I posted on Sunday about my visit to Sissinghurst, where I concentrated on form and texture in the rose garden.
The Cottage Garden has a very different feel at the height of summer. Yes, there is form and texture, but mainly it is about the shimmering, simmering colour.
I adore Crocosmia, and this orange form sets the tone for the tropical feel to the Cottage Garden at this time of year. I love the complex form, with feathers and tongues of flames, and the tapering shape spilling over and cascading downwards. Its common name of ‘Falling Stars’ suits it perfectly.
Another iconic plant is Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’. Like so many of the South African daisies, the actual flowers are the tiny ‘disc florets’ arranged in Fibonacci spirals at the centre of the larger ‘ray florets’. To see the structure of Helenium under magnification see this rather marvellous page. The flower on the left of the photo below is less mature than the one on the right. As the disc florets mature, they produce yellow two-headed curly stigma on each brown pistil.
The bees love Helenium. Each stiff, upright stem is constantly rocking from side to side with buzzing bees. There is a sort of percussion to a Helenium.
Sunflowers also have disc and ray florets, and make use of Fibonacci sequences. Flowers tend to make use of Fibonacci numbers in the number of petals, sepals, pistils and so on. Fibonacci numbers are: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and 55. Fibonacci numbers arise from adding the last two numbers in the sequence, so 3+5=8; 5+8=13; 8+13=21; 13+21=34. The Fibonacci numbers in disc florets swirl outwards from the centre. The pattern crops up again and again in nature, in starfish, pinecones, leaf arrangements and seedheads.
Sunflowers have 34, 55 or 89 petals. Except when they have 21.
Here’s the Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia. Another wonder of nature is iridescence. Iridescence (which I find almost impossible to spell or type correctly) is a phenomenon seen on butterflys’ wings, peacock feathers, bubbles and some petals. If the light catches it one way it looks one colour, but if seen from a slightly different angle, it turns another colour. The cells on the surface of the petal or wing are arranged in regular scales, but the surface is curved. Lightwaves travel in predictable patterns with crests and troughs which can combine with one another. In constructive interference, they are combining to intensify the colour, but in destructive interference they combine to dim the colour. These phenomena combined causes the colour to shimmer. In the case of Tithonia, the outer ray florets can appear vermillion or gold. Another example of nature being, literally, brilliant.
Talking of feathers…
The Martagon lily eschews Fibonacci numbers. It prefers the number 6. Diversity is everything in nature.
Here is Digitalis ferruginea, the rusty foxglove. Looking marvellous with the sunflowers and the worn bricks of the South Cottage behind. There is an elemental rawness in this garden.
And my final pick is the more flexible Verbascum ‘Cotswold Queen’. Both Digitalis and Verbascum have rosettes of leaves at the base, with spiralling towers of flowers. They are outward looking and curious.
I hope you burn brightly this week. I hope your constructive interference is strong and your destructive interference is weak, but if you get both, remember to shimmer. Like only you know how.
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