So gardening subtlety is not my strong point. It’s the bold and the beautiful that takes my fancy outdoors – loud, dazzling colour, big, blousy flowers, overdressed foliage, sumptuous and splendid, scented and showy.
Some temperate people say it’s our climate that makes me so. I’m over-reactive in the presence of obvious glamour – hot and bothered and over-boiled. They’re referring to both my temperament and my vulgar taste in plants. There could be something in that. We generally raise a good sweat in garden labour in the heat of tropics and sub tropics , so want something “big” back for our efforts. A grand “thank you” from nature, writ large.
The sweet little spring bunches of dainty pansies, petunias, geraniums, pelargoniums, daisies and similar pretty contenders on our garden club bench competition this month paled into insignificance when I spied the magnificent Beaumontia grandiflora branch in their midst; big, brash, white blooms, its heady seductive perfume permeating the hall. I was smitten – as I generally am with a statement item.
“Notice me” it screamed. And I did – as did everyone present. You could smell it before you saw it; a pungent and voluptuous siren calling everyone to follow their nose, come and admire.
Nothing virginal and pure about this white lily-type specimen. Its huge bell-shaped flowers are dazzling and grow in clusters up to 30cm long and 15cm wide along the vine’s stem and pictures can hardly do justice to a fully grown bush in full bloom. It’s no cliche to say it’s breathtaking.
The beaumontia is an evergreen tropical shrub, originally from the Himalayas (although some in the cooler climates lose their leaves in autumn) with large dark green leaves (some can be 22cm long) with prominent veins. It’s a heavy scrambling climber, so will need strong support, or it forms a large clump like a wisteria. It likes sun and shade and generally thrives in temperatures over 30 degrees C. I love the sight of it climbing a fence or wall, spreading its gorgeous flowers to the heavens. It can grow to 10m tall, and can be invasive, so judicious pruning’s needed. This is best done after flowering to promote new wood for blooms to spring from. It can take a few years for a mature vine to come to full flower, but when it does, it’s an extended pleasure – from spring to late summer. Sometimes it flowers for the second time in autumn. As cut flowers, they are also long lasting. Mine were fresh for four days, with a daily change of vase water.
Suited mostly to warm climates, it can tolerate frosts for a short period. It produces an oblong green fruit from the end of summer. You can propagate from hardwood cuttings, using the layering method, best done in spring.
Also known as Herald’s Trumpet, that’s exactly the beaumontia’s soundtrack – a brassy announcement that a VIP is present and expects to be the centre of attention. The genus was named in honour of Mrs. Diana Beaumont (1765-1831) of Bretton Hall, Yorkshire, who was described in the Curtis Botanical Magazine Volume 7 in 1833 as “an ardent lover and munificent patroness of Horticulture”. She was a wealthy and obsessive gardener, and grew a dazzling array of plants in a huge conservatory at her home, which once stood in the grounds of what is now Leeds University. It’s said she flaunted her beauty and wealth and was a social climber par excellence.
A fitting namesake, I say.
RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL
There’s truth to the term “poetry in motion” in a garden, when you look at all the running, jumping, and climbing happening right now in mine.
The walking iris (Neomarica gracilis) are stepping out in fine form, looking a bit like a cross between an iris and an orchid (also called a poor man’s orchid). The graceful flowers don’t last long, but they continue through the spring and summer and are one of the least demanding beauties around. Because of its habit of propagating itself, the iris appears to “walk” throughout the garden as it fills the area with additional plantlets. When the new plantlet is formed at the tip of the flower stalk, it bends to the ground and takes root and the new plant repeats the process, giving the illusion of moving about as it spreads. It’s also called the fan iris for the fan-like growing characteristic of its leaves and also has been referred to as the Apostle plant because there are usually 12 leaves in a fan, and most Neomarica will not bloom until the plant has all 12.
Equally moving are the happy little violas or Johnny Jump ups, springing into life in colorful profusion. A weekly feed of liquid seaweed and regular dead-heading will keep these jumping in the sun for weeks.
And the lovely climbing Mandevilla laxa, also known as the Chilean jasmine, is lifting hearts and minds. I made the mistake of putting mine in too much sunshine, but now it’s moved to a shadier spot, it’s shooting onwards and upwards.
Hope gardening is moving for you, too.