Trendy and not-so-trendy plants


Every year at Chelsea we used to suggest that everyone from our stand sallied forth, surveyed the marquee and the show gardens and came back and agreed on that year’s trendy (and possibly pointless, anyone remember the red delphinium?) plant. I no longer go to Chelsea, but even on the limited amount of coverage I’ve seen, one plant keeps being mentioned: Cirsium rivulare artropurpeum. At last I can join the plantswomen – you know who you are – and cry ‘I’ve got one of those!’

Admittedly, I nearly didn’t have, after it almost got weeded out as being a thistle:

CRiv - really

which – of course – it is, but not weeded by me. Let me just document here that I’d have had to cut off the biscuit supply, let alone the cups of tea and Welsh cakes supply, and I will do so in the face of any other enthusiastic weeding events.

Despite the poor spring, it has done really well, filling up nicely from the plant that I bought at last year’s Crug Plant Fair. I’ve been entranced by the opening flower heads,


and I don’t recall noticing them so closely last year – possibly because last year they didn’t spend quite as long in suspended animation. At last some have opened,


just in time for the temperatures to drop away again as we approach this weekend. Naturally, it’s a Bank Holiday. I swear I heard one of the weather forecasters mention snow. Oh, for goodness’ sake!

But away from the trendy world of plants Alan Titchmarsh mentions (er, trendy? Alan Titchmarsh? Blazer man? Have I had too much coffee?), other things are finally coming into their own, albeit slowly. And they are lovely.


At last I have persuaded some of my acquilegias to spread. I know, I know, most people try and stop them spreading, but not me. I want them further into the meadow. Baby steps, ickle biddy baby steps (I imagine that acqueligias wear very high stilettos, so that’s probably why they would spread slowly, tottering precariously over thugs like the knapweed – OK, definitely had too much coffee), but they are reaching out a little. In the meanwhile they are concentrating on posing and looking lovely.


These have developed a marked green tip to the outermost petals this year; I don’t recall having seen that quite so emphatic before. And I am getting more and more in the pink spectrum – strange, I’d have thought they might revert to purple, given that some always were:


but no, the pinks seem to be much more resilient. I don’t care; I like them both. In fact I like all acquilegias, but I do regret their promiscuous tendencies. You get an accidental stunner one year, and next year it’s gone and proliferated and crossed with heaven only knows who and generally tarted itself about so much that all you end up with is pink. They’d never come true, even if I did protect the seed heads, so all I can do is reconcile myself to pink and occasional happy accidents. No great hardship, really.

And maybe next year’s trendy plant will be a pink acquilegia with green-tipped petals. You can never tell.


26 Comments Add yours

  1. Helen says:

    Oh dear I lost my Cirsium after the first year – it vanished, it may have been weeded. I should have collected seed but I didnt think so I can only say “I had one of those” :(. Love Aquilegas and mine are spreading around. I have some wonderful canadensis which are quite dainty and orange and another one which is chocolate, I think it might be something like viridform but am definitely collecting seed this year

    1. kate says:

      It’s very easy to do – I could quite see P’s point, especially when it first started appearing, and if there hadn’t been a plant tag in there I might have made the same mistake. So I mustn’t be too hard on him!

      I think I’m turning into an acquilegia addict – there’s an interesting article in Gardens Illustrated (for once it’s not an ad), and I found myself making a giant list of varieties…

  2. Pauline says:

    Such a beautiful thistle and such pretty aquilegias. When we moved here I brought see with me from our last garden, they were all pink, we now have blue, white and purple! I am so thankful to flowers that seed hently about, linking one border with the next.

    1. kate says:

      I am going out to tell mine that they need to go more to blues, whites and purples… a couple of years ago I had a stunning deep blue but I have now in the same place is a pink. Several pinks. Hmm. But they do link beautifully through the garden, you’re so right.

  3. I am not sure if I have seen either of these in my neck of the woods. A few years ago the trendy plant was a blue-eyed osteosporum. It is gorgeous but quickly disappears.

    1. kate says:

      That’s a shame, but I do like the sound of that osteospermum. I have one which seems completely indestructible, but I fancy a blue-eyes one too… hmm…

  4. Liz says:


    I too have the Brook Thistle 🙂 It’s looking pretty amazing this year compared to others and I think perhaps I ought to move it to allow some more space. But they are beautiful, and I love how Bees seem to enjoy snoozing on the blooms (when it’s sunny that is; sun, eh??)
    Aquilegias… Ah yes, all my babies are pink too. Only the one beautiful plummy purple one, which is pretty amazing and seems to be a hybrid of the ones you have and the double nora barlow types so it also grows amazingly tall and towers over the others.
    Hold out, you will eventually get some stunners 🙂

    1. kate says:

      Fortunately mine’s got a good patch as it was surrounded by annuals last year – it’s really spread, though, so perhaps you should. We’ve gone back to winter today, complete with an absence of sun, so no bees on mine. Humpf.

  5. Lyn says:

    I love the image of aquilegias in stilettos – they do seem to step over other plants and daintily set themselves down! Mine produce more pink seedlings than any other colour, although I do have purple ones in one area that are still purple.

    1. kate says:

      They do, don’t they? But elegant stilettos, not the great clumpy things with huge platforms… I seem to be developing quite a few whites this year, though I suspect some will turn pink. Oh well…

  6. Cathy says:

    Yes, I love that stiletto image as well, and generally I am happy for my aquilegias to spread themselves about a bit too unless I get a pink one popping up in my blue & white border and a blue one popping up in main borders of course! I have some ‘green’ ones growing from seed, but I can’t imagine them having green babies with all the coloured competition around!

    1. kate says:

      I really want some green ones now – maybe I shall have to get some seed. They’d look really well – no, I’ll stick with my self-seeds for the moment. My brother gave me some Nora Barlow seeds a couple of years ago, mind, and they’re performing a treat this year.

  7. Carolyn says:

    I’m still imagining your aquilegias in stilettos… your post earns the smile for the day. 🙂

    1. kate says:

      Hee hee – but they do wear them, don;t they? Or they ought. Charles Jourdan, I think – or maybe they really are shopping at New Look…

  8. wellywoman says:

    I’m swamped with aquilegias this year. I often weed them out ruthlessly because they do take over but never got round to it this year. So I’m hoping for some gorgeous colour soon. None of them are open yet but I can see some lovely pink ones. The cirsiums at Chelsea were lovely. A good shot of colour in amongst a lot of green.

    1. kate says:

      Mine are better than usual too – they must have liked last year (I’m glad something did). I think I’ve just found a load of white ones, but – like you – I’m still waiting for them to actually open. Fingers crossed…

  9. Christina says:

    Amazingly aquilegias don’ self seed in my garden, I really wish they would. I wouldn’t care if they were pink, blue or purple, I like them all. The thistle is wonderful, I’ve been searching for a plant for ages but not found one. Christina

    1. kate says:

      That’s such a shame (both the aquilegias and the thistle). I’m lucky then, but still in mourning for my disappeared blue one, though, so unusual.

  10. Harriet says:

    Aquilegias in stiletos? Brilliant! And I love that Cirsium – shall be looking out for one of those. And as for blazer man …..!

    1. kate says:

      He was wearing a beige one on last night’s Chelsea show. I had to change channels. Ergh.

      (Where on earth did the idea that he was some sort of sex symbol come from? Sorry, I’m feeling ill now…)

  11. hillwards says:

    My Cirsium is back this year too, and looking very plush. I had attempted to sow seed from my Mum’s plant a few years ago, before I found out it was sterile *sigh* and resorted to buying my own! I do love aquilegia season, although there are an alarming number of wishy-washy pale pinks this year that I might actually have to edit… we’ll see.

    1. kate says:

      I have to confess to quite liking the grey-greenish pink aquilegias, I’m afraid, though I do agree that you can have too many of them, and they’d be better with more purples… it must be a good cirsium year too!

  12. I love the cirsium, I have been trying – and failing – to persuade myself that greater knapweed is a good alternative but my lovely gardening sil has offered a division of hers so hopefully, by autumn, I will be trendy. At least in that regard. As for aquilegias, I love them, except the very ruffly doubles which are too fussy for my taste, There was only one here, but it is a beautiful deep purply-blue. I am gradually adding some more, grown from seed, and keep saying to myself “it will be OK next year”. Hope yours spread happily, I find Aquilegia alpina (which is a deep purple) grows easily from seed. And please don’t stop drinking the coffee, stilleto-wearing plants are a great concept.

    1. kate says:

      You need greater knapweed as well! (Actually you probably don’t, or I don’t – my GK grows in the meadow and is in just the wrong place, or maybe it needs a bit of organising to stop it flopping over the paths.)

      I’m with you on the ruffly doubles – they’re altogether too fluffy-wuffy-pinky-winky-girly-wirly to be contemplated. Froth. All fur coat and no knickers. Still on the coffee, as you see…

  13. Yes! I have both and may be accidentally trendy. I was very on trend at Malvern a few years ago when all the gardens were full of self sowers and one even had some nettles. Like wellywoman I sometimes find myself weeding out aquilegias because they self sow like mad. I do love them though. Mine are mainly purples and blues. I used to have a fabulous green and white one but the purples bullied it out.

    1. kate says:

      I’d have been on trend then too – but even more so had they added alkanet (AGH) and sodding bracken – sorry, just been frond-wrangling and it leaves me in a very sour frame of mind…

      I wouldn’t mind my purples bullying some of my pinks. Unlike Karen Artist’s Garden, I’m not allergic to the pink – I’d just like a bit more variety…

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