THE EXCITEMENT of growing seldom-seen plants is usually lost on oh-so-cautious British gardeners – and that's a pity.
My guess is that eight out of 10 – and I don't mean cats – will opt for the tried and trusted, the familiar flowers, the ones that won't let you down.
Yet in the wonderful world of horticulture there are countless shrubs, perennials, bulbs and even summer bedders that never see the light of day in your average suburban UK garden. And that's because we reject the rare 'uns in favour of the safe and secure, the ones we read about and know so well.
So this week I am focusing on a foursome with flair and the promise to perform: a primrose that thinks it's a forsythia, a colchicum that thinks it's a waterlily, a tulip that's been around since the reign of Elizabeth I and a three-pronged beauty that's earned a prestigious RHS gong.
All four are featured in Devon-based Suttons' new Autumn Catalogue that's brimming with ideas on how to bring pzazz to your patch next year.
Primrose Forsythia Yellow: We all adore our native wild primroses which are as much a part of the spring scene as roses are in summer. Forsythia Yellow breaks the mould of woodland and hedgerow on two counts – spectacular bronzy foliage and a special petal formation that could be mistaken for forsythia, hence its handle. Blooms from late winter to spring and grows to 6in.
Colchicum Waterlily: This autumn-flowering bulb could claim to be a crocus, yet the pair are unrelated despite their physical similarities. Waterlily, so called because it looks like its waterborne namesake, is a positive show-stopper in bright fuchsia-pink and with very double petals. Colchicums are often known as naked ladies because the blooms arrive well ahead of the leaves which should be allowed to die down naturally in spring. It's fun to grow the bulbs in a shallow container indoors, without the need for soil. Height 6in.
Tulip sylvestris: There are tulips . . . and tulips. And here's one that's been gracing our gardens since 1597 – a Siberian sweetie in intense yellow, a nodding head and an equally intense fragrance. Looking distinctly unlike its showier relatives that emblazon our beds in a multitude of colours, the Woodland Tulip, as it is known, shies away. Its height varies between 12in and 18in, its blooms are star-shaped, occasionally cream, and that scent is definitely worth a second sniff. An enchanting variety.
Trillium erectum: What the catalogue doesn't tell us is the plant's alternative handle of Stinking Benjamin. A trifle harsh, perhaps, yet it is commonly known as Wet Dog in the US because the aroma is just that. Even so, trilliums are a delight, yet have never climbed the popularity podium because most "instant" gardeners don't have sufficient patience to wait for them to mature . . . in around two years. Three rich green, sometimes mottled, leaves per stem surround three-petalled white, pink, yellow or purple-red blooms that seem to call out to the spectator: "We're trilliums. We're different." Erectum, holder of the RHS' Award of Garden Merit, is one of more than 30 hardy species and varieties in general commerce, all shade lovers and thriving in damp soil enriched by leafmould. Some are sweet smelling while some, like our friend here, not so, and all grow from fleshy rhizomes. Worth a shot, but don't hurry 'em. Height 10in-12in.
Forsythia Yellow, £6.99 for 20 plugs; Waterlily, £9.99 for a pack of two; Woodland Tulip, 10 bulbs £5.99; trillium, one bare root plant £5.99. Contact Suttons on 0844 9220606 or online at suttons.co.uk