Bedding the Reds
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David Stuart

The weather sweeps down between two ranges of hills. Grey and chilled, it saps colour and smell from the garden, and makes us, under glass, dream of warmth and colour. Red. There we are: a red garden - such a relief fm the usual pastel things, or white, which cautious gardeners think to be tasteful, and really do look cool in a hot summer... But just now, red seems the ideal. An ambiguous one.

There are, on reflection, nice reds, nasty reds, reds without subtlety, reds to go weak at the knees for, reds filled with exciting warmth, and reds that, on close acquaintance, chill to the very marrow. Think of the roses. Endless reds amongst them, from the hot, dusty red of the better forms of Rosa moyesii (flowers alive with bees gathering pollen), or the odd, apricot red of the lovely (but black-spot raddled), R. foetida, and on through the purplish, bruised reds of things like R. rugosa 'Roseraie de l'Hay'... Odd, though that that rather dubious tradition associates red roses with truest love. Dubious in that the tradition is not that old, but also in the interpretation of the colour. There are several modern varieties of red rose, rescued from the wind, sitting in the glass here, clashing in a way that suggests only a deeply stressful relationship.

One of them, a climbing hybrid tea is in an astonishing... well, how to describe it? Language is not much use for describing colours, though 'red' does better than most perhaps, with scarlet, cerise, magenta, lake, crimson, ruby, burgundy, vermilion, alizarin, and more. None suits the rose in question: a sort of brilliant pale scarlet with a weird salmon-red wash over it. Even the glaze and undertone clash. Were the plant to mature (it's days are numbered), then a wall-full of that colour would be a sight indeed, though perhaps it could be toned down to decency levels by a silvery leafed climber - perhaps the lovely 'Dusty Miller' vine.

But even if a lover's glut of roses aren't for you, you could still have plenty of fun with a high red summer, and pretend you're part of Hidcote (though the red garden there is not what it was). You'll just have missed some wonderful brick reds amongst the new lupins - try especially the garden centre favourite 'My Castle'. But still going strong are the various lychnises, purest and dullest vermilion in Lychnis chalcedonica, best in the rare double form, though even single, it looks wonderful amongst grey-blue flowers, preferably tall things like Campanula lactiflora. If you don't have space, get Lychnis arkwrightii. Easy from seed, it can cheerfully give you a sea of large and loud flowers, though there are forms with grey-toned reds that are seriously lovely.

Also starting now are the forms of Chrysanthemum coccineum (the pyrethrums), good pinks normally, but some with reds that move into the richest burgundies that still manage not to look awful around the tawny yellow centres. There's a rather similar shade to be had, though with a satiny sheen, from the French honeysuckle. Odd that Hedysarum coronarium is not more often seen; it is easy from seed, does luxuriantly in an ordinary border, and the pale green pea foliage is heavily dotted with big clover heads of the purplish mid-red of some ecclesiastical garment. Well worth having. It's difficult to know why it should have the honeysuckle handle; there's no scent.

Add that with some of the dianthus (there are good annuals and perennials), with reds mostly a bit of blue, giving rich plummy tones, darkening to the almost black reds of broken hearted blood clots. If you like dark tones, then you might also think of having astrantias. Astrantia rubra is the one to go for; in some of the better forms the red is browned right down to a mahogany red that makes the flowers very handsome - just the thing to give richness amongst the scarlet and bronze forms of annual poppies developed from the lovely wildflower of the barley fields.

And climbers... For high summer, the common nasturtium takes some beating, and can be found in good burgundy reds and scarlets as well as the usual shrieking orange and chrome yellows. If you find them too much, try the Scotch flame flower (ugh), Tropaeolum speciosum. Now, there's a red. Here, it's clambering up through the privet hedge (which sets it off quite as well as yew, though it can also be seen happily going up some Edinburgh railings). Its red is a subtly clouded one, like a fire that's going out, a sumptuous colour that can almost be duplicated by some of the summer flowering clematis. If you like small flowers, then try forms of the lovely Clematis viticella. 'Kermesina' is gorgeous (it looks marvellous with, and isn't depressed by, the common 'Russian vine'), though other 'lovelies' in this species aare 'Royal Velours', 'Mme Julia Correvon' (light burgundy red), or 'Margot Koster' (the largest flowers in group).

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Copyright david stuart 2004

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