Sunday, June 29, 2008
Mid-winter brings one of the real delights of the gardening season – the perusal of mail order catalogues while seated with a red wine in hand in front of a roaring fire.
What fantastic gardens we create in mid-winter! So much better than anything we can ever achieve in the flush of spring. Those plants we carefully plan to flower alongside each other that, when we place them in our gardens, fail to bloom at the same time, prove reliable in these imagined gardens, and those wonderfully matching varieties that in reality clash terribly, fir together perfectly.
This weekend I have been looking through some bulbs catalogues, trying to work out whether I can fit some new varieties into the garden somewhere, and exactly where I might be able to find room for them.
I am tempted by one of the black Zantedeschias. This is, of course, the Latin name for the plants that most of us, for obvious reasons, cheerfully call Calla lilies, relatives of the old fashioned Arum lily so beloved of English florists.
They are a world away from those deadly white flowers, associated with funerals for our ancestors. Modern forms of these South African beauties come in all sorts of colours, including deepest burgundy red. One variety that a mail order company I deal with is called ‘Hot Chocolate’ and the catalogue writer is trying to tell me it is “the best bulb and cut flower yet bred in the world.” I wonder why they are so modest. It is a startling flower though, the flowers almost being black, and nothing like chocolate!
I want to plant this is my dark garden, where I have a number of other flowers in similar colours, including day lilies, irises, dahlias and salvias. Fortunately, this is in very well-drained soil and in a sunny position, requirements for growing Zantedeschia well. In the garden it would also a good degree of herbaceous plant cover which would protect the young shoots of the lily when they sprout, as they are slightly frost tender when young.
There are some other wonderful colours among Zantedeschias. As well as white and yellow, there are some great new orange shaded varieties, like ‘Hawaii’, ‘Hot Shot’ and ‘Treasure’. I also like the two-toned varieties. ‘Picasso’ has cream flowers stained with purple in the throat, the staining bleeding through slightly on the outside of the petals. ‘Cameo’ is similar with creamy flowers stained all over with pink, then set off with a deeper throat.
There are also some wonderfully deep red coloured true lilies, Liliums. One of the Asiatic lilies (oddly enough bearing its name in mind!) is ‘America’ with deep wine red flowers, while the Los Angeles hybrid ‘Black Out’ is also a very deeply coloured form.
If two-toned flowers are more your thing, you might want to look out for the very well named ‘Shocking’, which has huge cream flowers, upward looking, each petal splashed with red. Unique and absolutely true to name. ‘Latvia’ is deep yellow and marked with deeper red, while ‘Centrefold’ has white flowers marked with purple.
Lilies need almost perfect drainage but are among the aristocrats of the plant world and should be found in all gardens.
I have some bamboo stakes erected as tripods in the dark garden, and I usually try to grow some sweet peas over the frames. In the past I have grown some of the softer coloured forms, often light pinks, or peach coloured. I find these make a wonderful contrast to the darker colours. Last year I grew the creamy coloured ‘Jilly’ in honour of the Head Gardener, but I found they did not perform very well in my garden!
One plant I will not be planting in the bed again is the carnation called ‘King of the Blacks.’ I have planted it twice now, from different nurseries, and each time it has grown reasonably well, making a nice silver clump, but it stubbornly refuses to flower. It sets buds but the flowers, said to be the darkest of the Dianthus clan, refuse to open properly. I grow other pinks and carnations in the bed, so I assume it must just be the variety. I might try the black Sweet William called ‘Sootie’ instead. It has dark purple foliage as well as deepest red flowers.
I can just see it flourishing in that garden - in my mind’s eye at least!