I often wonder if I’m the only gardener who has a ‘holy grail’ plant. That one plant that is always eluding you, hard to find, hard to grow, and hard to get a grower to part with. Mine became an obsession over 20 years ago while working at Harlow Carr Botanical Garden in North Yorkshire England.
As a part of my final months of school I became an intern. One of the most important things I learned was ‘Head Down, Butt Up”. The old gardener in charge of the interns had one thing to teach us. It didn’t matter what you knew, how much school you had or why you were there, his goal was to teach us to work in the garden. Weeding was his number one focus. Mucking out ponds, streams, and water features was another. Gravel paths and raking under trees was upper level work for us interns.
Once while working along the streamside I came across a plant in jail. It was a lovely peony, deep yellow with a blush of red at the base of the petals. It was surrounded by an iron fence with a padlock. The fence was about 2 feet away from the plant. When I asked about it (timidly I assure you) my boss said ‘Plant thieves’. I wandered away confused until another employee had pity on me.
Apparently, this one Peony was one of the showpieces of the Botanical garden. The amazing yellow blooms were prolific and amazing. The common name ‘Molly the Witch’ was a good name for it. The fence was to keep visitors to the garden from stealing pieces of the plant. Old ladies and young ones, gentlemanly men with dapper hats, and moms with prams, all looking for a way to have this plant for their own. Visitors to the garden would pick the blooms, take the seeds before they were ripe or try to break off pieces to try to root them. The only way to propagate the peony is to wait until the seeds mature. They put a net around the seeds so as they open and fall they are collected. The fence was required to keep all the viable seeds from being stolen and provide new plants to sell.
A long story to be sure but one of the reasons I’ve been hunting Molly. I found the plant at a Nursery once, it died. Several years passed and I ordered one online, it died. Another couple of years passed and I got one labeled Paeonia mlokosewitschii (Molly) from a grower, I grew that one for 4 years until it finally bloomed. It was pink. Two years ago, I found three plants at Wells Medina Nursery in Seattle. I planted them in the same area, amended the soil, and carefully babied them. This year, finally, I have my first bloom. The excitement I felt when I first learned of this beauty came back and it was amazing. Maybe next year I’ll have more than one bloom. The other two plants are alive but not blooming.
Now yellow blooms have been bred into the new itoh peonies so they are more common. The species, however, is still rare, hard to grow, and highly sought after.
Here are my first flowers. I’m excited to see it grow and get larger.
What is your ‘Holy Grail’ of flowers, plants, or grasses? What do you still search for?