22nd May 2016
Rhodohypoxis 'Fred Broome' .
It should come as no surprise that May is being beautiful, but of all my favourite months (I have twelve of them, I can list them in order for you if you like) it is the one that always surprises.
April can be cold and wintery, June is summer. The changeover happens in May and the pace of change is as breathtaking as its erratic direction. It is like a roller-coaster with bluebells.
The week has been sunny, cool and dry. The light has been bright enough to make a sun hat a pleasure to wear. Suddenly on Thursday it rained and the whole world seemed to return to complaining about winter.
I stopped for a lunch of hot soup and sulking and watched the steam rising from the warm grass. I nearly choked with laughter and had to put my soup aside.
A thick covering of pink snow means that it is a Rhodohypoxis winter. I am astonished that they put up with my abuse. I was brought up to believe they were a little tender and needed a dry sunny spot.
Well, it is true they like a bit of sun, but all the rest is hogwash. 'Fred Broome' is vigorous and has broad petals with the pink complexion of bottled up rage. It frightens me slightly, but I have come to accept
that it has the matter under complete control and it isn't going to become a Rhodohypoxipath.
I have spent decades twitching slightly as I see its terrifying visage but there is something dangerously attractive about it. It is like handling a large snake. Sensory overload and a racing heartbeat, the perfect
accompaniment for the seasonal roller-coaster.
22nd May 2016
Beschorneria septentrionalis .
If the Rhodohypoxis is old, the the Beschorneria is old but new. I add notes to the plants listed in the index as fast as I can, but somehow I lag further and further behind. In 2011 I bought a
seedling at a plant sale and for a while it kicked around in a pot while I worked out what to do. In the end it was planted in the Agave house - it is amazing how long it takes me
to realise the inevitable. When I look at the index, I see I have only included one Beschorneria species in the list. There are five of them now, so I am a bit behind. This is the first to flower
and the time has come to record its presence.
I have been enjoying the broad green rosette for a couple of years but the startling red flower spike takes it to another level in a worryingly literal way. The top of the spike (not shown) has hit the roof
of the greenhouse. Fortunately is is quite soft and had started to arch over before the point of impact. The top looks a bit silly but it doesn't require action. It is a warning to me. For a few years now I have been
enjoying the idea that the Agave are going to cause problems when they flower, safe in the knowledge that the problems are still a few years away. Today, I'm not feeling so safe.
22nd May 2016
Crinodendron hookerianum 'Ada Hofman' .
Down among the Hedychium there are similar troubles brewing. It is a nice shady place and I tend to pot things up and stand them out there while I work out what to do with them. There is a lovely
golden leaved willow, stood there through the summer a couple of years ago and now so tall it is going to take a saw and some serious excavation to remove it. Just opposite, 'Ada Hoffmann' is sneering at me.
There is no other word for it, she knows I am defeated. Crinodendron hookerianum is a wonderful thing. With a bit of trimming it makes a dense evergreen shrub loaded with scarlet lanterns in May.
The pale pink form should be a marvel, bit she is an entirely different creature. The growth is thin and feeble, with long narrow leaves. Problems I could live with but she seems less willing. This is my third attempt,
the first two dropped dead as soon as I planted them. This one survives in the greenhouse but if it won't grow out in the garden what is the point?
This morning before breakfast I collected pollen from the scarlet wonder, and 'Ada Hoffmann' has been thoroughly pollinated. Perhaps seedlings will be a little easier to grow (in the unlikely event that she co-operates).
She was discovered in the wild in Chile so there is hope that a stronger growing form will be discovered one day, in the meantime this ghostly pink hovers at the fringe of life. It has been produced in
commercial quantities for at least a decade, but I only know a single plant succeeding in a garden.
22nd May 2016
Paeonia rockii .
I was tempted to write about nothing but peonies this week. Two things stopped me; I only have three in flower so the fourth picture would still be a bud, and I have nothing to say about them. The first problem
I could overcome, the second is insurmountable.
Three years ago a friend kindly ordered some P. rockii seedlings for me and not knowing what to do with them when they arrived, I planted them out in the Agave house. For the most part they have prospered and
eventually they will have to be moved into the garden where they will be neither as warm nor as dry as they might like. With the insufferable optimism of a gardener I have been enjoying the soft shades of
their foliage every year. This spring as the new growth burst it was clear that one of the plants had 'gone a bit funny' in the apex and it has developed into a precocious bud. I thought I might have to wait a decade
for the first flower and this one leaves me feeling a little rushed. I had settled in for a long subtle stint of gentle appreciation before the drama kicked in. It wasn't to be, and I'm not going to complain.
In cultivation they are a complicated group, hybrid seedlings abound and the original introduction by Joseph Rock may or may not still exist and may or may not be distinct. These plants were almost certainly
raised in China and sold through a discount mail-order catalogue. This one shows pure yellow filaments to the anthers, pure yellow stigmas and a yellow floral disc, all typical of the wild species
(plants in cultivation in the west are often purple stained).
I took the picture yesterday and it seemed to capture the beauty of May. This morning I went to count its leaflets and check its botanical credentials. It is already past its best, petals collapsing like a tired
operatic diva on a chaise longue. Without question, my favourite month.