Variety is the spice of life

Even in a washout of a summer like this one has been with very little sun to encourage them, plants still need to produce flowers which in turn need to be pollinated, to set seed and produce the next generation. We’re very lucky here that the climate allows us to grow a wide range of flowers besides our own native species and if we take the trouble to look it’s amazing how much variety there is among them from dense clusters of tiny ones packed together in umbels like achilleas, separate hooded shapes on long stems like foxgloves and the simple open saucers of hardy geraniums. These are just a few of those nature has selected through evolution and when it comes to cultivars which we’ve manipulated to suit our own tastes over the years we find that some have become so complicated that they’ve lost any resemblance to their wild ancestors. Some flowers like the very full and multi petalled roses have actually ceased to be the reproductive organ of the plant and have lost that part of themselves which gave them their reason to be. I like these blowsy flowers as much as anybody but I do think that they are completely missing the point, if they no longer produce pollen and nectar to attract pollinators then as part of the garden’s ecosystem they are entirely pointless. Flowers have different colours, shapes and sizes because they have evolved together with their particular pollinators, each of which have their own preferences and means of obtaining pollen and nectar, their reward for the service of pollination. It’s no accident that there is such variety in the world of flowers and lucky for us, the more variety we have the more opportunity there is to be creative with them in the garden.
Whether our aim is simply a bright and cheery display or a more sophisticated colour co-ordinated arrangement , the choice is there and just like the insects, we have our own preferences too. Most of us select our plants for their flowers and those flowers for their colour, but their shapes and forms are important too. In my work I place plants in gardens so that they enhance one another and if I’m in doubt about how things will look together I experiment. When it comes to flowers, instead of digging up the whole plant it’s much easier to put them together as cut flowers in a vase. At the moment I have an arrangement of acid green parsley with the airy wands of purple toadflax and the sultry dark plum spikes of hedge woundwort in the hall and in the kitchen is an arrangement of baby pink clouds of Persicaria campanulata with tall spikes of the palest purple Veronicastrum ‘Lavendelturm’ and the lovely lavender and soft grey sprays of catmint. Although only short lived, flowers add interest, structure and variety to the garden and as we all know, variety is the spice of life.