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See a sample issue of The Irish Garden!

August 2012

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Old Cabbage Rose, New Magnolia and Blairii No.1

Pink used to be away down low in my list of favourite flower colours. When I started gardening, the only pink flowers allowed in the garden were the old cabbage rose and Geranium endressii.  As far as I was concerned, the colour to have was red in all its shades and I could hardly wait to get my hands on an embothrium.  But recently I have realised that I now go for pink flowers more often than fiery reds. They look more at ease under frequently grey skies and drizzling rain and there are pink flowers for every month of the year.


Early in the year Daphne bholua has myriad mauve pink, scented flowers.  In last year's mild winter it was blooming before Christmas brightening December, the gloomiest month, and bearing its flowers until the end of February. The rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer', with pink flowers that fade to white, doesn't usually bloom here until early February but I have seen it in full flower at Mount Stewart in October.

There is a particularly beautiful hellebore called Helleborus thibetanus with warm pink flowers with pointed sepals. Unusually for a hellebore, it is completely deciduous - it doesn't appear above ground until February and then disappears again in early summer. When the ash tree, that fell in a storm in January, left only the central stem of a pink-flowering Magnolia stellata, I badly missed the flowers. 

Then, in the middle of March, I was in a garden centre and saw, for sale, a magnificent Magnolia soulangeana covered in plump, silken flower buds. It was much taller than I am. A kind of mist comes over my eyes when I see a very desirable - usually very costly - plant so I asked the owner, whom I have known for a long time, if he would reduce the price.  He agreed, so it went down from being extremely expensive to just very expensive.  I still had plant tokens left over from Christmas and a birthday coming up in April so, in the end, it was affordable. It was far too big to fit in the car so had to be delivered. It arrived here on March 30th and I had the most wonderful surprise because the buds had opened out into flowers of rich pink.  It said on the label they would be pink/white and I just assumed they would be white - possibly pink in bud.

The majority of camellias here are pink because they are Williams hybrids which perform much better in cool, damp, northern conditions than the Japonica hybrids. Another point in favour of the Williams hybrids is that their spent flowers fall to the ground instead of turning brown and hanging on. A pool of pink petals is nearly as attractive as blooms on the bush.

One of my favourite rhododendrons has the unromantic name of ‘Mrs G. W. Leak' which has trusses of funnel-shaped pink flowers with dark brown and very deep red markings within. The well known Rhododendron ‘Pink Pearl' has grown in a damp - sometimes swampy - border in the stackyard for years and blooms abundantly every May.

Although I have red, yellow, peach, apricot and white roses I love pink ones that have a rich fragrance. The cabbage rose, Rosa centifolia, I grew up with and I have one of its offspring.  Although its flowering is brief it's lovely to sniff deeply the glorious scent that makes me wish summer and roses would last for ever. The strangely named ‘Blairii No. 1' is a Bourbon climber that blooms for a very long time. At Easter it had three buds, albeit covered in greenfly before the ladybirds got down to business, and it will probably go on flowering until November. It has large, very fragrant soft blush pink flowers.

Pink nerines flowering in October bring a fresh note to autumn's golds and russets and then, in November, dull autumn mornings are brightened by the pale pink narrow-petalled flowers of Schizostylis coccinea ‘Viscountess Byng'.




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