Tag Archives: Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’


img_6521                              Stone sculpture of a woman against ivy, Helen Dillon’s garden.

I am perched at Helen Dillon’s kitchen table in Ranelagh, a spreading residential area of Dublin. It is a grey August lunchtime and I am being plied with a high-energy volley of slightly startling pronouncements on the state of garden writing – as well as a welcome glass of sweet elderflower and a cheese and tomato sandwich – by the legendary gardener, trying not to get too distracted by how very beautiful a woman can be in her late 70’s.

Much to the surprise of the gardening world – and no doubt to the delight of the Dublin real estate market – this elegant Georgian house has been sold. The much visited and photographed garden, described by Robin Lane Fox in the Financial TImes as ‘the best walled town garden one can hope to see’, will finally close to the public at the end of September 2016. A steady stream of star-struck visitors – mostly civilised looking women of a certain age – arrive tentatively at the front door (you visit the garden via the elegant Georgian hallway and antique filled drawing room and hand over your five Euro note discreetly as you arrive). In the last few weeks there have been at least 200 admirers a day.

img_6188Helen Dillon’s house, 45 Sandford Terrace, Dublin.

45 Sandford Terrace is a place of legend. Mick Jagger once rented the house for a month whilst he was recording in Dublin and when Helen Dillon suddenly replaced the carefully manicured lawn with a contemporary reflecting pool after a visit to the Alhambra, her husband Val famously retorted that he was fine with the change as ‘grass is an ass’. The twinkly eyed chatelaine has always enjoyed delivering a little light shock to her visitors – her desire for intense colour and a certain restlessness was finally satisfied when she developed a pragmatic version of successional planting which involved plonking plastic containers of dahlias, lilies and brugmansia directly into the bed (i.e. not planting them) wherever there was a lull in the eye-popping herbaceous borders. If a bit of black plastic can be seen, so be it, feast your eyes on something else.

img_6170Yolk yellow brugmansia with Verbena bonariensis, Helen Dillon’s garden.

img_6171Purple salvia and electric red crocosmia, Helen Dillon’s garden.

img_6176One of the long borders at Helen Dillon’s garden, Lythrum salicaria (probably)Feuerkerze’ and Agapanthus ‘Purple Cloud’.

The reason for her success is a tireless, passionate, no-nonsense approach to plants and to gardening – she has endlessly tried out new things, has been speedy to get rid of things which are not working, is a famous champion of other fine gardeners and has always been determined to seek out the best forms of the plants she is using. I did not have time to check the name of the bright pink loosestrife pictured above, but I am pretty sure it is ‘Feuerkerze’ which is a brilliant pink and a world apart from the cooler mauve-pink of other loosetrifes.

A couple of weeks after my visit Helen wrote a wonderfully frank piece for the Guardian Weekend magazine in which she bared all about the plants she will be taking with her to her new, almost definitely smaller, town garden and the plants she is pleased to leave behind.  She is brutal about the presence of honey fungus, vine weevil and other problems which have inevitably affected her old town garden, scathing about ‘the handsome but incontinent  (i.e. impossible to get rid of) self-seeding onion Nectaroscordum siculum’ and brilliantly honest about the Cestrum parqui she has grown for its famously romantic midnight perfume – confessing that it does indeed have a horrid daytime smell and that she has ‘only once been up late enough to smell it’.

But the real gold dust is her list of plants she will not fail to grow in her next garden.  Although it is an avid self seeder she ‘cannot get enough of the lovely white willow herb Chamerion angustifolium ‘Album’ ‘, and her list includes  Erigeron karvinskianus, the ‘charming coloniser of cracks and paving’ – which I too love for the way it softens the brick paths in my own town garden –  Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ (with flowers of a particularly rich purple-blue, and the ‘lovely pale blue’ agapanthus ‘Eggesford Sky ‘.  She writes: ‘ I find after collecting agapanthus for 30 years or so that the pale blue cultivars show up better from a distance than some of (the very desirable) dark colours’.  I am excited that Helen Dillon is so keen on pale blue agapanthus. I have three huge pots of Agapanthus ‘Blue Ice’ which is towering and only faintly blue – I love the way that a clear, pale blue can read almost as a gentle white in a palette of soft colours.


An elegant umbrella of  Hagenia abyssinica, with brugmansia and Tibouchina urvilleana,, Helen Dillon’s garden.

Another plant that features in the precious Guardian list is Hagenia abyssinica ‘from the forests of Ethiopia, a superb tree for growing in a large pot (kept under glass for winter)’. This is a plant I would have been delighted to cart off in the back of my rented Skoda. I have a slight fear that we may need to head off to Ethiopia ourselves to track down a hagenia for our own gardens but they are definitely covetable. In the Dillon garden there are four pots of these elegant umbrella-like trees on the terrace next to the pool, their bright green leaves are a wonderful foil to the gorgeous salmon brugmansia trumpets (which will incidentally become heavily fragrant at a more sociable time of the evening than the Cestrum parqui) and to the velvety purple of Tibouchina urvilleana, the glory bush.

img_6129 Pale salmon brugmansia.

img_6131Hagenia abyssinica elegantly exotic against the more demure Georgian brickwork of the house.

Helen Dillon would also take with her the ‘superb large fern’ Woodwardia unigemmata. This is a wonderful new discovery for me – with new fronds a gorgeous brick red – and goes firmly on my list of ideas to steal.

img_6159                               Woodwardia unigemmata – the new fronds are a gorgeous brick red.

The woodwardia was nestling comfortably in the shady woodland corner of the garden populated by another desirable and exotic tree, Aralia echinocaulis, grown from seed brought back by Jimi Blake, whose inspiring Hunting Brook Gardens is only about 30 miles south of Dublin. NB, Jimi and his sister June Blake – whose equally seductive garden is next door – sometimes have seedlings of these for sale.

img_6153A skinny woodland of Aralia echinocaulis, Helen Dillon’s garden.

img_6155Aralia echinocaulis foliage. Helen Dillon’s garden.

I love this celebration of filtered light and the power of different greens in this part of the garden. This beautiful sculpture of a young girl has the perfect, timeless backdrop of light-catching ivy – even with the nearby chatter of respectful visitors the combination has an aura of stories and secrets not yet told:


Stone sculpture against ivy, Helen Dillon’s garden.

More magical still is this wonderful fuchsia, Fuchsia magellanica var. molinae, which has formed a delicate bower over the pretty iron seat laden with dart-like palest pink flowers.


          Iron seat in a bower of Fuchsia magellanica var. molinae.

In the conservatory a loose-limbed palm-leaved begonia, Begonia luxuriant, looks rakish but charming against the painted brick. So keen am I to acquire a Begonia luxuriant of my own that I have tracked it down to the nursery at Great Dixter where I discover that they bed it out for the summer. Somehow the note on the nursery catalogue that it is ‘too fragile to dispatch’ makes the journey to East Sussex event more tempting.


Begonia luxurians in the Conservatory, Helen Dillon’s garden.

Elsewhere in the garden I am a little less certain about the metal framed tunnel with views through to the reflecting pool and to an urn at the other end – but the framing works pretty well, maybe I am just hitting a quieter moment in the year, maybe if it was my own garden and I was about to leave it I too would be entitled to a patch or two where the garden was in a lower gear?  I like the lower view best with the fennel filling and softening the frame, and the stretch of water settling and adding weight to the image.


Metal arch with view to urn…


 …and through to the reflecting pool.

There are of course still plenty of high octane pockets of plants apart from the colourful parade of the Long Borders. Raised beds for fruit and vegetables are jumbled up with phlox and dahlias in the happiest of ways.

img_6169Colourful vegetable beds, Helen Dillon’s garden.

A rather dull wall is completely ignored by a stand of radiant carmine Lobelia tupa

img_6137Lobelia tupa, Helen Dillon’s garden.

There are several very beautiful arching indigofera shrubs – I think this is Indigofera amblyantha which is a brilliant plant for lighting up the garden in late summer with very pretty slender racemes of pink pea like flowers.









Indigofera amblyantha, Helen Dillon’s garden.

And there is a brilliant clump of racy greenish white flower heads of Veratrum album which has even more covetable leaves – like huge pleated hosta leaves – at its base:

verartrumVeratrum album

A really excellent combination of plants to create a lush, overspilling feel either side of a pathway is this group of Romneya coulteri (the California Tree Poppy), the evergreen shrub Bupleurum fruticosum (which has glowing clusters of lime green flowers) and a deep pink Japanese anemone. The bupleurum is one of those plants that you meet again and again, admire and never do anything about which is stupid as it is such an easy and handsome thing. I  have long wanted Romneya coulteri, however, and planted one this spring in my Camberwell garden. I can’t quite work out yet if it likes me or not, it is notoriously picky and then if it does like you it is well known for being a bit unstoppable, but who could resist its abundance of huge papery flowers with yellow centres?


Romneya coulteri, Bupleurum fruticosum and deep pink Japanese anemone flank a path in Helen Dillon’s garden.

In this group of plants the fading rusty flower heads of Rodgersia pinnata ‘Perthshire Bronze’ are given a new energy by the coral red tapers of Persicaria amplexicaulis (possibly ‘Firetail’) and the rich pinks of the voluptuous lily.



Rodegersia pinnata ‘Perthshire Bronze’, Persicaria amplexicaulis and a voluptuous pink lily, Helen Dillon’s garden.

As I leave the fascinatingly neat flower heads, the shifting mauves and pinks and waxy green leaves of Hydrangea ‘Ayesha’ catch my eye. The hydrangea is in a pot and almost too good to be true. Naturally it goes immediately onto The List.

img_6523Hydrangea ‘Ayesha’, Helen Dillon’s garden.

The front garden has been reorganised and replanted much more recently with a sandstone terrace and gently screening slim silver birch.


Helen Dillon’s house viewed from the street.

I am usually slightly allergic to silver birch as a solution tree for a contemporary look but I think it is a great choice here – not least as Helen Dillon has made sure to add texture and surprises in her effortlessly elegant way.  I love the choice of the evergreen Itea ilicifolia over a side building: the shrub has glossy holly-like leaves and in late summer glamorous racemes of whitish-green, honey-scented flowers. The combination with a statuesque stand of Acanthus mollis and some crisp white Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ is a handsome one.

img_6184Itea ilicifolia, Acanthus mollis and Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ in the front garden.

There is a lovely tumbling lightness to this group of Euphorbia characias, sea holly and some choice spiky leaves against the pale trunks of the birch (top photo) and below a huge stand of pink phlox is the plant that delightfully breaks the restrained palette of greens and white (below).

When I was eating my sandwich with Helen Dillon she was almost cross that there was such an intense outpouring of interest in her garden the moment she was leaving it. But I hope she has been enjoying the interest too and I for one am thrilled that it galvanised me to paying the garden a long-delayed visit.

 I think Helen Dillon has made a very astute move, leaving now rather than slaving away, keeping a famous garden as perfect as it has always been in the magazines and lecture theatres. She says she is indeed very excited about the chance to start again. I thank her for wonderful enthusiasm, and for her brilliantly blunt, always entertaining writing that has taught so many of us so much. I have no doubt she will make another wonderful garden.

The one thing I could not have fitted into that miniature Skoda if I had tried is the fantastic oak bench that nestles against the silver birch trees in the front garden. I am smitten by the simplicity and stillness of the bench and the heavy, splayed triangle blocks that support it:

Simple, elegant (covetable) bench, Helen Dillon’s front garden.




Edmund de Waal  – portrait ©Ben McKee

Edmund de Waal is a potter whose quietly radiant work pushes the boundaries of what you think a pot can be. After more than thirty years of friendship with Edmund, I should not be surprised that his writing continues to be intoxicatingly erudite and singingly story-telling. I have just finished the newly published ‘THE WHITE ROAD a pilgrimage of sorts’ and my mind is buzzing.


‘THE WHITE ROAD’ is the story of Edmund’s journey to find out as much as he can about the history of porcelain – the medium in which he makes his pots. He travels from his studio in Tulse Hill, South London to China, Germany and Cornwall “I need to get to these places, need to see how porcelain looks under different skies, how white changes with the weather. Other things in the world are white but, for me, porcelain comes first.”

And you are there inside his head and looking through his eyes as he unravels the past and weighs up the present. His description of working with porcelain, the need to get it “thinner and thinner until it is as thin as gold leaf and lifts into the air” – thin enough to let the sun shine through, hard enough to ring like a bell – is a crucial hook. He describes the French porcelain clay he has on his bench – “the colour is of full-fat milk, with a bloom of green mould” – and importantly he explains how when he throws a pot he is “trying to still a small part of the world, make an inside space.”


A mind of winter (2015), Edmund de Waal © Edmund de Waal. Photo: Mike Bruce

Edmund and I met on a student committee for the extraordinary Kettle’s Yard  in Cambridge – the private house and collection of art, furniture and found objects belonging originally to Jim and Helen Ede which has evolved into an important contemporary art gallery. Crucially at the heart of Kettle’s Yard there is still a home, with its modest, white loose-covered furniture and small jugs of flowers from the garden, alongside paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson and inscriptions by David Jones. The great perk of our student role was the requirement to be in the house as invigilator on a mid-week afternoon – escaping the bustle of university life and giving us time to think amongst the cast shadows and inspirational landscape of this calm interior:
k yard dining room

Dining area, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
pebb;es‘Spiral of Pebbles’, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridgek yard shadow Objects and shadows, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridgek yardInterior Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
k yard window

mag k ypot k yardWindow recess with potted plants, magnifying lens and engraved glass, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

As Edmund tracks the centuries-old hunger both to create and collect the ‘white gold’ that is porcelain, it is riveting to follow his considered account of his own fiercely pioneering journey. A degree in English Literature was followed by two tough years in the Black Mountains “My friends were in London with jobs, writing , partying … and I was making dishes, unglazed, rough oatmeal brown on the outside, and green on the inside, pots to  disappear into the landscape.”

I visited Edmund in Herefordshire and made a ridiculous chart to encourage him as he laboured to build his first kiln and I still treasure one of his – now unlikely – rich brown bowls:

Cox’s apples in a brown fruit bowl by Edmund de Waal

I visit him in Sheffield too, where he has set himself up to make pots and study Japanese. “I got to work. As I was starting again, I chose white”. Edmund shares with us his longing to get the white right. “I want poems that compare white porcelains to smoke coiling up from a chimney, or from incense on an altar, or mist from a valley.” Finally a year’s scholarship to Japan “I know how this porcelain feels.  Japan is where my porcelain changed.” From now on, Edmund is unstoppable.

IMG_1087Thin white porcelain – Christening mugs for our twin boys, 1996

‘The White Road’ takes us from medieval Florence, where porcelain is so precious that drinking from a porcelain cup is thought to prevent poison, to Nazi Germany where a chilling production line is revealed in the belief that “white porcelain is the embodiment of the German soul.” In 1708 in Dresden, after years of perilous pioneering, the mathematician Tschirnhaus “makes himself a little jar. It comes out ‘half translucent and milky white, like a narcissus.”

Throughout the book Edmund tries to weigh up the fragile and tantalising quality of white itself. Herman Melville’s description from Chapter 42 of Moby Dick, ‘The Whiteness of the Whale’ is a key moment “In many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas and pearls” – and he talks eloquently about the quality of light on his own work: “I’m watching the light play on the wall opposite me …great Gerhard Richter-like smudges across the top that move across an installation I made last year for Sue, seven stacked dishes inside a white lacquered cabinet. The top dish is gilded on the inside so that there is a reflective halo above it.”

I love the book because at the root of everything is Edmund’s drive to look harder, read harder and keep making pots with his hands. He is generous and inspiring. No-one is too young or too old to fall under his spell.

bear ed

Our son Arthur aged three at Edmund’s studio.

And if the book is not enough, Edmund has curated an almost secret collection of exquisite white objects, from Turner’s porcelain watercolour palette to the death mask of a Royal Academician, in the Library and Print Room at the Royal Academy.

Two handled porcelain cup & saucer, Meissen, Germany, c.1715. Collection of Edmund de Waal


 Bust of a woman, possibly Ippolita Maria Sforza, after Francesco Laurana (1452-1502).         C.19th plaster cast, RA Collections


Horatio Ross, Fir trees on the banks of Dornoch Firth between Ardgay and Fearn, c. 1850-60. Waxed paper negative, Hans P Kraus Jr, New York

And what about white in gardens? I decide to head to Sissinghurst to visit Vita Sackville-West’s White Garden to concentrate, if only for an afternoon, on the matter.


Sissinghurst Castle, Kent

Unsurprisingly perhaps, using white in the garden is more demanding than you might at first suppose. The photographer Andrew Lawson, in his newly republished classic, ‘The Gardener’s Book of Colour’, has wise and practical advice:  “the brilliance of white means that the shapes and patterns that the white flowers make catch the eye and so are more intrusive than those of other colours in a mixed colour planting. Because they are light-reflecting, flowers with a solid silhouette, such as lilies or phlox, tend to stand out most among other darker colours.”

 I am looking out, as I type this, at a rather startlingly clump of white japanese anemones in my own garden that draws the eye away from the fading pinks and yellowing greens elsewhere, and needs to be divided and broken into smaller groups as soon as possible.


Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

Lawson continues: ” Plants that have sprays of tiny white flowers on the other hand, like gypsophila or Crambe cordifolia, create a misty diaphanous effect that is bright without being intrusive. Other colours seen through this translucent haze are fragmented and seem to shimmer.”

As with porcelain, there are of course endless subtle distinctions to watch out for between the whites of flowers. Very few turn out to be pure white and, as Nori and Sandra Pope lament in ‘Colour by Design’  (the account of their brilliant homage to colour in the garden they made in the 80’s at Hadspen, Somerset ) “please note that very often white flowers die badly – their petals turn brown and cling to the plant instead of dropping off.” And white planting schemes, because of their simplicity, draw particular – if you are not careful, unforgiving – attention to the shapes, sizes and textures of flowers and foliage.

Generally, however, as Lawson says “the effect of white in gardens is to lighten them and make the mood more cheerful” and this is especially so in shade. I love Gertrude Jekyll’s description of white foxgloves illuminating a patch of woodland –  she writes of the way they “spire up among the birches.”

Perhaps the ultimate trigger for the creation of an all white garden is the dream of a ‘moonlight garden’. White flowers (as well as pale pinks and creams) have a luminous quality and will remain visible after dusk. Vita Sackville-West’s winter vision of sitting on an imagined seat made of rough oak and living box and looking out at her new garden is as intoxicating as ever:

” When you sit on this seat you will be turning your backs to the yew hedge and from there I hope you will survey a low sea of grey clumps of foliage, pierced here and there with tall white flowers….I cannot help hoping that the grey ghostly barn owl will sweep silently across a pale garden, next summer, in the twilight, the pale garden that I am now planting under the first flakes of snow.”

It is Saturday afternoon and I have not been to Sissinghurst for years. I am easily distracted on my pilgrimage. Firstly by the simple, handsome planters made from salvaged galvanised cattle troughs which look wonderful planted with just white valerian – Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’ – against whitewashed timber, or the billowing purple and white Salvia leucantha against warm brick.

cattle trough 1Galvanised cattle trough planted with Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’
salvia troughIMG_0867Galvanised cattle trough planted with Salvia leucantha

I am struck again by the Sackville-West/Nicholson brilliance of opening up the brick barn to create a perfectly framed view to the Kent countryside beyond the garden – and by the gorgeous patterns and shades of red in the brick itself:

arch with viewFramed view through barn, SissinghurstIMG_0857 (1)Barn wall, Sissinghurst

This is a garden with wonderful bones. There are patterns and rhythms everywhere you look.  Here the brilliant emerging shoots light up the dense framework of pollarded limes:

lime tree close upPollarded limes, Sissinghurst

Here handsome, dark soldiers of Irish yew, cast dark egg-shaped shadows away from the pale strip of path:
IMG_0896                                          Irish yews lining the path, Sissinghurst

Within the entrance arch there is a flurry of colour in vases to entice you:
entrance flowers

From top left to right: Dahlia ‘Pink Michigan’, Salvia uliginosa, Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’, Boltonia asteroides, Caryopteris x clandonensis, Salvia involucrata bethellii

I feel encouraged now to look at everything closer up – the delicate creamy bells and twining foliage of Clematis rehderiana – in such perfect scale with the diamond leaded glass window panes – and the solid, speckled antique-looking fruits of ornamental quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) and, further on, fat timeless rose hips against brick:

clem rehdclem rhed close

Clematis rehderiana


rose hipsFruit of ornamental quince above, rose hips below

Wherever they can, the plants are having their tousled, exuberant, last-gasp September burst:


Soaring rose branches, dusky pink flowerheads of Abelia grandiflora and Solanum jasminoides ‘Alba agains the wall of The Tower Lawn

I walk through a haze of rich pinks – Salvia, dahlias, asters, cleomes – and the very lovely shredded pink petals of Anemone hupehensis japonica var. ‘Prinz Heinrich’.IMG_0953IMG_0892
IMG_0960IMG_0956 (2)IMG_0969

Anemone japonica hupehenis var. ‘Prinz Heinrich’

On this hazy September afternoon, everything comes together in the Cottage Garden – which has always been filled with hot colours. Apparently both Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson claimed this ‘sunset’ scheme as their own idea. I love the stormy silhouette of rounded black green irish yews and the tapering sky-scratching poplars beyond.

IMG_1006Silhouette of Irish Yews and poplars, The Cottage Garden, Sissinghurst

With the sun more helpfully behind me, I can revel in the towering shapes – I particularlyl ove this leggy annual, Leonotus ‘Staircase’ –  and bicolour dahlias:

Most of all I keep coming back to the wonderful anchoring, framing effect of the towering yews at the centre of which a verdigris coated copper planter is glows magnificently, billowing over with the bright yellow Bidens ferulafolia.cottagwIMG_1000

Bidens ferulafolia in a copper urn at the centre of four Irish Yews in the Cottage Garden

I have lost my husband, Nick, to a sunwarmed wooden chair against the cottage wall. It is time to go and find The White Garden:


The White Garden was always going to be something of a disappointment, I suppose – not being June when the roses would be famously powering over walls and pergolas. Not very disappointing, of course, just a bit quiet and less obvious. I need time to start to appreciate the blocky patterns and undulations of the clipped box and surges of paler planting:
white est 2

The White Garden, Sissinghurst

From some angles The White Garden is teeming and a little shapeless in that lovely end of summer way. If you look the other way, patches here and there feel a little empty and end of season:

The White Garden, teeming softly
IMG_0931The White Garden beginning to look a little empty

I like it best when there is a dense coming together of contrasting shades and textures – here the soft, velvety Stachys byzantina, the dainty wiriness of Potentilla fruticosa ‘Abbottswood’, the silvery grey of artemisia, and right at back the handsome architectural grey-green of Melianthus major:


There is space in the White Garden for the sun to light up the bright green leaved Nicotiana sylvestris like a cool summer torch. The Solanum jasminoides ‘Alba’ is going nicely crazy over an arch, and the delicate daisy we met in a vase at the entrance to the garden (Boltonia asteroides) is contrasted by dynamic, velvety green flowerheads of Agastache rugosa ‘Alabaster’.

Nicotiana sylvestrisIMG_0940 (1)Solanum jasminoides ‘Alba’IMG_0924Boltonia asteroides and contrasting Agastache rugosa ‘Alabaster’

I am thinking again of Edmund de Waal and would like to collect together a few notional plants to celebrate his book ‘The White Road’ and his Royal Academy exhibition, ‘White’. Edmund is so thoughtful about placing his work – in cases, vitrines, on shelves, plinths. Should I bring together plants and vessels? My mind turns momentarily to the lovely hand coloured photographs of Constance Spry flower arrangements in her books ‘Winter and Spring Flowers’ and Summer and ‘Autumn Flowers’ – so outrageously staged and old fashioned that I think they might zoom back into our way of thinking any time soon:

IMG_0007IMG_0016                                           Constance Spry flower arrangements

I can see this old French wine bottle working too – the narrow neck a perfect light embrace for the soft heads of Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Westfalen’, Thalictrum delavayi and Hydrangea quercifolia:

But I think I would prefer to suggest individual plants which Edmund might like to grow in his garden.

My first suggestion would be snowdrops – any snowdrops would be good. In fact I would wager that the simplest white of the single white Galanthus nivalis might be his first choice. Snowdrops are especially apt because of the way they increase and repeat to form a gorgeous rhythmic carpet to echo the way Edmund creates installations out of series of pots “like an idea unfolding.”

snow drops

A repeating carpet of single white snowdrops

If I had to choose a special snowdrop to be lifted into an earthenware – or indeed porcelain – pot whilst it is in flower and then lowered back into the ground for the rest of the year, it would be Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’, with its clear yellow ovary and glimpses of a yellow interior. This would be to celebrate the way Edmund has used gilding on porcelain very lightly on some of his most beautiful work.


Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’

For later in the Spring, and for their translucent elegance, I would choose the now increasingly rare Narcissus ‘Jenny’, a perfect, demure narcissus with elegant, light-catching, swept back petals and a subtle creamy trumpet. I could not resist the Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus either – Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus. This is a fragrant, later flowering ‘Poet’s Narcissus’ – for Edmund’s evocative storytelling.


Narcissus ‘Jenny’

Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus

For spring blossom – to celebrate the influence of China and especially Japan on Edmund’s work – I could choose any number of cherry, almond or plum trees. I think the white ornamental quince Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’ would be a good choice as the flowers have a certain spare clarity to them.  


Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Alba’

For June there would be the flowering dogwood Cornus kousa ‘Madame Butterfly’ – which has pink blushed white bracts to echo the slight blush or bloom on a glaze or piece of porcelain, carefully examined. ‘Madame Butterfly’ is known also for fantastic autumn colour and generous crops of pendant bright red fruit – so definitely a plant to shake things up a bit if this collection looks for a moment as if it is trying too hard.


Cornus kousa ‘Madame Butterfly

I think quince would be a perfect fruit tree for Edmund – a simple, oriental quality to the blossom in spring, large oval leaves which are fantastically translucent in the sun and fragrant, slightly downy fruit which can sit quietly in a bowl on his writing desk and be held when a little light distraction is required.

Quince in late summer sunshine

My final tree choice would be Sorbus cashmiriana – for its porcelain like clusters of fruit and gilt tipped foliage against a brilliant September sky.

sorb cash 1IMG_1579Sorbus cashmiriana

But I haven’t finished yet with The White Garden at Sissinghurst.  Against one wall is my favourite white rose for a sheltered garden wall, Rosa laevigata ‘Cooperi’. A neat climbing rose with particularly fine, glossy foliage and glistening white flowers, held singly, each with a large boss of yellow stamens:


Rosa laevigata ‘Cooperi’ against the wall of the The White Garden, Sissinghurst

Rosa laevigata ‘Cooperi’ flower in June

Here in The White Garden the rose is underplanted with a completely magnificent swathe of autumn flowering bulb Zepharanthes candida:

IMG_0912zeph close up

Zepharanthes candida

Clambering lightly over the rose is the loveliest clematis  – with pink-tinged, white, bell-like flowers on slender stems – this is the Estonian herbaceous Clematis ‘Kaui’ which will flower from June to September:

IMG_2573                                                                  Clematis ‘Kaiu’

A strange coincidence occurs as I am about to recommend this group of plants to my friend. I discover that the other name for the species, Rosa laevigata (as opposed to the more highly bred selection ‘Cooperi’) is the ‘Cherokee Rose’. It was introduced from China to the USA in the 1780’s and has been long associated with the ‘Trail of Tears’ – the forced relocation of Native Americans. One of the most poignant moments of the journey related in ‘The White Road’ was  a trip to the Appalachian Mountains to track down the ‘white clay’ so valuable to Europeans such as Josiah Wedgewood and often so roughly prized from the Cherokees.

Such are the dangers of any kind of investigation I suppose. I am a little thrown by my discovery, but still think this group of three white flowering plants are a strong combination. They would be a restrained, elegant addition to a sunny studio wall.