Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Everyone who is interested in plants and gardens has, at one time, grown something that they have loved and treasured and for one reason or another no longer has it. For me, having grown many thousands of different plants over the years, there is one that I miss a great deal since moving home in February last year.
Anisodontea 'El Rayo' isn't a typical iPlantsman plant. It is (on paper at least) only half-hardy, it is pink-flowered, which I'm not normally overly drawn to. Finally, it really requires support to stop it falling over under its own weight, which means extra work and as a lazy gardener, means it has to pay extra to be worth the extra effort I need to put into it. And as a plant, it most certainly does! (or should that be did?)
In July 2014 at a plant fair held in Great Comp Gardens, I purchased, as I inevitably do, a number of plants from a an undisclosed number of stalls. As a plant fanatic, I have to limit my attendance at these events to ensure that my wife will keep speaking with me and my bank balance remains relatively unscathed, but I've listed a number of websites highlighting fair dates at the bottom of this article and I may well see you at one or two or three of them this year.
At that event I was happy to find a number of great plants to add to my collection and one of these was Anisodontea 'El Rayo', which at that time had quite a few flower buds and a handful of open, large, magenta pink flowers. I have grown Anisodontea capensis before, year ago, in Scotland and it proved itself to be a solid shrub with lots of little shell pink flowers and small leaves. El Rayo is a different proposition altogether and having planted it the day after purchase in a narrow South-facing dry bed against a brick wall, it established very quickly, Within a month is twas more than twice the 25cm tall 2 Litre pot size it was at point of purchase. Within a further 3 months, it was over 1m tall and now well established giving me confidence it would survive a winter in a fairly exposed garden in Kent. And boy it did! So much so that it didn't really stop growing over that winter. It didn't lose leaves like I suspected it might and only experienced very minor dieback on the softest stems.
Come the Spring of 2015, it set off growing again in earnest and made up some more height getting over 2m tall by midsummer. Due to this rapid growth, both vertically and in overall volume, I had to remove some growth to enable other plants in the border to thrive and access to a path that it was now preventing access to. Stems thicker than my thumb were removed in significant numbers and still a decent plant remained. Three key stems were tied to wall to encourage the upright growth and limit the middle-aged spread.
Throughout 2015 it continued to grow and I continued to judiciously prune out large sections encouraging more and more growth. The winter of 2015/16 was colder and growth definitely stopped during the gloomiest months, but again very little in the way of damage affected the plant, now affectionately known as 'Ray'.
2016 was much of the same, great growth and pruning a generally very happy and easygoing plant, though this year some sawfly damage to the young foliage did impact on the overall look, where previously the leaves had been otherwise excellent.
We moved house in February 2017 and because of its size, it wasn't practical to try moving 'Ray', so had to say good by to a recent friend, but one who left a significant impression.
Now, from what you've read so far, you're probably impressed by its hardiness, its ability to produce a vast amount of growth each year and indeed its ability to establish quickly with the minimum of fuss in mid-summer. But nothing of what you've read (yet) is exceptional. Now dear reader, the reason I value this plant so highly and miss it as a plant in my life is because from the day I bought it to the day I moved home 2 and 1/2 years later, there wasn't a single day that it didn't have open flower on! Not one single day. For most of the year, it had 40-100 flowers open at any one time, with this reducing over the winter months, with on one or two occasions only a handful of open flowers: but never, none. Here is a frozen picture from Christmas Day 2016. I've never grown anything so incredible in my life and while I am a huge fan of 'moments', where you wait all year for something that might only last a week or two, there is still a lot to be said for a safe bet to guarantee flower in your garden on any given day.
My suspicion is that this, like a lot of Anisodontea isn't very long-lived, but what a life! Perpetual flowering and then out in a blaze of glory; there are worse ways to go. I loved it, I miss it and fully intend to grow it again.
Definitely worth a go and worth searching for and if you don't already, you should be going to plant fairs to support independent nurseries, who just might have something magical waiting to change your life.