We go through life, where the word ‘love’ can mean different things to us. Gary Chapman writes of the five ‘love languages’ (in his book, ‘The 5 Love Languages’), explaining that people show (and receive) love through different ways: Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gifts, Acts of Service and Quality Time. For one person, it may be more important to regularly hear words of encouragement, whereas another’s heart may soar at receiving a box of hazelnut-dusted dark chocolate brandy truffles… both perfectly acceptable!
The ancient Greeks broadly categorise love into four types: the passionate romantic love of eros; the storgé love that is found in the family, and the platonic love between good friends, phileo. Finally, there is the agapé love that is unconditional, committed and chosen. This type of love is ultimately sacrificial. It means giving Something which costs you Everything, and expecting absolutely Nothing in return… the kind that Jesus embodies and asks us to give (with His help).
In this month’s feature, I would like to show you how plants can help you express love in your garden.
This is really obvious: most plants have heart-shaped leaves!
- An interesting feature to have in your garden, though, would be to select plants with contrasting leaf colour, but are of a similar shape. For example, one of my favourites is Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’. It is a plant for partial shade and, in early spring, lovely heart-shaped leaves emerge with a mystical dusting of silver – very striking when paired with, say, Viola riviniana ‘Purpurea’ (aka Labrador violet), which is a low-growing purple-green perennial that has wonderfully dark purple dainty flowers.
In The Name of Love
Plants tend to be known by their common names, although professionals generally use their botanical names to correctly identify them. There are two plants whose botanical names have their root (sorry for the pun) word in the Greek phil, meaning love.
- For the indoors, you may have seen Philodendron, which is also known as Heartleaf (for obvious reasons). This is a great choice for a houseplant if you want something fairly robust. It can tolerate low levels of light, and can generally cope with you forgetting to water it. (Just don’t go on an 80-day cruise around the world without asking your neighbours to lend a hand!) It has glossy leaves that emerge bronze, before quickly turning green.
- Philadelphus (common name, ‘Mock Orange’), the flower of brotherly-love (according to Greek legend), is a wonderfully scented shrub to have outdoors, especially when planted in a sheltered spot or near a walkway/entrance. I absolutely adore the orange-blossom fragrance. Philadelphus ‘Virginal’ has incredibly scented double flowers, its deciduous dark green leaves changing to yellow in the colder months. The flowers of ‘Belle Etoile’ have a creamy orangey-yellow centre.
- Agapanthus are native to South Africa – very showy plants, widely grown for their exotic flowers. These bloom from late spring to autumn, depending on their species. Agapanthus are much loved by bees and other pollinators, and their lily-like blooms come in clusters of bell-shaped flowers. Did you know that its botanical name is made up of two Greek words: agapé (a type of love which I mentioned in the introduction above) and anthos, meaning flower. This roughly translates into the Flower of Love.
- Good old-fashioned charming annual, Love-in-a-mist (Nigella), provides floral interest in late summer for an extended period. Their delicate flowers are nestled in wispy foliage, and are a very popular choice for cut flower arrangements. Nigella damascena ‘Miss Jekyll’ has gentle sky-blue flowers, and damascena ‘Albion Green Pod’ shows off in pure white with lusciously prominent green stamens. Try ‘Albion Black Pod’ if you are after something a little mysterious.
A Shakespearean Story
If you are the dramatic sort, with a wry sense of humour, I know these will appeal to you.
- “O woe, my bleeding heart” – Dicentra spectabilis – is an English cottage favourite. Their rosy red heart-shaped flowers on delicate arching stems are a familiar sight to many. For a smaller and less well-known variety, try hunting for Dicentra eximia (fringed bleeding heart).
- Love-Lies-Bleeding – Amaranthus caudatus – has tassels of blood red flowers. In warmer climates, the tassels seem almost to spill out onto the ground. No prizes for guessing how its common name came about.
- Lastly, for the unrequited among us, or those with whom we have unwillingly parted ways: Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica). According to German folklore, knights would give these to their ladies as a sign of faithfulness and enduring love.
Faith, hope and love. In the journey of life, it is good to hold on to hope and to have faith for things not yet seen. But the greatest of these is love.
Wherever the month of February and Valentine’s Day finds you, know that you are loved by Abba Father – much more than you could hope or ever imagine.