The final fling

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The gorgeous Rosa ‘Lady Hillingdon’, Sombrun, end May 2017

I make no excuses for raving about the roses this year, it has been an exceptional year I think. But maybe a little short with everything all bursting out at once, Rosa banksiae did not have the stage to itself as normal.  So, when invited back to Sombrun to see the roses in their final burst for the once-flowerers, we dashed round.

‘Lady Hillingdon’ with the smokey apricot centres was very seductive, but then so was this modern floribunda one, doing very nicely thank you in a pot.

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Rosa ‘Cinco de Mayo’, Sombrun, end May 2017

Just along from this exotic colour mix, was Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’, with very baroque swags of flowers hanging low.

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Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’, Sombrun, end May 2017

A rose I have often read about, but not seen before, was ‘Phyllis Bide’, growing at the edge of the meadow and decorating a chain link fence rather well.

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Rosa ‘Phyllis Bide’, Sombrun, end May 2017

‘Charles de Mills’ is like watching an Origami exercise unfold.  It must have one of the most densely pleated flowers in the rose world.  Rubbish for pollinating insects, but glorious as a natural marvel.

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Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’, Sombrun, end May 2017

At the minimalist end of the spectrum is another rose I had read about but not seen, the strangely named ‘Cooper’s Burmese’.  It is the epitome of Scandi-chic in comparison with ‘Charles de Mills’, five long, delicate petals and a light golden centre, fragile but tough.

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Rosa ‘Cooper’s Burmese’, Sombrun, end May 2017

I loved the modern rose, ‘Opalia’ as well, for it’s simplicity and delicacy.

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Rosa ‘Opalia’, Sombrun, end May 2017

‘Sally Holmes’ has just enough pink in the buds for the girl-next-door look, but then opens out into cream, many-stamened sophistication.

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Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’, Sombrun, end May 2017

‘The Alexandra Rose’ has the look of a chinensis rose about it, single flowers with generous stamens and slightly flared petals, as if it has just had a small shock.

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Rosa ‘The Alexandra Rose’, Sombrun, end May 2017

Then comes the clinical elegance of ‘Paul’s Perpetual White’.

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Rosa ‘Paul’s Perpetual White’, Sombrun, end May 2017

Bustling in a jolly way over the gate with a crushed raspberry pink was a busy big rose, ‘Maria Lisa’, very pretty.

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Rosa ‘Marie Lisa’ over the gate, Sombrun, end May 2017

And meanwhile in the woodland area, not a rose but Cornus kousa flowering with just as much exoticism as all the companion roses- not to be outdone.   And it will all happen again next year, what a joy.

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Cornus kousa flowering, Sombrun, end May 2017


Come rain, come shine part 2

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Cenolophium denudatum in the green, Tostat, June 2017

And now we have rain.  Some things react well and take it in their stride.  Cenolophium denudatum, a very posh name for a rather unassuming umbellifer, is doing better now.  For some reason the big clump had a bad patch last year, which resulted in A&E treatment, then splitting into 6 smaller clumps followed by re-planting in different spots.  I knew it would take a while to get going this year, and it has, but on the other hand, it has taken well where it is now planted.  It is a lovely thing in full flow, about 1m high and tall, with feathery foliage and fine cream flowers.  But they are even better, in my view, when they are young and pale green, see above.

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Cenolophium denudatum, in the cream, Tostat, June 2017

And here it is, in the cream mature form.  Pretty, very pretty.  it needs some moisture but not too much.

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Arundo donax ‘Variegata’, Tostat, June 2017

This clump of Arundo donax ‘Variegata’ has been in very dry, hot, stony soil for the past 9 years- so, contrary to the link to Tropical Britain, I am sure it needs less moisture than they suggest and just as much sun.  It reaches 3m high and about 3 m wide, and looks spectacular overlooking Shitty Bank.  But last winter did give it a hammering, and so, for the first time, we cut it right back in the spring, and this is obviously what we should have been doing all along, as it returned to form magnificently.  This year has reminded me how good it is.

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Eryngium eburneum, Tostat, June 2017

A massive tumble and thicket of spikey little fists is a good way to describe Eryngium eburneum, which also lives on Shitty Bank.  Another faithful friend from the early days of the garden, it self-seeds politely where conditions suit, dry and sunny being right for it.  It can get very tall, easily 1.75m some years, and amazingly, it copes with high winds and lashing rain by just waving a little.  The flowerspikes stay all winter until they are bone dry, when they can be cut down or left to drop naturally depending on your taste. They make a great aerial statement without dominating, and are a forgotten hero a lot of the time in the garden.  Very tough.

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Hydrangea quercifolia, Tostat, June 2017

The rain of the last few days has brought out the first buds breaking on the Hydrangea quercifolia, which lives in the moister, semi-shade area by our ruisseau, or canal.  It was another early purchase and is now a beautiful, sharp green presence in the border about 2m x 2m roughly.  The crisp, white flowerheads open slowly and are quite fabulous especially early on with lime green buds still showing.  Now that we have a bench close by, I am much more likely to sit and notice it- a good thing.

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Looking north from the Hydrangea,  Rosa ‘Salet’, Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’and the banana rearing up, Tostat, June 2017

Like all the other roses, one that came with us from Scotland and, in truth, has only been barely tolerated, has really shown what it can do this year.  So, Rosa ‘Salet’ has saved itself.  It is a rambling, straggly, bush.  A Moss Rose, with those hairy, spiny stems and fuzzy leaves, it is not the most appealing sight often.  But it has flowered, small, bright pink densely folded flowers that have been liberally spread about the branches this year. It is a French rose, from Lacharme, dating from 1854.  It stays.

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Rosa ‘Salet’, Tostat, June 2017





Come rain, come shine…

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End of the evening with Stipa tenuissima, Oenethora speciosa shutting up shop, and the last of Cerinthe major ‘Kiwi Blue’ in the distance, Tostat, May 2017

This May has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and in these moments, it is hard not to become totally obsessed with the weather forecast, and then what actually happens- usually not at all as predicted.  In summary, the dry soil sun-lovers have really enjoyed themselves and other things have not, some of which have hung on in there and one or two may have bitten the dust.  This is because I don’t water.  To be precise, I do spot-water things in extremis in their first year, but after that, I don’t.  Stubborn or what, you might well say.  But I am trying to finetune the selection and growing of plants that can live here unaided, and now that there is so much variability in the weather at any time of the year, it makes you feel a bit like William Tell trying to skewer that apple with both legs bound, and from a moving platform.

One of the plants that may have crashed and burnt is one of two Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’.  Interestingly, the one that is in the ER wagon is the one in the slightly less hot spot. I so wanted to grow this plant, having chosen it years ago as part of a planting design for my diploma course- and it was the devil of a job to find it here in France.  So I was mightily pleased when I found not one but two plants last year, and planted them in the early Spring.  It is a delicate, airy columnar shrub, which is pretty undemanding and is reputed to cope with almost any conditions, especially frost.  So, I will have to see if it will perk up from the bottom or find a way of making a comeback.   Meantime, some gentle watering on occasion as it is in the ER wagon.

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Verbascum bombyciferum, where it put itself, Tostat May 2017

Some delights have also turned up. That is not to say that Verbascum bombyciferum is entirely a delight as it can plonk itself slapbang where you don’t want it, and then you have to keep beheading it as it is impossible to get out, with a giant root system that practically goes to Australia.  But it is a mighty and impressive beast when it lands where you might not know that you want it, but you discover that you always did!  With us, the first year is quite a small affair, and then, aged 1-2, the giant seems to leap fully formed out of the ground in front of your eyes.  Felted, hairy and covered in custard-yellow small flowers, it is a one-stop insect feeding station.  It keeps the form and stature right through winter until, totally dried out, it keels over and you are tempted to shout ‘Timber’.

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Assorted foxgloves in dampish soil and sun, Tostat, May 2017

Curiously, it has also been a great year for foxgloves- all self-sown and obviously selecting the parts of the garden where they stand a chance.  That is one of the lovely things about not being too rigid about what goes on where, I love being surprised by what pops up and, also, flip side of the coin, by what doesn’t pop up.  Some years, the foxgloves don’t make much of an appearance- but they always return in the end.

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Euphorbia sikkimensis, Tostat, May 2017

Now here is a survivor.  Grown from seed and fairly weedy for a couple of years, this is the year where it has broken through youth to become a real plant of substance.  I think it’s Euphorbia sikkimensis anyway.  It’s at least 5 years ago that I grew it from seed and it wasn’t a happy sowing, as not much came up, and I lost the tag.  This plant is the only survivor of three.  But it really is worth it.  It is going to make a handsome 1m tall and wide plant, with these electric yellow flower bracts that form on the top of each stem.  Unlike some, it is not a thug, in fact, I would put it in the ‘shy and retiring’ category.  It flowers much later than the rest- sometimes as late as the end of June, and it is willing to cope with the driest, sunniest spot in the garden without any visible complaint.

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Evening sun and handling no rain pretty well, Tostat, May 2017

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Clematis viticella, Aruncus dioicus and the foliage of Paeonia lutea var.ludlowii, Tostat, May 2017

le Jardin d’Entêoulet

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Cotinus coggygria ‘Kanari’ encircled by Stipa tenuissima, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

The first ever garden-visit expedition was made by Tostatenfleur last Saturday to the Jardin d’Entêoulet, just outside Lasseube-Propre in the Gers.  We deserve a blue plaque to mark the occasion!  Nearly 20 of us assembled there at 0930 to be given an excellent and very relaxed tour by the garden-maker, Mme Renée Boy-Faget.  She has made an exceptional garden, and having the energy of an army herself,  it has been a single-handed labour of love.  The word ‘passion’ applies to Mme Boy-Faget.  She is no shirker from hard work and physical labour, and is a walking advert for the benefits of spending her time creating the garden she wants.  In terms of space, it is much much more garden than most of us would contemplate, more than 2 hectares of what were simply fields and farmland up until 2001.  Her work achieved the accolade of being voted ‘Le Jardin Préféré des Français’ in 2014, fighting off 21 other gardens in France- and it was richly deserved.

She has and had a vision.  She clearly has the ability and the ‘eye’ to look at a space, small or big, and see how it could be.  So that is greatly to be admired.  But, perhaps, even more impressive is the simplicity of much of her planting.  She has blended easy-to-grow ordinary perennials which repeat through much of the garden with the occasional show-stopper, like the extraordinary Cotinus coggygria ‘Kanari’ that I have never seen before.

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Rosa Leontine Gervais, Barbier 1903, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

Her lovely collection of more than 280 rose varieties, many of them very unusual, are also accompanied by simple, repeat plantings of catmint, phlomis and sisyrinchium. Grasses are everywhere, much to my delight.  Above is Rosa ‘Leontine Gervais’, which is very similar in colouring and tone to ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’ but with much larger trusses of flowers from cream to warm apricot.  Absolutely gorgeous.

Her planting style is relaxed, plants find their space- and she resists the urge to over-stuff or prune/trim,  the feeling she creates is that the plants get the chance to do their own thing.  Although she will cut back if she dislikes something or becomes too big for its boots- no messing there.

She clearly uses every single one of the many babies that your average Miscanthus produces in our climate here- and to great effect.  I will definitely be going back for an autumn visit when the grasses will be flowering magnificently.  I also really liked the sense of integration in the garden.  It is a glorious whole, with different scenes, areas and colours, but the whole remains connected.  To a great extent, the simplicity of the repeated plantings really helps with that, but also there is a flow through the garden that works even in the new plantings at the bottom of the slight hill.

No more words- here are some views and some plants that really caught my eye.  If in the Gers, ring up and go.  A really inspiring three hours.

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A romantic view of the entrance path, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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A view to the Lutyens bench, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Looking through the relaxed planting, le Jardin d’Entêoulet. May 2017

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The dry garden, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Complete with resident frogs sitting on the lilypads, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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The formal pool, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Red painted vine stumps lead the way past Papaver, ‘Beauty of Livermere’, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Sir Cedric Morris’ performing brilliantly by the formal pool, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Sir Cedric Morris’, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Vilchenblau’ coming into the sun, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Bees enjoying the peony poppy, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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The vine stumps appear again at the pool, a good bit of theatre, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017



La Roseraie du Désert

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View of la Roseraie du Desert, Bouzon Gellenave, France, May 2017

Yesterday, on a supremely sunny, warm day, we visited Becky and John Hook at la Roseraie du Désert, about 50 minutes drive from Tostat.  I inherited quite a few roses when we moved in, and along the way have probably trebled the roses in the garden originally.  My best ever purchase was ‘Marguerite Reine d’Italie’ which flowers continuously and gamely all summer long in hot, semi-shady, stony position without complaint- and she was recommended by Becky Hook when I described the fairly ghastly position I wanted the rose for.  A tough call.  So, I have a very soft spot for their nursery, and was sorry to hear that they would like to sell up- but, for the moment, they are continuing the business.

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Rosa ‘Marguerite Reine d’Italie’, Tostat, July 2015

They have fabulous roses, all grown directly on their own roots rather than grafted, so no unwelcome suckering guests ever.  And the collection contains some very historic, and unusual varieties, mostly Teas, Chinas and Noisettes- so the perfume is often delicious.  We were there pretty much at the end of the rose season this year, which seems really early, but April warmth really brought them all out, almost all together. Nevertheless, there were some lovely roses that caught my eye. So here is my selection from yesterday.  Incidentally, many of them are remontant, but some are so gorgeous that you would willingly have them in your garden for just a day.

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Rosa ‘Irene Bonnet’, 1920 Nabonnand Clément, La Roseraie du Désert, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Ducher’, Ducher 1869, La Roseraie du Désert, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Andre Schwartz’, 1882 Schwartz, la Roseraie de Désert, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Fritz Nobis’, Kordes 1940, la Roseraie du Désert, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Homere’, Robert et Moreau 1858, la Roseraie du Désert, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Souvenir de Pierre Notting’, 1902 Soupert et Notting, la Roseraie du Désert, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Marie van Houtte’, 1871 Ducher, la Roseraie du Désert, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Ornement des Bosquets’, 1860 Jamain, la Roseraie du Désert, May 2017

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Rosa ‘l’Abondance’, 1887 Moreau-Robert, la Roseraie du Désert, May 2017

Please contact Becky Hook if you are interested in taking over their magnificent collection of roses, their business and their house and land, they are looking for a buyer.



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Aristea major, Tostat, May 2017

I am, almost, as excited as Meg Ryan in that famous scene….My Aristea major has flowered for the very first time, after 8 years of patience and minor cursing.  It is a very proud moment, slightly spoiled by Andy’s response of ‘Oh yes’, which didn’t pass muster as a response in my book.  The clear gentian-blue has to be seen to be believed, and on a cooler, cloudier morning, the flower spike has taken several hours to slowly open up, one flower at a time.  In fact, probably tomorrow, I will be able to see every single flower on the spike in action, which will be quite something.  The spike itself is quite a thing, easily over 1m long and tall, and stands up like a soldier on parade. No flopping going on at all.

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The other profile, at the risk of boring you, Aristea major, Tostat, May 2017

And frankly, from whichever side you look at it, it is a glorious thing, I may be circling it for quite some time!  I first came across this as I follow ‘Annie’s Annuals’ a fantastic nursery in Richmond, California, which I actually visited when we were there in 2010- terrible business visiting a fabulous nursery and being forced to come away empty-handed.  But I did buy seed and gave it a go- and here we are, eight years later.

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Detail, Aristea major, Tostat, May 2017

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Aruncus dioicus, Tostat, May 2017

And another plant that is really enjoying life is Aruncus dioicus which is jammed into the woodland type border next to the ruisseau.  Actually, you can’t see it very well, something that ought to be remedied, as this photograph was taken through the undergrowth.  Back in Scotland, I grew Aruncus dioicus ‘Kneiffii’ which is the small cousin of the bigger plant that I have. They are greatly underrated really.  Trouble-free, just give them moist, semi-shady conditions and don’t poke them, and they will slowly become a wafting, cream- coloured, ribbony-flowered plant making a really good statement in the garden.  In fact, they are so trouble-free that I had forgotten that I had it, until I saw the flowers through the rest of the planting.  This Aruncus gets to about 1.5m high and wide, the smaller ‘Kneiffii’ to only about a metre or so- and slowly.

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Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’, Tostat, May 2017

Essentially though, we are in deep drought in the garden still, with no rain forecast for the next 10 days or so at the moment.  But two years ago, I grew this lovely little Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’ from seed- with a poorish success rate, only 3 plants made it through.  But those 3 are utterly unfazed by the heat and the drought.  It makes a small, neat plant, with multiple branching flower stems from the central rosette of flattish leaves, and it is a very jolly, cheerful yellow that works really well with the baby Stipas around it.  And now in its second year, it is really digging in and growing well.  Gaillardia are especially suited to dry, hot conditions, and this has been well tested this year.  Good job.

Visiting Sombrun

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One of the lovely old wrought iron fences and gates, with (?) Clematis Dr Ruppel getting going, Sombrun, May 2017

I love visiting gardens.  Old friends, new friends, places that I have never been and old favourites are all alike in that I just love seeing gardens, other people’s ways of using their space, and inhabiting their world for a short time.  And when you meet people who have tackled, and are still tackling, an impressive amount of space, with open areas, courtyards, woodlands and open meadows- it is quite humbling.  In Sombrun, a village about 30 minutes from us, a couple have done just that.  These are not flowery people or the gardener who might have a trough of alpines on display- this couple wanted a ‘green garden’ and so have set about their big space with the eyes of landscape designers rather than gardeners.

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Using the woodland but adding the definition of the clipped stairway alongside the actual steps, Sombrun, May 2017

With mature woodland on almost three sides, they have chosen to melt the garden into the borrowed landscape in all sorts of clever ways.  I loved this faux hedging staircase alongside the actual steps, which shows so well that just a little formality can bring a disparate woodland scene together.

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The angular, zigzagged hedge snakes up the hill away from the rear courtyard, Sombrun, May 2017

But there are areas where the dense privacy of a really good hedge was needed.  And so, working its way up the hill is a long, zigzagged hedge of beech, which embraces the newer tree planting in the angles of the zigzag.

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Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ in another crook of the opposite beech hedge, Sombrun, May 2017

And now and then, there is a flash of colour, like the Mutabilis rose snuggled into a crook of the beech hedge.   Another bold choice was to create tiered sweeps of hedging taking you away from the courtyard to the start of the hill, I love Eleagnus x ebbingei for its silvery look and slightly stiff shaping, and it was a great choice to make this statement.

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Eleagnus ebbingei tiered hedging looking very silvery, Sombrun, May 2017

To soften the hedging emphasis, the grass is allowed to be longer, to support buttercups and other wild flowers, with mown areas where a passageway is needed.  This made for a relaxed feel in amongst the big formal strokes.  And green it is- I loved the faux crowns of Phormium sprouting through the spreading conifers.

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A hedging archway, with spreading groups of conifer crowned by the upright Phormiums, Sombrun, May 2017

One mixed border runs close by the side of the house, where clipped shapes and big, spreading shrubs are supported by perennials- this area used to be a woodland, but the removal of the trees opened up light and air for the house- you can still see the tree stumps through the grass.

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A mixed border close to the house, Sombrun, May 2017

Pencil cypresses draw the eye up and out of the rear courtyard, past the pretty cart- as if the farmer had just pulled up there.  The swimming pool can just be seen because of the cover, with a large cream Cistus flowering at the far side.

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The rear courtyard, Sombrun, May 2017

I was running round the garden as a big, cold storm piled in- so my last stop was to get closer to the pink clematis twisting through the old iron fencing at the front of the house. There were lots of photographs that never got taken!

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The bright pink of Clematis ‘Dr Ruppel’ (?), Sombrun, May 2017