Brief en­counter

Some flow­ers are so ephemeral that it al­most hurts to see their breath­tak­ing blooms, writes MICHAEL McCOY

Gardening Australia - - THE BIG PICTURE -

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 the­gar­

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