Beans may run or climb, Thymus serpyllum creeps, but Oenothera lindheimeri dances. She has been waving her long slender arms for months now and will continue to do so into October. There has been a significant drought this year, yet our heroine has flourished. In fact, I think she has excelled. She drifts through the borders, carrying her white butterfly flowers along her stems. The cultivar here is ‘Whirling Butterflies’ and the name fits. She stands at 1.2m/4′ tall, but all that growing has been since April. There was snow in April and frost throughout May and I had little hope that she would endure it: I checked her crown every few days, looking for life and not finding it. Yet here she is, beautiful and defiant. I expect, like so many other arid natives, it is not the cold which kills, but the damp island maritime winters of the British Isles.
In the English garden, this native of southern Louisiana and Texas is a natural friend with Verbena bonariensis which is common throughout South America. Their flowering period coincides and they have a similar lightness to their touch. The Verbena’s stems are also slender, but, unlike the Oenothera’s, quite rigid, so it is a useful plant which can provide support by stealth to its airier companions in the border. Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ is another companion. Again, the fairly stiff stems help to provide support, whilst the lesser height and greater size of the flower introduces contrast. Its colouring is harmonious. ‘Monch’ will flower from mid-August until the end of the season.
When I was training, Oenothera lindheimeri was called Gaura lindheimeri. I have a strong affection for her old name, Gaura, from the Greek, meaning ‘superb’. I find Oenothera difficult to say, but it is more than that (the ‘O’ is silent and the ‘e’ is short and hard). I realise that I remember her name, in part at least, because of the rhythm of the syllables. The old rhythm has stuck, the pattern is formed, and it is difficult to break. I have the same problem with Datura which is now Brugmansia, and Crataegus pedicellata which is now C. coccinea. When I meet these old friends whilst out walking, I greet them with the name by which I first knew them and then correct myself. It is as if the world is shaped differently to how I remember it and I wonder if this is how dementia feels. Or parenthood, perhaps, as the child matures. I guess time may tell, but I expect I will have forgotten by then. And, finally, when I was training, Oenothera was, and still is, Evening Primrose, a course-foliaged plant with a hard and harsh yellow flower. Or, in other words, the antithesis of my delicate dancer.