Rowlandson would have drawn a Garden Society meeting with relish: the crowded dinner with members showing and talking about their favourite plants, the jumble of flowers and cut branches, of magnolia and rhododendron, iris and dogwood, the sheaves of leaves, the unheard-of species collected on hair-raising chinese journeys, vases being knocked over in the crush, grey-haired members heckling the speaker and his plants…
Last night’s meeting (the 2, 563rd) was extraordinary – not for its noise level but for the bareness of the table at the end of the room where the exhibits wait their turn.. Normally late March brings a rich bounty, but this year the cornucopia had run dry; twenty specimens instead of a hundred. For once, gardeners from all over the country were in the same boat: weeks late, buds unopened or flowers frosted.
Two members from Exbury had brought weather-proof rhododendrons: R. lutescens, pale yellow with red young leaves, and R. ‘Nimrod’, just the pink, I thought, of a young lady emerging from icy water.
Two members had been delighted to find Corylopsis pauciflora in flower and boasted of its (tiny) flowers. Lord Lansdowne showed the glorious Pieris formosa ‘Lansdowne Cascade’, more incipient than really cascading, Rupert Eley of The Place for Plants the hen’s-teeth rhizomatous Ypsilandra thibetica, with mops of tiny pale flowers (smelling strongly of almonds) drooping over its narrow-leaved rosettes.
Maurice Mason had brought up from Kent the first flowers of the stunning Sorbus megalocarpa, almost like yellow chrysanthemums among the red young leaves. Roy Lancaster, with a nice sense of theatre, brought his battered black vasculum, the tin box with a shoulder strap that botanists used before the invention of the plastic bag – and Roy, of course, still uses for his tramps round China.