Beth Chatto, Christopher Lloyd and Defending my Beloved
One man’s meat might be another man’s poison, but when it comes to gardening, there are few things more likely to make a placid gardener’s blood boil than somebody maligning one of their best-loved plants.
Think of Beth Chatto when she read The Well-Tempered Garden and discovered that Christopher Lloyd had no time for bergenias. Beth, of course, grows hosts of bergenias, using them to great effect in creating breathing spaces after more complex planting. So troubled was she by his comments that she took the time to write and tell him.
A member of that distinguished cohort, the deciduous year-round interest brigade, Leycesteria formosa is a plant with many common names - Himalayan honeysuckle, Pheasant berry, Flowering nutmeg and Granny's curls to name a few. New shoots with a bluish bloom emerge in spring to form arching bamboo-like fresh green stems from which burgundy bracts drip from early summer to mid-autumn, carrying white flowers and later, raspberry coloured berries which ripen to a deep claret.
The green tapered leaves are red where they join the stem and as summer progresses, they become red-edged with hints of wine-coloured veining flooding through the leaf.
Beth Chatto’s letter provoked an invitation from Christopher Lloyd to meet him for lunch, which in turn led to a long-lasting friendship and a collection of their inspirational letters to one another in Dear Friend and Gardener. That is how it should be done. I have learnt an important lesson today. I feel better for defending my beloved Leycesteria formosa and if anyone speaks ill of one of my cherished plants ever again I will not stew furiously for years and do absolutely nothing about it. I will speak out with confidence... immediately...
... just let me weed the borders first... pick some beans... and courgettes... feed the chickens.... eat some chocolate and gather my thoughts for a year or two.
* You will probably have guessed that the first photo was taken in Christopher Lloyd's garden at Great Dixter; the second, of Bergenia 'Silberlicht' was taken at The Beth Chatto Gardens.