It is rather fun (and a good memory-jogger) to make Christmas lists of the discoveries of the past year: people met, music heard, pubs with good beer – and crucially of course, for gardeners, plants encountered for the first time. Then to make a pick of favourites.
My list starts with a mini Euphorbiagiven us by Annie Turner, a neighbour, last April. It has been in flower ever since – but not at all the flower you might picture. E. ‘Diamond Frost’ has tiny white bracts (where most euphorbias have green to yellow ones). the plant positively sparkles, minicking, if anything, a Gypsophila. Last year I believe it was the darling of American nurseries, a bedding or conservatory plant unlike any other. There is little commercial interest, though, in something that roots as easily as spider plant.
Perennial disccovery of the year is Thalictrum ‘Elin’. It was standing proud in July, a pale purple haze way above head height in a border at Gresgarth Hall, Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s garden near Lancaster. A plant that sustains itself in mid-air seems miraculous. Thalictrums were already my passion. I have rarely been wetter than that day, but it was impossible to stop exploring a garden with such riches.
Tree discovery of the year is harder, but I give it to a little maple with the odd name of Acer palmatum ‘Shishio Improved’. It was a beacon across Savill Garden in May, its spring leaves a unique scarlet. What was this autumnal colour doing among the magnolias? Better still, it repeats the show in November.
Nursery of theyear is easy. On a dusty August day Spinners, at Boldre in the New Forest, was heady with woodland flowers. Towering euphorbias dropped their white petals on a mauve, pink and purple tapestry of hydrangeas and Japanese anemones. In broad sunlit beds yellow clematis clambered among the yellow fruit of Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ and scarlet lobelias mingled with scarlet Schizostylis. It was here I discovered my shrub of the year, a revelation of beauty I had never expected. Peter Chappell of Spinners is inevitably one of the first nurserymen to offer a variegated Eucryphia.E.x nymansensis ‘Nymans Silver’ is a sport discovered recently at Nymans Garden in Sussex. Its serrated oval leaves are outlined in creamy white. Even four-foot high plants were full of wide, white, innocent, many-stamened flowers.
The preposterous idea of gardening a whole Norfolk broad makes my garden discovery a simple choice. Who could imagine primulas, gunneras and skunk cabbage by the acre, along miles of paths under ancient oaks? Lord Fairhaven is the answer, in the 1950s. His gardens are near South Walsham.
As for my new year resolution…