There is something odd about green flowers. Despite the fact that nature surrounds us with infinite shades of green, we are, nonetheless, always surprised to see green flowers. After all, flowers are supposed to stand out; their colours are supposed to attract the bees and insects necessary for pollination. A green flower seems to flout these rules and declares itself to be above such petty restrictions.
At Sissinghurst this summer, there are three green flowers that are causing quite a stir. Two of them were introduced by Vita Sackville-West, who was intrigued by these horticultural oddities and the third was probably introduced by Pam and Sibylle, Vita’s Head Gardeners.
The first is Ixia viridiflora, a delicate-looking beauty from South Africa with starry turquoise green flowers floating on a thin stem. They are planted near to the big copper pot in the Lower Courtyard where their flowers perfectly match the verdigris on the pot. They are surrounded by the pink Argyranthemum ‘Mary Wooton’, the blue flowers of Isotoma axillaris, Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’ and the blue-grey foliage of an Acaena. It is a lovely combination.
The second is Rosa viridiflora, a china rose planted at the bottom of the Rose Garden. The flower colour is a lime green, flecked with streaks of red. More of a curiosity than a great beauty, it has a certain panache as it sits it the Rose Garden surrounded by its prettier neighbours. It is determinedly different with a somewhat rebellious attitude, reminding me of a teenager who has dyed their hair green and then gone to a garden party with their parents.
The third is Puya alpestris, growing in the Top Courtyard near the Library and also in a pot just at the entrance to the White Garden.
This unusual plant is a bromeliad and coming from South America, prefers a constant year-round frost-free environment and will not tolerate our cold, wet winter soil, although it will survive a few low temperatures down to -5 degrees celsius. That means it lives in the Nursery glasshouse for most of the year, only venturing outside for its moment of glory in the summer. It has narrow, spiny slightly fleshy leaves arising from a central rosette and this is what we see for most of the year. It’s not much of a ‘looker’ but when high summer arrives the Puya puts on its party clothes, sending out a long alien-looking spike with lime green buds which gradually open to reveal amazing jade green flowers with contrasting orange stamen.
It is certainly the Jean Paul Gaultier of the flower world. The flowers are trumpet-shaped and the petals thick and waxy, and as they finish, the flowers twist tightly, remaining on the stem. In its native South America, the Puya is pollinated by humming birds, a fact that only adds to its exotic charm and mystery.
So whilst we all love our pink roses and yellow sunflowers, if we are adventurous enough to give green flowers a chance to shine, they can really steal the show and will add a note of style and glamour to our summer gardens.