I plugged the spaces between lavender & roses with the creeping thyme I'd brought from my last place.

By the next summer, the thyme filled the empty gaps in the bed.  I'd sit on the lawn & pull the few struggling weeds from it, brushing up against the lavender as I worked.  Those three scents mingled, the creeping thyme & lavender with an afterthought of rose, it made me drunk with pleasure.  I'd often lay down in the grass next to my rose bed & breathe breathe breathe them all in.

Smell is as important as colour in my garden.  The trio of rose, lavender & creeping thyme is one I repeat over & over in every place I've lived since.  When I weed each of those subsequent beds, I remember that POW of the first time I fell in love with that smell.

Red lavender as it looks now, & white creeping thyme underneath.

4.  I used to live near Gertrude Bell's family home, Rounton Grange.  The house is long gone, but the area of the kitchen garden has been taken over by Dark Star Plants, a nursery that specialises in plants with dark foliage.

On one of my visits there, the seller said that they were prohibited from propagating a certain plant for 30 years so that the folk who developed it could make money first.  In my memory, that plant was this little black mondo.  We bought three of them.

Some time later, a friend came over to get plant ideas from my garden.  Based on what she said her design would be, I thought little black mondo would be a good choice.  While leading her over to check it out, I told her about how it wouldn't propagate so unfortunately, I couldn't give her any plants.  Yet there mondo grew with 5 babies sprouting out all around it.  That's the first time a plant ever called me a liar.  At least, to my face.  And yes, my friend got some of the babies.

On that day, little black mondo exposed the frailty of my memory, but also the delightful fictions it writes.  When I see mondo, I think of my friend, a remarkable adventurer.  I think about Gerturde Bell, who wouldn't've had the patience for me, but whom I admire nevertheless.  And I think of how rules & regulations can't stop life from being itself.

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Niger' - Black mondo.

5.  Everyone should have one outlaw romance.  Mine actually grows in the empty lot next door.

From what I can see through the upstairs window (not that I'm snooping), the lot used to be an Edwardian garden, now gone to the foxes.  In addition to roses & fruit trees, it has several climbers scrambling the wall between the properties, attempting murder by strangulation of my potted shrubs & trees.  All summer, I waged merciless war against those climbers until the leaves turned colour & the Virginia creeper turned my head.

Its beautiful crimson calms me.  I have reckless thoughts of taking cuttings, of growing my own dashing creeper.  Then my potted shrubs & trees stage an intervention, after which I make some focaccia, open a bottle of wine & revisit a box set of Last Tango in Halifax.

My outlaw romance.

6.  Once, while foraging for dead plants to use as Halloween decorations, I found a hunchbacked shrub growing under some mature trees at the edge of a field.  Its seedpods looked like earrings made from dried blood drops, perfect for our Halloween party.

When none of my gardening friends could identify it, I assumed birds had facilitated its escape from a nearby Edwardian greenhouse ruin.  I tried growing the seeds, but no joy.  It took years to identify it as Himalayan honeysuckle.

That long ago Halloween party celebrated a short film collaboration by several of my women friends.  The various Himalayan honeysuckle incarnations since that first discovery, they've all connected me with the excitement of group creation, the shared experience of women, humanity's bloodchain spark in all of us.

Seedpods from Himalayan honeysuckle.

That brings us to the end of my garden's #SixonSaturday.  Be sure to drop by the instigator of this hashtag, for his Six.  In the comments to his blog, you'll find links to other gardeners' collections of Sixes.

There but for the Grace of God . . . street view of the Creep.


  1. Lovely post, very well written. The goldenrod/Filipendula(?) combination is striking and I fully intend to copy it one day soon.

    1. That was a pairing that happened after a move when shoving in plants of similar height - not at all an artistic decision, but a result I really liked, too.

  2. Hey there, really lovely Six, Lora. Beware the goldenrod it's a thug in a garden setting. There are some well behaved cultivars. I am also partial to Roger (as it very much were),I look forward to his visit next year. Tried to grow some from seed, nada.

    1. There will be no well behaved plants in my garden, Jon!

  3. Beautiful post. I love the description of each garden and your "outlaw romance" is glorious. Thank you so much for sharing! This brightened my rather grey and dismal Sunday where everything in my garden is cut back and waiting for spring.

  4. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I'm hoping the Creep's leaves'll all drop off soon, so I can forget about him. Maybe I need a rebound plant love!

  5. Your post gives a whole new meaning to "love your garden"; it's wonderful when a garden delivers not only the beauty of plants but also that of memories and emotions and you've captured those really eloquently. Virginia seems to be either non-performing (as in my garden) or a real thug (in my neighbour's garden where I think he's tried to kill her for a couple of years and has now given up and spends time every few months giving her a haircut.

    The Leycesteria (honeysuckle) is very difficult to grow from seed but if you have access to a plant it's dead easy to grow from cuttings. Just pull a small branch away from a bigger branch, making sure (this is vital) that you have a heel on it. Doesn't matter if it's old or new wood as long at that heel is on the end. Pot it up in some gritty compost and leave it alone to root, just keep it moist but not over-wet.

    1. I have 2 honeysuckles in this garden, both performing in an ok way. Sometimes, you just want the one that's bad for you, though. Once the red in the Creep's leaves are gone, I think I'll be fine again.