And thence to fragility

If anticipation is one of the assumed but rarely articulated responses that contribute an exquisite, almost painful ache to the whole garden thing, fragility is another.

There’s something so poignant about blooms that are likely to be smashed apart, any minute, by a passing shower or gust of wind.

Opium poppies – that left one on the very brink of collapse. Any second now..

If you think this discussion is getting a bit too fragile and delicate itself, blame Marcus Harvey, whose fabulous description of crocus on the melting snowline in Greece (in response to my last post) have precipitated these further thoughts.  I also got to see a pic of same, but you’ll have to travel to Marcus’ talk in Adelaide next week if you want to see that. (When is that talk, Marcus?  Why don’t we all know about these upcoming events?  Maybe I need to publish a ‘talks to travel interstate for’ list..)

Anyway, back to fragility.  I started to wonder about the flowers that give off the greatest sense of fragility, and was surprised to find that I didn’t have to go to anything more obscure than the poppy (top image).  On quick analysis (don’t think I’m capable of any other kind), their fragility comes from that fabulous crushed-petal thing that most do so well, the semi-transparency of the petal (though a lot of flowers share that), and the fact that the flowers hardly appear to age.  At some point they simply fall apart – disintegrate – leaving a trail of apparently undamaged petals on the ground beneath.

Nearly as fragile are the outrageously short-lived flowers on my Paeonia mlokoswitschii (don’t worry, hardly anyone can pronounce it, hence the very acceptable nickname ‘Molly the witch’).  I’m inordinately proud of, and pleased with, this plant, as I grew it from seed retrieved from the fire heap at Great Dixter, on which a friend (Michael Dale, whose praises as a gardener I can’t sing loud enough) was lounging one sunny summer afternoon.  It took nearly a decade to flower, but now does so most years, depending on how effectively I’ve controlled the crazy growth around it the previous summer.  It shares the same transparency as the poppy, and the same disintegration tactics.  The only thing it misses is the petal-creasing.  There’s also some implied strength in the globularity of these blooms which reduces their fragility factor, but you quickly realise that it an implication is all it is.

Fragility isn’t quite the same thing as ephemerality, but thinking of one has lead me to the other.  Both have equal power to instil a sieze-the-day mentality, and demand a several-times-a-day visiting program.

My ephemerality prize goes to a species of Moraea (then Gynandiris) that was known to flower for a few hours on one afternoon only.  I guess if you had thousands of the things there’d be a fair chance of spotting them in bloom as they’d stagger their flowering a bit, but when you had only one, as I did..

Anyway, the greatest pleasure we ever had was to see that it had flowered.  A not-inconsiderable pleasure, I might add.

Michael Dale lolling about on the fire-heap at Great Dixter – a virtual straw-tick of rarities. Dang – I can spot some alliums there now, twenty years later. How did I leave them uncollected? I remember on one occasion telling Christopher Lloyd that I’d potted up all growable pieces of a Miscanthus sacchariflorus that we’d lifted, and thrown the rest on the fire heap. Of course, the fire heap then exploded into Miscanthus growth.  This didn’t go unnoticed by CL, who thoroughly enjoyed pointing it out to me. He loved nothing more than finding minor fault like this, and I obliged (unwittingly) by giving him plenty of opportunities.


  1. Hello Michael,
    Granted your Molly the Witch peony, is prizeworthy in terms of ephemerality. However one flower spectacle that a whole population can enjoy, is the cherry blossom flowering in Japan which very quickly turns to cherry blossom “rain” in 72 hours. Woebetide the poor overseas traveller who arrives one day late and misses out on the full spectacle of cherry trees in bloom in Kyoto!

    1. The fear of that may keep me away from a Japan spring. But it’s the perfect example of the massive celebration of a very passing horticultural moment.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed the fragility of prunus blossoms. When I was a kid our street was lined with Prunus x blireana. It was a special thing for me if they just happened to be out in full bloom on my birthday in mid August, as I walked past them on my way home from school. Usually by the next day, Sydney’s dry, gusty August winds would have blown them apart.

    1. Dry, gusty winds in August? T-shirt clad al fresco lunches in July (see Robin Powell, last post)? I’m moving north

  3. The fragility of the poppy is matched by it’s sublime powers of narcosis. Such a shame it became a political football and got blackballed.

    My grandmothers Universal Home Remedy.

    1. There were even incidents of police raids on tiny suburban gardens, stripping them of oriental poppies – the wrong species entirely!

  4. What about hovering over Sanguinaria canadensis Flore Pleno; too scared to breathe on case we blow the petals away from their fragile anchor . The exquisite Glaucidium palmatum is similar.

    1. Oh yeah. I’d forgotten about Sanguinaria canadensis flore pleno. Shatters at the flutter of a butterfly wing in the other hemisphere. But delicious.

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