I adore generous plants in the garden and Jacob’s Ladder is one of the most open-handed. Last year, I planted a garden for clients in March. The soil was borderline – wet, cold, difficult. The season had turned mild though, and the planting could not be delayed. Within a month, it was flowering. This year, it has been a full three weeks later, but it is worth the wait. The plants are a mass of flower – so much so that the leaves are barely visible. After its first flush, it will carry flower in less profusion, off and on, until October, which is as much as anyone can reasonably ask.
I assume that the oppositely paired leaves on a rigid central stem are what gives this North American native its common name. I had hoped, when researching this, to discover hallucinogenic potency sufficient to bridge heaven and earth, but it does not seem to be the case. It is one of the strangest of the biblical images, Jacob’s ladder, with angels ascending and descending (I give you ‘wheels within wheels’ for consideration, or anything in the Revelation of John). It is beautifully depicted, on the west front of Bath Abbey, albeit somewhat obviously. I think I encountered a less figurative, but more accurate rendition of it in the Vatican some years ago. There is a double-helix spiral staircase there to which a one way system has been applied. It is difficult, whilst walking upon it, to understand how one avoids the people on the other staircase: such is the power of the visual effect. I have never been an angel; I pass no comment on my fellow travellers, ascending and descending.
The reptans of the name means creeping. If it likes where it is growing, it will wander, but gently – it is never a thug. The plants which I planted last year have probably doubled their circumferences in a year, and I would estimate their volumes are in the region of three times greater. Lambrook is a large house in Berkshire, England, latterly a private school. It gives its name to an Artemisia too, ‘Lambrook Silver’. The mauve Polemonium and the silver Artemisia are an interesting proposition, if paired. Both have soft, delicate, somewhat busy foliage. The silver and the mauve harmonise beautifully. But, the two together are like too much chintz and frills in a living room or, worse again, like the pastel walls and Monet prints of British psychiatric outpatient units. Give me an Edvard Munch or Hieronymus Bosch any day of the year. If I ever need to plant the ‘Lambrook’ siblings, I would need to interpenetrate them with something sharp-edged, definite and unequivocal. Iris chrysographes springs to mind. The keen, clean blades of the iris leaves would be a welcome respite from the froth, whilst the dark purple flowers with their mysterious gold lettering challenge the ‘Lambrooks’ to raise their game.