beauty in the wreckage


Two weeks into winter and the flower party is mostly over. But if you look carefully there are some small moments of quiet beauty. This is one of the last blooms on the ‘evelyn’ rose under the living room window, speckled with raindrops and looking pinker than the apricot blooms of summer – cold weather intensifies the red pigment in the petals. I can’t wait to see it in flower with the dark red clematis I have planted to scramble through it next summer.


These are the flower skeletons of hydrangea arborescens ‘annabelle’. This wild hydrangea with its soft pale green heart shaped leaves is to my mind infinitely more elegant than the more ubiquitous macrophylla hydrangeas with their synthetic looking shiny ribbed leaves. The seed heads are stunning in winter and I leave them standing till spring.


Sanguisorba officinalis ‘arnhem’ is a highly photogenic plant, even as it collapses in late autumn and sprawls all over its neighbours. It’s my fault actually because I am so crap at remembering to stake things. I also grow the more diminutive cultivar ‘tanna’, which makes a good edging plant for the front of a border and is probably a smarter choice for an inept staker like me. It flowers earlier than arnhem and is consequently reduced to a not very photogenic mass of blackened twigs sooner, which is why it didn’t make it into this post.


Cosmos atrosanguineus is still flowering in the front garden. This is just such an excellent plant to grow. In my garden it has kept on flowering without stopping for the last 6 months. The plants form neat mounds of foliage that don’t get tall enough to loll about untidily. You really need to grow it near a path where you can smell its velvety chocolate scented flowers.


The row of pelargonium sidoides lining the path in the front garden has had a long season too. You can’t see its small scented crinkly grey leaves in this picture but they are also part of its charm.


But if I had to pick a winner in the longest flowering competition it would definitely be the ‘mutabilis’ rose. I don’t think it actually paused in its flowering for even one week last winter. It is at once an exceptionally beautiful rose and an understated one. The fine dark stems and reddish leaves are highly ornamental on their own. Delicate single flowers open pale apricot and darken to a deep raspberry colour before falling. And their perfume is quite simply the most delicious thing I’ve ever smelled – it’s a very green, herbaceous, peppery sort of smell and not particularly rose-like. If I could bottle it and carry it with me wherever I went I would.