IN PRAISE OF BLACKBERRY WINE
Intoxication can take many forms. I fully appreciate a good, full-bodied red with strong legs, a rich, fruity aroma and just a kiss of sugar to help it slip like fine silk over the palate. But on torpid summer afternoons, when the very air seems to shimmer beneath its weight of sunlight and I've just pushed my twentieth wheelbarrow of compost to the crest of the latest hill I'm attempting to cultivate, I prefer a cool splash of Bombay Sapphire over ice with a twist of fresh lime and the crisp, clean fizz of tonic. The British Empire's premier thirst quencher --- nothing cools quite like it! Gin, however, I take only as refreshment. The whoozy, mind-dulling softness-of-the-senses induced by alcohol has never been to my liking. It is in other sensory pleasures --- the velvet touch of a rose petal, the heady fragrance of a honeysuckle --- that I find intoxication.
Blackberry Wine is a marvelous example. Not the dark, sticky distillation of wild hedgerow fruits, albeit there's no doubt that is a potent brew; the Blackberry Wine, which plucks at my senses, is a plant. It is a plant of such remarkable color, one so floriferous and with such a lengthy bloom time, it can be termed the very essence of visual enchantment.
This little plant is really quite amazing. It's the first perennial I've found which actually makes good on the promise to flower constantly from early June until late October. Despite its stature, or lack thereof --- it is not a particularly large plant --- this baby will steal the limelight and hold its own against the most architectural specimen. It isn't the length of time it holds its bloom, or even the number of blossoms, which make this plant so special. It's the color.
It is a syllabub of spiked and sweetened cream, laced with blue curacao and rich, red, ruby port. Like eggnog stained with damsons, it is both dusky sweet and spicy.
Though midway on the color wheel between the reds and blues, it refuses to be classified. It's neither burgundy nor purple, nor any tint between. It is instead a cool, milky concoction with lavender and claret and a good deal of vanilla, lightly stirred, not shaken. It is as difficult to subject to adequate description as it is to replicate within the realm of flowers. Delicate and unusual, Corydalis Blackberry Wine is intriguing, beguiling and most appropriately named.
Just like all fine quality wines, coupled well, its character is enhanced, as is that of its companions. I use mine with Heuchera Whirlwind, a miniature coral-bells, which forms an eight-inch mound of pewtered-purple leaves. Close inspection discloses hints of turquoise, caramel and rose in the delicate upper surface of each Heuchera leaf and I have it sandwiched between slabs of dressed and partially polished pink and gray granite, a most harmonic composition. Beneath, its leaves are pure, delicious raspberry and this color is jauntily exposed along the crimped and ruffled edges. Corydalis sprawls casually behind it. A tumble of fleshy, blue-gray stems, soft, glaucous leaves and a profusion of one inch, spurred blossoms spill across polished, puce granite and all around the feet of the Heuchera. In an interesting role reversal, the Corydalis flowers assume a neutral tone alongside the Heuchera. This unusual tendency is further accentuated with a splash of jewel-toned magenta proffered by a hardy Osteospermum. Planted beside the Corydalis, the gaily-painted South African daisies pose perkily on upright stems and the whole scene plays in perfect complement to a mound of dotted-swiss Anthemis "Sauce Hollandaise," a beauty which forms a two-foot mound smothered with more daisies, this time the perfect eggs-whipped-into-cream hue of its namesake. Independently, its buttermilk tones would tend toward neutrality themselves, but it gleams behind the muted mauves of Corydalis bloom.
The Osteospermum will flower sporadically throughout the summer. Heuchera adds a little tuft of palest pink around the middle of July, but works best as a foliage plant. Anthemis holds well for about a month, beginning in mid June and will flower again toward the end of August if it is cut back at the first sign that it has begun to flag. The Corydalis produces a froth of flowers like clotted cream, bruised by cherries jubilee, from late spring through later autumn.
All Corydalis have a reputation as prolific self-seeders, but, so far, this variety seems a little reserved. To date, in my garden, it has not produced a seedling. Indeed, in any other perennial, the length and number of blossoms would indicate sterility. In this case, that's unlikely. It is still a Corydalis. Most varieties of the species produce offspring at a rate which would exhaust the average rabbit. It's probably just a matter of time.
One of a genus of over three hundred plants, Blackberry Wine was first discovered in China and has only recently made its way into western cultivation. Indeed, as yet, despite the fact that almost all known Corydalis species are eminently garden-worthy, only a handful have actually found their way onto nursery shelves here in the United States. Popularity is beginning to multiply, however, almost as fast as the plants themselves. Blackberry Wine is likely to follow the path laid by such stalwarts as Corydalis lutea and Corydalis "Blue Panda," straight into the mainstream nursery trade.
Literature indicates that Blackberry Wine is rated hardy only to zone seven. I have never been a particular fan of zonal ratings, in fact I generally pay them little attention. Our sandy, well drained, Michigan soil and near-constant snow cover in the depth of winter work to protect even tender plants. Small, deciduous perennials such as this usually fare well as long as they are kept away from heavy soils. Siting the plant with a good-sized rock to the windward side can also be beneficial. I have wintered mine for three years without any special coddling. It is a little vulnerable to late spring frost damage, but always rebounds with the lengthening, warm days. It wants plenty of sun, moist but well drained soil and some shelter from the wind.In return, it will flower relentlessly.