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The Passionate Plantsman 21st March 2017

Evocation Of Memory

Evocation Of Memory

A familiar scent is well known to be our most powerful reminder of past. As it dances in the air, the smell of a loved one’s perfume, or favourite food, might well transport you back in your life to a happy time.

In my experience, the same can be said (horticulturally speaking) of a ‘moment’. A moment is a highly underrated thing nowadays. Our preference for plants, quite understandably, tends towards those capable of being all singing, all dancing for as close to 12 months of the year as possible. And why not? Why should we deny ourselves delight throughout the year. Hard to argue with. There is, however, a lot to be said for something magical that may only last a fleeting moment.  

As my years of horticultural experience have increased, I’ve looked more and more for these moments. Things that bring great delight, though may only last a day or two. Things like the blood red foliage of some Paeony varieties first breaking the earth in spring, or the one or two perfect autumn days when Acer campestre foliage glows a butter-yellow are to be sought out each year to appreciate. A particular favourite moment of mine is when the diminutive Hacquetia epipactis pops through the ground with a little green Elizabethan Ruff of bracts surrounding and miniscule yellow flower cluster as the cold subsides in late winter/early spring. As quickly as it arrives, it disappears again underground to return the following year. A proper moment!

Early last week, I was reminded of what I believe to be my first horticultural moment, something, which I experience every year in the beginning of March and then completely forget about until timing and weather come together to relive this moment the following year. Driving home after visiting a garden designer client, the sun shining and the first real warmth in the air of the year so far. As I turned a corner near home, I was struck by the vibrancy and luminescence of a purple Heather (Erica carnea) basking in the sunlight. Instantly I was taken back to my first job as a young teenager working in a garden centre. For full disclosure, I am Scottish and this was in Scotland, where Heather does tend to be a little more popular than in other parts of the UK. It was also, 25 years ago, but we’ll pretend that bit isn’t true. I’ve never really been that big a fan of Heathers as garden plants; that is not to say I don’t like them, but that I struggle to find a place for them. Other than Tree Heathers like Erica lusitanica ‘Great Star’, or E. arborea var. alpina, I find they are difficult to associate with most plants other than conifers, which adorned many a 1970’s garden. Their use has declined across the UK since this period and although they wouldn’t be described as rare, larger planted areas of heathers are definitely much less common in gardens than they once were.  

Perhaps they are due a revival?

Increasingly, I have realised that I really quite like the purity of colour and light reflectivity of their flowers (as image above) and when I see them in the sun in early March flowering with thousands of tiny flowers I am reminded of first learning about plants in Crail Garden Centre all those years ago. The garden centre is no longer open, but memories of being fascinated by the detail of their flowers and that they rattle when shaken still lives with me to this day. The true beauty of the tiny tulip-shaped flowers (image below), often with conspicuous dark purple stamens is generally lost as people appreciate the plant as a whole, rather than in detail. While I’m not suggesting that they are a plant for everyone, I think they are definitely due a second look - even if only for a moment each year.

Passionate Plantsman

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