The Warm Spectrum

Just as I was going to re-start my sun-bathing routine – abandoned 2 decades ago – the sky changed from blue to grey, and the temperature dropped from pleasant to “I think I’d better put some socks on”.

Alstroemeria aurea

Even South America, the warmest part of the garden, has cooled down considerably. At present, the planting there consists primarily of trees and shrubs. Two Solanum tuberosum cultivars, the early ‘Duke of York’ and the late salad potato ‘Pink Fir Apple’ have found a seasonal and appropriate home, and three young plants of the “Scottish flame flower”, Tropaeoleum speciosum, have held their own in the face of drought and slug-attacks.

I’ve also planted a form of the “Peruvian lily”, which came to me from Michael Wickenden. The writing on the label has long since been washed off, but I believe it to be Alstroemeria aurea ‘Cally Apricot’.

The species was one of the first inhabitants of my garden, established in 1977 and removed two decades later. During twenty years it had galloped through all the shaded beds in the Kitchen Garden, and when it started pushing shoots through the paved paths and into the raised beds opposite I took out my fork.

There was a plan to replant at least some of the tubers somewhere else, a safe place where the plant could romp to its heart’s content, but they were never realised.

When I first made the acquaintance of the “golden lily of the Incas” it was known as Alstroemeria aurantiaca and when its replacement, naturalised in a meadow, started to flower two years ago, I was wondering if it was a different species, as its flowers are a rich maize yellow, rather than the definite orange of its predecessor.

Papaver rupifragum plenum

They’re one and the same of course, and it comes as no surprise that a plant with such a wide distribution in the wild (Chile and Argentina) also has a wide chromatic range.

It is a floppy old thing, and even when supported by tall grasses, needs staking. It makes a wonderful sunny splash, especially when grown in shade, and I value it as a cut flower. It lasts for ages in a vase, provided its thirst is quenched on a daily basis.

Sedum reflexum

The genus has about 50 species and there are countless hybrids and cultivars, but to date I’ve only drawn blanks with any of the others. Grown in pots, their fleshy rhizomes froze to the pulp; grown in the open, winter wet or those pesky little black subterranean slugs got the better of them.

Yellow, orange and red  – the warm spectrum of the colour wheel – bring sunshine into the garden, even on a cloudy day. Sedum reflexum is a sprawling mat of yellow stars, and Papaver rupifragum plenum carries tissue-paper-thin double apricot flowers on long, wiry stems. Geum ‘Mrs. Bradshaw’ shines in the Long Border, and a mysterious red double potentilla smoulders in South Africa. I can’t recall planting it and it bears no resemblance to any of the other potentilla cultivars in the garden.

'South Africa' potentilla

Primula florindae

Now the candelabra primulas are going over, their cousin, vanilla-scented Primula florindae has started its long season. Primrose yellow predominates, but apricot, orange, and the occasional zingy red also get a look-in.

Telekia speciosa is one of the most stately plants in my garden – it would have been called “architectural” when that term was in vogue – and looks good from the moment the long, heart-shaped leaves form a large overlapping clump to the moment I cut down the dark-stemmed silver skeletons. Overlap is the operative word for this plant, as the overlapping sharply-pointed calyx segments are a feature by themselves, long before the fine-rayed yellow “daisies” start to unfurl anti-clock-wise.

Telekia speciosa

Admiring them the other day pricked my conscience.

When had I last seen the flowers of Inula magnifica, indeed the most magnificent of yellow daisies? It was still there, but a sad shadow of its former self. Its once bright and airy home, now overhung by horizontal branches of sycamore, wych elm and shore pine, had become a place of gloom.

Its buds, just three – well above head height – were still tightly closed and the flowers would’ve gone unnoticed without some timely intervention. A clear case for getting out the pruning saw, a tool whose mere mention strikes terror into my husband’s heart.

Telekia speciosa bud

I love the garden’s shady places, the north-facing Kitchen Border, the ferny-green Round Garden, but in the West Border of the Backyard, where the magnificent Inula resides, the canopy of trees, originally planted for shelter, has now all but closed, leaving the ground flora to struggle.

Ideally I would like to remove all the trees, apart from a double-row of willows (in need of pollarding) to provide protection from the elements, but know I won’t get away with it. 

Darling I must protest. Only a few blogs ago, you were waxing lyrically about being married to a man with a chainsaw. Now you declare that he runs away from a small hand tool, when in fact he readily and bravely – some would say foolhardily – took up arms and risked life and two fingers to prune some sun-obscuring sycamore branches only a week or so ago.

Is this fair I ask you, or does poetic licence hold sway over mortal weakness?

I say let the Inula thrive: the forest shall retreat!


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