Off out the other day to look for what turned out to be a non-existent nursery, prior to looking in on what turned out to be the worst country auction in the history of antiques and collectibles, we turned a corner and I was startled by a dramatic scarlet flash.
We parked, got out and gawped at a drift of wild cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, flowering along a small damp ditch. It was spectacular.
We have cardinal flower growing along the tiny stream that flows through one side of our property but the deer usually bite off the flower buds – they have this year. We also have Lobelia spicata, with pale blue flowers so small you can hardly see them. But that scarlet roadside forest that simply demands you stop the car made me again realise that however much I admire the creative imaginations and technical skills of the plant breeders, sometimes a simple wild flower just takes your breath away.
And a couple of years ago I wrote up a lovely pink-flowered form, found in the wild – quite different in its appeal but equally lovely. And not yet even in bud in the garden here.
Graham Stuart Thomas in his invaluable book Perennial Garden Plants says that the cardinal flower, L. cardinalis, was introduced to Britain from the US – in 1626! That’s almost a hundred years before the east coast Aster species were taken over. Well, you can understand that returning settlers would have wanted to take such a magnificent wild flower with them.