Just occasionally, well, maybe a little more often than that, I buy a plant for all the wrong reasons. Invariably my foolishness leads to failure, followed by guilt. I hate to see a plant die, especially when it’s through no fault of its own. I tell myself I should know better than to waste my money on a fragile life I cannot guarantee, before commiting the same crime again. Just occasionally the story ends happily, as is the case with Ypsilandra thibetica.
My first reason for picking this unusual plant (which, as far as I am aware, has no common name in English), was its copper-coloured flowers, protruding like dirty bottle brushes from a rosette of grassy leaves. It was May and I was attempting to create a small border with flowers in shades of rust and orange. I was soon to learn that these were in fact the long-faded tresses of a plant which carries fragrant lilac-white flowers in March. The second and more stupid reason for selecting this plant was that its name was so fabulously silly. I felt sure any perennial with such a bonkers name must be interesting (in the way that Liberace eltonjohnii might be, if it existed). Almost a year on, I am pleased to report that Ypsilandra thibetica appears to possess many virtues, not least the ability to withstand our soggy London clay and to flourish in a completely sunless spot behind the tank which feeds our pond. (Regrettably Ypsilandra cannot play the piano or throw booze-fuelled tantrums, which it really ought to be able to do with a name like that.)
The rosette of leaves is lush and brightly evergreen, making it perfect groundcover material, and the white flowers smell intensely of vanilla. Each wand of blossom unfurls quickly from the centre of the plant as soon as the days begin to lengthen, creating a dramatic impact amongst last year’s decaying foliage. Native to the Himalayas, Ypsilandra thibetica remains so rare in cultivation that you may struggle to get your hands on it. I purchased mine from Madrona Nursery in Kent, which might be a good place to start. I’d recommend giving the plants a moist, shady spot with lots of organic matter added. Placed close to the front of a border it makes a great edging plant and is more easily admired.
So you see, this is why gardening is not for those who don’t like to take a risk. For every improbable, impulsive, ill-informed choice there is a chance that your foolishness will pay off. As follies go, Ypsilandra thibetica is a damn fine one.