Spare me those golden years

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

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

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