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August 1-15, 2006


DIRT

Tropical Tedium II
Text and Photograph by Dianne Benson
A TRIP OVERSEAS BRINGS EVEN MORE REASONS TO ESCHEW TROPICALS
[Image]

Having just returned from the gardening godhead of the English Cotswolds, I have new thoughts and additional misgivings about the sudden and overwhelming popularity of all things tropical. I want to reassure you that there was not one Alocasia or Colocasia of any persuasion to be seen there. Who needs them? Certainly not the celebrated British gardeners and certainly not us with our huge diversity and ability to grow the most incredible things. If architectural and exotic perennials are enough for the conventional and eccentric English, surely they are sufficiently exciting for us. True, by virtue of their inimitable climate, the Brits can grow things like the fantastic ancient Tasmanian tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica and the occasional palm, but it's certainly not these unattainables that make an English garden divine.

If I had to choose one thing, it was the ancient tree peonies that sent me into some kind of a dizzying garden lather. And they weren't even in bloom! Not normal herbaceous peonies or even breathtaking Chinese Paeonia obovata, tree peonies are woody and get better and bigger the longer you persevere. After the large and lush flowers fade, the glorious, fattened seedpods punctuate the gnarly branches and complement the lacy, fan-like leaflets. Though it is said that peonies never like to be disturbed, I have had implausible luck uprooting them from my all-shade garden and plunking them into full sun where they have flourished in their new habitat.

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