Plant breeders are fascinated by details. Me too. At the recent RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, though time was tight, I spent a good hour checking out the displays and selling stands in the Plant Marquee. The ones that caught my eye did so because of the details. Did you notice that each flower of Viola ‘Elaine Quinn’ is a slightly different mix of violet and white with unique speckles and stripes?
Individually each is beautiful, together they give me pause: one minute I like the lighter ones best, the next the darkest ones. My eye alights on one flower then another like a human butterfly. Many of the plantspeople who exhibit at the show are devoted to a single type of flower. What makes this new cultivar so remarkable that it is the one chosen for introduction, rather than another?
Breeders tick off the basics such as performance and reliability, then it’s all down to the details. Hydrangea ‘Curly Sparkle Blue’ is another lovely blend of colours from lime green to purple blue, but it was the unusual, ruffled petal edges that caught my eye. I wasn’t surprised that this hydrangea was also picked out by my partner, who was working his way separately round this extensive marquee.
And why did I fall for this French lavender (actually from Australia), Lavendula stoechas ‘Willow Vale’, rather than one of the many other lavenders on an immaculate, patchwork display?
More small details: the pronounced, crinkly, pinkish lavender ‘ears’, each with a delicate, darker vein running down the centre; the velvety looking, rich purple body of the flower; the neat, yellow, dust like markings, presumably to attract pollinators. If I ever saw a lavender dressed up to demand my attention, this is the one.
I have many friends for whom a rose is a rose. Whether a flower is pale pink. medium pink or bold cerise is pretty much irrelevant. They don’t see any difference between a flower with a deep chalice shape or a flat, open rosette shape. And they do fine.
I get it. I’m an anorak. But at the Hampton Court Flower Show, among gardeners, flower lovers, breeders and plant society members, at least I know I’m not on my own.