With so many plants to choose from temptation is everywhere for gardeners. The lure of the new and the excitement of the different are constant enticements to make room in the garden for fresh faces. Usually this means that what was once a favourite plant gets moved to make way for the newcomer. Often the move is to the compost heap.
However fickle a bunch we gardeners are, though, I’m sure we all have a mainstay of old friends that we would not be without. One of the first plants that made me gasp with delight was the Australian climber Billardiera longiflora. It is a plant that will always be in my garden.
A small-leaved evergreen, it only grows to about six feet tall, which makes it a manageable climber even for small gardens. From early spring to late May it becomes smothered with greenish-yellow tubular bells. The individual flowers are small, no more than an inch long, muted and modest, that on mass become an exuberant display of elegance.
This abundance of flowers is enough for the plant to earn its permanent place in the garden but, just in case you are getting itchy with the trowel, it has another trick to maintain your fidelity. From late summer through the autumn it produces fat, rounded berries that start deep pink but become a deep, rich purple. Each berry appears to have been individually polished, like the skins of aubergines, and the whole plant sparkles.
Of course, you can’t have plants like this without a bit of nurturing. This is not a plant to put in the ground and forget about. It needs a cool, moist root run in soil that is well-drained in winter. It is best grown in a partly-shaded spot: in full, hot sun it becomes woody and the leaves loose their sheen. It has a reputation for being tender. I have found that when it is grown in a sheltered situation it will regrow from its lower stems even if a frost has hit it. It is worthwhile, particularly in cold areas, to give it the added protection of a piece of horticultural fleece on very cold winter nights. That’s not a lot of work for such a beautiful and hard-working plant.