Oh, for the honeyed scents of late sum­mer

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

T’S a big mis­take to grow ten­der plants in an ex­pen­sively heated glasshouse. Many years ago, I had a craze for Bud­dle­jas. It wasn’t so much the pop­u­lar B. da­vidii cul­ti­vars that I col­lected greed­ily—lovely and use­ful though they are—but other species and hy­brids that seemed un­usual and un­der­esteemed. Most were half-hardy, so I grew them in a spa­cious glasshouse al­most as large as my house. B. colvilei Kewen­sis was one of the best; its flow­ers were the size of a weigela’s and rich crim­son in colour.

Then there were the two win­ter­flow­er­ing beau­ties, grace­ful B. asi­at­ica with pure-white, pen­du­lous spikes and or­ange B. mada­gas­carien­sis, which I so ad­mired in Riviera gar­dens, plus a hy­brid be­tween them called Mar­garet Pike. Ac­tu­ally, it wasn’t as a good plant as ei­ther of its par­ents, but its flow­ers opened creamy-white and turned to or­ange as they aged.

B. au­ric­u­lata had rather in­signif­i­cant cream-coloured flow­ers, but their scent in Novem­ber was won­der­ful. B. of­fic­i­nalis was also scented, but had rather larger, mauve flow­ers in late win­ter. And how I longed to grow the B. tubi­flora whose long or­ange flow­ers I ad­mired in a glasshouse at Wis­ley; many good plants were near-im­pos­si­ble to source be­fore the an­nual Plant Finder (Dor­ling Kin­der­s­ley) got un­der way in 1988.

The fra­grance that all the best bud­dle­jas ex­hale is strong,

Isweet and honeyed. On a mild Jan­uary day, the first in­dus­tri­ous bum­ble­bees of the year would find their way into my glasshouse, busy them­selves with pollen and nec­tar, then for­get how to get out again. How­ever, one win­ter —an ex­cep­tion­ally cold one when I was away in Tener­ife—there was a bliz­zard, a power cut and a fail­ure to reignite the heat­ing. I re­turned to a cold house and a col­lec­tion of dead bud­dle­jas (and much else, too). I vowed never to have a heated glasshouse again; ac­tu­ally, I should have vowed never to run away when cold weather threat­ened.

Bud­dle­jas are a ‘must’ for our new gar­den in the Itchen val­ley. I’ve brought B. lor­i­cata from our last gar­den—it came from Jamie Compton, who col­lected it in the Drak­ens­berg. B. japon­ica has also come with us, largely be­cause it’s now rather rare. Its long tubu­lar flow­ers, grey out­side and pur­ple within, were a great favourite un­til I dis­cov­ered B. lind­leyana, which is a much bet­ter plant and suck­ers around agree­ably, so that you al­ways have pieces you can give away. Its only weak­ness is a ten­dency to let its leaves turn yel­low and drop off just as it comes into flower.

My daugh­ter Camilla had a row of B. al­terni­fo­lia grown as great weep­ing stan­dards, 15ft tall, in her chalky north Hamp­shire gar­den and I fancy them as a short av­enue, sup­port­ing spring-flow­er­ing Clema­tis macropetala and late-sum­mer Clema­tis viti­cella cul­ti­vars to ex­tend the sea­son of flower and show off their own beauty against the grey leaves of the bud­dle­jas.

It’s worth look­ing again at B. da­vidii, whose seedlings flour­ish in the most mis­er­able sites, such as rail­way sid­ings and mo­tor­way em­bank­ments. They also love our chalk soil. The Long­stock nurs­ery at Leck­ford in Hamp­shire has ac­quired a Na­tional Col­lec­tion and bred some won­der­ful new cul­ti­vars.

How­ever, the mem­ory of those ten­der species in the days of my youth has be­gun to un­der­mine my good sense. One of my plans, all those years ago, was to cross them with sum­mer-flow­er­ing bud­dle­jas in the hope of com­bin­ing the best at­tributes of each. Imag­ine win­ter-flow­er­ing hy­brids with all the har­di­ness of B. al­terni­fo­lia or B. da­vidii hy­brids car­ry­ing or­ange spikes like B. tubi­flora. And imag­ine putting the large flow­ers and crim­son colour­ing of Kewen­sis into bud­dle­jas of any kind.

As a re­sult, I’m think­ing of start­ing once again, plant­ing up a con­ser­va­tory with all my old loves, pre­serv­ing pollen in the fridge for sev­eral months (it keeps per­fectly) and act­ing Cupid when the sea­son is right. You never quite know what will come out of try­ing to breed new plants and the un­cer­tainty is part of the ex­cite­ment. It’s strange how of­ten an old man’s thoughts turn to prop­a­ga­tion.

‘I re­turned to a cold house and a col­lec­tion of dead bud­dle­jas

Charles Quest-rit­son wrote the RHS En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Roses

Northum­ber­land’s homage to Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown

Like moths to a flame: Bud­dleja da­vidii is a proven but­ter­fly magnet

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