Keeping It Green

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Maianthemum henryi

Maianthemum henryi

This week’s wander through Heronswood’s horticultural delights will focus on green flowers and is not, as the title suggests, a homage to a well-known and much respected local nursery. Green flowers have fascinated me since childhood, in part because my favorite color is green. This may come as no surprise; we gardeners are supposedly green-thumbed (or green-fingered back home) and spotting the weed amidst a bed of better plants requires the ability to perceive green in all its shades. For me though, the charm of green flowers is in their apparent impossibility. The whole purpose of a flower is to be noticed, which is why most flowers are any color but green.

Flower color acts as a signal to pollinating animals. It summons them to the blooms in order to recruit them into the plant’s reproductive regimen. Of course, not all plants utilize animals for pollination. Most grasses and many deciduous trees rely on the wind and their flowers are therefore not required to be showy. Why waste valuable color pigments when you don’t have to. But when I talk about green flowers, I don’t mean the bland blooms of wind-swept fields and forests. I’m talking about pretty flowers that attract pollinators but using green petals to do so.

One such favorite is Maianthemum henryi, an Asian relative of our native false lily-of-the-valley (M. dilatatum), which graces a corner of the Woodland Garden. This plant is interesting because some forms have white flowers, while others have green flowers. Both have a sweet fragrance, which presumably takes on part of the role of attracting pollinators. The identity of its pollinator is unknown, but perhaps it’s a night-flying moth, for whom flower color is irrelevant. Whatever the reason for their unorthodox color, green flowers look great in the garden and also in flower arrangements. A few other top choices include the tobacco Nicotiana langsdorffii, the primrose “Green Lace” and the herbaceous perennial Mathiasella bupleuroides. I grow my greens in a dedicated border, using boxwood topiary to provide structure while ferns and grasses offer softness. Without the distraction of other colors, those green blooms simply sing!

So far, I’ve managed to avoid mentioning coronavirus and its many consequences, but its effects are being felt here at Heronswood. We have had to temporarily reduce our staff numbers and those of us that are left consequently have much more work than time. The Bark-a-Lounger Botanists has therefore had to take a brief sabbatical. However, all previous episodes are available at our website, as are our Field Notes. We also hope to post brief videos from the garden on our Instagram #heronswoodgrdn and Facebook feeds.

Wishing you all happy gardening!

– Dr. Ross Bayton, Heronswood Assistant Director

 
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