Molly's Brief Appearance

For reasons I’d only be guessing at, it’s a great year for Paeonia ‘Molly the Witch’ (Paeonia mlokosewitschii).  It could be that it’s the third relatively moist summer in a row, or it could be that last year I removed a huge miscanthus that used to almost entirely swallow it alive every year.  But for whatever reason, it’s flowering as well as it ever has, with fifteen perfectly spaced, perfectly orb-like flower buds in primrose lemon.

Molly on day 3 of flowering

It’s hard to work out if I get more pleasure from the beauty of its current moment, or the joy of its backstory. 

The beauty of the moment contains the above accumulated perfections, along with an exquisite fragility that demands your attention.  At a glance, you know that this moment can’t last, and a still, small voice whispers that if you overlook it now, when would you ever give it the time it deserves, and are you really, therefore, worthy of its graces?  Are you, for all your online pontifications, just another swine before which its perfect pearl-shaped buds are pointlessly cast?

So I give it the time, and each moment is richly rewarded.

Michael Dale lounging on the fire heaps at Great Dixter in 1991

Then there’s the backstory.  This is the oldest perennial in my garden, having been grown by me from seed collected off the fire heap at Great Dixter by my longest term gardening friend, Michael Dale (his working for Beth Chatto for a year overlapped with my summer working with Christopher Lloyd at Dixter. How did we ever get so lucky?). He was lolling about on the dry fire heap in late August 1991, on my last weekend at Dixter, and threw the seeds down to me.  On returning to Australia, I grew it on, and such is my suboptimal husbandry, it took about a decade to flower at all.

But now it’s an every year thing.  One that lasts about a week, if I’m lucky.

Had to chuck this one in. Me and Michael Dale collecting apricots for Christopher Lloyd’s jam making in August 1991. The pic was taken by my wife, who was down on the Lutyens steps with a hammer, extracting kernels from the stones for addition to the jam. The apricot is, alas, no more, having been lost during wall repairs in the intervening years

What plant in your garden holds the best backstory?


  1. What a lovely story, and what a name! May she continue to delight you each year. My garden is full of memories, my mothers roses, flowers that bloom on important days of remembrance and beautiful perennials that came from generous garden lovers.

Leave a Comment

More Blog Posts

PLANT OF THE WEEK #45: Melianthus 'Purple Haze'

I’m guessing that you know Melianthus major.  As a shrub, there’s nothing else even faintly like it.  The most prominent and valuable characteristic are its pinnate pewter-green leaves, which in ...

A huge few days

It’s a huge few days for The Gardenist in the lead up to the launch of Dream Gardens Season 2, and I thought you might like to keep up with what’s going on in case you have the chance to catch any ...

PLANT OF THE WEEK #103: Digitalis canariensis

I have a thing for caramelly/biscuity coloured flowers. I can’t help but think that it’s linked to a sweet tooth.  As I scan quickly back through memory files, every one of the plants that spring ...