Friends are too kind to say anything, but I do sometimes sense a touch of disappointment when they look in my greenhouse, ‘Grandpa’s Shed’. My pelargoniums, they hint, should be blazing away in unison – or discord, rather: Voodoo and Rocky Mountain Orange can hardly be said to harmonize. Instead I have a forest of green leaves, some lovely smells, but only a scattering of flowers.
I love flowers – but as individuals. I can focus much better on plants and their flowers as individuals or as small groups than on a brilliant mass. And for that matter it’s not only in the greenhouse: leaf-greens are the theme of this whole garden, with the plants that are celebrating their flowering season standing out as eye-catchers. Now it’s Clematis viticella, unruly outbursts of purple, white and crimson scrambling up whatever plant they meet. A few plants have been planned to harmonise or contrast with their neighbours; some (the neighbour’s roses, for example) are unplanned intrusions, others – like the wisteria and magnolia now taking a curtain call – are nice surprises. Call me a cottage gardener. Massed colours in formal herbaceous borders usually leave me underwhelmed. I admire their technical skills, but do they celebrate the beauty of flowers or is it just the excitement of the colour spectrum? The prairie look so successfully promoted by Piet Oudolf, where mauve and brown daisies form islands in the waving grasses, leaves me longing for green – but most of all for structure, roses, hedges, arches, and all the unfashionable apparatus of yesterday’s gardens.