Of paris polyphylla and pedalling visitors

It would be fair to say this week that I am married to a disappointed man. Some ingrate of a garden visitor has stolen his paris seed. Probably ninety nine out of a hundred visitors wouldn’t even recognise his prized paris polyphylla as a rare delight, let alone think to help themselves to the seed which he had carefully pollinated and was watching ripen. Sadly the one in a hundred who was capable of recognising it was also the one in several thousand who would be mean enough to steal this treasure.

If the visitor had bothered to talk about it with Mark, he could have told them how very difficult it is to get paris seed to germinate and why he was trying to pollinate the flowering plant with a different clone to get viable seed which would then need the best of nursery conditions to try and raise any offspring. If they were that keen, he would probably have shared some of the resulting seedlings if he was successful in this latest attempt. Instead this person just helped himself and odds on, he or she won’t get it to germinate at all, especially as the seed was not yet ripe. Such a waste.

And ninety nine out of a hundred of you are probably wondering, in a desultory sort of a way, just what a paris polyphlla is when it is at home. It is a Himalayan plant related to trilliums with a green flower showing yellow anthers and red stamens and is grown as a woodland plant. It is an herbaceous perennial which goes underground in autumn and returns in spring if you are lucky. Like trilliums, it prefers a cooler climate to ours so Mark has been delighted with how well his three plants are doing. Although the flowers can grow to 15cm across, it is an understated gem rather than a stunning in-your-face display. Described on a website I looked at as “excruciatingly difficult to propagate”, Mark nodded in agreement.

At this time of the year the vast majority of our garden visitors are from overseas (and we do not suspect any of them of the theft of the paris seed). Not that we get huge numbers of summer garden visitors, but most are from the UK. However there have been a significant of Canadians this year – not a place of origin we have noticed before. I was a little defeated by what to show the tour of Canadian nurserypeople from Alberta. When they told me their winter temperatures were in the minus 20 to minus 40 range, all I could reply was that I doubted that there were any plants we grew which would survive for them and that all they could do was enjoy a look at a different lifestyle. Mind you, the landscaper from Chicago also observed that it is so cold there that they spend six months of the year indoors. We really don’t know how lucky we are.

The most interesting international visitor pedalled in without warning this week. We met him nearly two years ago where he gave us a tour of the botanic gardens on the isle of Brissago in the middle of Lake Maggiore. Technically Swiss, Brissago sits close to the border with Italy. It was one of the cutest little islands I have ever seen. About four or five acres in area, all garden surrounding a charming villa. I could happily have lived there, for a while at least. I recall a fine stand of taxodiums, growing right on the edges of the lake with fascinating nubbly knees in the water.

Hans retired as curator about six years ago, which gives an idea of his age. He pedalled in here about 2.30pm, having cycled from Ohura that day (unsealed roads, Mount Messenger and all). A man on a mission, he had a very quick tour of garden, gulped a cup of tea, declined our offer of dinner and a bed on the grounds that it was too early in the day to stop and he had too much ground to cover and pedalled off again. I noticed he travelled light – a water bottle, folded raincoat, wallet and small overnight bag about the size of my London daughter’s handbag.

We felt he set new standards for retirement, determination, travelling light and not overstaying his welcome. I have issued the challenge to other international horticulturists of mutual acquaintance to eclipse this performance.

I submitted my last column about music in the garden with some nervousness. After my tangle with the Fringe Garden Festival supporters late last year, I am a little more circumspect in what I make jokes about. But in the event, the only feedback came from two sources. The first derogatory comment reported to me was clearly made by somebody who didn’t actually read what I wrote. And the second was from a friend who hotfooted it out here to ensure that I was not telling porkies about Mark’s worsleya flowering. He bemoaned the fact that yet again the middle class, middleaged, white, heterosexual male was ignored as I failed to allocate an appropriate tune to this social group. What could I suggest off the top of my head but Fred Dagg’s Gumboot Song?