I HAVE NO illusion that any of the new things will actually live, but it has kept me out of mischief for a while to plant them.
A plant I long wanted is the yellow tree peony, Ludlow's form (Plutea ludlowii), and it arrived in December looking very like a parsnip.
The Chinese tree peonies are very fine but they tend to die back, often, and they are scraggly in appearance. They like shelter, on the other hand, they do not care for three branches dripping over them, and they can touchy about early-morning thaws, so it is just as well not to face them east.
One of the wild ones is P. lutea, the parent of such yellow tree peonies as 'Argosy,' and it has good foliage, but a great trouble with it is the blooms are fleeting, not very plentiful, and not especially showy. Apart from that, I am told it's fine.
Well, Ludlow's variety is a bit more vigorous, a trifle showier, the blooms do not hang down, and there are more of them. What a commotion it caused when it was introduced a few years ago.
But alas. It turned out any fool could grow it, which is two strikes against any new or rare plant, because it upsets a gardener to make a great project of acquiring something that anybody at all can grow perfectly. And I have noticed, in English references to, this plant, that it is not such a treasure as formerly. Once the excitement has worn off, gardeners here and there confess it is not very showy, after all, and takes an awful lot of room and is not really worth it.
Be that as it may, I broke my back to acquire it, and there is sits in the cold ground (December is not the ideal month to plant peonies, October is) with nothing but root like a parsnip and a bare twig sticking out the top.
Another treasure is "Sir Trevor Lawrence,' a carmine, small, urn-flowered (like thimbles, rather) hybrid of the wild red C. texensis and the old purple "Star of India."
I am not very sanguine about it, either.
At my place the wild (and poisonous) nightshade vine, the one with little starry violet blooms and red berries later, grows like a weed. It is a weed, of course. Even if you treat it as an ornamental (and it is not without interest, along the city's alleys) it behaves like a weed.
Very well, I thought Solanum crispum, with lavender-blue flowers in larger clusters, might grow equally well, so I got it.
It is said to be rather tender, so I have it in a pot for the winter. My Energetic Friend, the one that gets everything accomplished in her garden, got not only this tender vine, but went one better and got Solanum jasminoides album, which is supposed to be a greenhouse plant with us. I think it would be wonderful if she managed it outdoors, but am not optimistic.
How many plants, I wonder, owe, their reputation to some celebrated photograph. Solanum crispum was illustrated in 1914 in E. Augustus Bowles' book about his spring garden, and I suspect many who fell in love with it (it is the variety 'Glasnevin') simply never got over that picture.
Anyway, it does not look as if it intends to stay long with me.
Anything that looks like a yucca, an aloe or an agave or a cordyline, catches my eye. For years I have wanted a phormium, the New Zealand flax.
After endless longing, my Energetic Friend got the necessary forms and went through the customary anxieties and we imported it from England. The grower there did not want to send us plants - the packing is tedious, and the roots have to be scrubbed bare, and many or most of the plants die (they are examined by the Department of Agriculture, the permits checked, etc), and the customers is unhappy. So, of course, it is a great nuisance to the foreign grower, but he agreed to make this one shipment.
The phormium, which is said to be rather tender to cold, looks like a yucca - only the tips of the leaves are rounded. The one I got has wine-purple leaves and rejoices in the name of P. tenax alpinum purpureum.
It is sulking in a pot at the moment.
There are a few other things, too, but it is expecting a lot of a plant to scrub its roots bare, ship it across the sea and plant it in a new home just as the worst weather of the year begins.
What amuses me most, in my goings-on about the new plants, is that my counterpart amateurs in England are fidgeting how to get Albizzia julibrissin (the weedy pink mimosa tree that is such a seeding pest all down the East Coast with us) or Clematis paniculata (the unstoppable Japanese white clematis that graces our alleys around Labor Day) and the crape myrtle and the dogwood to do well in their islands.
At least in those islands they can buy the plans, since their nurseries are much better than ours in the richness of variety, but several things we weed out do not get enough heat with them, and are therefore not often seen in good shape.
Sometimes I grow impatient - it takes most woody plants five or 10 years to look like much - and delude myself into thinking what a joy it will be when the garden finally takes on its proper look.
But then, as I well know, the anxiety will consist of chopping out wonderful plants that need to be replaced.