Always known it, only just started to appreciate it..!

For as long as I can remember my parents had this strange monster of a perennial somewhere in the garden. I have no idea where they got it from (although maybe I should ask!), but for years and years it was there, every year growing that little bit bigger and more impressive. We knew it as Brunnera orientalis but never really saw it in any other gardens...

 We found the name on a visit to Dunham Massey (National Trust) in Cheshire where it grew in a shaded corner. A volunteer gardener was kind enough to look it up, and suddenly we had it's name, Trachystemon orientalis! 

In many ways we weren't too far off calling it Brunnera- the leaves are large and course, and are very much like a giant Brunnera sibirica (although I only came to appreciate this more recently, when I started to grow Brunnera sibirica!), but the flowers are very different. 

 

I have never seen flowers quite like these, with the petals reflexed and twisted right around- a far cry from the more conventional flowers of Brunnera! The flowers appear in early spring as the leaves emerge, although they can reappear later in the season as well. On a warm sunny day even a modest clump of Trachystemon will hum with the sounds of happy bees- I don't know if it's especially nectar rich or if this plant is just popular because it flowers freely when there is little else for bees to feed on.

Trachystemon leaves are very large and place this amongst Hostas, Astilboides and Gunnera in the rankings of architectural plants, perfect for shaded spots where you want a sense of the exotic....

 

 I love Trachystemon orientalis because it's bombproof- this plant grows happily in any garden soil, but if it does ever dry out it will die back then reappear when the ground is moist again. My parents grew it for years under a beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) which it emerged each spring but went into dormancy during the summer when the tree too most of the water in the soil (the soil under the tree was usually dust dry all summer). It can also die back completely randomly in summer to appear fresh and new a week or so later- at last a plant that keeps itself tidy!

This plant deserves to be much better known in gardens. It's only 'bad habit' is a little gentle self-seeding, although seedlings are easily identified, dug up and either returned to the parent clump or given to other gardeners with good taste...