Fleeting Beauty

I enjoy the changing of the seasons, and with each season its special flowers. I have very few evergreen plants in my garden, even flowering types, because I find them stiff and dull for so much of the year – with never that promise of a fine show when it is their turn. Roses are great for flowering from June to November, but even they would be too familiar if they didn’t take a break from time to time between each flush of new flowers. However, there is one flower which the books don’t tell you about, which I am finding is testing my patience in the opposite direction: the waterlily.

Until digging the pond last year, I had little experience of any water plants, and relied on best advice from the books I found. It has mostly been a wonderful journey of discovery and excitement, with a whole range of different shaped leaves and flowers and some interesting growth habits, and I enjoy discovering which wildlife can be found on which plants. Most have grown well, and flowered well, except for the waterlily. Last year it produced a few leaves and one flower bud, which as far as I could tell, sat sticking just out of the water for days and days, then fell over and died. I was disappointed, but as a new water gardener, not too worried as I thought it just hadn’t established yet and the weather conditions were wrong and the balance in the pond hadn’t quite sorted itself out yet. After all, not all peony buds make flowers if the weather is wrong, but there are always enough giant blooms to give a good show for a few weeks.

Waterlily 4, barely open

This year I have therefore been pleased to see a succession of buds come to the surface on my waterlily, approximately one a week. This is the fourth in the photograph. You will however see it is only half open. And there lies the problem. After spending well over a week as a bud, the waterlily finally decides it is time for the flower to open. If it is a warm sunny day, the flower opens up like the pictures in the book and looks beautiful. Truly stunning. I saw one. But if the weather is miserable and cloudy, or worse actually raining, then it half opens for two days, like this, before giving up and falling over sideways for a few days before disappearing back into the depths. I really wanted to take some pictures of a beautiful open flower; I didn’t realise that first one was going to be the only one to fully open!

Waterlily 5, mostly open

Luckily for my peace of mind, flower number five followed just a day later and did finally get three-quarters of the way open briefly this afternoon. Even more luckily I was here to photograph it at the right moment. Normally it is earlier or later in the day that I am outside, not 3pm on a week day.

The waterlily is not, of course, the only flower to spend most of its life half-open, and only open fully when the sun is shining. Tulips do this all the time. Some even look quite odd on a sunny day, with their petals wide; they were clearly bred for a Northern European climate. The little species tulips that grow naturally further south look great opened out, because the interest is on the inside of their petals, but most hybrids are bred to look good and be photographed half closed. But my fluted tulips often last 5 weeks for each flower, and even the fussy ones and the species last 2-3 weeks, with sometimes more than one flower per stem. Tulips would never have become a garden classic if they lasted a mere day or two!

Daylily

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) illustrate the other side of the picture – they do just last a day. But then they get out of the way so as not to spoil the show for tomorrow’s flower. My plants may be more leaf than flower, but there are always several flowers to be seen each day in the summer.

In Lisa Beskow’s ‘The Flowers’ Festival‘ the Rose and the Waterlily are both queens of equal rank; all the other flowers are below them. But while the rose presides over the festival, the waterlily is fussy and does not leave the water. Everyone else comes: other water flowers such as reeds, rushes, Miss Calla, Yellow Flag and the yellow water lily; even the hothouse flowers like the Miss Pelargoniums, Mrs Myrtle and the grand Lady Fuchsia, once their fears about cold have been allayed. Says it all really!

I think I have a choice. I can enjoy the challenge of growing something so fussy, doing my best to contact its Deva and find out what it wants and then struggle to meet its needs in my windswept Derbyshire garden, or when I next rearrange plants in the pond, I can reconsider whether it is happy here. And yet I can’t help but feel disappointed. If it was something really rare, I would be proud of my occasional flowers. Instead it is like a Camellia plant I removed a year ago because every year it was full of promise, covered with buds, and then every year it got frost on it at some point so the flowers went brown and I would have to go round pulling them off because I hate the sight of a plant smothered in dead flowers. I replaced it with Camellia ‘Debbie’, which has been far more successful – the flower shape is slightly unusual with larger petals around the outside and smaller in the centre, so the centre never gets frosted because it is protected. And when each flower is finished it falls off by itself. Add to that it is a stunning rich pink.

Meanwhile I planted another rose last month, completely the wrong time for rose planting, just because I found a gap in a flower border and it looked pretty. (I also had a voucher to use up at the garden centre near the school M has just left and it was my favourite of everything they had in stock.) I’m glad to say it seems very happy and has sent out new leaves.

Intuitive Sewing

I have had an interesting and unexpected lesson in intuitive sewing over the past few days – which follows on from my year’s aim of being more connected to what I am doing. It started with a piece of fabric, as most sewing projects do, but unlike most projects, no plan.

The fabric was dark red with a pattern of roses made by varying lengths of pile – a fluffy, warm, knitted fabric, that looked tricky to sew and with such a large pattern, not ideal for a small child. I didn’t buy any. A couple of weeks later, with a combination of a change in the weather and a growth spurt, something warm was really needed and M still wanted this fabric. I bought a metre, thinking it would be about right for a jumper or jacket, or possibly a cape. She told me it needed to be a long cloak not short… and with a hood!

I look in my pattern collection: nothing. I look online: a few superhero style patterns, or circular cloaks, but nothing that will work for her or the fabric I have available. Just a photo from a long-out-of-date and no longer available pattern.

Rose Cloak

The finished Rose Cloak

So I take a couple of measurements, width across shoulders and length, and start sketching. Half an hour later I have a pattern with several lines drawn at different angles to see what looks right, and lay it on the fabric to see what will fit. The front and back will have to lie in opposite directions, but luckily the roses don’t show this up too much. It is my best guess at the size; I look again at the pattern after a break seeing if anything needs changing. I don’t seem to be able to improve it, so I cut it out, leaving fluffy bits of dark red everywhere that need cleaning up.

Finally I sew. The whole thing takes about an hour, and just needs a button on the front out of my box to complete it. I guess on the loop length.

M tries it on. It fits, she loves it. I am amazed.

Gardening with Roses

Rosa 'Flower Carpet White' gearing up for a late flush. Geranium Buxton Blue and Cornus alternifolia 'Argentea' accompany.

Rosa ‘White Flower Carpet’ gearing up for a late flush. Geranium ‘Buxton Blue’ and Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ accompany.


Ever since I started gardening, I have had roses. As a child I grew one called ‘The Fairy’, twiggy and prickly but filled with tiny, pink, very double flowers in summer. My first rented house with a garden had two standard roses growing which I tended, and a year later starting my own garden roses were some of the first things I planted.

However now that I am redesigning the garden, I have been considering what plants I want to keep, and which ones I don’t. Roses were high on my ‘thought list’ because they are very tricky to garden around, being so prickly. Their shape with a narrow base and widening out means weeds grow readily underneath which I can’t then get to, or they get invaded by hardy geraniums and campanulas which smother new growth leaving smaller roses in particular with awkward, leggy shapes and flowers only at the ends of trailing stems. The end result hasn’t always been very satisfactory to me, let alone pleasing. So I considered removing all the roses and growing more of the other flowering shrubs that were easier to manage. Viburnums, Deutzias, Hydrangeas, Dogwoods, hardy Fuchsias etc.

Then Rosa Graham Thomas came into flower. And continued to flower steadily for the next two months. At that point I realised nothing really compares with roses. Not even peonies. I may not have the right ones in the right places for my garden, but roses just keep giving and giving all summer long. Their flowers are beautiful, the petals can be dried and eaten, Bees love them, as do many other insects, especially semi-double or single roses, and birds like the hips in autumn and winter.

So no, I’m not going to do away with roses. Instead I have placed an order for three new ones for the front garden, dowsing to help narrow my choices to those most likely to succeed. Then next year I will plan more for the back garden. I look forward to flowers all summer.