CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW in London is the greatest thing of its kind in the world, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are enormously rich in good garden plants as well as botanical rarities, so today I will mention a few things I wanted for my own small garden.
Some of them I already have, as young plants, and not doubt that all of them are cultivated somewhere or other in America, but I do not know any sources for plants. It would be well for nurseries to get them.
First, Paeonia lutea ludlowii. This is a wild tree peony, the stems of which are rather woody and do not die down in the winter, but remain like a euonymus bare of leaves until new growth begins in March.
The regular P. lutea grows 4 1/2 feet high. The form Ludlowii grows to seven or eight feet. It is only the Ludlow formI have seen. Western China and Tibet are the habitat of P. lutea, and I think Ludlow's form comes from Nepal, though I cannot lay my hand on the proper reference at the moment.
Its flowers are single, like small saucers, perhaps four inches in diameter. They are full canary yellow and they do not dangle down, as do so many hybrid yellow tree peonies.
The leaves are three-parted and notched. If you think of a large Japanese anemone leaf the color ofbleeding heart leaves, somewhat handing because of the long leaf stalk, you will get an idea.
We all know plants that go right to the heart, we are not sure why. this peony is such plant. The flowers are indeed small, for peonies, and like most peonies they are fleeting. I do not not count on flowers for more than a week with this wild peony. And if, as is likely, there should be rains and wind for that week, there will be little to enjoy.
Even if it were widely available at nurseries, it is no plant for the gardener who wants a shrub that bloom for a month or more.
And even in full bloom in perfect weather, it is not showy in the way an azalea or a shrub rose is.
Yet it strikes me as a plant of the very highest beauty, and I cannot imagine any peony nut (of whom there are many) content to live without it. The marvelous plant I saw at Chelsea was grown by Hillier's, a leading firm for woody plants.
A much humbler creature that also raised my pressure was, of all things, the ordinary Iceland poppy. The strain I so greatly admired was 'Meadhome Strain' and these are grown from seed sown extremely shallow in August and moved (they must not be moved more than once) in October to their permanent places. They flower the next May, June and July on two-foot stems (through the ones I saw did better than that, perhaps three feet).
They make goodcut flowers if the bottom two inches of the stem is dipped in boiling water three seconds, then plunged into cold water. They are cut in bud, just before they open naturelly. The colors are soft bright yellows and clear oranges. They were raised and shown by Home Meadows Nursery, Martlesham, suffolk, England.
The 'Wakehurst' form of Forrest's pieris has bright salmon red young foliage while the thick nodding racemes of bloom (like hanging clusters of lily of the valley are still in good condition.
I do not think any plant in the world is handsomer than the ordinary Pieris japonica, but those pierises with red leaves (in the first flush of spring growth-for later they turn green) are showier, giving almost the effect of small poinsettias. I have not seen 'Wakehurst' in America, but quite similar sorts turn up sometimes at local garden centers. I noticed the one called 'Flame of the Forest' at Meadows Farms Nursery in Virginia last year.
In bitter winters like this last one, the red-leaf forms may be killed back a good bit (mine was) even under a tire canopy with azaless. These pierises might look fine with white and lavender azaleas and possibly not so good with crimsons and scarlets. Mine is supposed to grow into a large mound at the edge of some white Glenn Dale azaleas, 'Treasure,' which I prefer to all other whites, though it loss all its flower buds in a bad winter while the splendid 'Delaware Valley White' blooms normally.
I noticed that shortcoming of 'Treasure' in my former garden in Tennessee, too, but it is still the white I like best of all.
So critical a gardener as Joseph Alsop told me recently his favorite white is the Kurume variety,'Snow.' He grew his in great tall shrubs, using the knife to encourage picturesque branching and to avoid the solid pudding shape that 'Snow' normally grows in. He also expect to pick all the dead flowers off, since they turn a wretched brown and hang on for weeks. It is so serious a fault that I do not consider it a good white azalea at all, but if one can find time in May to remove the spent blooms, then anyone will admit 'Snow' is as lovely as an azalea ever needs to be.
I mention this to suggest that no plants is perfect, and it is a question of which faults you are willing to put up with.Some gardeners would never put up with 'Treasure's' losing its buds in cold winters, just as I will not put up with brown withered blooms hanging on.
Some - to hammer this in - have no patience with those pierises that are tender to cold. Some have no patience with apeony only the size of a demitasse saucer. The important things is to know the plant and its ways.
Another peony - a regular herbaceous peony this time, though a wild species - that is everywhere in Chelsea and Kew and English gardens in general is P. mlokosewitsczii. I had nothing to de with giving it that name, I take no responsibility for it.
It is an ordinary-sized single peony, 3 bit on the samll side but not so small as P.lutea or many other wild peonies, and it has quite beautiful blue-gray-green leaves. The flowers are "yellow," or, more accurately, straw color or champagne color or soft pale buff or medium cream. This plant blooms all at once for about a week. some say that there is one hour in the year when it is at its best. This year it won a First Class Certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society, the highest award given it so high a distinction because I do not see in it anything like the beauty of Ludlow's peony. Still it is a pretty, even rather beautiful, beast.
It is the source of the "yellow" in the peony, 'Clair de Lune,' another very famous peony I do not consider worthy of any great effort to aquire. It too is rather straw-colored.
Two plants of quite exceptional beauty and garden merit at Kew are worth a good bit of commotion to acquire and grow.
First, Ceanothus impressus, which was perhaps 12 feet high and 15 feet wide against a wall , bushing out for five or six feet.
It is a rather harsh (what a pity there is so little of this harshness among blue flowers) blue-violet, the effect being blue and not violet. It is a woody shrub, like the other ceanothuses of California.
Some Washington gardeners have fiddled about with several sorts of ceanothus with not much success(they tend to die in even ordinary winters) but just enough success to keep hope alive. My strong conviction is that some day there will be ceanothus all over the city, and we should experiment with every ceanothus available from California nurseries until we succeed. In any case, nothing is more beautiful or startling than a large plant of C. impressus as they grow it at Kew.
Not far away was the apple-blossom pink wild clematis, C. vedrariensis. This was 12 feet high (the height of the wall) and maybe 20 feet wide, handing like a luxurious mat of green leaves overlayered with thousands upon thousands of dollars-sized pink-flushed flowers.
It is said to be a hybrid between the white C. spooneri and the white-flushed-pink C. chrysocoma. Those are both wild clematis from Western China, introduced earlier in this century and still very rare in American gardens. Rare because nurseies are commerical ventures more interested in selling plants(good, bad or indifferent) than in promoting the most beautiful things for the garden.
These three clematis are much like the similar C. montana rubens, which is relatively popular and well-known. Any one of them is a great treasure for the garden, but my favorite of the lot is C. vedrariensis, and somebody really should do something to get it into American gardens. My own plant is distressingly small. Surely there is no reason nurserymen should not import this plant and ppropagate it. Let me remaind you that a plant can be straight out of Eden and still be largely ignored for years if the press does not beat drums for it.
This particular clematis appeared in France in 1914, and almost totally unknown in America. Clematis growers are notorious for listing varities they do not in fact have on hand to sell, but C. vedrariensis should become a regular offering