Painted plants

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Ageing head of a white Hydrangea macrophylla

Much as I would love to be able to paint, I have no artistic talent. This fact was impressed upon me in high school art classes, when my ghastly daubs were panned by my teacher. Painting, however, has been very much in my thoughts lately, and I started to observe that there are some plants in my garden that really do look like works of art in themselves, as if created with a brush by a skilled artist. Today I walked around my garden to find and admire these plants, and to pay tribute to some of them for their amazing beauty.

Calathea lancifolia

One which always elicits comments from garden visitors is the foliage plant Calathea lancifolia (syn. Calathea insignis, ht 40 cm), a gift from a kind friend who is downsizing. All Calathea are lovely specimens, with attractively patterned foliage, but this one is quite outstanding, with purple undersides to its elegant long leaves, the top bright green sides of which look as if they have been adorned by someone painting a picture of a leaf frond with two shades of dark green! Like all Calathea, it thrives in dry shade, steadily making a sizable clump. It also looks spectacular in a pot.

Coleus cultivar

All coleus plants look as if they have been hand-painted by some sort of Fauvist devotee; there seems no end to the colours and patterns that can be found on the myriad cultivars: spots, splashes, margins, chevrons and random splodges. I love them all, for the vibrancy they bring to shaded areas and their potential for creating colour echoes with flowering shade-lovers. My very favourite one (pictured above) has big lush green leaves with edges that are smudged in purplish-brown, like some sort of ink painting done on wet paper. I can gaze and gaze at these leaves for ages, admiring their beauty. They look sumptuous with nearby monochromatic purplish-brown foliage plants such as Alternanthera dentata.

Canna Striata with a mature head of Kniphofia ensifolia

Canna often have wonderfully exotic leaves; 'Tropicanna' with its striped foliage marked in orange, red, green and bronze, and 'Striata' with its yellow-lined green paddle leaves are two well-known ones. Both look as if they have been hand-painted by a meticulous artist - and like coleus, they lend themselves to making colour echoes. I captured 'Striata' today providing an apt background for a green-tinged, yellow-bloomed Kniphofia ensifolia - past its pristine best but still looking good..

Dahlia Moonfire

Amongst flowers, I think multi-hued Dahlia are perhaps the most artistic. Last year I was given a particularly beautiful one (name unknown; pictured at the start of my blog two weeks' ago) with rough brush strokes of pink on white petals. The cultivar 'Moonfire' has golden-yellow petals with deep orange tones at its centre that merge to form an exquisite bloom, as if a skilled watercolourist has been at work.

Euphorbia cyathophora

An unusual annual, Euphorbia cyathophora, has tiny central clustered flowers with a surrounding vivid orange pattern on the green leaves, looking as if it has been applied using some sort of matt folk-art paint. The overall effect is like a miniature poinsettia, and it lasts for ages. This interesting plant is an enthusiastic self-seeder!

Ageing heads of some mophead Hydrangea shrubs can show gorgeous washed, muted colours like a living painting. Not all of my Hydrangea flower heads age as well as the one pictured at the start of the blog: it lasts for months and is a medley of pinks, and has actually been depicted in a painting by an artist friend.

Who knows how or why plants have developed these lovely painterly forms. All I know is that it lets me have art in my garden without my having to wield a brush!