21st April 2019
Cassiope 'Askival Snow Wreath'.
I remember dressing in cricket whites at school and standing on a pitch in the hot sun all afternoon waiting for something to happen. It never did. Occasionally a bird would fly lazily overhead
and all eyes would gaze upwards, hungrily clinging to the excitement for as long as possible. I was never fond of cricket. I am to team sports what Julius Caesar was to e-mail,
my unused Clarice Cliff teacups, a Venn Diagram with no overlap. An empty set.
It has been a very hot week, I have been appreciating white.
Cassiope have a twisted fascination about them. The shoots have that Lycopodium look, some ungrowable mountain club-moss (they are all ungrowable in my experience), yet they prosper.
Not only do they resemble a delightful club-moss, but they go on to flower! As I say, a twisted fascination.
I had a young man's moment with Cassiope decades ago before my head had been filled with good advice about growing them in cool moist shade. I had a few plants grown in the sun, part of
the adventure in curiosity that accompanies ignorance, and they were magnificent. I have been fascinated ever since. A thick mulch around plants suppresses weeds and too much good advice does the same
for thinking. A layer of rot that started out as bullshit.
Cassiope make me smile.
21st April 2019
No such convoluted satisfaction from Magnolia laevifolia, it is a thing of joy. Mine has been in the greenhouse for too long, it will have rooted through into the heart of Cornwall.
I can't bear the thought of moving it, the tragic tearing of roots and trimming of branches needed to give it some hope. I can't bear the thought of its slow, shocked decline unable to rally from the wrenching insult.
I may have to leave it where it is, admit stoically that there is nothing I could put in that section of the greenhouse that would bring me as much pleasure, for all the clamouring noise of novelty.
Late in summer it seems to sleep with swooping branches trailing languidly, softly swinging hammocks for the resting leaves. The autumn comes and sheltering in the greenhouse from inclement weather
I am seasonally delighted by the new buds. They start as small, thin upright fingers nestling in the leaf axils. Barely noticed, wrapped in the shortest ginger fluff, they grow and fatten through the winter,
until the spring finds them satisfyingly rounded with the promise of flower, clad in perfect coats of rufous velvet. The flowers burst in improbable perfection, shedding their coats
and scenting the greenhouse. As they age they turn to parchment at the base, musty pages awaiting illustrations of barely known animals from distant lands. Just as the beauty seems to be ending
the seed capsules start to swell and split open to reveal the tiny round rubies inside.
It's a joy, I can't bear to move it, it will stay where it is.
21st April 2019
Paeonia rockii .
There is a conceptual equivalent to sleep walking. The mind wanders around seemingly without direction and lights on the unexpected. It happens to me in art galleries. I particularly like
the white painted ones that rely on sterile minimalism to force attention onto the work on display. It does the opposite. I am fascinated by the absence of undergrowth. I start looking for corners
where the dust has accumulated, rejoicing in the waterstains on the walls, scuffed edges to plasterboard, signs of culture. White isn't minimal, it is maximal, it turns the dial up to 11.
Paeonia rockii demonstrates it.
I have a bundle of seedlings, raised in China. I imagine they were intended as rootstocks for tree peonies that miraculously escaped decapitation. Whatever their history, I planted them in the Agave house
(it's amazing that there was ever room for any Agave) and they have delighted me ever since. They started flowering a couple of years ago and I have had new shades and patterns every year since.
This one has a very large, flat flower. A ring of yellow stamens almost conceals the basal flash of pink. Almost concealing but emphasising, like dust in the corners of a white gallery.
When I saw it, I thought the flower was fading. I took the picture, sat and enjoyed the flower and then gave it a good shake. I wanted the peculiar joy that comes from watching the flower shatter,
seeing the louche petals tumble. It was having none of it, the petals remained fixed. This isn't the tired elegance of age, this is the deliberate youthful pose of white maximalism.
21st April 2019
Primula bhutanica 'Sheriff's Variety' .
Primula bhutanica and P. whitei seem to be a pair of species that merge into each other at the centre of their distribution, or alternatively a single species
that varies along its range from Bhutan to Tibet in the Himalayas. P. bhutanica comes from the eastern end of the distribution, has petals with distinctly notched tips, and appears to be growable
in the UK. I have wanted it for many years, I have grown it for three.
I keep it shaded, I keep it very wet, I keep it in the sort of conditions that the blue Meconopsis love, except that the Meconopsis seem to have died. I was delighted when it flowered last year,
I wasn't sure that I could keep it alive so flowering it once represented a significant triumph for the Compost Resistance. This year I have split it into three crowns and this one has flowered.
It is increasing. I may not be able to grow blue Meconopsis but I have some almost-blue primroses. It is ridicoulous to try these mountain petiolarid Primula in this climate,
only a fool would persevere.
Outside the hallowed confines of an art gallery I have very few delusions. The best of them are blue.