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A Warm Glow from an Autumn Memory…

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The nights are slowly drawing in and thoughts are starting to turn towards cosiness and crumpets!

The garden is starting to wind down and attempting to warm itself up with the help of the slow burning embers of late flowering perennials.

One such beauty is the stunning Physalis alkekengi – otherwise known to us children of the 70’s and 80’s as Chinese Lanterns.


Whilst I was growing up, it seemed these fascinating plants were everywhere and to me they epitomize early Autumn – the memories of the long walk home from school collecting conkers, the air full of bonfire smoke and the sharp and dusty smell of leaves getting ready to fall and feeling all cosy and safe once indoors – curling up in front of the TV to watch magical children’s programmes like ‘The Wind in the Willows’ or ‘The Box of Delights’ :)

However times change and this beautiful keeper of memories isn’t setting our gardens a glow with its gentle warming light any more… But why not? What has made this one time darling of our back garden’s light go out? Well it has two unfavourable characteristics that I think have contributed to its fall from grace… Firstly it is poisonous and secondly it is rampant! Some may call it a garden thug – I prefer to think of it as over enthusiastic…

We can’t change its make up – it will always be poisonous and I know that will lose it alot of fans – however whole generations have grown up with this herald of Autumn with no harm coming to them – so is that really a reason not to grow it? Of course not!

As for its over enthusiasm, that can be easily rectified!

Chinese lanterns will grow brilliantly in containers – providing the planter is large enough as if planted in too small a one, they may not fruit and that of course is the whole reason for growing them.

You could also try burying the container in the border – however if you do that, it would be advisable to take it out after it has finished flowering for the year as the roots will find their way out if left in situ for many seasons.

But why grow this 70’s throw back? Well for a start you will be giving your children or grandchildren a beautiful memory jogger for when they have grown up. There is something about this enchanting plant that lives on in the memory and on setting adult eyes on these magical bobbing lanterns they will remember amber autumn days of starting school, big harvest moons, falling leaves and that childhood cosy feeling of well being that will never quite be the same again…

That’s reason enough in my book but not only does Physalis alkekengi evoke this strange forever fondness, but it also makes great dried floral arrangements; All you need to do is cut the stems off the plant at the base, remove the leaves and hang the stems upside down in a dark, cool dry place like a garage for two to three weeks. They are then ready to display. They make great Autumn garlands and decorations for Halloween and Bonfire Night but also look radiant in a floral arrangement adding a warm glow to autumnal rooms.


To create a more contemporary look, you can leave them on the plants until they start to disintegrate – and sit back and watch a little piece of magic unfold as you witness the orange glow fade away leaving behind a skeletal cage with an orange drop pendulum swinging inside each lacey locket..


So how about embracing a little nostalgia chic and kindle a magical fairy light glow in a corner of your garden!


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