GARDENING / Peculiar Plants

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The Independent Culture
GREEN flowers are weird. With the exception of lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis), the flower arranger's favourite, they are difficult to love. Gardeners will recoil from a green rose, a green zinnia, or a plantain grown for its double green flowers. Even the green- flowered Corsican hellebore (helleborus argutifolius) and the native stinking hellebore (helleborus foetidus) both belong to a family of plants that have always been associated with witchcraft and madness. There seems to be something degenerate about green flowers, provoking reactions of surprise rather than delight, as if nature had tried every other colour, then decided it was not worth the effort of producing pigmentation.

Greenery yallery tones suggest fin desiecle decadence. The green zinnia 'Envy' is a flower Oscar Wilde would have adored, had it been around in his day; I bet he would have worn it in his buttonhole. During a hot summer like this one, zinnias thrive - but they are not easy to grow. Browning off, accidentally falling off, these half-hardy, half- hearted seedlings are as effete as they come.

Other gardeners may be cleverer than I am at growing 'Envy'. I suspect that a later sowing and no transplanting is what they like, but for me they (or this year, it - because only one zinnia made it to open ground) are worth the effort. For those who cannot abide a zinnia, there are two even worse torments. The green rose, Rosa 'Viridiflora', is very hard to love. It is also quite hard to see. I grew it once, because the 1950s gardening writer Margery Fish made it sound so appealing. 'Crumpled green flowers and maroon centres on a north wall,' she wrote. For 'crumpled' read 'distorted' - and you would need to do a lot of uncrumpling before you found the maroon centres.

Mrs Fish also recommends the rose plantain, whose double green flowers make it look as if it has been growing rather too close to a nuclear power station for peace of mind. This I have never grown, but I have seen it in other people's gardens; if the idea of running an Olde Curiosity Shoppe out of doors appeals, this is the plant to have.

The usual reaction of disgust at its freakish flower is compounded by the fact that a plantain is a weed which most people are bent on eradicating. Plantago 'Rosularis' is listed by 26 nurseries in the The Plant Finder, so its frisson-worthiness must be profitable.

Red hot pokers are an anathema to many. I have yet to see the reaction produced by a poker called 'Green Jade', though the dash of cream in the colouring could nudge it into the flower arranger's dream category rather than into freak's corner. None of these plants will appeal to lovers of June gardens brimming with pink and white roses, but for those who are attracted to the odd and the surreal, or who just want to shock a little, green flowers are the ones to grow.

(Photograph omitted)

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