08 September 2012

Further Reports from Essex

The Glory Flower, glorious at every stage.
Beth Chatto speaks in perfect sentences. She could be reading aloud from one of her brilliantly written books. Sometimes she digresses to talk about well-known friends who have helped to formulate her ideas, but it's the plants she wants to talk about: she is all about plants and plantsmanship.

"Form and texture is more important to me than colour," she explains. "I've always had grasses. People want petals and colour but I think: 'What would grass add?'"

Hers is a colourful garden however. The glory flower (clerodendrum bungei), above, pops up unexpectedly in a shady area and it stopped me short on my visit. Yes, it has good fresh green foliage for this time of year but its flowering habit is amazing and intriguing.

"Until the flower arranging movement [post-WW2], gardens were full of cultivars," continues Mrs Chatto. "Hemerocallis and chrysanthemums were bred to have small stems and big flowers. To me," she says with some determination, "those flowers were not elegant." 

Beth Chatto filled a need with her new ideas. "People kept asking me about my unusual plants," she says about the flower arranging years. She had sympathy with Constance Spry and they shared an appreciation of foliage, with Spry famously elevating kale into a vase-worthy plant. 'Radical' is not a word that Beth Chatto has a problem with.

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