Spare me those golden years
IHAVE a problem with yellow flowers—they’re not good mixers. They’re fine by themselves and some people blend them nicely with orange and scarlet flowers—the RHS does this very successfully in its Hot Garden at Rosemoor, in Devon—but yellow flowers don’t combine with the pink colours that dominate the plant kingdom. Alice de Rothschild, a formidable spinster who gardened no less than 335 acres in Provence 100 years ago, would not have agreed. She maintained that all difficult colours could be blended together by the addition of white or yellow. Many would agree that white is a useful mixer for other tints, but would need convincing that yellow is equally suitable.
Yellow leaves are even worse, impertinent self-publicists demanding attention they don’t deserve. Their colour is often caused by a lack of chlorophyll that renders them vulnerable to the very sunlight they reflect. The yellowleaved Philadelphus coronarius Aureus, Lysimachia nummularia Aurea and Milium effusum Aurea are three that I chucked out when the leaves scorched too often to justify their `place in the garden. I’ve tried growing them in sheltered situations, but their leaves turn green in shade.
And is there anything more hideous than the yellow-leaved Choisya ternata Sundance? Of course there is, but Choisya Sundance is evergreen, so you can’t get away from it even in winter.
Some people feel the same about purple-leaved plants, but I love them. They’re such a good foil for other colours in a mixed border and their own flowers never conflict with the purple leaves. Purple beeches are one of the glories of big gardens and they come in every imaginable shade of auburn, copper, red, purple and near-black. How I love to see them planted by inspired landowners in long avenues across the chalk downs.
What about yellow autumn colour? Well, the best that can be said for all those dying leaves is that their beauty is fleeting. Nevertheless, they have their admirers among better gardeners than me, who tell
us that Ginkgo biloba, a tree unknown in the wild, but cultivated in Chinese temples from time immemorial, turns to a beautiful clear, pure yellow in October. And that so do the American tulip tree Liriodendron tulipifera and our native field-maple Acer campestre.
In our last garden, we tackled the problem of yellow full-on. The spur was my finding six plants of Acer negundo Kelly’s Gold offered in three-litre pots at £1 each in the market in Salisbury. Yes, it was 15 years ago, but £1 was a giveaway, even then. I wondered afterwards whether they were what prosecutors call ‘stolen goods’, but it never occurred to me at the time.
We decided to make them the centrepiece of a new ‘yellow garden’, all contained within a 9fttall hornbeam hedge so that they couldn’t be seen from outside. I planted the acers on either side of a narrow walk and, once they’d grown to a fair height, pollarded them back every year. Their knobbly stumps then threw out hundreds (yes, hundreds) of slim, fast-growing stems each clothed in large yellow leaves and forming an arch under which we lingered. From early May to late October, the walk seemed bathed in sunshine even on the most overcast of days.
Then, of course, we had to add yellow-leaved evergreens, such as