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

 

 

 

 

 

The summer-dry crash…

Helenium ‘Helena’, Tostat, early August 2020

This is how much of the garden looks at the moment. It is the price of sustainability and is the face of summer-dry gardening. I have never completely got used to it, but I persist in hoping that the brown aesthetic will one day please me. Actually, I feel very pained when I see plants resorting to suicide tactics to preserve their root systems- but in another sense, I am keen to keep pushing to see what plants handle it better than others and I also rationally know that they will all be back in action next year none the worse. In many ways it is my own pride that I am fighting with, more than the natural survival tactics of unwatered gardens. And in the end, I do passionately believe that watering is a criminal waste of a scarce resource. See below for 3 weeks earlier- same plant.

Helenium ‘Helena’, Tostat, mid July 2020

The terrible truth is that our summers have radically changed since we moved here almost 17 years ago. We used to have reliable cycles of brief but powerful summer storms that punctuated the heat of summer bringing heavy rain. Now, we still have storms but they are rain-free. And though temperatures have not been high until the last 3 weeks, there has not been any rain of any use since early June. We have had to dig around the septic tank to inspect it for conformity for the house sale, and the soil is dust way beyond a metre down. Vegetables being the main French gardening activity, it is the damage to the summer crops that is bothering Tostat gardeners.

Achillea ‘Cerise Queen’, Tostat, mid July 2020

But there are rays of pleasure all the same. Achillea ‘Cerise Queen’ has been way too bleached away from her normal raspberry tones by the sun, but is gratifyingly flowering away all the same. And Bupleurum fruticosum, a Mediterranean stalwart, is looking very fresh despite the drought and is much appreciated by many greedy insects.

Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, mid July 2020

So, I am going to plan a garrigue-based garden for one of the areas of garden in our, hopefully all fingers crossed, new house. This will take a stony, ignored slope about 20m by 40m and push my understanding of how to work with full sun to a new level. I have always been very supported in plant choices by the work and books of Olivier Filippi, and so he will guide me through this next year. I can learn from him.

Olivier Filippi’s garden, Loupian near Sète, October 2013

I had the luck of joining a French gardening club visit to the Filippi nursery and the private garden which he uses for experimentation. He has created a garrigue garden, which working with the soil conditions, makes a wonderful landscape of mounded shrubs and perennials punctuated by trees, both conifers and native Mediterranean tough trees. So I hope this will be my next challenge…

Filippi garden, October 2013

Back in Tostat, although they are now in a sorry state but hanging on, the hydrangeas, both paniculata and macrophylla, were looking pretty good till mid July. I am very fond of this one, though I don’t get the fragrance at all, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star Le Vasterival‘ has a fine mix of of a flowerhead.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star Le Vasterival’, Tostat, mid July 2020

Mildew is always a problem with Monardas and dry conditions. But Monarda fistulosa is your answer if you want to grow Monardas in low water situations. A gorgeous shade of lilac-pink, and standing tall at over a metre, the heat will get it in the end, but for 3 weeks or so, you can really enjoy the statuesque flowers.

Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, mid July 2020
Pelargonium abrotanifolium, Tostat, mid July 2020

So, in the dryness and the heat, the plants in pots try their best to fill the gap. New to me, and a very tiny flower no bigger than my littlest fingernail, is Pelargonium abrotanifolium. Brush against the small plant and you are almost knocked out by the pungent odour, a very medicinal experience. But the flower is a miniature sweetie.

Pelargonium sidoides, Tostat, early August 2020

Similarly tiny, is Pelargonium sidoides. It should have dark black-crimson flowers, but mine has maybe got too hot and come out dark pink. However, I grew it from seed, so I am keeping it going no matter what, and it will be on the packing list.

Nierembergia scoparia, Tostat, early August 2020

Now here is a plant that will be a good summer-dry doer, I think. Currently in a pot, so next year will tell, but I already really love the wispy, trailing foliage and especially the dark hearted pale lilac flowers which bloom in abundance. Nierembergia scoparia will get a proper road test next year.

Life after confinement…

Nymphaea ‘Hermine’, Tostat, July 2020

Long while since I last wrote a blog article. A lot of life seems to have happened and I haven’t had the attention bandwidth to get to it. Having felt strangely guilty about that for a few days, this morning seemed the moment to dive in.

And we have made a surprise big decision since the end of the confinement at the beginning of June- we are moving to a small town nearer the Pyrenees and south of Pau- and therefore our house is on the market. It was a decision that we both came to- a move that we had thought we would wait five years or so to make. But something about confinement made us both feel that it was better to make the move sooner rather than later, and we astonished ourselves with the rapidity of the turnaround.

And so the garden feels different. No more planting to be done, and an interesting mixture of excitement, sadness and also distance has crept into my mind. My eye has turned to which plants are worth taking cuttings of, taking seed from, or just plain digging up and potting up to take with us when we go. Which could be anytime this year or next…so everything is being assessed and catalogued, a busy mental activity which substitutes for real gardening.

Nymphaea ‘Hermine’ has produced two flowers simultaneously- quite a feat for a plant that has only been in the new pond since the end of April. Single flowers have been coming for a while- they last a few days or less if it is hot and dry. I love the sharpness of the shape, lifting itself proudly out of the water. It is a dwarf variety, but I may not get to see the final size next year.

Dicliptera suberecta, which used to be called Jacobinia, is a great plant that will definitely be on the list to come away with us. I bought three small plants last autumn, took 2 cuttings, and all five plants have done brilliantly. They reach to about 25 cms in flower so far, with these fabulous scarlet slender trumpets, and are super drought tolerant with grey felted foliage. I am giving them some water today as we have had no rain for weeks and it is over 30C, so even they are toiling a little. If kept in very well-drained, stony soil, I reckon they would handle -7C or so, but no winter damp, so they are not as tender, I think, as many UK sites would suggest. Full sun needed.

Dicliptera suberecta, Tostat, July 2020

I grew these from seed this Spring, but owing to a cold and damp May, I never planted them out- and then there seemed not much point. But, for all that, I would grow them again, as they are just charming and easy from the off. Leonurus sibiricus, if planted properly, would make erect and steady spires with candelabras of pinky mauve flowers- and the foliage is pretty and interesting in itself. I will buy or collect seed and try again.

Leonurus sibiricus, Tostat, July 2020

On the pinky mauve front, you can’t have a more charming or floriferous medium arching shrub than Lespedeza thunbergii ssp.thunbergii Edo Shibori. Shoot describes it as wanting light sandy soil, but I think it needs a bit more beef than that, and certainly more moisture- though this may say more about our conditions here. But, the shape is elegant and easy on the eye, with the tiny pea-like flowers massed up and down the arching branches. I have cuttings, which are looking promising.

Lespedeza thunbergii ssp. thunbergii Edo Shibori, Tostat, July 2020

Pink is it. Here is a plant that arrived three years ago, died, and has now done a spectacular Lazarus act to return in fighting form this year. Another candidate for a hot, dry spot, Ononis spinosa has one downside- spikes, as the name warns us. But it’s bushy, upright and covered in pink pea-like flowers and is doing magnificently. Well done it. I love the old English name- Spiny restharrow.

Ononis spinosa, Tostat, July 2020

Staying with pink- how lovely Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ looks in the early morning sunshine- a lovely gift from a local gardening pal, merci bien Karen!

Pennisetum Karley Rose, Tostat, July 2020

And, since I am a dab hand at plantain, here is one you might want to try growing instead of ripping out. This has been a real surprise- from seed, it’s a bit slow on the uptake and looks, well, sickly for at least 6 months. While your back is turned, it seems to become turbo-charged and before you know it, it looks ready to take on the world. Here it is in the Australian-inspired bed I made two years ago, unwatered and handling drought like a pro. Not everyone might like the beetroot coloured leaves, but I do!

Plantago major Rubrifolia, Tostat, July 2020

Moving to coral…the ‘Summer Song’ rose is gorgeous, but annoying. Maybe it’s me, but the growth is spindly and very weak, so the lovely blooms get dropped downwards and they don’t last more than a day. So, I dug it up this Spring and put it in a recovery pot, and will do my best to feed it up and see if it will buck up. I hope so.

Rosa ‘Summer Song’, Tostat, July 2020

And to violet-mauve….this is the Powdery Alligator flag as it is called in the USA or Thalia dealbata to you and me. I get the powdery moniker, because, as you can see, the twisted purple flowers are shielded with a powdery grey covering and never completely open. But the real star element is the foliage. Elegant, slim paddles on thin, tall stems, give an Egyptian fresco feel to the plant. It would not look out of place in Tutankhamun’s tomb. It grows tall, up to 2m, and needs submersion in water. But what a knockout it is. It will need bringing in during the winter.

Thalia dealbata, Tostat, July 2020

Moving to deep pinky mauve, here are two Vernonias. The first I grew from seed last Spring, and it amazed me by handling drought and heat with aplomb, and then roaring back this Spring as a really good-sized clump from one tiny seedling. This year it is coming into flower now, and it is a beauty. The foliage is good too- feathery and dainty, making about 1m in height. I give you, Vernonia lettermannii. A fantastic plant.

Vernonia lettermannii, Tostat, July 2020

The big sister is Vernonia arkansana ‘Mammuth’, which is a really well known plant for dramatic height (at 2m plus) in moist conditions. I grow it here near the canal, to give it the moisture, and near the banana clump, which gives occasional shade and also topples the Vernonia when it rains. You can’t win ’em all.

Vernonia arkansana ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, July 2020

A tall, dry, sunny spot thug- but who can’t fall for aerial fried-eggs? is Romneya coulteri. Do not plant this unless you are willing/able to give it 24/7 sun and shockingly rubbish soil. That’s what it wants- plus room. It will mow down smaller plants in its path, so think stone wall to stop it or hold it in. But against a blue sky….wow.

Romneya coulteri, Tostat, July 2020

And if you are looking for a house and garden where all of these plants, and others, live…click on the link below.

https://www.abafim.com/restored-18th-century-farmhouse-ref-AF23784.html

And now it’s early June…

Gertrud’s Penstemon, such a good plant, Tostat, June 2020

Where has this year gone? I cannot believe the evidence of my own eyes as I look round the garden and see that early summer arrived about 2 weeks ago. Most of the once-blooming roses are over and done with, and spring flowerers of all kinds were beaten by the last 2 weeks of 30C and no rain. But a plant that has just adored it, is my unknown Penstemon, bought 2 years ago at the lovely Jardin d’Antin, where Gertrud has a very good eye for a plant.

Isoplexis canariensis, the Lazarus of the garden, Tostat, June 2020

Years ago, I grew Isoplexis canariensis from seed and had two big pots blooming magnificently. I left them out over the winter once, bad mistake. But incredibly, last year, three small plants re-emerged from death and this year, with a guarantee of good behaviour from me, they are back. I had them kept dry but with protection in the open barn last winter, and they really liked that. Masses of water and some feed to kickstart them and they have flowered 2 months earlier than they used to. I adore the colour, and the glossy evergreen leaves are a great foil to the orange-rusty flowers.

Libertia ixioides ‘Goldfinger’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a really lovely Libertia. These plants have had a slightly chequered history with me, as I grew them successfully from seed and then planted them out in an area that was a bit too tough for them. So, out they came and went into the Mix, the massed perennial planting under the cherry tree. This slim Libertia is not a fastgrower, but it is especially good in the winter, when the orange stripes on the leaves really glow. But this is the first time they flowered, with a sprinkling of these charming white flowers- which, when woven in amongst the other perennials, charmingly catch the eye.

Nigella papilosa ‘African Bride’, Tostat, June 2020

I am a grumpy annuals grower- they aren’t really my thing, but I grew some of this Nigella that we were going to give away as ‘freebie pollinator’ plants at our Tostatenfleur event in April- but it didn’t happen because of covid-19. However, I have loved this slightly different Nigella for the drama of the petals and stamens combo. And in early morning sunshine, the stamens have a ruby glow to them. I am saving the seed for sure…

Oenethora speciosa, Tostat, June 2020

Some people hate this evening primrose, Oenethora speciosa, but the trick is to plant it in rubbish soil and full sun. Any conditions more luxurious will ensure you have a massive growth and it will run and run. And even with rubbish soil, be prepared to yank masses out. Having said that, in low light, the gorgeous shell-pink flowers, of which there hundreds every day, glow. I have been known to be snobby about it, but actually, it is a good doer in controlled conditions.

Pelargonium ‘Ardens’, Tostat, June 2020

This species Pelargonium is a delight- deep red flowers with an enticing darker splash, and needs no special treatment other than a dry winter, protected from the cold, and then watering to wake it up in the spring once frost has finished.

Punica granatum ‘Mme Legrelliae’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a great flowering shrub, which deserves to be better known really. There is nothing quite like the frilly-hankerchief look of the coral and cream flowers. It’s a non-fruiting pomegranate, but is hardy down to -15C and is very happy in not particularly great soil that is free-draining. It won’t like water round the roots in winter. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about the naming and history of the plant, a fascinating story of important, but unknown horticultural women.

Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, Tostat, June 2020

This rose, Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, which I bought with my pal Jane at Chelsea from Harkness several years ago, is a Persian descendant, and is bred for heat tolerance. It grows pretty well in a slightly damper bit of the garden. I love the early apricot-pink colouring, just a bit disappointing that it fades to what I would call a dull brick colour- but never mind. The open, single structure makes it more useful for pollinators than many roses.

Rosa ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’, Tostat, June 2020

Here is a ready-made bouquet of Rosa ‘Great Maiden’s Blush’ or ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’ here in France. It smells lovely and blooms off and on in waves all summer.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’, Tostat, June 2020

I am very fond of Rosa ‘New Dawn’– it has that perfect shell-pink, with a lot of cream in it, a bit of an ice-queen really. But the slightly angular petals appeal to me and it lasts well, flowering for about a month in a lazy droop over the garden wall.

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’, Tostat, June 2020

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’ struggles a bit with me, a bit too dry and hot for it I think, but the colour is fabulous. This photograph does not do it justice- think the deepest, richest crimson velvet, and you are almost there.

Salvia cacaliifolia, Tostat, June 2020

And now for the Battle of the Blues- won only just by Salvia cacaliifolia. This is a tender salvia, with bright light green ivy-shaped leaves, which will just about twine upwards with a little support. I have it supported by a bit of redundant barbecue grill, not yet wind-tested as a support, but it is working for the moment. The blue is deep, and electric.

Salvia patens, Tostat, June 2020

Salvia patens is just a tad lighter in tone, but scores for really big flowers. Oddly it has the same ivy-shaped leaves as cacaliifolia, but has more of a darcyii look about it.

Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’, Ludlow, June 2017

I saw this rose in Ludlow a couple of years ago, and just the year before, I bought it for a rose-loving friend in Tostat, who has just returned the favour beautifully by growing on and giving me a very good looking cutting. I missed the flowers of my new rose in the rain, so luckily had a photo from 2017. I am so looking forward to it. Thank you, H and M, very much.

Early May…

Natrix maura in our pond, Tostat, early May 2020

No, not the Loch Ness monster- but maybe almost as exciting for the new pond. A native watersnake, non-venomous, has moved in. Our water snake, is actually only about 8cms long and it required David Attenborough-levels of patience to take these two photographs. It swims like the Loch Ness monster, though, doesn’t it?

Our dog Molly in lockdown has taken to barking at all birds in the garden, on the wing, on the ground, big and small. So the Hoopoe has only flown by, but it did drop in for a poke about in HG’s garden and he managed to get a great photo of it. The hoopoe is a theatrical costumier’s delight, see the black pompoms on the crest. A short appearance for a couple of weeks until next year.

The hoopoe in the our friend’s garden, Tostat, early May 2020
photo credit: HG, Tostat

The flowers are all out on ‘Tiny Wine’. I have often raved about this gallant shrub and the flowers are just as lovely as the rest of it. Some people might draw the line at a crimson bronze shrub, but I am not one of those.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, early May 2020

In Spring, the Aristea begin to look lively. I have left both Aristea major and Aristea ecklonii out in the open this year, though given the shelter of the thickly-growing wisteria on the pergola. They look all the better for it, though I would have rushed in with fleece if needed. This is a true, strong sky-blue embellished with golden stamens. This Ecklonii sprig is leaning against the big brother, Aristea major.

Aristea ecklonii, Tostat, early May 2020

For my money, this is the best-ever Cistus. Cistus x cyprius var.ellipticus ‘Elma’ wins no prizes for the length of the botanical name, but it is quite the best flowerer in my view. The foliage is a strong green, glossy and slightly sticky with a highly pungent fragrance, and the flowers are big, bold and the whitest of white with deep golden stamens. Not rain-proof sadly, though. This weekend will have given it a good smashing- lucky that the foliage is really bright and healthy all year round. One of the plants I bought several years ago at the dry garden specialist, Pepiniere Filippi.

Cistus x cyprius var. ellipticus ‘Elma’, Tostat, early May 2020

Another pretty crinkled Cistus is this one- Cistus heterophyllus, which I bought from Jardin Champetre in Caunes-Minervois about 3 years ago. It has, as ever, taken some time to settle in but it is looking really good this year. It is a lovely tumbling variety, so would look amazing hanging off a step or terrace wall.

Cistus heterophyllus, Tostat, early May 2020

Note to self- buy some more Allium nigrum bulbs for next Spring. This is the only Allium I have ever really succeeded with- and it deserves a medal for endurance. I love the architectural look it gives with the simple white/green flowerhead.

Allium nigrum and Phlomis longifolia ‘Bailanica’, Tostat, early May 2020

Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley-Fisher’ is a great love of mine. I have written about her before, and this year she is even earlier with the first of her apricot-honey coloured simple flowers.

Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley-Fisher’, Tostat, early May 2020

Lockdown makes me look even harder at the garden and the plants. So this is the first time I have ever noticed the Stipa flowering, and the light was just right making the contrast work in my favour.

Stipa gigantea, Tostat, early May 2020

Thalictrum were one of my first seed-growing successes, but now, more than seven years later, I probably need to have another bash at this one especially, as the powder puff flowers are lovely against early morning sun. Thalictrum flavum glaucum is much more of a beast and a brilliant self-seeder, but Aquilegifolium needs a bit of a boost.

Thalictrum aquilegifolium, Tostat, early May 2020
The pond settling in, Tostat, early May 2020

The pond is settling in really well, with all the plants at least visible on a photograph now. We just love sitting on the rustic bench and watching what’s going on and a new lodger has appeared-this rather chubby dragonfly with the china-blue tummy. It loves living dangerously, perching on the very sharp tip of the Agave…ouch…

Male black tailed skimmer dragonfly settling in, Tostat, early May 2020

The Piasecki pond…

Step 1: Thinks “Too much liner…”
Step 2: ” Maybe not, after all…”
Step 3: ” It’s quite big, going to be sat here with a hose for hours..”
Step 4: “Your turn, come on…”
Step 5: ” Still here…”
Step 6: Large stones and small ones to make a rim and a beach…rustic bench rustled up
Step 7: Planting added…and Agave americana placed

It was a great labour! Early April, liner and plants arrived despite lockdown and so it became The Weekend of the Pond. The longest part?… filling the pond with our spring water and finding/carrying all the big river stones, all hand dug from the garden over years, to make the rim and the riverbed beach through the edge of the New Garden. So, the planting round the pond is a mixture of home-grown babies and purchases, the aquatic/marginal plants will feature in the blog later as they get big enough to be photographed.

This Agave americana is the biggest of about 10 babies that have been produced, one a year practically, since a friend gave us a small Agave from their garden in the Languedoc. It is a vicious plant if you have small children and probably to be avoided in those circumstances, but the soft greeny blue of the architectural leaves is a lovely match for the eucalyptus on the other side. It does not want to be waterlogged, but in my experience, it will take down to -10C, even for a fortnight, if it is not wet at the base.

Justicia dicliptera
Photo credit: http://www.mesarbustes.fr

Justicia dicliptera, also known as Jacobinia suberecta dicliptera, is newish to me. I bought three at the end of last summer, took cuttings from two, and overwintered them outside- a risk, but so far, so good. The cuttings have done well, just in the shelter of the open barn, and the plants have regrown from the base. It makes a greeny velvety mound, about 0.5 m high and wide, with tubular orangey-red flowers in the high summer. I have the five plants in the gravel area to the right of the pond.

Yucca ‘Gold Sword’ in another part of the garden, Tostat, April 2020

Yucca Gold Sword– I love this plant. I bought a couple about 12 years ago and now have many of them as accent plants all over the garden. Tough and reliable, they handle most conditions I have, except the wettest. They will sulk for a while, with their leaves flat on the ground when moved, but given some water or rain for a few days, they will soon pick up to make a spikey presence about 1m tall and wide. I have four of them, of various sizes, planted in the stones to the right of the pond.

First flower on Anisodontea malvastroides, Tostat, April 2020

Anisodontea malvastroides is a tough, shrubby dry conditions shrub, which I hope will flower nonstop next to the pig shed, to the side of the pond. It should make a good size rapidly, to about 1.5-2m all round. The delicate pastel tones of the flowers should soothe near the water.

Phlomis lanata ‘Pygmy’, Tostat, April 2020

Phlomis lanata ‘Pygmy’ has all of the attributes of the bigger Phlomis cousins, exceptional drought tolerance, whorled flowers and grey-green leaves, but it is really tiny. I couldn’t resist it. Maximum size will be about 50cms all round. Aww….It is planted near the Agave for a ‘Little and Large’ moment.

Achillea crithmifolia, Tostat, April 2020

Achillea crithmifolia will make a short blanket of soft, frilly foliage and umbel flowers- like your normal Achillea but much shorter. I hope it will spread amongst the stony planting between the pond and the pigshed, and I will help it by ripping out the pesky sunflower relatives that plague me.

Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’
Photo credit: http://www.txsmartscape.com

Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’ is a Texan plant, and ideally suited to our hot, dry, stony terrain, I hope. It should make a good mound of about 1m all round, and be covered in these violet-purple flowers for much of the summer. I really want to see how this does with us, as it and other Texan plants with some cold tolerance could be a really good choice for us in the future.

On a good note for the garden- it’s still gently raining….

The grand tour…

Looking east towards the Mix and the green seat, Tostat, April 2020

I started this post last week. But life and death intervened. A friend died of Motor Neurone Disease in Paris, fortunately at home with her partner, and so she was with loved ones at the end. That stopped me in my tracks really. A very sad moment, especially as I watched her funeral ceremony by the internet from her flat led by her loving partner and son. So, this post is dedicated to Martine and Proinsias, in memory of some very happy times in the garden.

Young men with money used to do The Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries- jollying round Europe’s ancient antiquities and cities, it was supposed to mature a young man, give him the perspective of what his wealth could bring him in the acquisition of artworks and cultural broadening. I set myself the lockdown task of trying to do my own mini Grand Tour of the garden, trying to find new ways of looking at it, looking though it and maybe discovering new ideas about how it can be and how it is. It was a dullish day, sometimes the best way to see the garden without the sparkle that sunshine brings.

So, the first picture shows the Mix, the back of the house and the small area inspired by Nicole de Vesian with the green bench and the wind-knocked pencil conifers. The Mix is still evolving and without the stately presence of the tall Miscanthus later in the year. The mauve lilac is just breaking into blossom- a good shrub that I always forget about.

Looking west towards the ruisseau and Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’, Tostat, April 2020

This is a view that is completely new to me! The purple poplar is one of my all-time favourites for the elegance of the shape and the dark, striking foliage in early Spring. In the foreground, Hakonechloa macra aureola is just getting going, one of the few plants we brought with us from Scotland which, playing against type, adores this hot, dry position for some reason.

Looking towards the banana plantation, Gunnera manicata and Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, April 2020

Looking through the lovely old broken walls, is the banana, Andy’s beloved plant which is well on the way to becoming a small plantation, and his other great love, the Gunnera. Below, just over a broken wall, you can just see the village church tower in the distance.

The foreshortening, through the walls to the church tower, Tostat, April 2020
The New Garden, the Stumpery on the right, Tostat, April 2020

The New Garden, formed from a fallen-down barn area, has been transformed by the building of the Pond, which opens up and focuses the view behind the eucalyptus. I would love to claim credit for this wizard bit of design- but, truthfully, it would never have happened if we hadn’t gone over to a biomass boiler and had the old gas tank removed.

Looking towards the new pond, Tostat, April 2020

And here is the new pond, and you can see how it has changed and developed the view to make the garden truly wrap around the house. The shrub planted in the foreground ring of stones is an unsung hero, Euonymus alata compactus, which grows here in slightly added-to shit and stony soil in full sun, with only occasional water if it is really desperate. More on the pond building later on.

The fastigiate beech baby, the transplanted palm tree, the wildflower areas, Tostat, April 2020

The little beech is just becoming fabulous. Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’ is fastigiate and should stay almost pin thin whilst getting taller. And the transplanted palm, a bad planting mistake of mine in the first year when we brought it in a pot from Scotland, Trachycarpus fortunei is one tough customer. Funnily enough, I bought it from Ardkinglass Tree Nursery, on the shores of Loch Fyne, so it is a well-travelled palm tree.

From the pond to the house with Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ just starting, and Molly the dog rootling, Tostat, April 2020

And back we are to the front of the house, with Molly the dog and the newly planted Agave americana big baby that blocks the pond off from foot traffic. We have several agave babies all queuing up for relocation at some point. They are gorgeous but vicious.

And on a brighter evening, the path by the back door, Tostat, early April 2020

And the full circuit ends at the back door on a sunnier evening.

Spring has sprung…

The Spring garden looking over the Mix to the village behind, Tostat, April 2020

As Spring really gets going, photography has to squeeze into the gentle hours of light- but whilst the light is gentle, it still packs a punch and I am often to be found crouching in the shade. Here you can see what I call the magical effect of euphorbias right now- I have way too many and will be culling them in the next month- but they really light up the garden especially in morning and evening low light. Mine are not distinguished in any way, plain old Euphorbia wulfenii, but, though they are rascals, I really value them in March and April.

Deinanthe caerulea ‘Blue Wonder’, Tostat, April 2020

Deinanthe really punches its way out of the soil. Each stem has a beefy little fist that shoves the soil aside in the pot. This is a small shrub that I probably wouldn’t bother with but for the foliage. The scrunched up pale blue flowers are not very exciting, but the foliage pretending to be a dahlia, looks as if it has had a friend with scissors insert a dart, making the leaf look interestingly cut. I really like the foliage, and in a pot in semi-shade, this thirsty little shrub looks very good as long as you turn blind eye to the flowers.

Hedera helix erecta, Tostat, April 2020

Hedera helix ‘Erecta’ suddenly had the right light on it a few days ago, so you can see why I love it. The tightly stacked triangular leaves which aim for the sky, even with a bend in the middle of the stem, are fascinating. It grows in stony, poor soil in full sun. Reminds me of Pringles in a tin.

View past the back door in the evening, Tostat, April 2020

Another ode to Spring euphorbia- most of which have plonked themselves by themselves, waiting to see if I will approve. Sometimes I do.

The indispensible green morning mug, Tostat, April 2020

The lockdown has exacerbated my need for routines in the morning. It goes like this- first set up tea, second, take dog outside for 10 minutes (usually without my documents as we go just outside the gate, but, technically, I am in breach of regulations), back inside make first cup of tea. Yorkshire, of course. Then, with the mug, out to water and check on small plants in and around the barn. Then back inside to make second cup, which is required for the full tour of whatever’s going on in the garden- and sometimes, watering of pots. Two hours can pass like this, especially when full pot watering starts up. It is the best two hours of the day and keeps me from killing anyone!

Libertia procera or grandiflora, Tostat, April 2020

This plant is such a joy. Ten months of the year it does a very good impression of being a Carex type grass, and for 2 months, it goes full-on Japanese elegance with twisting pure white flowers. I grew it ages ago from seed, and have been calling it grandiflora, but I bought the seeds from the wonderful Special Plants, and just today, having a wee look, I notice that Derry Watkins calls it ‘Procera’. I think I stand corrected.

Cotinus coggygria @old Fashioned’, Tostat, April 2020

I am very fond of a smoke bush. But being a sucker for a new variety, I bought Cotinus coggygria ‘Old Fashioned’ about three years ago. I am still waiting to be dazzled…but it is slowly but surely making progress, and I think this year I may at least be pleased if not yet dazzled. And I do love the early growth caught in morning dew.

Physocarpus poulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, April 2020

I think I should start a ‘Tiny Wine’ fan club. This is so gorgeous all year round really. Not so tiny as the name suggests, mine is easily heading for 2m tall and 1.5 wide- but who wouldn’t want this in their garden??? Me, me, me…

Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golfball’….flowers! Tostat, April 2020

Who would have thought that ‘Golfball’ produces flowers? I had no idea. They are remarkably Daphne-like, and for a moment, I thought that the Daphne next door had hit the hair dye. Only a few flowers, very small, well hidden, and scented. Goodness me.

The very fragile Quince flower, over in a day, Tostat, April 2020

From the fast-vanishing quince flower to the relentless beautiful bully that is Wisteria. It was here when we arrived, so it’s a no-name, and it does its very best to pull down the pergola under which we eat in the summer. The strength of it can be seen in the twisted trunks. But, now, with a million bees in it creating a serious noise, it is forgiven everything.

On time and sunsets…

From sunset to sunset. Not strictly true,as I took these photographs over three successive days…but, well, who’s quibbling? Week 3 of lockdown and time has taken on a surreal quality. I am never sure what day it is in the week until I take a look at a gadget, tablet or laptop, and, time itself seems to me to have stretched in quality too. With so much time to focus in on friends, family, the garden, the house as well as all the things I enjoy doing, sometimes I can feel the sense of there being no pressure to complete anything- just a sense of achievement if I move things along a little.

Normally, I am a gardener of bursts, bursts of concentration and energy which can lead to charging at things with a lot of sound and fury. This last 3 weeks, I am feeling a different pace, where the wander round the garden first thing with the green mug of tea doesn’t turn into making a list. Rather I notice that something needs doing, and I think, ” Well, that needs doing, ho-hum”. In other words, it’s the difference between noticing things and self-recrimation for not having done it yet. And some things feel as if they may never get done, shock horror, till next year even.

Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’, Tostat, March 2020

Now here is a plant that I have been ignoring. Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’ was bought in a bargain basement fervour last Spring, and, until, a week or so was a bunch of very dead looking twigs. Hooray for Spring regeneration. This is a small shrub, which will do no romping unlike most other Cornus relatives. Eventually, it should make a 0.80m clump all round, with golden foliage and fiery stems in the winter. It will get there, I have faith.

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’, fresh ruby stems, Tostat, March 2020

This plant, Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’ was bought as seed from the truly wonderful Liberto Dario, who sells his amazing collection of seed through his Facebook page. I am totally in love with this plant. A biennial, so the first year is the appearance of the gorgeous purple splodged foliage, which stayed true all winter for us, and then, in the second year, you get the ruby red stems and the deep pink flowerheads on an upright and sturdy plant. The purple splodged foliage is to be seen to be believed- in low light, it almost looks like a Star Wars plant from a distant planet. I love it so much there are three photographs- possibly a first in itself.

If you don’t know Liberto, his seed collection is phenomenal. Much of his seed material is pretty unusual, and he has a great range of seed for hot, dry situations, being based in Greece. I can’t recommend him highly enough. If you are interested, follow the link above to his Facebook page and PM him. He will then send you plant lists and you can while away hours trying to choose.

Emerging flowerhead, Tostat, March 2020
And the flowerhead opens to a dark pink, Tostat, March 2020

Meanwhile, the Epimediums have been clumping. I am not a great tidier of the old foliage, I don’t mind spotting the sprays of pretty little yellow flowers in amongst the leaves. They are so fragile-looking, but can take a fair bit of Spring weather without collapsing. I have now forgotten which Epimedium this is- but I am taking a chance at ‘Fröhnleiten’ on account of the yellow flowers.

Epimedium x perralchium ‘Fröhnleiten’, Tostat, March 2020

And here is my favourite Anemone, just demonstrating the importance of happenstance in the garden. When I first planted the three small bulbs here about six years ago, the bluebells hadn’t turned up and I hadn’t planted the Physocarpus, one of my favourite shrubs- what a great mix they make.

Anemone x fulgens Multipetala in amongst Spanish bluebells and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, March 2020

On warmer afternoons in the past week, this pretty butterfly has been very active- I am not a great butterfly buff, so my identification may be off- I stand corrected if needed.

Maybe Pararge aegeria, the Speckled Wood butterfly, enjoying Euphorbia, Tostat, March 2020

I have identified this Muscari, down below, as probably ‘Mount Hood’ but I am not sure as it is a paler blue than Mount Hood in most of the descriptions. But I promised Tony Tomeo that I would take a photograph of this sweet little white-capped Muscari- so promise delivered! By the way, it is a darker blue today, 2 days later, but I am not sure…

Muscari, possibly ‘Mount Hood’, Tostat, March 2020

And hello, here comes Osmunda regalis. This poor fern is in a place it likes, but it gets lost in the wash later in the year, so I only ever notice it when the first new leaves are powering up. Sorry!

Osmunda regalis, Tostat, March 2020

These are the first leaves on Carpinus betulus Franz Fontaine- a beautiful fastigiate beech, which I bought really tiny about 9 years ago. It had a serious accident with an animal, which reduced it by half, and I was in despair. So, even though it is only a metre and a bit high now, I am very very fond of it, and can’t wait for it to become a real tree….

Carpinus betulus ‘Franz Fontaine’, Tostat, March 2020

And here is an attempt to show you Hedera helix erecta– which, as you can see, is more of a Hedera right angle- erecta in real life. I love the tightly packed leaves on the stem, but have no idea why it has decided (both plants) to do a 90 degree turn rather than grow straight up. I think I am stuck with right-angle-itis. Mind you, it in a hot, dry spot, and seems to be perfectly happy.

Hedera helix ‘Erecta’, Tostat, March 2020

I am a newbie with vegetables but am making a nervous start this Spring. I sowed seed, under fleece, of the Pea ‘Douce Provence’ and am thrilled with my first flower…

Pea ‘Douce Provence’, Tostat, March 2020

And to demonstrate that Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane Grey’ is even more lovely before she opens, here she is.

Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane Grey’, Tostat, March 2020

And I think that’s been quite enough from me….

Tostat sunset, March 2020

Big and little in focus…

The first Apple blossom, Tostat, yesterday

The lockdown in France, now extended until somewhere in mid May, creates a strange state of continual tension. Forced to focus in, the mind explores small things, small changes, observes more than usual maybe in the garden. But tension exists continually with the global macro situation of countries battling, systems battling, people battling the hidden enemy. I think that I have adapted reasonably well to the changes in everyday life, but then, unexpressed distress is never that far from the surface- usually prompted by news of close family and friends or stories of loss. So, the early appearance of blossom in the garden set off tears this week, tears for earlier times when there were less big questions to address and maybe much more complacency.

Cherry blossom, Tostat, yesterday

The apple blossom in first flush is pink and embarassed to be out so early whereas the bitter cherry is self-assured, just a little early but who cares? And with the bright, sunny weather, not always warm till the afternoon, and sometimes misty in the mornings, buds are appearing

Libertia grandiflora was one of the first plants that I tried from seed, courtesy of the Hardy Plant Society. It slowly, slowly makes a stately clump of bright green strappy foliage, evergreen all year although looking tired by the New Year. And then, the fat buds hide themselves by sitting sideways on on the stem, so they are easy to miss on a quick fly-by. It will take the driest conditions and also is happy in moist conditions- a very tolerant plant.

Libertia grandiflora in bud, Tostat, March 2020

Last year, I planted five small clumps of Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ into terrible soil in full sun close to the Stumpery. Terrible in that it largely consisted of coarse sand and building rubble, mixed with old crumbling concrete. And here they are again, unbothered by their neglectful surroundings and bringing an air of pristine sophistication temporarily to a squalid little corner.

Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, Tostat, March 2020

Sometimes plants creep up on you. About 2 weeks ago, obscured by my weirdly right-angled Hedera helix ‘Erecta’, (which I must try and photograph so that you can see how odd it is), I noticed this tall, slim, strung out plant with shrubby stems- so clearly not a weed. Poking around at the bottom of it, having already decided that it closely resembled a Phlomis but with no memory of it all- I found a handwritten label from a great nursery in the Languedoc at Caunes-Minervois, ‘Le Jardin Champetre’. Phlomis cretica, it is. I might remember it when it flowers!

Phlomis cretica in bud, Tostat, March 2020

Our gas tank left us last month. A dramatic experience, as you can see. Our plan is to create a wildlife pond in the driest and hottest part of the garden. This may seem mad, but I think it will be fine, and anyway, what else interesting could be done with a giant hole. Getting started on it has been slow. But we are buckling down to it, and helped by the fact that nurseries are still taking and delivering online plant orders, there will be news as to progress. I have never had the chance to do this before, so it’s a whole new area of knowledge to get the head around, which does make it very worthwhile now that life is constricted.

The gas tank leaveth us, Tostat, February 2020

Back to the micro, and Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynabbie Gem’ is flowering- it is the very lightest shade of mauvey-pink so it easily looks white in bright sun. It has not been such a good plant as I had hoped, very stringy and tall, but it does cope with an exceptionally dry and hot part of the garden, so I shouldn’t be too hard on it.

Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynabbie Gem’, Tostat, March 2020
Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, Tostat, yesterday

This little tulip, Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’ is a fleeting thing. Very fragile and slender, I think it actually looks best partially closed, as the petals which open out white are a gorgeous muted pink on the underside. My photographs have not done it justice, I will try again.

Lockdown spring…

First shoots on Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’ last week, Tostat, March 2020

I had almost completed a blog post about visiting the Airth Pineapple and Culross when we were in Scotland only 3 weeks ago- but within less than a week, we are in covid19 lockdown here in Tostat, and it seemed out of time and place to finish that post.

What a strange and frightening experience this all is. Today, we expect to be told that we are no longer able to walk more than 500m from our house even with documents and that this will continue for at least 2 months. We have been in daily contact with family, spread between Scotland and England and Spain, and this has been a real relief. But it is the surreal, amorphous nature of the necessary lockdown which has taken us all week to come to terms with. The village is silent. Birdsong seems to have reached operatic levels, which is wonderful, but it feels very strange. Luckily the weather has helped, warm afternoon sunshine has turned the corner on winter and you can almost hear plants growing and changing.

Anemone nemerosa this morning, Tostat, March 2020

So, it feels as if the garden needs us to buck up and get on with freeing it from winter, whilst simultanously, I am reviewing and rethinking much of what I would normally have done at this time of year. So, I am only digging up dandelions and really pervasive perennial weeds in the beds- everything else is being left. The one-armed gardening of last year taught me that annual spring weeds are killed by drought and heat by mid June, so I am thinking that I will leave them. At the very least, they will cover any bare ground until the summer perennials get going, thereby retaining soil moisture for later. I just have to get used to that itchy period before the perennials fire up, and resist messing about with the balance. In fact, I am sticking roughly to this rule pretty much everywhere in the garden. This means excessive self control has to be applied after any rain, when the pesky annual grasses pop up at a great rate.

But there are also some lovely surprises. Back in Scotland, I had a gorgeous clump of the double Anemone nemerosa- and not being able to find that here, I experimented about 10 years ago with a couple of the single wood anemone, Anemone nemerosa. They have only flowered maybe 3-4 times in 10 years, and are roughly the same size as when I planted them. So, conditions are certainly not idea for them. But when they appear, as two days ago, I am joyful, no matter what the lockdown conditions are.

Doronicum ‘Little Leo’ this morning, Tostat, March 2020

‘Little Leo’ is another tiny plant that has not really enjoyed life in Tostat, but one or two small plants are hanging on in there. My mum adored Doronicum, and so this is in memory of her.

Gunnera manicata, Tostat, March 2020

The Gunnera is already more than a metre high, courtesy of the mild winter and the recent rain and storms. You couldn’t make it up really, as it is surely a bit player in every sci-fi film going with the strange prickles on the stems and the leaves opening like hands reaching for you.

Eriostemon myoporoides last week, Tostat, March 2020

This is going to be a great plant. Eriostemon myoporoides has died for me twice, mainly because I bought baby plants and then wasn’t careful enough of them in their early lives. Mea culpa. So, a glutton for punishment, I had another go with more mature specimens. I am really impressed. This plant has thickly cuticled leaves, a little like Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’ to look at and tiny white, star-shaped flowers (allegedly smelling of gin and tonic, not yet apparent to me) in profusion in early Spring. It slowly makes a rounded shrub and will apparently grow to about 2m all round- mine is barely 0.5m all round and must be 3 years old. But it is bone-hardy, drought tolerant when established, and with time, will make a good evergreen presence in difficult areas. Works for me.

Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, March 2020

This fabulous pillar-box red Anemone x fulgens Multipetala is a Spring favourite of mine. I bought 6 bulbs for a king’s ransom about 6 years ago, and since then, the plants have gently swivelled themselves to where they want to be, underneath Physocarpus ‘Tiny Wine’ and, aware of the photo potential, right in amongst Spanish bluebells which are about to flower. I adore them for their raggly-taggly look and the fabulous colour which leaps out amongst the green of the bluebells.

Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, this morning settling into coral from lobster pink, Tostat, March 2020

I love this baby tree, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’. It is a slow grower, well, so far. But tough, it takes heat, drought, frost, wind and rain with aplomb. This is the beginning of the show, when the new foliage (see top) starts out lobster pink then moves to coral. It is such a good plant. I hope it will get going this year, it’s 3rd year in the ground- but whatever it does, it will be noticeable and I will be watching. There’s going to be a lot of watching for the next 2 months- and a good season to be doing it.