Happy Chance Posted on September 4, 2009

It is tempting to take credit for the happy accidents of gardening, to pretend that you planned a chromatic chord due solely to the almighty or (as is happening just now) the look of airy intricacy in borders buffeted by the wind.

It takes a lot to reconcile me to wind in the garden. Out in the fields I love to watch the straining grass-heads and the tossing trees. A line of Browning’s came to me just now as I climbed from the sheltered streamside out on to what passes in Essex for downland: ‘an everlasting wash of air’. Browning was in the Roman campagna where the grasses and rushes wave mile after level mile.

The border looks airy partly because I have taken the shears to tired plants with more resolution than usual, hoping for a second coming of delphiniums, thalictrums, campanulas, geraniums, valerian, even phlox. September flowers, as a result, are clear of clutter. My favourite of the moment is a clump of Francoa ’Bridal Wreath’, its white wands of flowers rising from its solid saxifrage basal clumps. Last winter nearly put paid to it; it struggled in spring, and as a result is late enough in flower to mingle with the lovely bright blue Salvia ‘Guanajato’ that is just getting into its stride. Is my Francoa sonchifolia, the default species in Graham Thomas? I think not: the flowers are pure white with none of the red spots G.S.T. mentions. Almost certainly F. ramosa.

Margaret Waterfield (am I her last fan?) in her book Flower Grouping in English, Scotch & Irish Gardens (no publisher would call a book that today) painted a group of F. ramosa with Dierama (then Sparaxis) pulcherrinia, an image that haunts me with its beauty, but I have never achieved. She says, surprisingly, that the Francoa is hardier than the Sparaxis. Watercolours like hers (the book was published in 1907, by J.M. Dent) are an almost-forgotten treasure, conveying airy intricacy, or any other happy effect, more precisely and evocatively than photography has ever done.

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