The grass formerly known as Stipa arundinacea, now
Anemanthele lessoniana with Pelargonium sidoides
on my south-facing terrace, shot on 31st January 2008.
May I wish everyone a supremely happy, prosperous, fulfilling, rewarding, peaceful, jolly, sexy, delicious and generally gardentastic New Year? Thank you so much for all for your lovely comments, since I began this blog just a few months ago, and may 2009 be a vintage year for bloggers and gardeners everywhere!
Apart from sending you good wishes, this is a speedy interim post, inspired by a joyful discovery in the garden yesterday. Having spent the last few days nursing fireside toddies while the 'frosty wind made moan' outside, I had assumed that two weeks of bitter weather would have have bumped off most of our tender plants.
But when I went into the garden yesterday, to take my usual New Year's Eve tally of what was in flower, I was rather impressed. Details of what's on show will follow in a day or two - not too boringly, I promise - but I have dashed back indoors to sing the praises of a single, remarkable plant.
We've just heard the New Years Honours – and I mustn't make any cynical comments about getting on your bike, if you want a knighthood, or how bank officials seem to get rewarded regardless of the quagmire they've dumped us into. No! No! Enough of that!!! Instead of the predictable list from Downing Street, I have a candidate for the ultimate award:
Meet Pelargonium sidoides, a pretty 'geranium' from the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. I've seen it growing wild near Port Elizabeth, but have been told that the specimen in my garden, acquired in the UK, is probably not quite the truly wild species and more likely to be an early hybrid.
The flowers of Pelargonium sidoides of gardens
The rounded, ruffled, silvery leaves are an absolute delight, especially when joined by airy cascades of small maroon flowers which are held on slender, branched stems just clear of the leaves. Flowering is almost continuous and I gather that this plant also has medicinal properties, providing an extract which is used to relieve bronchial diseases.
What is so amazing is that my oldest specimen has overwintered outdoors, unprotected, for three winters. And it seems to be shrugging off the current, considerably colder one. At first light for past few mornings, its leaves have been white with hoar frost. But by midday the frost is gone and although the air temperature has hovered within a degree or so of freezing, the plant is totally unscathed, thus far, and continues to bloom merrily. The pictures above and below were shot yesterday, but the plant is still healthy and happy today, even though last night's frost was even fiercer.
So, I'd like to salute the bravery of this steadfast little Afrikaaner – the local name is kalwerbossie – which looks so pretty next to the rust-coloured grass Anemanthele lessoniana on my terrace. I thought it should receive nothing less than the coveted Victoria Cross. This is appropriate, not just because of the words on the medal itself: 'For Valour' – a delectable example of Victorian understatement – but also because the ribbon that goes with Britain's highest military decoration, is similar in colour to the flowers of Pelargonium sidoides.