I can’t remember how many features about seaside gardens I have written or organised over the years. They usually revolve around cobbles, grasses and eryngiums and brightly coloured woodwork, with a deckchair thrown in for luck. Some of them were about plants that would grow by the coast while others were about ‘getting the look’. I can honestly say that I never included this charming little gem in any of them but that is simply because it is not that common.
I first grew Rumex flexuosus when I gardened at Myddelton House because it was one of the plants that E A Bowles liked and then I ignored it for decades. But then I decided it was time to say hello again and I sowed it this spring. It is a dock but not as you know it. It is from New Zealand where it grows wild in all but the warmest areas of the North Island and it prefers moist soils. Like quite a few plants from this part of the world (see the haloragis ‘Wellington Bronze’ with the courgettes a few days ago) it has intriguing bronze leaves.
Rumex flexuosus is a low perennial that has coppery brown leaves up to 15cm long. Eventually the plants produce branched, upright or floppy stems with smaller leaves and tiny flowers, everything in the same shade of brown except for the creamy anthers of the blooms.
It is such a subtle plant that it is a bit tricky to know what to plant this with. I have put it with blue fescues in the past and small red flowers would work too – maybe red Freesia laxa or red begonias (not semperflorens please) or red or terracotta callibrachoas – or combine it with silvery artemisia or shrubby herbs. But, bringing us back to my seaside theme, surely the obvious way to use this is among cobbles or water-worn stones to look like seaweed. Plant it with some driftwood and a few shells and you have your own stormy beach.