Weary Plants Bounce Back
After such a long drought, it’s been so soothing and peaceful to hear rain falling in the night. Our vintage mobile home has new insulation and a new roof, but even so, that roof isn’t very far away and when it rains hard, the pounding can wake me up. Happily, the softer rain song is the best lullaby I know, calling me into a calm, meditative state of gratitude as I drift into sleep. It’s pretty sweet to listen to birds singing in the rain in the daytime too, and it feels wonderful to go outside and breathe as deeply as possible, filling my smoke-sore lungs with that crisp, fresh autumn air. As I tidy up the sloppiest beds, I clip a little rosemary to simmer in a big pot of water, inhaling the fragrant steam and feeling both my breath and that persistent, low level headache ease. Apparently millions of us have some residual effects from covid, even months later, and I’m again grateful that I’m gradually coming back to my accustomed level of energy and wellbeing. Ok, more or less, but still.
Though national clocks fell back yesterday, the plants in my neighborhood bounced back, looking amazingly refreshed after the hot, dry summer. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of autumn foliage color, given the dryness of the summer, and indeed, the show is not the best ever. Even so, many Japanese maples are blazing, and birches are looking like golden waterfalls. Even my kale is gorgeous, with purple tones awakening in the silvery grey blue leaves. One plant rises against a backdrop of hydrangeas that take on tints of burgundy and rose and purple as they fade, making a marvelously subfusc tapestry (and now I want to knit a sweater in those colors).
Tiger Tiger Burning Bright
Nearby, a clump Euphorbia characias Tasmanian Tiger stands boldly against gilded strands of Pheasant Tail Grass (Anemanthele lessoniana), one of my favorite border grasses. I love the brilliance of its autumn coloring, but I also love the misty scrim of the seed-bearing stems which pour in soft bronze and russet arches and catch every shimmering raindrop after a shower. Some euphorbias age poorly, looking lovely as youngsters but quickly getting woody and ratty with maturity. This Tiger stays bright and trim for years, as long as you trim off the spent bloom stalks. A lovely cousin, Ascot Rainbow, also holds its looks quite well over time, building into quite large plants. Admittedly, it does have a tendency to falter just as you start counting on it to anchor a corner of a vignette, but getting maybe five good years from it is worth the eventual loss.
The Tiger’s name always reminds me of a trip I made years ago, when I was in England visiting gardens and gardeners for a PBS series called Great Gardens Of The World. It was a truly amazing experience filled with memorable moments, one of which happened when I was staying at Tintinhull House as a guest of Penelope Hobhouse (true story!). One day, Penny (she told me to call her that, serisouly) invited a bunch of garden writers over for tea, including Christopher Lloyd, Fergus Garrett, John Brookes, and quite a few others. While we strolled in the garden, a lively conversation (aka contentious argument) arose concerning Euphorbia characias. Several people from the National Trust felt that plant shouldn’t be there, as it was introduced to English gardens after Phyllis Reiss, the garden creator, had died (at that time, National Trust garden were supposed to remain as close to the way their creators had made them as possible).
The Myth Of The All Knowing
While the argument raged, I was fascinated to notice that each person pronounced ‘characias’ differently, and none of them acknowledged anyone else’s pronunciation. It was a great moment for me, because back then, so many American gardeners struggled to figure out whether a plant name was Greek or Latin or Aramaic or whatever and how on earth it should be pronounced. We humbly assumed that those erudite Brits knew all about everything horticultural and realizing that they didn’t know how to say the name either was delightful(!). May the gentle rain refresh your spirit and your gardens!