I often hear gardeners talk about plants that need little to no care once they’re established. Of course, I see the appeal of a low-demand garden to enjoy when we get a break from our high-demand lifestyles. With this very logic in mind I have an unblinking exhibition of Euphorbia rigida outside my front door that greets me with displays of jade and lime green fractals all year round (future ‘Plant of the Week’, no doubt, and well deserved). This plant really out-performs itself, giving so much and asking for no more than the searing west sun, dry baked soil and year-round neglect.
However, I get a different sense of pleasure from the plants that I have a more reciprocal relationship with; the ones that need to be more thoughtfully positioned, require some soil preparation and a little more water over the warmer months. Plants that will stop me in my tracks with a little satisfying tingle of achievement. I’m sure I’m not the only gardener who has stopped to greet a re-emerging perennial like an old friend. Perhaps it’s this feeling that keeps us gardening.
For this reason I have chosen to showcase my unsung hero Thalictrum rochebrunianum, a native to Japan. When its fresh green leaves, airbrushed with charcoal, first begin to unfurl through the detritus of winter, it heralds the coming of spring to my garden. Its maiden-hair like foliage is a soft, diffused green and tall flower spikes are an airy mass of mauve-pink that sit high on the delicate structure beneath, drawing the eye up to its movement in the slightest breeze. I like to leave the autumn flower spikes for their height and structural framework, as the season changes to copper and seed heads.
This plant competes well with later perennials, which help to keep it cool in the warmer months. Although tall, it’s not the showiest of plants, more an understated beauty that frames the statement plants around it. Like a well-positioned spray in a vase of brash heroes.
Together with Thalictrum flavum subsp. glaucum, this plant is parent to the taller and bolder Thalictrum ‘Elin’, another beautiful plant well worth the effort of good old-fashioned gardening.
I’m sure that our forced lockdown is causing many of us to rekindle our friendships with the plants in our back-yards; gardening now less ‘chore’ and more ‘welcome respite’ from the changeless scenery of our walls.
I will always keep some space in my garden for the likes of Thalictrum rochebrunianum and relish the little buzz I get from a garden I have earned. For me, this plant is a reminder of why I fell in love with gardening; continued learning season after season, anticipation and moments of success. To tend a garden is to be part of a changing canvas, which returns my effort many-fold.
Mike is one of the Antique Perennials boys – Instagram