Absence, as the late, great Christo Lloyd so rightly said, does indeed make the weeds grow faster, and the garden, already neglected for a week before my departure, looked decidedly shabby on my return from my parallel universe. The lawn was in dire need of a cut, and South America had been taken over by carpets of bittercress, hell-bent on shedding their seeds. The path margins, peppered with willow herb seedlings, looked scruffy, and the long grasses flanking the drive, had turned sodden and matted while my back was turned.

Oriental poppies on the lime bed

Late July is always a crucial time in the ornamental garden, but more so this year, as there’s a special charity opening looming. I’d like everything to be ship-shape and looking colourful at the same time, which presents dilemmas. To rejuvenate those horned violets, still in full but increasingly shabby bloom, or to allow them to continue in their blue sprawls? To shear back the clove pinks to resemble green-grey hedgehogs, or to let them open their handful of buds?  To pull up those self-sown Oriental poppies in the lime bed, or to allow them to ripen their seeds? 

Most perch precariously on the lime bed, attempting to smother their tiny alpine neighbours, but they were so beautiful in flower, that I didn’t have the heart to curtail their growing cycle.

too beautiful to curtail

My parallel universe is Edinburgh, and my second home is the flat of my dear friend Lily, “the supreme illustrator”. My stays there are always wonderful, but on this occasion there was additional joy. My goddaughter, one of the most beautiful young women I know, is preparing for her wedding in September, and we spent a most pleasurable evening discussing the details of this important event in her life.

I can’t recall much planning for my own wedding in 1979; friends and kind neighbours took care of it all. My parents came to Shetland for the first time and my mother was particularly taken with my “cauliflower tree”, Olearia x haastii, in full flower. It was an old shrub, growing in the form of a multi-stemmed miniature tree, blown down during the dreadful New Year’s Eve gale of 1991.

White flowering shrubs lend a bridal air to the garden just now. Olearia macrodonta, the New Zealand holly starts off the season in early July with its huge heads of little honey-scented daisies, followed two weeks later by the starry clusters of O. avicennifolia.

Olearia avicennifolia in background

White is the dominant colour of the New Zealand flora, and one of the most beautiful large shrubs, or small trees is the deciduous Hoheria glabrata. It is an extraordinary plant in more than one respect. Cuttings taken at almost any time of year strike with ease. It rejuvenates rapidly following a hard pruning, even if cut back to stumps. Its young wood and petioles are a dark maroon colour and its juvenile, tripartite leaves are handsomely lobed. 

In early July, clusters of tiny cream seed pearls appear in the leaf axils and expand into white blossom over the next three weeks. The individual saucer-shaped flowers have five overlapping petals of the purest white imaginable, accentuated by a central cluster of maroon styles, tipped with glistening white stigma. As soon as the petals are shed, the ground below the Hoheria is white with strewing flowers. A shrub fit for a wedding if ever there was one. If that weren’t beauty enough, the leaves take on striking buttery tints before falling.

Hebe salicifolia

The long, sometimes drooping spikes of Hebe salicifolia sometimes have a faint blue flush in the bud, before turning pure white, set off by glossy green foliage. It is one of the hardiest hebes I know.

Plants from other parts of the globe also add to the garden’s bridal air. Philadelphus x lemoinei is smothered in sweet-scented cream, blossom and is arguably the most reliable mock orange for Shetland gardens.  

One is planted next to the swing in the Back Yard, where I also planted a Davidia involucrata many years ago, and forgot all about it until earlier this summer, when I cleared the surrounding jungle and found it not only still alive, but reaching for the sky. Who knows, one of these days it might present me with flowers and those delectable large white bracts.

Philadelphus x lemoinei

Last, but by no means least, I must mention the common elder, too well known to merit description; it carries one of my favourite flowers. The subtle scent on a sunny day is out of this world.

Two weddings in one year – how fabulous, and that yurt bridal chamber mentioned last week was the epitome of luxury compared to mine all those years ago: a mattress on the floor in a loft with creaking floorboards, sheltered – only just – by a badly leaking tarred felt roof.

A friend of mine suggested a renewal of vowels for my husband and myself, but I am of the firm belief they – after thirty odd years –  still sound pretty good .

Hoheria glabrata

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