In case you haven’t noticed I am a sucker for anything colourful, exotic and expensive looking. This goes for food, cocktails, shirts, wallpaper and yes, plants too. I am a dreadful magpie, unable to resist the lure of anything bright or shiny. Hence it’s no wonder that the flame-like flowers of Lotus berthelotii, otherwise known as parrot’s beak, caught my attention when I last visited Sissinghurst. Here it cascaded nonchalantly from a tall terracotta pot, its cool silver-grey foliage set alight by hundreds of orange and red ‘flames’.
In common with several plants that grace our coastal garden, Lotus berthelotii is a perennial endemic to the Canary Islands. In its native habitat it has been considered extinct for around 130 years, yet it persists in horticulture because of its dazzling looks and relative ease of cultivation. Sissinghurst’s cottage garden offers Lotus berthelotii the perfect conditions – bright sunlight, sharp drainage and an opportunity to trail; it will traverse a couple of metres if given the opportunity. Despite its name it has absolutely no relationship with the tropical, water-dwelling lotuses. Nor is it attractive to parrots, although it was pollinated by sunbirds before they were also erradicated from the Canaries.
Over the years my garden has lost most of the sun-drenched spots it began with, but having reacquainted myself with Lotus berthelotii I am tempted to find it a home, perhaps in a pot or tumbling from the shelves of our outdoor kitchen. There I can appreciate its colourful, exotic and expensive looking flowers whilst sipping a Mai Tai and wearing a floral shirt. There’s no cure for this particular magpie.
Lotus berthelotii is widely available from garden centres as a hanging basket or container plant in spring and summer.