I have been reading about snowdrops in their infinite variety. There they are in white and green, (rarely a touch of gold) and all on a plant where a giant might reach 20cm. They are out there in their thousands.
The botanists have them spatchcocked:
Scape semi-erect 17cm. Outer segments 22mm. Inner segments clasping, apex not flared; sinus equilateral
Snowdrops are cult plants. There are a number of other cult plants but we tend to view them on our terms. Primula auricula forms can sit within an ‘auricula theatre’ conveniently sited at eye level. There are halls filled with Gladiolia and the heads of dahlias. If you wish to see snowdrops you really need the great outside. Sited pretty much at ground level and flowering when the ground is either frozen or sodden and unsuited to ‘lying down on’ they are a marketing miracle. Look what has to be overcome:
- They are small, of limited colours, have major design constraints, are absent for three quarters of the year.
Will we be tempted to meddle? In future could we peer up into a giant snowdrop? Will there be ‘colour breaks’ not the blue rose but the black snowdrop? Should we give them names that reflect our environment: Macadam black / Misted Neon / Polished Concrete / Hot Lips?
Or will we remain content to let snowdrops take us into their world? The world of dead leaves, bare branches, faded grass, lichen-rich gravestones and a biting wind. With, at best, the pale blue of a winter’s sky and lucid sunlight.
Next year there will be snowdrop pilgrimages to country churchyards or manor houses. You can see the glint of parked cars that line the lanes from a distance, with people wrapped up and trekking to see them. And what you see are endless clumps of white flowers with their heads bent. Perfect in the smooth whiteness of their skin; the exquisite lines of their petals. If you remove your gloves, fumbling as the cold bites, stoop, and, with gross fingers tilt the bowed head you see the mystery within.
There is such sweetness in the world.
Susan A. Tindall
I walk in the garden after rain to relish the sense of ease in the release from drought. The plants have all had enough to drink and the whole garden feels relaxed. The foliage of Hakonachloa had its sides curved upwards and looked narrow and strained; now, the leaves have flattened and the plant has regained its customary luxuriant appearance. Plants that had limp, dangling leaves look comfortable and turgid. Getting the feel of plants that are sated with water makes it easier to observe and detect those that are in dire need of a drink after a prolonged dry period. It helps to limit the amount that one needs to water them.
Admire the detail of water drops that remain on the foliage, the classic example being the tear-like pearls on Alchemilla mollis leaves. The potted Alstroemeria looks pretty as well since its flowers are unharmed by rain. The fronds of my new fern are delicately spangled with water whilst roses can just appear sodden. Are plants in party mode when they have drunk to excess? Do oak trees indulge in the occasional Cuban cigar? Are chocolates passed round the herbaceous borders? Do the mints indulge in peppermints?
That amazing book ‘What a Plant Knows’ by Daniel Chamovitz (eat a green salad before you read it, you may never want to touch vegetables again) indicates that plants don’t like being touched. A prelude to being eaten I suppose. When one wanders within the romance of fragrance, and squeezes leaves to release the aromatic scents the plants are probably screaming ‘Go Away! Carnivore!’.
Susan A. Tindall
I often spend time in a friend’s garden and watch the movement of light. This garden is designed for light. It slopes gently upwards and there are large ash trees to the rear and on the left-hand side. Even on a sunny day the plants in the garden move continually between shade and light as the sun passes across the sky. The view is a stage set and is centred on a superb specimen of Stipa gigantea with support from other grasses. The passage of light lifts the plants into sparkling relief. The sun moves, and the plants are flattened and diminished. The effect of light is almost hypnotic, the colours so intense, the whole, so ephemeral. It appears slightly different each time the light plays.
I have watched sunsets in Utah where there is big drama in the movement of light on mountains. Even on the scale of a small domestic garden the movement of light is a significant event.
Everyone goes for scent but the choice of plants for their effect when seen against sunlight is a bigger hit than fragrance for me. Stipa gigantea has seed-heads that spangle and shift endlessly. However still the air, when caught by light they burn golden and shimmer in continual movement. In this garden the leaves of the ash trees provide fascinating patterns as they dance in the air.
In my garden I look for the glow of bare–stemmed dogwoods during winter. In the morning my giant Cotinus has leaves that glow in the morning light, but the colour becomes flat and cowpat-toned in the full sunshine of summer.
In order to achieve the best light effects, the plants must be separated from the complexity of foliage. The light has to work on plants that are observed as simple silhouettes. Careful planning is clearly needed, especially in my busy garden.
Susan A. Tindall