June goings-on…

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The Mix, caught in early sunlight, Tostat, June 2019

At this time of year, the light becomes so bright that photography is an early morning or late evening activity. The light creeps over the house in the morning like a ranging searchlight, and the other day, it was the right place and the right time.  Standing by the Mix, my now 3 year old perennial planting with the occasional small shrub and grass, the sun spotlit the tops of the clumps of perennials, picking out the Monarda fistulosa and the Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’ as the tallest in town just yet.  This area has been a real experiment- made even more experimental this year by the one-armed bandit requirement of ‘no weeding’.  About 6 weeks ago, it looked pretty awful.  But now, with the rain and sun we have had, the perennials are powering upwards, and, unless you have a pair of binoculars, you mostly can’t see any serious weed activity.  There is a lesson here for the future.

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Papaver somniferum, from Biddy Radford, Tostat, June 2019

This has been a good year for self-seeding- another bonus for one-armed gardening.  Opium poppies, Papaver somniferum, have popped themselves all over the gravel paths and into some of the more orthodox places as well. As self-seeders, you can get years when the colours are very washed out- but this year has been loads better with good mauves and soft pinks.  The bees and insects love them- and I do, for their unfurling architecture as much as for the flowers.

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Unfurling Opium poppy and Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Tostat, June 2019

Playing with Penstemons has become a bit of an obsession.  I grew some Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ from seed the year before last, and so with the wait, this is the beginning of seeing the plant in action.  Slim, upright growth, dark beetroot colouring on the stems and leaves, and buds which are creamy-yellow.  Not yet a big player, but with potential.  I also bought some Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ a cross between ‘Husker Red’ and ‘Prairie Splendour’.  Now this is a big, beefy plant.  Strong upright, dark crimson, darker than ‘Husker Red’, stems and leaves, altogether bigger and more imposing, and then, on filigreed stems, big pale mauve flowers. So far, so very good.  Not yet tested for drought tolerance, but that will come.

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Trifolium rubens, Tostat, June 2019

Two years ago, visiting the stunning gardens at Kentchurch Court, I was seriously smitten by what seemed like giant clover flowers on speed.  It was a variety of Trifolium, and so I have been growing some from seed since last summer, and it is just about to flower.  This is the species form of Trifolium ochroleucon– more to follow.  But, I have also bought plants of two more Trifoliums, Trifolium rubens and Trifolium pannonicum ‘White Tiara’.  Both are doing well so far in their first year, seeming to cope well with the conditions- the true test will come.

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Trifolium pannonicum ‘White Tiara’, Tostat, June 2019
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Philadelphus ‘Starbright’, Tostat, June 2019

A bargain basement buy this year in the new area, still covered in cardboard, and holding its own, is a newish variety of Philadelphus called ‘Starbright’.  A recent Canadian selection, it has dark-red stems and strong, single white flowers and is very cold and drought tolerant- hence my giving it a go.

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Phlomis longifolia var. bailanica with Allium nigrum behind and a sprinkling of Dianthus cruentus, Tostat, June 2019

This has been the year of the Phlomis- all my plants have adored the weather and conditions.  Phlomis longifolia var.bailanica has doubled in size, and has emptied the custard tin over itself, with incredible Birds Custard coloured flower heads.  I am responsible only for the Phlomis and the Allium nigrum, also enjoying life- the Dianthus cruentus is self-seeded, I think from a few feet away.

Tomorrow, we are off to visit Jardin de la Poterie Hillen– this should be a lovely garden day with great patisserie as well.  Not to be knocked.  And some splendid planting, such as this extraordinary rose, Rosa ‘Pacific Dream’, photographed by my friend Martine in case I missed it….

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Rosa ‘Pacific Dream’ Jardin de la Poterie Hillen, Thermes-Magnoac 65, June 2019.  Photo credit: Martine Garcia

 

 

 

 

 

Seed extravaganza…

Is this a rogue Leonotis? Tostat, September 2020

Fifteen years ago when we moved to France, I was really a bit intimidated by the idea of growing perennials from seed, but now it really is my preferred way of growing plants, though I do still buy plants from time to time- when the wait is just too long. I have learnt that there is tremendous surprise and pleasure in the growing of something from scratch and I have a great emotional commitment to all my plants that I have grown myself! Sometimes there are great results and sometimes no results, dud seed- or rather probably, wrong time, wrong place, no can do. So you have to be prepared for a little Russian Roulette.

This plant grown from seed this spring is a mystery. One reader of this blog is a lovely chap called Tony Tomeo, who often leaves me interesting questions and observations, lives in Southern California and is a genuine horticulturalist- I am very pleased that he enjoys my blog and always look out for his comments. Puzzling a couple of weeks ago about this plant, he wondered if it was a monarda…he was bang on about the smaller plant, which clearly now a somewhat stunted Leonotis leonorus. To me this mystery plant is trying to channel an East European TV tower from the 1960s…and I am still at a loss. Have another go, Tony?

Conoclinum coelestinum, Tostat, September 2019

This is another new-to-me by seed plant. It used to be called ‘Eupatorium coelestinum conoclinum’, but is now just Conoclinum coelestinum– or in plain-speak, Blue Mist-Flower. I shouldn’t really be growing it as it needs a tad more water than I have in the garden, but I adore this shade of blue right at the end of summer, and it is a pretty thing in a raggy sort of way. This is the first flower on a new baby plant so the adult version will be about 1m tall with big, wide plates of blue fluff- and I will find a spot for it- as always happens.

Dendranthema weyrichii, Tostat, September 2019
Dendranthema weyrichii
Photo credit: http://www.rhs.org.uk

Grown from seed this spring, these were seriously miniscule as seedlings- but now measuring 2 handspans in the garden, and survivors of three canicule heatwaves, these plants already have a gong in my book. Dendranthema weyrichii is a tough, no-nonsense plant- in effect, a tiny chrysanthemum as shown in the RHS photo, and with a growth habit that just keeps on spreading, I think it makes a really good hot, dry groundcover plant. No flowers yet for me.

Vernonia lettermannii
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

This plant has been such a triumph that I have already sown more seed for next year which I bought from the fantastic Derry Watkins at Special Plants. She has always got interesting new plants to try, and this Vernonia lettermannii is a good’un. Growing to less than a metre, with feathery branching stems, it is close to flowering in the garden with me, but is such a wispy, almost see-through plant, that my photograph looked pathetic in comparison with Derry’s clump. The growth rate has been astounding for a perennial, and like the Dendranthema, it has come through serious heat and drought without blinking. The giant Vernonias are fabulous, but this smaller, feathery relative is such a good plant for late-summer and totally trouble-free for a dry, hot spot.

Early this morning, the tail of dying Hurricane Dorian brought us good rain- no wind, just good, serious rain for a couple of hours, and this works miracles on the exhausted garden. So, not to ignore old favourites that are also doing a good job, I love this combination of the bright, fresh blue of the Caryopteris and the soft orange of the Abutilon.

The Caryopteris is just at the limit of what it can handle in my summer-dry garden, but two out of three plants have survived this summer- probably because they have been a little sheltered from the full sun by other plants, like the Abutilon. There are many many reasons to be cheerful.

Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ with my unknown orange Abutilon, Tostat, September 2019

A new season…pre-autumn…

After the rain, Gossypium hirsutum flower, Tostat, September 2019

This week it has been all change. Fast forward to Autumn, or pre-Autumn if you prefer, with cooler nights and a couple of belting rainshowers. For those plants toiling under the heat, this has proved too tough a transition with many of them lying down with the effort. But for others, like my surprise of the summer, Gossypium hirsutum, it has been a real tonic. I am no Scarlett O’Hara, but I am really chuffed with my baby cotton plants. The glossy plum-coloured foliage is such a thrill in the heat, the upright stance makes such a good statement and these simply gorgeous, if short-lived, flowers keep coming. The flowers vary in colour, I don’t know whether this is to do with heat or coolness, but the flowers open a lovely cream-colour on cooler days and then heat up to the dark plum colour close to the shade of the leaves. In the heat, they go straight to plum.

Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

This Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ has hung on despite my indifference to it. I bought it precisely for the later summer flowering and the reputation for serious drought- tolerance. It has delivered on both fronts- but despite being in the garden for 4 years, this is the first year that it has really caught my attention. I think that my problem was with somewhat twiggy young growth and tiny flowers- but with maturity comes real beauty. Yes, it is still twiggy, but this is much less noticeable now, and the perfume of the flowers, and their size, has really developed- and it has given over and over this summer. So I eat my hat.

First flowers, Ageratum alitissima ‘Chocolate’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant, newly renamed from Eupatorium rugosum to Ageratum altissima Chocolate’ or even Ageratina, is a real delight. Fabulous dark plum, almost black foliage that likes shade but will take sun, likes damp but will take much drier with time- this is a plant that really grows on you. The flowers come in September, and sweet though they are, tiny and cream-coloured, the main show is the foliage. If it flags in the summer, a bucket of water now and then will keep it going. For this small effort, you get a steadily growing clump up to 1.5m of upright, structural pluminess- what more could you want?

Anemanthele lessoniana, Tostat, September 2019

Here is another lovely thing that you have to wait till September for. This used to be Stipa arundinacea and is now called Anemanthele lessoniana. I moved two big clumps two years ago, and they have taken their time to get over their resentment. But, interestingly, now being in shade and full sun, rather than constant full sun, their colouring has changed. The flowering heads are greener, more silvery-green than pinky-silver and both clumps are enjoying the slightly cooler conditions. They look wonderful and even make the washing line area look, well, dramatic.

Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, September 2019

And another lovely September entrant- Colquhounia coccinea. A buddleia cousin, so read big, bushy with fast growth once warmth starts in the late spring- with the risk of looking utterly dead before that. It rockets up, so plenty of space required and elbow-room. Then, in September, the flowerheads pop up in between the branches. Very pretty, but they can be shy so don’t miss them. It is borderline hardy for me really according to the books. But, I did my best to protect the clump with some fleece during the coldest winter nights, and then hoped for the best.

It does take a while to be willing to risk growth, but I held my nerve. Only snag? Bindweed has decided to move in. So I have seed for Tagetes minuta, which I will grow on in February indoors, and plant out next year. This has been brilliant wherever I have used it elsewhere in the garden, so I have complete confidence it will do the trick.

Erodium manescavii, Tostat, September 2019

New flowers with the rain on Erodium manescavii. Just the way, you grow something and it comes up a treat, so you sow more seed and …nothing. Never mind, I will give it one more go in the spring.

Rain on Eupatorium capillifoium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant is a bit of an oddity, but I love it. Eupatorum capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ makes a tall column of feathery green-ness and that’s it, but it is so pretty in amongst other plants and I wish I had more of it. It needs more damp than I can give it, but one of three plants has survived and make a comeback every year. I am not going to tempt fate.

Seedheads of Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Tostat, September 2019

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ is making cranberry coloured seedheads right now- I adore them, they look so bright and juicy.

Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’, Tostat, September 2019

I like Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii‘ for the emerald-green elongated leaves which are very elegant and hold the attention until the buds start coming- whoich can be as late as the end of October in my experience. But this year, we have one on show already. Don’t hold your breath- it takes an age to get from here to a flower.

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, September 2019

This Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ really is- big. 2.5 m or so in my case. It holds the back of the peninsular and outgrows Miscanthus ‘Malepartus‘- so there you are. But, it is currently horizontal on account of the rain, yet still doing purple-mauve beautifully.

Salvia ‘Amistad’ partnering Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

See? The good old Abelia.

August surprises…

Rudbeckia Henrik Eilers, Tostat, August 2019

August can be a cruel month. It can be the bald spot in the summer when the garden flags under the impact of heat and little rain- and if you are gardening summer-dry, as I do, with no watering except for the plants in pots, it can feel relentless. But, it is also the point in the year when midway though the month, some of the nights and early mornings begin to smell and feel different, fresher, cooler and morning dew is heavier. This can act as a real tonic to the garden, encouraging fresh growth and hot-weather plants to flower, and I love it too. Going out first thing with the all-important cup of tea becomes a pleasure again, as plants revive and try some more.

This year, Rudbeckia ‘Henrik Eilers’ has moved itself back into the border almost half a metre. Maybe it too is avoiding the sun and seeking some cover from other plants. I love the quilled petals and the straight bolt-upright growth, but deeper into the border, I am standing on a chair to capture the special shape of it, as, standing at nearly 2 metres, I am a shortarse by comparison. By contrast, Buphthalmum salicifolium has been toppled to the ground almost by the very occasional heavy rain we have had in the last 6 weeks- but it flowers away regardless on the deck.

Buphthalmum salicifolium, Tostat, August 2019

A few yards away, my recovering Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ has won it’s battle with the adorable thug that is Clerondendrum bungei, and is well clear of it in the height stakes. I love the darkness of the purple against the best feature of the Clerodendrum, in my view, which is the jewel-like remnants of the spent flowerheads. Spectacular.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ and Clerodendrum bungei, Tostat, August 2019

Smaller plants are also carrying on despite the heat, though looking a little jaded maybe. My absolute favourite Crocosmia is Crocosmia x crocosmiifolia ‘Emily McKenzie’, not as tall as ‘Lucifer’, and a lot more inclined to flop, at least for me, but the striking orange and carmine flowers bring a touch of Rita Hayworth to the garden, even if they are mostly horizontal to the ground.

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’, Tostat, August 2019

I have two Leycesteria in the garden, great shrubs in my opinion, especially because the form and the flowers keep going all summer long, looking fabulous right through to the end of autumn. The species plant, Leycesteria formosa, has strong, arching branches that make a great domed-shape in the border and has the classic dropping swags of flowers, fading to dark-red berries in the autumn. The variety, ‘Golden Lanterns’, is even better, with greeny-golden foliage contrasting well with the glossy, dark purple/red flowers which fade to bright jewel-like berries.

Leycesteria formosa, Tostat, August 2019
Leycesteria formosa ‘Golden Lanterns’, Tostat, August 2019

Now here is a puzzle. In this odd picture, you can see the smaller pot on the chair, with a narrow-leaved plant and an orange inflorescence. Next to it, is a tall, diamond-shaped leaved plant with a bud on the top. The taller plant is, or at least I thought it was Leonotis leonorus– actually I am still pretty that it is leonorus. In the pot, is a plant that I stuck in there having no idea of what it was until yesterday when the flowerspike opened up. It seems to be a smaller, more shrub-like Leonitis, maybe nepetifolia, but it has quite different leaves, slim and lanceolate, and is woody as opposed to being a green stem. Am definitely confused…anyone out there have another idea???

The two Leonitus’ side by side, Tostat, August 2019
Leonitis nepetifolia perhaps, Tostat, August 2019

Salvia ‘Ton Ter Linden’ has been a grand plant, although new to me this year. Deep blackberry-purple narrow flowers have kept coming…and the tendency to gracefully drape around the pot has been followed by upright, strong growth, so the plant has two ways of behaving- how clever of it.

Salvia Ton Ter Linden, Tostat, August 2019
Scrophularia macrantha, Tostat, August 2019

I have grown Scrophularia macrantha from seed this year. Small, but beautifully formed and I was so thrilled that I could be heard shrieking in the garden when I found the flowers on my tiny plants. I hope they make it through the winter.

Gossypium hirsutum flower bud, Tostat, August 2019

And my cotton has flowered! Unlikely that I will be harvesting cotton balls, but the Gossypium hirsutum flowers are a beautiful, if short-lived, surprise. Actually, the whole plant is a rather fine, if temporary addition to the garden, wine-red leaves and upright growth, pretty buds as if cut from paper. It won’t survive the winter and I probably won’t try to overwinter it, but just grow it again from seed next spring perhaps.

Cytoglossum hirsutum bud formation, Tostat, August 2019

How summer-dry feels…

View of the front garden, with baking sun at 0730, Tostat, July 2019

The last five days built to a ghastly crescendo of more than 40C yesterday. Human beings are finding it hard, hard to sleep even downstairs in the house and permanent darkness with shutters shut for most of the day. Today, all windows have been flung open, and rain is battering down, no hail fortunately, in splurges which are just gentle enough to penetrate the hot, dry crust of the ground. This is the first rain we have seen for 3 weeks at least, which has really tested the garden for the second time so far this summer. I have been watering the pots and any late plantings from 0700 for an hour and a half every day, but the rest has been left to handle the heat itself.

Abutilon pictum waiting, Tostat, July 2019

Some plants have just been sitting it out. Abutilon pictum is a lovely pot shrub, not hardy hence the pot, but with the most brilliant orange drop-shaped flowers. It folds it’s leaves down so that they hang straight down, which is an early sign of stress, but regular watering handles that.

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Ruby’, Tostat, July 2019

The Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Ruby’ is a wonderful thing and this year it has loved the wet, cool May and now the heat- as long as it is kept well watered in it’s pot. It is the best ever, 3 months of the huge, strappy, crimson-purple leaves which on their own are worth the price of the bulb, and then maybe 4 weeks of flowering as the flowerspikes slowly open. It can hang on, still looking good till the first cold night-time temperatures strike. This last winter I left the huge pot outside, but fleeced it well, and moved it into the protection of the pergola, which kept the worst of the winter wet off it.

Misumena vatia looking angry on Salvia ‘Mulberry Jam’, Tostat, July 2019

The heat has brought this angry-looking spider out early. Misumena vatia is a foraging spider which attacks bees and butterflies, hanging out very still in flowerheads that it can mimic in colour- bit odd then that it was in the white form on the Salvia. But maybe the colour change takes a while to activate. It is a deadly killer, as you can see from my 2018 photograph below. Wearing matching bright yellow with the flowerhead of Patrinia scabiosifolia, it is making short shrift of a hapless insect.

Same spider, Misumena vatia, new disguise on Patrinia scabiosifolia, Tostat, August 2018

I am ridiculously fond of this Hibiscus trionum which I grew from seed about 7 years ago, although it is a nothing-special-plant. But the flowers keep on coming regardless of heat and no rain, so it is not a slouch in the summer-dry department. The foliage is a healthy mid-green and you would never know that the sun was beating down on it.

Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, July 2019

Another plant which I grew from seed about the same time as the Hibiscus, is the unbeatable Bupleurum fruticosum. Not a great looker, but the olive-green leaves and structure are brilliant in the border, especially when summer heat can render other plants a tad on the floppy side. This year, I actually did a proper-gardener thing and pruned all of the Bupleurum pretty much to stumps above the ground in February. Of course, it was the right thing to do, making good, sturdy 1.25ish metre clumps, with good branching and form.

The redoubtable Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, July 2019

This tiny Linaria vulgaris is such a sweet thing. Custard yellow and cream flowers on a tiny spike, I grew these from seed a few years back and they are only slowly making little sprinkles in a hot, dry spot. I was inspired to try it after seeing a brilliant planting of it outside the Ludlow Food Centre in 2017. I am not quite there yet! But live in hope…

Linaria vulgaris, Tostat, July 2019
Linaria vulgaris and Stipa tenuissima, Ludlow Food Centre, Shropshire, June 2017
Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2019

Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’ is easy-peasy from seed and is a tough, but lovely, plant no matter what the weather. I adore the colours, the form with the golden ruffs, and the sprinkle effect that it creates in amongst other plants. A good neighbour of a plant.

Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum, Tostat, July 2019

Such pretty foliage, Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum. Feathery, ferny and upright, no slouching and a brilliant green. It may be that it is getting a little water seeping out of the pots in front of it, as it is not usually quite so robust in dry and heat.

In the heat, the Back Door view, Tostat, July 2019

The view from the Back Door is very dependent on greens, but Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ is unstoppable and fragrant no matter how hot it gets ( centre-right in the photo), Eucomis autumnalis ssp autumnalis, the Pineapple flower, is flowering away in a pot at the front, and Plectranthus argentatus offers up some silvery-green next door to the Eucomis. The big shrub, Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ if I remember correctly, will flower in a few weeks- another summer-dry star.

But for colour, the dragonflies and damselflies take the prize. Electric azure blue.

Colour in the wildlife, Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly, Tostat, July 2019

Aha and…oh no…

Valeriana pyrenaica, Greenbank Garden, Glasgow, May 2019

Sometimes a plant just catches your eye. This plant did. Wandering around Glasgow’s Greenbank Garden, it was growing in massive clumps in the woodland area, as well as being used as a filler plant in the borders. I asked a young gardener if she could identify it, but she couldn’t. But, sometimes, luck plays a part in finally cracking an identity.

Leafing through the plant lists for the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival gardens, there it was in the ‘Calm amidst chaos’ garden, designed by Joe Francis. Valeriana pyreniaca is actually a native of the French Pyrenees- fancy going all the way to Glasgow to see it! It is a sturdy grower, making a good clump just a metre and a bit tall, with heart-shaped leaves which remind me of Clerodendrum bungei, and like the Clerodendron, it prefers a moistish soil and not totally blazing sun all day. The wide semi-umbel shaped flowers in pale pink actually seem to sparkle in the sun, as fine plant parts reach out to frame the flatter part of the flowerhead. Very pretty and great for insects of all shapes and sizes. I am going to try some from seed.

Rosa ‘Astrid, Grafin von Hardenberg’, Tostat, September 2017

I am coming to the conclusion that my garden is getting too summer-dry for repeat flowering roses. The old varieties that flower once early in the season are doing fine, as by now, the show is well over and they are happily sliding into summer dormancy. But the later and repeat flowering roses are really suffering, and today, I dug up and potted up a third one, Rosa ‘Astrid, Grafin von Hardenberg’, a lovely rose reduced to a couple of twigs and a few leaves needing serious tlc in a pot. She joins Rosa ‘Summer Song’ and Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ which were both potted up this Spring. Astrid will bounce back, but I do think that this is another sign of the drying and warming that has changed our summers. I am not abandoning my non-watering policy, but if I want to grow these roses, I need to turn to the pot. And resist the temptation to grow any more than those I already have. That discipline could be tricky….

Bits and bobs…

Cynara cardunculus, Tostat, July 2019

The last week has starred all kinds of weather including 20 minutes of typhoon scaled wind and massive stair rods of rain. The weather can be incredibly local, and we were very lucky as a 2km wide band passed within 500m of us and didn’t touch us. Those it touched lost trees, and even more importantly in the season, prized vegetable gardens and crops. This is the first time that the Cynara cardunculus has produced so many flowering branches- and it came through the storm unscathed. A brilliant architectural plant and a good self-seeder- you just need the space.

The rain was very welcome despite the strength and power of it, and clearly refreshed everything growing in the garden, with some roses generating a fresh small flush of flowers. With these weather outbursts, sometimes plants return that you have completely forgotten about.

Digitalis ferruginea, Tostat, July 2019

I adore the colouring of this Digitalis ferruginea. This was a surprise appearance 3 years ago, when a strange rosette of leaves started to grow which I did not associate with seed that I had sown the year before. I potted up the mysterious rosette and then planted it out, having no idea what it was. Since then, the rosette has returned each year with taller and more stately flowerspikes every year. In the bright warm early morning sunlight, the rust colouring almost hits orange- and this year with our cool, wet spring, it measures well over 1.7 metres tall. Wow.

Eryngium eburneum has been truly statuesque this year too. It is an utterly undemanding plant, and in return, you get months of the tall, bobbly, prickly flowerspikes which complement any style of planting in my view, and then, over winter, the flowing foliage forms beautiful clumps, made even more gorgeous when touched with frost. I guess all you need to give it is space- allow 1m all around the plant- and stony, well-drained soil. No pampering required.

Eryngium eburneum backlit, Tostat, July 2019

Another strange plant that I adore, but have only succeeded once with, is Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’. This can be regarded as an invasive weed in the US, but probably not here in Europe. It is undemanding, but requires very precise conditions, or in my view it does! Sun, but some shade, moist, but not wet and must be well-draining, and it prefers some cover from other plants over winter. The one that didn’t die is grown amongst a Hydrangea paniculata, Bupleurum fruticosum and Phlomis russelliana- and I never know for sure that it’s made it until the first bright-green feathery leaves poke through. It is not a powerful grower, so even after 5 years, I usually only have 2-3 spikes of it- but it is a lovely presence, a stretched bright-green feather duster of a plant which is totally vertical.

Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, July 2019

I don’t know what I have done to deserve these lovely flowering garlic scapes- but I love them, and do my best to pot them up and save them to weave in amongst other plants, like a strange extra-terrestrial that has been welcomed to the planet. You can eat them like spring onions or chives, but I want them in the garden.

Flowering garlic scapes, Tostat, July 2019

This tiny little Penstemon pinifolius is perhaps the smallest of all. I couldn’t get a plant anywhere and so I grew a small bowl of them from seed about 3 years ago- this is the first flower from that little bowl. It looks like spikes of short hair, the slimmest, stringiest leaves you can imagine which pays witness to the drought tolerance- it is very drought tolerant and needs super-sharp drainage- but it is hardy. So, only water if it looks wan.

Penstemon pinifolius, Tostat, July 2019

This is a really different Rudbeckia- Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Fire’. Tall, slim and multi-flowering, with small bright yellow and orange daisy flowers, it seems to be an easy plant. These are one year old, grown from seed last year- and I am hoping that they will clump more next year- apparently short-lived, so either I buy more seed or if I’m lucky, it will self-seed. I think that it needs more moisture than some sites suggest and not baking sun all day.

Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Fire’, Tostat, July 2019
Salvia confertiflora, Tostat, July 2019

Salvia confertiflora is flowering- more than 2 months earlier than in previous years. I think it has taken it’s cue from the scattered very hot days we have had. This is a tender Salvia, so I bring it in every winter, but the orange-red velvet tall flowerspikes are a real bonus in the garden- even more just now as the garden slows up for the hot period.

And today, I discovered more seasonal bonuses. Two Baptisia australis seedlings that have popped up in pots of Salvia, unbeknownst to me. Baptisia has been a seed disaster for me, really quite tricky, so this must be some stray seed that got recycled into some potting compost by mistake. Good mistake. And some good, tough little Achillea millefoliums that had self-seeded into the parking gravel- brilliant. Bonus tough plants for difficult areas.

Thoughts on planting and weeding…

Verbena bonarienisis with Daucus carota, Tostat, July 2019

Forced inside by the massive heat last week, I took to reading about gardens rather than gardening. Also, I am in a reflective state about the garden at the moment as I am noticing the changes from having less ‘arm’ to do maintenance, and I am curious about how this will shape up over the summer. So, picking up Noel Kingsbury’s article about planting density, which I would ordinarily have saved for a rainy day, set me thinking. I won’t recount all the detail as you can pick this up via the link, but working backwards from his reasons as to why more dense planting makes sense made great sense to me. He posits three main reasons for dense planting:

  1. Denser planting reduces the need for weeding
  2. It increases biodiversity, providing more cover and food opportunities for essential garden wildlife
  3. More plants mean more biological activity which supports an effective ecosystem

So, possibly post-hoc rationalisation, but here is what I think is going on in ‘The Mix’ my perennials/grasses/shrub combination underneath the cherry tree at the back. A spot of analysis follows…

The Mix, Tostat, May 2019

This May photograph is a little late to qualify as Spring, but it will do. You can see the massive importance of the wafty Stipa tenuissima, the tall Allium nigrum coming through, and the pink of the Oenethora all work well together.

Just now, early July, those Alliums are still there as seedheads, but the whole look has gone up a gear in height and variation. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is sparking red through the planting, and an annual tall daisy, with many small, white flowers, which self-seeded itself last year, and has really romped this year, has taken the eye up further, whilst the Phlomis longifolia var.bailanica is giving stature with seedheads, and the grey-silver of the Helichrysum rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ (now also seen as Ozothamnus) planted 2 years ago is poking through nicely.

The Mix, Tostat, early July 2019

In mid July, the whole scene will change as Monarda fistulosa, which has just begun to open, will ripple through the scene with warm pink long-lasting flowerheads and will compete as the daisy goes over to take over as the main theme. Later, Patrinia scabiosifolia will come in at early August with electric-yellow umbels shooting through leading to Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ in September.

The first flower, Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, early July 2019

All that I have done is chosen some plants and threaded them between one another fairly closely, allowed a little room for self-seeders, and other than removing the odd dandelion or plantain, I have left it to sort itself out. What I have realised is that between me and it, we have built up a flow of plants that move into the foreground and change the dynamic as time passes- giving way to others as they go. Very little has needed to be removed, and the shrubby elements, the Phlomis bailanica, Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’, Helichrysum rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ and Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ have created the beginnings of a permanent structure as a backdrop.

The other article that continues to set me thinking was Alys Fowler’s article last week on weeding. I always like her thoughtful articles, and this year weeding has taken a back seat in Tostat. I have been surprised at how little this has bothered me, and I have learnt that I have only to wait for plants to grow up and over, thus hiding the interlopers. Then summer heat will finish most of the rest off. I just need to stay calm for the month or so in the Spring when it looks as if all is lost. I am going to go easy again on weeding next year. I adore the combination of the Verbena bonariensis and the wild carrot, Daucus carota and will welcome that back. (see top)

Where I will not go easy is my eternal battle with bindweed. But, 3 years ago, I grew and planted out Tagetes minuta all over the garden where we were under siege from bindweed. Tagetes minuta seedlings have continued to work away since them, and we have a very different garden thanks to them. I have ordered more seed for next year to bulk up the population.

Tagetes minuta still doing battle for me, Tostat, July 2019