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Gardening: I'm in the pink

Pursuits | By ​David Wheeler | December Issue

Moptop: Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Dalian’

Aptly named ‘Purple Heart’, this plum-stemmed hosta has glossy green leaves richly infused with purple-red markings. Nobly upright, it reputedly enjoys some slug resistance – a trait surely applauded by every hosta fancier in the land. It’s new to me, found among a small treasury of covetable plants at Newent Garden Centre, on the Ledbury-to-Hereford road.

I grow but a small handful of hostas. I like them, but slugs and snails like them even more. I abhor their battlefield appearance after the slimies have moved in and I won’t use slug pellets for fear of poisoning garden birds and increasingly elusive hedgehogs. Purple Heart now resides in a tall terracotta pot (further emphasising its plume-like demeanour) in a shady corner of the courtyard where, come the new growing season, none but the most determined of gastropod molluscs will breach its defences.

That hosta’s discovery caused me to ponder more desirable ‘new’ plants to have come my way this year. Another, David Austin’s white-flowering ‘Winchester Cathedral’, has been around since 1984, but only this year did I plant one among trees and shrubs in our woodland garden’s sunny spot. Like so many of Mr A’s enchanting breed of English Roses it is fragrant, flowering generously throughout the summer into early autumn. Greater-perfumed, deep merlot-crimson ‘Munstead Wood’ comes from the same stable and is establishing itself nicely close by.

Of the many ornamental grasses seen in their prime on an autumn trip to the Netherlands I was introduced to the new-to-everyone Panicum virgatum ‘Oxblood Autumn’. From Frans Geijsels at In Goede Aarde (The Good Earth), a private garden and nursery of sumptuous perennials north of Ghent, this non-invasive switchgrass – available to British gardeners within a season or two – flaunts ruby to dried-blood blades that stood proudly in Frans’s garden among a miscellany of other grasses and such late-season show-offs as steely-looking eryngiums, perovskia, achilleas, heleniums, prairie-dwelling golden rods and smoky-blue asters and many additional oh-I-so-want-them plants.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Dalian’ is a find made at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset, where alkaline soil profits pink and red hortensias. Part of a trial for the Royal Horticultural Society, this outstanding mophead seems destined for great fame. Sturdy in all its parts, the large globular trusses are long-lasting, robust and seemingly impervious to bad weather. I’m hoping to grow it next year on my acidic and aluminium-rich soil where I suspect the flower colour will deepen from pillar-box red to a magnificent Vatican purple.

Ironwoods hail from northern Iran and the Caucasus. Represented in many British gardens since the 1840s by the single species, Parrotia persica, it has failed to impress gardeners on small plots because of its wide-spreading habit. Nevertheless, this tree’s outstanding autumn hues – a melange of red, yellow, orange, bronze – puts it in my arboreal top ten. In 1975 came the slimmed-down upright version, ‘Vanessa’; now comes super-slim ‘Persian Spire’, doubling in my garden as an unlikely gnomon.

I can only speculate about my last choice. Tulipa ‘Paul Scherer’, said to out-black the ever popular ‘Queen of Night’, has flowers that are possibly the darkest in all nature. We’ll see. I’ve tucked the bulbs up in a pot alongside said Q of N and another shadowy fellow, ‘Black Hero’, enlivening them with some complementary and arresting magenta oozing from three other classy tulips: ‘Burgundy’, ‘Passionale’ and bicoloured ‘Muvota’. Watch this space.

This story was from December Issue issue. Subscribe Now