Some flowers are so ephemeral that it almost hurts to see their breathtaking blooms, writes MICHAEL McCOY
Four or five years ago, I buried some joy in the form of species tulip bulbs, and it’s this month that all that anticipation, all that expectation, all that subterranean, smiling history explodes into its floral manifestation.
I love big, blousy hybrid tulips. How could I not? But nothing makes my heart skip a beat like these species tulips. They are a lot smaller, finer and more elegant than their muscular hybrid cousins, but it’s this fragility that adds poignancy to the pleasure of their flowering. It’s a quality that’s underrated in this era of foolproof, low-maintenance gardening.
Thankfully, some plants turn fragility into a superpower, and several of them peak about now. Poppies, for instance, achieve their exceptional delicacy in the crushed transparency of their petals. Their transformation from bud to bloom is more like that of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Even in full bloom, you can usually detect the residual creases from when they were all screwed up inside the bud.
With species such as Iceland poppies or ladybird poppies, the stems are strong and wiry, but follow a slightly wobbly and uncertain line. I can’t work out what’s quite so endearing about these characteristics of apparent vulnerability. I’m betting you know what I mean, and that you’re wishing you’d planted some. I wish I had.
And then there’s Paeonia mlokosewitschii. Its name is so nearly impossible to say that it’s affectionately and deliberately mispronounced as ‘Molly the witch’. I raised my one, single plant from seed retrieved from a fire heap at Great Dixter in Sussex, England, 25 years ago – back when you could bring seed into Australia without multiple attendant forms.
In flower it’s like a giant and highly refined lemon-coloured poppy, with petals of such crushed delicacy that it makes you ache to look at it. It lasts in flower for only a couple of slightly painful days – days you know you don’t really have the capacity to eke every moment of joy out of, but you do your best anyway, year after year. What’s worse is the flowers don’t visibly age. They just shatter, without warning.
I don’t want a garden full of such painful poignancies, but my gardening life would be so much poorer without one or two. Michael blogs at thegardenist.com.au