With garden centres filled with ‘bedding’ cyclamen, garden ‘mums’ and other swathes of colour it is hardly surprising that my latest buy is perversely subtle. And while the garden centre shifts hundreds of these showy blobs of colour every day, I know they have not sold many of my choice because I remember looking at it last autumn and being tempted. My plant has sat there all year waiting for me to pay it attention and I finally fell for it, the last of a small batch.
When I got to the till it was rather unkindly described as looking like a dying buddleia, though I can see the point! To me, the gracefully pendant flower clusters look like a garrya with a touch of class, and colour and I admire the way it looks like nothing else in the garden at this time of year, content with how it looks and not making any special effort to be anything other than itself. ‘If you don’t like me then just walk on by and be tempted by those vulgar commoners’.
Of course, common is often good and rarity a good plant does not make but subtle if often as satisfying as brash, if we take time to look.
And this is a plant that deserves attention.
Rostrincula dependens has not been with us long – it was only introduced to the West, from south China, in 1985, which is pretty recent compared to most garden plants.
And when you look closely it is obvious that this is a mint with delusions of grandeur. It has opposite, mint-like leaves, though I cannot detect any aroma, and square stems that age pleasantly to grey as they become woody. The arching flower clusters are decked with overlapping, grey bracts in a way that reminds me of that most charming of creatures, the pangolin.
Which reminds me of another matter – why our domestic pets are so boring – cats or dogs. Why did no one, many moons ago, think to domesticate raccoons or pangolins? It would have been easier than trying to change a wolf into a pug! I know it would not be politically correct to try now and I would not want them to be converted into unthinking, dutiful pets in Halloween costumes or santa hats, which is why I like cats, but how wonderful it would be to curl up with a raccoon – until it decided to chew through a power cable or eat a toe.
And between these bracts, as they enlarge and then drop, are mauve flowers with long (exserted) stamens. Considering how ‘different’ I seem to think this plant is I keep comparing it with things and a banana inflorescence just came to mind, the big liverish bracts dropping to reveal another set of female flowers and potential fruits.
It is supposed to flower for several months but my plant is a bit stunted from being in a pot too long. It is allegedly hardy though may be cut to the ground in winter so may benefit from a loose mulch. It may act as a herbaceous plant, or a dead one – we will see! It should be quite easy to propagate from cuttings but it is a bit late this year now.
I will have to pick its neighbours carefully since this is more of a Darcey Bussell than a Tina Turner and I am thinking of white Japanese anemones, which reminds me… (post tomorrow or Friday)
I see that in the UK Thompson & Morgan offer what appears to be a cultivar called ‘Happy Cascade’. Whether this is different to the species is unknown – by me.