Looking through old notebooks and photographs I am astonished at the number of plants that I have loved, lost, given up on or who have dumped me in favour of the great compost heap in the sky.
Plants go in and out of fashion in the same way that clothes and hairstyles do. Once upon a time I only had time for grey-leaved plants – which I still love – but some were truly duds. Artemisia Powis Castle was hugely in vogue for a time and I just had to have it; it turned out to be a rather smelly, shabby looking plant which went brown and woody after a while. It had nasty little yellow flowers you had to pick off to keep the foliage looking silver and now I can’t think why anyone ever liked it at all. New plants are always tempting to gardeners, so I immediately had to have June Johnson, a dusty, pinky brown verbascum – turned out to be a drippy, floppy non-starter unike fellow newbie, Papavar orientalis Patty’s plum which I still adore, but which annoyingly decided to up and leave me last year. Salvia argentia was another silvery ex love. I grew it for its huge, furry, blue grey leaves which are lovely for a few weeks; then the flower spike develops and it smells overpoweringly vile, has an ugly flower and the base goes woody. Grasses became super hip about a decade ago and I ran out and bought Pyllostachys nigra – a black bamboo which I went off rapidly, lovely bright yellow green Milium effusum which was far too effusive – spreading everywhere and insinuating its way into the middle of prized herbaceous plants. So many of the grasses are just too invasive for the small garden. Melianthus major won its way into my heart with its gorgeous, sharply divided glaucous foliage and I grew it successfully for a few years until it just became too unruly and floppy and it had to come out. Another unruly devil was the weeping pear which I thought would look lovely in the centre of the front garden. No matter what I did it grew with an ever-increasing sideways list which made it look very silly indeed. Also, unless you are prepared to be ruthless and vigilent about twice yearly hard pruning it goes completely bonkers, which is fine if you have a lot of space, but it was just too much for me. Heuchera was once a demure little innofensive plant until at some time in the 90s nurseries began experimenting. I loved and still have the very dark purple ones – black beauty and obsidian – but they now come in the most revolting range of gaudy hues and variegations which I have no time for.
Other plants which I have remained loyal to despite their popularity waning amongst smart gardeners are dark leaved dahlias, Crocosmia Lucifer, the much derided gladioli (lovely for cutting), and plants with white variegations (definitely not yellow), to grow in pots. I have yet to successfully cultivate and keep lily of the valley, Dicentra specabilis ‘alba’, Eremuris bungii and delphiniums (too attractive to slugs), but one of these days I shall surely succeed – probably as soon as they go out of fashion.