I love wandering through the back lots of large garden centres - you never know what you might find in them. This time I was looking for Sarcococca confusa, or Christmas sweetbox, something I'd read about in a garden magazine over Christmas. Apparently it can be topiaried (if that isn't a verb then I'm turning it into one) and smells delightful while doing so. Plus, it blooms over Christmas, which translates to: green and good-smelling in the dead of winter. This, to use the words of my friend Martha, is a Good Thing. I like anything that distracts me from the cold and gray of the post-Christmas season. And I have a large twisting topiary frame I'm just itching to use.
I was also looking for a curly willow or hazel, because the stems look so cool when used as climbing supports (see photo). My last bunch are getting a bit crumbly.
When I got to the garden centre I headed right out to the back lot, where they keep the trees and shrubs, but I was distracted by the music wafting over the loudspeakers. Maybe wafting wasn't quite the word for it, and I don't know who they had playing, but it was not the sort of music I am used to hearing at a garden centre, if there IS even any music at all. It was incredible. Amazing. Unique. It sounded like a cross between the Pet Shop Boys, Rufus Wainwright, and Feist. Very pleasant for checking out labels. I caught sight of the garden worker, with his bleached hair, neck tattoo, and pierced eyebrow, and wondered no more. Call me biased, but he looked like the sort to pick interesting music.
I found the sweetbox, which was, as promised, blooming most sweetly. It didn't look very topiaryish, though, especially when sitting next to the more standard topiary vehicle - Buxus or box. Nevermind, I tend to specialize in doing what shouldn't be done, according to Richard. So I picked up my sweetbox and headed out to the tree section, but was distracted by a type of holly I hadn't seen before. It was, dare I say it, cute. It really was. Curly leaves, lovely varigated foliage, and the oddest streak of spines across the top of the leaves, spines that bent gently under my fingers as I ran them across. It even grew beautifully. I could see it in my garden, I really could. The name convinced me: Hedge Hog. I tucked it under my arm with the sweetbox, and off we went to the tree section.
I found the curly willow, a dwarf species with bright yellow branches, and I found the Harry Lauder's walking stick (aka curly hazel), but couldn't decide between the two. The hazel didn't have the long, curling branches I was looking for while the willow did, but from what I know about willows, they are best planted a good distance away from drains and things like that. Do I want something that might get unruly, I wondered. I couldn't answer myself adequately, so I asked the fellow who had presumably put on the great music. I figured he'd be a good source for aesthetic inspiration, but his theory was that all willows are a huge PITA. I assured him that I had every intention of hacking it down regularly, and that I only wanted it for its decorating potential, but he was firm - I was better off with the walking stick, which I was not to prune dramatically. Ever. I would ruin the angles. He even gave me a stern look. I am not easily quelled, but even I felt as though we had reached an impasse of sorts; that willow was not coming home with me and it was most certainly not going anywhere near my drains. Well, maybe not today, not with him standing there, pierced eyebrow arched.
Thus thwarted, I went over to the seed section and comforted myself with a few packets of sweet peas. If you have never grown sweet peas, you really should. They are easy to grow, like shade, and are the most fabulous cut flowers imaginable. I got two packets of new ones: Streamers Mix , which promises me "the biggest, the brightest, and the sweetest of them all! A beautiful colour mixture of giant, ruffled blooms with a heavenly scent." I also got Ocean Foam, which is billed as "an extraordinary wave of beautiful colours in ocean-like shades" that has the heirloom Old Spice as one of its sires. The Old Spice series has, in case you don't know, a seriously lovely smell.
Oh, and while I was standing at the checkout, my pierced eyebrow friend came back over to see what I had bought (he approved the holly very enthusiastically and we set aside our impasse) but seemed skeptical at the sweetbox being a good topiary subject. He pointed out the frond-like branches and the large leaves, and showed me the traditional Buxus, and explained why it would be better for topiary. I hated to admit it, but this time he made a good point. I would be frustrated with that sweetbox. Not that I didn't buy it, oh no no no, it smelled too good. But I found another place to put it. Somewhere without a wire frame to curl around. And the holly (Ilex aquifolium) found a great place, too. It's up on the hill by the front drive, still looking extremely cute.
I'll get that curly willow on his day off. Maybe I'll put it in a giant pot. I might have to, because I told Richard the story when I got home and he seemed horrified that I wanted to buy a willow, considering the tender state of our aged drains.