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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Surprises and purges…

Looking south yesterday in early sunshine, Tostat, February 2020

Early sunshine this week is just beginning to catch the turn into Spring. The greens that were a bit fatigued are beginning to perk up and the quality of the light is warming up just a bit. Looking south yesterday, while I am not yet doing my minimalist tidying up, of which more later, I could just detect the whiff of Spring coming.

In one of the planted squares near the back door, last year’s from-seed- Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’ is looking really good. I chose it because I have a bit of a thing about dark foliage, and the glossiness of theses leaves which have come through blistering heat and dryness, a soaking November, and now a mildish winter is picked up beautifully in the morning light. For such a lovely plant, and dead easy to grow from seed so don’t pay good money for plants in pots despite my link above, the name ‘Chedglow’ is a bit of a clunker in my view.

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’, Tostat, February 2020

And not far away in the same square, is a Spring favourite of mine, Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’. Now there’s a name that works! A smallish plant but it does slowly clump up, and when the golden lemon flowers open, the contrast is quite lovely.

Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, Tostat, February 2020

I really hate big irises. It’s not that other people can’t make them look wonderful, but with me, they are nothing but a problem, not liking an often damp spring, and providing safe havens for seriously annoying weeds that I don’t want. So I have annihilated them pretty much from the garden. However, the very early Iris reticulata is another story. Tiny, but very animated, I grow them in various places round the garden just to create a tiny surprise at this time of year, and I have some in a low basin that I can put where I like. This lovely dark one pops up under clumps of Eryngium eburneum, whose long, strappy leaves are a bit on the dormant side right now- which makes just enough sun to tempt the Iris to flower.

Unknown Iris reticulatat, Tostat, February 2020

This has been the best year for Daphne odora aureomarginata. It bursts into flower before any new foliage has got going, and this year, the bees and insects visiting have created a turbine sound effect at the back door on warmer days. But Daphne can be a bit temperamental. This large one was bought about 15 years ago by me as a tiny stripling, but I have another one which, at least 8 years after planting, is still barely 20cms x 20cms and looks deeply miserable

The path at the back door, Tostat, February 2020

I can forgive Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii anything at this time of year. Later, this will be a year of the purge to reduce my expanding population a tad, but now they have free rein. The praying heads are just fabulous, especially when draped nicely with dew, and the chartreuse flowerheads that follow are a welcome punch of colour that outdoes any daffodil.

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, Tostat, Feburary 2020

Talking of purges, Andy did a massive hack in Shitty Bank. This is the part of the garden that is no more than the poor, stony spoil from the swimming pool installation chucked up to make a mound by the ruisseau. Whatever grows here has to be super tough and many plants have died along the way. This year we are experimenting with making great heaps of cutback material and leaving them to cover difficult areas, to see if we can regain control where brambles have got dug in. So, amongst the shortly-to-be-stately Eryngium eburneum clumps, Grevillea rosmarinfolia and a mean Yucca, here are the heaps of cutback. Let’s see.

Shitty Bank, Tostat, February 2020

A great delight last year was growing this lovely Yellow cerinthe from seed. And as ever with cerinthe, if it likes you, it has self-seeded beautifully and these are the first flowers.

Yellow cerinthe in the dew, Tostat, February 2020

I don’t purge any wildlife, and try my best to let it all in, come what may. But I draw the line at the Pine processionary caterpillar. An evil little kritter, which forms up into dangerously charming lines and sets off following its leader all over the garden. They are poisonous to humans and other animals, and I have yet to find a good reason for their existence. Petrol and matches on the spot before they start roaming is the only answer. These ones have all been torched.

Finishing on a cheerier note, two new Hellebores flowered for the first time today, and are a very elegant addition to the fold, see below. And they are such a good and all-round player, the Hellebore. Clothing the bare legs of Rosa ‘Fantin-Latour right now, the jungly Orientalis foliage will stay good and green right through the winter. The danger of a few blotchy bits can be over-exaggerated I reckon.

Time, motion and weather…

Fritillaria meleagris, Tostat, February 2020

The last two weeks we have experienced a couple of hard frosts, glorious sunshine with temperatures in the early 20s, belting rain and fog. The weather has bounced from one season to another with no compunction. The impact of the weather has troubled the garden. The fritillarias that I bought at sale price, how could such a lovely thing be on sale?, have been fooled into flowering early, and in 3 days have gone from slim, tightly bound buds to full strength. But this isn’t too serious- what makes me ponder is when plants and shrubs at the tough end of the spectrum cave in.

Two plants have done this- only two found so far. Bergenia ‘Wintermachen’, which was new to me last winter, has caved into, I suspect, our piercingly dry and relentless summer and is no more. And a small shrub that I loved, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ has also given up and it had been in the garden for three years. Think I have to up the tough stakes for entry into the garden.

The end of the path….River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

Meantime, just before Christmas, when the Adour river broke free and forced the evacuation of part of our village, we now have new vistas down by the river. The sentier de l’Adour, which winds its way down the river from Maubourguet to us and beyond, and is a favourite for walking groups and cyclists, has been washed away and we have a new bend in the river and a shingle bank where the path ended up on the other side. We also lost about 20 trees in the deluge.

Molly picks up the path, River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

This little Iris reticulata is such a gem. I planted about 6 bulbs 2 years ago, and then treated them with great neglect. They are easy to forget about, as they are tiny anyway, and die down completely in about two months. But the blue is gorgeous. I have forgotten the variety, but one bonus from our dry, hot summer is that the bulbs have been busily reproducing themselves in the heat, and so there should be more than 3-4 flowers next year in this little group.

Iris reticulata, Tostat, February 2020

Amazingly, only 3 weeks after being utterly drowned beneath the deluge and the detritus from the river, the snowdrops burst forth- but were then hit by the hot sunshine and so only lasted 2-3 weeks this winter. They are spectacular though, and adore the dappled shade of the forest and paths.

Snowdrops final blaze, River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

I love the simple purity of Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’. For my money, you can keep your doubles, those salmon-pink varieties and all the rest. This is the real McCoy. So elegant, contained, and almost Japanese in their stick-like growth and green tea-coloured buds, they really signal the beginning of Spring to me. No trouble at all as a shrub, and I just allow the sticky, angular shrub to grow as it likes in the semi-shade and relative moisture of the area beside the ruisseau or canal.

Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, Tostat, February 2020
Caught by the sun, Tostat, February 2020

And here we have Fritillaria meleagris in full purple, leopard-spotted glory. I used to have these growing under a Daphne mezereum f. alba in our garden in Scotland, and I know that these will be fine in the Spring but will not enjoy the summer, so I have them in a pot which will be later positioned in the coolest, dampest part of the garden that I can find.

Fritillaria 3 days later, Tostat, February 2020

And this small Hellebore has been taken all of three years to flower. No idea what variety it is, but the pointed green-tinged outer petals combined with the creamy rounded inner petals and the double form are a great combination. The crown of frost was a lucky find this morning.

First time flowering double cream Hellebore with a dusting of frost, Tostat, February 2020
And the inside of the Fritillaria flower is just as gorgeous, Tostat, February 2020

Seeds and all that….

Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ Tostat, December 2019

Seed catalogues make great reading in January. Every gardening journalist worth their salt will be saying this to us readers as we face the fact that we can’t do very much at this time of year. I admit that my method of choosing seed doesn’t start with the seed catalogues, I come at it from the other end.

I like to start with what is new to me, interests me and might work in my testing garden of soaking wet and bone dry…. and then I look and see if I can get seed. So, it is with purple leaved tough plants that can give my soil a bit of a rest and maybe do battle with some of the weeds that I decide have no value to me. With seed you are talking about allowing growth for a good 9 months to a year before you have a plant that will make it- so some thought is required. Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ was one of last year’s picks. Not impressed for the first few months, I came home at the end of October to find very bonny- looking plants that had filled out their pots and were looking great. They still look good, even the ones I risked planting out last week before the frost came back.

Plantago major rubrifolia
Photo credit: www.jardindelasalamandre.blogspot.com

Alys Fowler woke me up to Purple Plantain. I can grow Plantain- oh yes. You might say that the grass in our back garden is easily 60% plantain in plenty of places. So why not grow the purple stuff? You can see the connecting thought between the Salvia and the Plantain. So, I bought seed from Plant World Seeds and I have about a dozen, rather tired looking baby seedlings in pots under cover outside. So, I am hoping that they will become gorgeous as the salvias did after a few months. Fingers crossed.

And now I have another one to try. Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’ which is not only purple, tick, but is also frilly-leaved. I can’t wait. Seed is on its way from Special Plants.

Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

Every year, during the winter, I grow one or two things from seed in the house. Usually, I manage about a 40% success rate. But honestly, growing seeds indoors even with managed humidity in December is a long shot and is more to do with my itchy fingers than it is to do with horticultural success. It has been a damp squib this year. I had a go at Penstemon whippleanus and Nipponanthecum nipponicum. Both have been, well, disastrous. Never mind, I will have another go at the Nipponanthecum- it’s a small, determined chrysanthemum which apparently likes sun and dry- so it’s got to be worth it.

Helleborus ‘Ushba’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

I also chose Helleborus ‘Ushba’ as seed from Special Plants. I don’t have a big number of hellebores, but I do love what I have, and ‘Ushba’ is a Helen Ballard variety, and one of her hallmarks as a breeder was managing to create varieties which hold their flowers in a more open and erect way than other varieties. I have not had a lot of success with cold germinating seeds, but I am going to try from the moment they arrive in the post. And my last seed possibility for this New Year selection is Kitaibelia vitifolia. A fast-growing Mallow with creamy-white flowers will do me nicely, thank you.

Kitaibelia vitifolia
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

Small pleasures and the dangers of big plans…

Double nearly black Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

January gardening is a time for small joyful discoveries, such as the first flowering Hellebore, and also for the making of dangerous big plans- usually involving purchases. The danger lies in the ‘itchy finger’ situation- feeling some sunny days, seeing some new growth and then getting carried away with Big Ideas- that are not very well thought through, but carry the reward of feeling as though something is happening! Wanting to rush into Spring long before nature is ready for it is a real risk for me, and what happens is that nature pays you back with a prolonged frost that puts you right back where you started.

So let’s stick with the joyful small discoveries. I bought these Hellebores about 5 years ago as tiny plants from the very good ebay grower, Stephen Roff. They are really good plants, especially as they don’t have the easiest ride in Tostat. They have some shade and protection from the big pine tree, and do really well as later in the year, the palmate leaves follow the flowers just as the pine tree starts sucking up most of the available moisture.

Personally, I am not a fan of the ‘tidy up your Hellebore leaves’ brigade. Yes, you do get some dark mottling on the old leaves by the Spring, but honestly, in a matter of six weeks or so, the fresh new growth will come powering through and will hide the old leaves anyhow.

Ruffled and freckled cream Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

The flowers need help being seen for the first few weeks. Then, later into February, the longer days seem to fire them up and all of a sudden, the flowers are standing tall and opening up. The freckles are adorable.

Double green tinted white Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea was one of the first plants I bought when we moved in. Now, sixteen years later, it weaves through the shrubs lining the edge of the ruisseau or canal at the bottom of the garden. It’s moment is now. New golden-pink growth catches the sunlight and will be followed soon by chartreuse flowerheads- but for me, it’s the new growth that is so pretty.

Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea, Tostat, January 2020

Another plant that looks great just now, but has never quite hit it’s stride in the garden is Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’. I have moved it for this year to another spot, to give it a second chance. Golden- yellow leaves really shine out in low sunlight, and so I am hoping it won’t just fizzle as it has done for the past seven years or so. Mind you, it has taken me this long to do something about it.

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’, Tostat, January 2020

Another plant that I had almost given up on, has come back from the brink and is looking, well, not bad. Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ is, admittedly, being a bit pushed to the limit in the Stumpery, it likes semi-shade but would probably prefer a tad more moisture. It has languished with what seemed like the same three leaves for the past four years, and I got fed up two years ago and planted an insurance-policy Aucuba japonica Crotonifolia too close to it ( you can just see in the photo). So, now, I will need to choose between what stays and what goes- guess the Aucuba will lose out. But as I have developed rather a fondness for the old spotted laurel, especially if the spots are good and strong, it won’t be long before it’s in a new home.

Grevillea juniperina ‘Canberra Gem’, Tostat, January 2020

Serious battle with the usual spring invader, the bramble, has been waged to allow Grevillea juniperina ‘Canberra Gem’ to begin flowering without being strangled. This is such a great plant, it probably flowers for almost ten out of twelve months in a hot, dry spot, and is now a grande dame of 3m across and 2m high after eleven years. I wish I could find some of the glorious yellow flowering grevilleas I came across in Australia in 2018- they seem to be slow to be introduced here and in the UK, but with climate warming, they are a trusty friend in the garden.

Grevillea alpina x rosmarinifolius ‘Goldrush’, Julie’s garden in Canberra Australia, October 2018

The Australian fires have been, and will be horrific for weeks to come. It was really sad to read about the fires attacking the Eucalypts in the Snowy Mountains just around New Year. The last two photographs were taken be me in snowy conditions only 14 months ago. I am never going to moan about the weather here in Tostat again.

Eucalypts, Snowy Mountains near Jindabyne, Australia, October 2018
Eucalypts, Snowy Mountains near Jindabyne, Australia, October 2018