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Glistening raindrops on Muhlenbergia capillaris with Andropogon gerardii ‘Rain Dance’ in the background, Tostat, November 201

Sizeable amounts of fine and persistent rain have fallen finally.  And now the River Adour looks like a river, not just a large puddle.  Not normally a gratifying experience, rain, but I have been quite enthralled by it, as has the garden.  Although it is becoming very chilly at nights, plants are still growing, and many have made a remarkable come-back from the arid conditions of the summer and autumn.  I have been wandering about, as well as doing more practical jobs, mainly noticing how much has in fact recovered.  One or two plants have gone beyond recovery and have actually mistaken all of this for Spring.  Both the Rosa banksiae, the yellow and the cream coloured one, have sporadically flowered.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, November 2017

The cooling temperatures, and a couple of frosts, more predicted for tonight, have brought out the colours in some plants- something which I had thought we might miss out on owing to the dryness.  Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ is rightly one of those Autumn starlets, and the cold and wet, have given the leaves an almost glossy finish.

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Rain-soaked colouring on Euonymus elatus ‘Compactus’, Tostat, November 2017

The unknown orange Abutilon which I love very much for the endless supply of soft orange chinese lantern-type flowers, is still going, but the Berberis, with the very long name, has abandoned itself to scarlet, scarlet drop-shaped berries and the leaves.

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Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’, Tostat, November 2017

Having looked very sorry for itself most of the last few months, my small and experimental Stumpery is enjoying the cool and the wet.  The Persicaria is turning buttery, but the two ferns at the front, Dryopteris atrata, are growing back, and the blue-green fronds of the new Mahonia, well, new this year to me, Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ have handled the year well and are looking fresh.  This is a slow spot for growth, shady but often dry, and tough, tough stony, poor soil, but like everywhere else, I am just trying to see what will work, and grow, even in less than ideal conditions.

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The Stumpery, Tostat, November 2017

Today, one of the Salvia confertiflora flowers finally began to open, with small, cream-lipped orange-red flowers pushing through the red velvet bracts.  Now there’s something you don’t often see- even if it is inside in our cold, but not freezing hall.

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Salvia confertiflora, Tostat, November 2017

Jardin Albarda…a work of generosity and welcome

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Arbour, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

In the 1990s Enrique Montoliu began the construction of what was to be the realisation of his dreams of French and Italian classical gardens on a beautiful hillside, near Pedreguer village in the Alicante region of Spain.  According to the charming and helpful Fundem volunteer who brought us our coffee and cake, his dream turned into a nightmare.  The planting he had chosen died outright and he admitted defeat.

Calling on botanists and horticultural experts of the region, he began again with a palette of plants that would not just survive but thrive on his hot, dry hillside.  And, over the last 20 years, his dream has been realised, a garden, the Jardin Albarda, with all of the classical bones that he would want, but planted with water-wise native and other plants that will take the heat and the sun.

Now, having established Fundem as a non profit-making trust dedicated to the preservation of the flora and fauna of the Mediterranean region, Fundem runs the garden whilst Enrique still lives in the beautiful villa at the heart of the garden.  Visitors are welcome every day of the year, and are charmingly personally greeted by young volunteers who explain a little of the history and bring the most delicious carrot cake and coffee for a small fee.

Close to the house, the straight axes, wide tiled pathways and formal lines, with arbours and trellises at the crossing-points, all connect to the original Franco-Italian vision that Enrique worked on.  He has used and favoured the enormous clipped box and privet pillars, hedges, columns to create the structure, supported by fountains, urns, vast trellis structures and pots of all sizes filled with flowering geraniums and begonias.  Every detail is thought of, the ease of walking the wide paths, the need for shade, for colour where you can, perfume, seats and chairs, walls to sit on- it is the garden of a generous, thoughtful person.

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Formal garden, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Allee, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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The stillness of the long pool, close to the house in the formal garden, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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The Renaissance Fountain, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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House steps, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017


Enrique’s home, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, photo credit: http://www.tripadvisor.es

And then you follow one of many winding small paths into what seems to be ‘the bush’.  and wrapped around the classical garden is another one, filled with native plants, shrubs and trees, tiny wiggling paths leading you through from one planted environment to another.  Inspirational groundcover in a gravelled area in one moment, then the next you find yourself stumbling across a massive cascade, falling into a rocky ravine and pool, native plants filling every crevice.

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Groundcover planting, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Cascade, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Heron pond, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

Ponds and pools abound, all hidden and screened by native shrub and tree plantings, and leading finally to the Valencian garden with its Moorish influences.  Perfectly tended axis hedging enclosing citrus plantings, fountains and rose trellises, and at the border of the garden, an immense tiled walkway shaded by trellis overhead, splendid with massive colourful animals recreated in tiles.

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Trencadis walkway, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Trencadis snake, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Arabic fountain, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

On leaving the Terrace, with the borrowed landscape of hills behind it, there is a lovely small detail.  The classical urns at the tops of the steps had been filled with lemons.  Bring a picnic if you visit, enjoy the coffee and cake, and take your time.  A wonderful place.

Check the directions carefully and have faith once you get off the main road towards the area where the house is located.  It is a very smart neighbourhood with very discreet, in other words ‘tiny’, signage.  Blink and you could miss the sign.  More about some of the plants in another post.


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Urn full of lemons, the Terrace, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017


Going, going, gone…

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Salvia confertiflora and ‘Anthony Parker’ mingling in the hall, Tostat, November 2017

That’s it.  First big cold spell of this autumn/winter last night with a frost of -2C but the recompense is beautiful sunshine this morning. And to be honest, given all the topsy-turviness of this year weather-wise, it feels better to be having the weather we should be having at this time of the year.

So, on Sunday, much lugging of pots, pruning of things, and then fleecing of the odd pot too big to bring in took place.  Yesterday I ran round and dug up the 3 plants that had been planted in- and managed to remember to bring only two of them into the house.  Result: one very brown and unhappy Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ outside this morning.

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Salvia Mexicana ‘Limelight’, Tostat, November 2017

It had only just flowered, and possibly the flowering had saved it’s bacon.  I am so disappointed with this plant!  I should have paid attention to Louis the Plant Geek.  he says, ‘Want the excitement? Accept the dullness. No pain, no gain.’  Louis is a brilliant blogger.  In my view, he has everything.  Good pictures, great, tested in his own garden information, a witty and astringent turn of phrase- and really detailed advice.  I bow down.

The thing is with ‘Limelight’, the dullness goes on for ever- well, given that it has been outside since April, precisely 7 months.  I am not yet sure that the gain outweighs the pain. Not to mention, that ‘Limelight’ is a thirsty so-and-so, bending leaves down every day in a sort-of-Mum-wait-for-me way.  And growth was stingy to say the least.  From the opposite, more rational point of view, these 2 plants were grown from seed last winter and it thrilled me that they germinated on a sunny windowsill.  And, in the first year, perhaps I am being unduly testy about the lack of performance till now.  So, Louis’ advice is:  sink it in a 3 litre pot into the ground, as opposed to planting it which I did, then at the first frost, cut it back and overwinter in a cool place.  The last part is easy: the big hall, codename IceStationZebra, in our house.

So, I have half-frozen one plant and saved the other plant.  I shall cut both down as Louis describes and hope that over-wintering will give them more of a headstart than they had last year- and meantime, allocate 2 x 3 litre pots for them for next year.  I shan’t be mean and ditch them.

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ had made it just in time to flower.  In fact, the cooler nights have brought out the golden tints at the ends of the petals, which really brings the flowerheads alive, I think.  They can stay outside for now, and I will move them to the outside barn so they don’t get drowned in too much winter wet.

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Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2017

This little Aussie plant, Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, was planted, new to me, about this time last year, and it turned out to be pretty robust in our sunny, dry border, happily shrugging off a spell of -10C last winter.  These are the first flowers on this little plant, and I am hoping that it will slowly bulk up to make a jolly 1m wide and high mound of light green foliage, pretty in itself and then these sweet spotted-throat white flowers in little groups.

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Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, Tostat, November 2017

And this shot of the back of the garden, looking West, in the last sunshine of yesterday afternoon, is a kind of  over-and-out shot, as the leaves on Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ which are so golden in this photograph, have almost all fallen off this morning.  Another season begins.

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November 2017, Tostat.

Getting to the final blast…

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Salvia leucantha ‘Purple Velvet’ in the dew, Tostat, October 2017

It is almost the end of all things flowering in a concentrated way.  There will still be the odd rose, the odd mixed-up plant that mistakes autumn for spring, but, apart from the Salvias, mostly everything is winding down and packing up for the winter.  Salvia leucantha ‘Purple Velvet’ is a last-minute late star.  It is a tall, rangy plant with elongated, slender leaves and is not a busy plant- it languidly droops rather than gets on with anything.  But the flowers are so-strokable, the word ‘velvet’ isn’t in the name for nothing, and with a heavy dew, it almost feels like a damp flannel. I had a shot at some cuttings earlier in the autumn, and nothing worked, but as it is only flowering now, I will have another go.

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Salvia elegans, Tostat, October 2017

I was given a happy cutting of Salvia elegans in May, and it has rocketed away, forming a bright green, determined plant of Im across and high.  Yes, the pineapple smell is adorable, but really it is the licking flames of the flowers that captivate me, and they even conquer the background of last week’s washing on the line behind it.  I know it is on the tender side, so, in a couple of weeks assuming no frost, I will let it dry out, give it a trim and put it into the open barn, where it will get sun, but protection from wind and rain.  All I need to do is to remember to water it very sparingly occasionally.

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Salvia miniata, Tostat, October 2017

This Salvia miniata, now in its third year, is another rangy soul, pairs of bright green glossy leaves arrange themselves neatly on the stems, and it has been flowering non-stop since June.  It has a fairly upright habit, and flowers in short bursts, but with something of the same velvet feel to each scarlet trumpet.  Another pot Salvia, as it also needs the open barn treatment and freedom from frost and rain.

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Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, October 2017

This Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’ is a giant. Even with the heat and dryness this year, it is a good 1.25m high and wide, and last year it put on another 30 cms at least all round.  It’s a very thirsty customer in the summer, with elegant leaves and a good bush shape.  Just as well, as you have a long wait for the flowers- they burst out while we were away in the middle of October as Tostat had yet another hot spell.  The buds are greyer than the eventual flowers, which are a lovely deep amethyst colour.  Cuttings have taken well and so, as usual, I have a host of small pots to keep watching over the winter.  This Salvia will get the open barn, and the cuttings will come in to a sunny windowsill.

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Salvia involuctra ‘Mulberry Jam’, Tostat, October 2017

An early October flowerer, ‘Mulberry Jam’ is a gorgeous pink with strong stemmed flowers- which can, however, be brittle and broken by passing dogs and cats.  But I adore the colour, nothing wimpy about it, and a good, strong grower too, with dark green foliage.  This one is not hardy either, so they are going to be queuing up in the barn.

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Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, Tostat, October 2017

The award for ‘surprisingly tough’ goes to Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ which has been flowering all month beautifully, and is new to what was a shadier part of the garden. I say ‘was’ as last week Andy attacked the wisteria, which had become indomitable, so maybe the Eupatorium will not be feeling so chirpy next autumn.  Ah well.

Looking back from afar….

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Molly in the mist of an October morning, Tostat, 2017

We had some misty, moisty mornings last week when Molly, the dog, and I were out for our early morning sniffs.  From here in sunny Alicante, with brilliant light shining off the sea and the sand, I was about to delete these photographs as they seemed, so, well, dull.  But in my constant battle to really come to appreciate a new aesthetic which accepts the becoming-permanent state of summer dryness and seasonal upsets, I stopped myself, and instead decided to talk about the aesthetic battle again.

In fact, these photographs are not dull.  Looking through some Oudolf images from his world-famous plantings and reading again his famous words ‘Learn to love brown’, I realise again that the perceived dullness is the product of my own battle with ‘perfection in the garden’.  A perfection that, as another great thinker and writer, Olivier Filippi, says in his book, ‘Planting Design for Dry Gardens’ has been largely created by an Anglicised ideal of garden perfection, the invention of the lawnmower and the business creation of chemical lawn control.

“…From the North of Europe to the south, and indeed in other parts of the world, the English garden model has become rooted in our collective unconscious as a symbol of happiness..”¹

Because, with the lawn, comes the rest of what makes so many British gardens so beautiful, the herbaceous borders and all the rest…only some of which is realistically attainable in a summer-dry setting.

So, I stub my toe constantly in my head in this battle between what is in my mind as the ideal and the reality of what my garden will do in my changing climate.  But, morally, it seems to me to be really important to stay in touch with this battle and to engage with it fully.  Only then can I do my bit, though my own garden and working with others, to help to create gardens and public spaces that can be beautiful within the ecological constraints of where you are.  And only by doing this, and showing this, can we hope to combat that English garden myth that is so well-rooted in our and others’ minds.

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A dewy, web-covered Miscanthus flowerhead in the mist, Tostat, October 2017

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And another one, Tostat, October 2017

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The stunning reds of Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar‘, Tostat, October 2017

¹ quoted p. 11, Olivier Filippi, Planting Design for Dry Gardens, Filbert Press 2016

Rosa Astrid Gräfin von Hardenberg

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Rosa Astrid Gräfin von Hardenberg, Tostat, September 2017

I bought this lovely nearly-black-crimson rose, Rosa Astrid Gräfin von Hardenberg as a rooted cutting from Gertrud at the Jardin Manatouet at Antin in June.  Our boiling hot, dry summer meant that it has been forced to stay in the pot, watered and generally protected.  And yesterday morning, earlyish, the first bud broke, and the flower emerged with the dewdrops still on it.  It is an even darker red than the photograph shows, with a very tightly folded centre, which by the afternoon with some sun, had unfolded almost completely.

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And later on, Rosa Astrid Gräfin von Hardenberg, Tostat, September 2017

And the petals do a lovely thing, they sort of reflex themselves into points, and the central stamens are slightly exposed.

With such a grand name, I was intrigued to find something out about the woman after whom the rose had been named.  And this is Astrid, Gräfin von Hardenberg.  She was a daughter of Carl-Hans von Hardenberg, who was a member of the unsuccessful von Stauffenberg plot to assassinate Hitler.  Imprisoned under sentence of death in Sachsenhausen camp, he survived as the Russians took the camp the day before his death sentence was carried out.  After German reunification, the family estates were won back and Astrid created the Carl-Hans von Hardenberg Foundation which supports youth and community development in the Silesian area, now a part of Poland.

A rose with a very interesting historical back story.  The rose itself won the gold medal at the International Rose Competition in Rome in 2002.  I adore it.  I have to find a good spot for it in the garden.  Thank you, Gertrud!

Approaching Sissinghurst part 2

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Rosa ‘Meg’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Sometimes, as with Hidcote, the National Trust marketing bods go far too overboard with trying to introduce you to ‘the person’ that they have identified as the ‘key person- attractor’ for their property.  As Robin Lane Fox rather acidly remarked in a recent article about Hidcote in the FT, this can lead to patent nonsense, such as your ticket apparently being a personal invitation from Lawrence Johnston. (I can’t link to this article because of the FT paywall, but I must have found it somewhere as I don’t subscribe.)   My understanding of Lawrence Johnston is that he was an intensely private person who would probably have undergone fingernail extraction than take part in such flummery.

However, in the case of Sissinghurst, this approach is far less ridiculous.  First of all, Vita Sackville-West was herself a columnist for ‘The Guardian’ from 1946-61, and she wrote ceaselessly of her successes and failures in her own garden- so this makes Sissinghurst almost a well-kent space for gardeners.  And secondly, the Nicolson family, including the author, Adam Nicolson, her grandson and his wife, Sarah Raven, the well-known garden and food writer, live in the property and are very connected to the ways in which the house and the garden are made available to visitors.

So, I really enjoyed the feeling of intimacy and connection with Vita as a woman, a lover, a wife, a mother, a writer and a great gardener that was opened to you as a visitor at every turn.

Another great rose, perhaps selected by Vita, was looking breathtaking when we visited.  Rosa ‘Meg’ was bred in 1954 in the UK but yet seems to hail from an earlier era. A truly gorgeous apricot rose, a climber/hybrid tea, once-flowering and thereafter the odd bloom, is really worth the space in the garden.  Set against the warm brick of the Sissinghurst walls, and it prefers the warmth of a wall behind it, it was sublime.

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Rosa ‘Princess Marie’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Right above my head, a huge swag of this very pretty ivory-pink rose, was doing its best against the rain and wind.  Rosa ‘Princess Marie’ was bred in France in 1829 by Antoine A. Jacques and climbs well, although classified as a Hybrid Sempervirens.  Apparently the rose has a strong fragrance, but was too high above me to be able to tell.   Peter Beales, see the link, does describe it as a rambler.

And, finally on the rose front, I loved this little display in the entrance arch to the garden, introducing visitors to some of the roses flowering at that moment.

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Introduction to the roses in flower, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Now to other splendid plants.  There was a mouthwatering spread of absolutely beautiful opium poppies, some of which had taken a pounding in the rain the day before, but other of which had come through very well.   Somehow the rain accentuated the layers of the petals in the crimson one.

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Allium cernuum, Sissinghurst, June 2017

I loved the nodding heads of this little allium, it is commonly called ‘nodding onions’- a very pretty mauve-blue with such spirit and delicacy.  It wants full sun, well-drained soil but otherwise is not fussy it would seem, and is a good spreader, bulbs are available via Sarah Raven.

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Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’, Sissinghurst, June 2017 fresh as a daisy

Staying with the mauve theme, a clematis that would struggle with us, was looking fresh as a daisy.  Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’ was growing strongly in a corner of the White Garden if I recall correctly.  The International Clematis Society recommends HH as a star for a shady corner, so that’s quite a recommendation.

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Viburnum erubescens, Sissinghurst, June 2017

I was struck by the shining red berries on Viburnum erubescens, but we had missed the apparently gorgeous snowball-white flowers that adorn this small tree in May.  If you have the space, and a moist, semi-shady position, this would be a really attractive small tree/shrub to go for. The berries are only the second act, I would love to have seen the first.

And lastly, a plant that I had not realised I had grown, Digitalis ferruginea.  You know the way it is, a pot that loses the marker, a rosette of green, and a chance identification at le Jardin Champêtre. And then an ‘aha’…I did buy that seed once.  Such a strange and mysterious plant, I can quite see why Vita might well have chosen it, blooming out of time with other foxgloves, rusty brown flowers that have creamy centres, and a good rosette of leaves.  Easy from seed, as long as you remember you planted it!

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Digitalis ferruginea, Sissinghurst, June 2017