Day Lilies and Embellishing Reality

Wow! What a horribly pretentious title. At face value, it’s the sort of verbose garbage that’s best confined to the CV of an aspiring academic art historian. Having said that, it does state what this post is going to be about, which is two things: Day Lilies and making things look better than they are. I suppose another way of  stating that second theme would be to use the single word: marketing. So I’ll start with that.

I’ve been scrolling through the many hundreds of pictures I’ve taken of our garden, and very few of them look grim – and most of those were taken following a minor disaster (like when Muntjack deer rampaged through the vegetables). Those pics tend to be warts and all. The rest show the garden to advantage. I suppose it’s only natural to show one’s creation, for that surely is what a garden is, in a good light. Were I to wander along our double border and record every seeding sow thistle or flowering groundsel, (a) I’d be sad and (b) my camera doesn’t have a memory chip large enough to do half the job. So, like everyone else, I just take the pretty ones – like the shot at the masthead of this blog.

The trouble is, we’re all the same. Every well-known garden in Britain has a huge back catalogue of stunning views, so when one does eventually manage to make a visit, the reality is often a disappointment. Of course, being reasonably sophisticated when it comes to such things, I try to compensate in advance and don’t set my expectations too high, but even so, the advance marketing has served its purpose: it has got me to visit, to pay my admission, even to buy a guidebook and cup of tea, but it has also taken away the key experience: the thrill of discovery when one stumbles across unexpected delights. But there are exceptions, and most of these are non-National Trust or English Heritage gardens, which tend to suffer from over marketing and too much corporate hype. And of the two, the National Trust is by far the worse – their dumbed-down website positively makes me spit! But I digress…

Gardens which have not been over-marketed and which have delighted us when we visited, have tended to be in private hands. There are dozens, especially in the Scottish Borders, but two, both in England and both very different, leap to mind. Graham Robson and Alan Gray have created, a vast (32 acres, no less!), idiosyncratic but highly effective modern garden at East Ruston Vicarage in Norfolk. We try to visit it every year. Less changing, but not necessarily as timeless, is the extraordinary garden at Rousham House, Oxfordshire. This garden was created in 1738 by the great landscape architect William Kent, but unlike most other earlier 18th century gardens (one thinks, for example, of Stowe, Buckinghamshire), this one has not been added-to and modified later.  So it’s intact. It’s also non-commercialised, so the atmosphere – one feels like a guest at a country house as one walks its leafy paths – is still that of the Age of Enlightenment. It’s a magical place.

And now for the second, or was it the first topic I wanted to cover. The point is that the truth can often be discerned in those pictures that were taken to illustrate something particular. If, for example, the sun wasn’t shining when your finger pressed the shutter button, then too bad – it can’t be helped. And if ever there was a year when the sun didn’t shine, it was this. The mist and rain did, however, suit certain plants, including the Day Lilies of the genus Hemerocallis, mostly natives of China, Japan and Korea. They tend to favour heavy, wettish soils, so they grow like weeds in our fen garden. Hemerocallis are very popular, but sadly they suffer from modern over-hybridisation, where the aim is to produce flowers that look good on a show-bench, or in a garden centre, but which don’t perform well out in the garden. So we tend to favour older varieties, such as Bonanza, which flowers in wonderful profusion along the wall that surrounds our sitting-out area, known to our friends as the Poop Deck. Even the grey, overcast day when I took these pictures can’t conceal the colour and energy of these gorgeously extrovert flowers. Incidentally, they’re called Day Lilies because they close their petals at night. But they also brighten-up the gloomiest of days.

Hemerocallis Bonanza on a sunless day towards the end of its flowering season

Hemerocallis Bonanza on a sunless day towards the end of its flowering season

Close-up of Hemerocallis Bonanza

Close-up of Hemerocallis Bonanza

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