After the Rain…


Acidanthera murielae, Tostat, September 2016

On Tuesday night, the heavens opened, and it has rained off and on, mostly heavily and without wind, since then, till this morning when cool air but also bright sunshine appeared.  Bliss. You can almost feel the earth drinking the water.  Truth is, most of the garden is pretty much crisped to death.  Not total death, but certainly over for this year.  The watered pots are still doing beautifully, but, with the exception of a few things, everything arrived too fast and went over too fast in the heat and dry.  So, this autumn will not see a lot going on in the garden.  But there are some surprises.


Eucalyptus gunnii Azura, Tostat, September 2016

I bought this in the ‘bin-end’ section of a local nursery about 4 years ago, and planted it thinking it could be a sentinel plant at the opening into the New Garden. It was almost too bright to photograph it this morning and so I only just got the very top of it in the picture.  I adore this tree.  Yes, it works as a sentinel, with it’s fine, elegant and delicate columnar shape and colouring, not to mention the round, grouped leaves that give it an almost frothy look- but it is also not going to get too much bigger, currently about 2m at the widest and about 3.5m high (well, that’s what the websites seem to agree on) and so it won’t dominate the area around it.


Passiflora fruiting almost done, Tostat, September 2016

Just caught this view as I was wandering past.  It makes the most of the remaining colour in the garden and airbrushes out the drought- rather well, I think.


Poilanthes tuberosa ‘The Pearl’, Tostat, September 2016

I bought some of these bulbs on offer in a cold and wet June.  They looked pretty dull till the other week, when up shot these tall, slender, grouped cream flowers with a pale yellow centre.  And the perfume is even available for the Piasecka nose.  Deep, dark and rich, with a strong vanilla tone, or at least I think so. Strong and gorgeous scent that hung near the plant on the hot evenings we have had lately.  Absolutely knockout and with many more flowers to come, which we will miss but our housesitters will enjoy.


Looking down on Begonia luxurians, Tostat, September 2016

Also a pot-dweller, and one that will need a far bigger pot next year, is a real find for this year, Begonia luxurians.  I thought it might be a little delicate as it’s structure is so airy and fine, with these Edward Scissorhands leaves grouped around a centre.  But it has withstood passing people bashing it, wind and rain with aplomb.  It is tender and so it will come in to the house for the winter.


Eucomis autumnalis bearing seed, Tostat, September 2016

Several friends in Tostat are busily growing Eucomis autumnalis seed that I collected last year, so just before we head off next week, I will be collecting as much as I can.  I am imagining about 3 years to a flowering plant, but it is such a great plant, you can’t have enough in pots, and is handsome at every stage of it’s life.  Meanwhile, on the slowly evolving labyrinth, which has suffered the last 2 summers and is not therefore complete with plants, I was collecting seed from good plants (sown 2 years ago) of Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’ before the rain.  I now have a big brown envelope full of seed- which might mean that I can finally grow enough, probably about 150 plants, to complete the outer circuit and fill in the odd hole. Fingers crossed.


Dryopteris erythrosora, Tostat, September 2016

There has been so much gratitude for the rain.  This Dryopteris has even reverted to a semi-spring position, instantly throwing up new leaves and looking pretty content.


Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, Tostat, September 2016

This plant, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, is only in it’s first year and so has a way to go.  But it has been redoubtable in the heat and dry, and so next year it should be in fine fettle.  I love the arching delicacy of the flowering branches and it’s fine vase-shaped, upright form.  It does look heat-weary, but it has pulled through, albeit with a little spot-watering.


Maurandya antirhiniflora taking on Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’, Tostat, September 2016

At the same time, the change in the weather has brought the sharper early morning light of autumn, which allowed this small flower to steal my gaze as I went out with a cup of tea this morning.  It’s good to be alive.


Holding the line….

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Vernonia crinita Mammuth, Tostat, August 2016

This Vernonia is about the last plant standing in the garden after this really difficult summer.  Almost everything else has browned and gone over early.  This is partly my fault.  I have been slowly making the garden over the years on the principle that, once settled in, everything must be tough enough to cope with the prevailing conditions- which this year have been on the monstrous side.

I remember reading Beth Chatto’s dry garden book, ‘The Gravel Garden’ when we first moved in.  It introduced me to the completely new world of plants that were so utterly different to my Scottish experiences.  She built a new gravel garden over her old car park in the very hot summer of 1976 if I remember correctly, and spent most days and nights worrying over the rainfall, which she measured precisely and the daytime temperatures, also measured and logged.  Her plan had been to plant correctly and to water deeply once, and then to reply completely on rainfall after that.   She stuck to her plan, despite temperatures in the 90s in old money.  But her agonies were plain as she wrote of the strain of trying to hold her nerve.

I have really felt this this year.  But to be honest, only in the two newly dug and planted areas that I started this year- actually the rest of the garden, whilst gone over early and on the crispy side, is actually ok- just spent.  So, I have decided to water on occasion over the last couple of weeks- reckoning that more than 7 days of 35Cplus, is way over what new plants can handle, and I do want to save my plants.  So, principles are shifting slightly to accommodate extreme conditions.  However, I am still trying to balance the need for the plant to be tested, so that they develop the root systems they need for next year.  So far, this delicate balance is working.

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Acidanthera murielae, Tostat, September 2016

But meantime, back in potted-plant land, it is all looking very lovely, if a real jumble of colours and shapes.  This bulb, Acidanthera murielae, does really well, but only as long as it has a dry frost-free winter experience, and then moisture when it needs to flower.  I rather like my ragbag collection of plants in pots, that will flower in late summer and are pretty obliging, as long as they are personally assured of their daily half can watering allowance.

So, I water with 2 cans, staggering about the garden with them, filling them up from the ruisseau without falling in, and it’s probably doing wonders for my arms and shoulders.  I have counted that to spot water the odd thing, deal with the big pots and then the small ones, and finally the seeds and seedlings, takes about 48 cans- and a full hour.  Mind you, when it is this hot, I love that time of the morning just before 0800 when the air is fresh and cool, so although it sounds like a big chore, I actually love doing it.

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Maurandya antirhiniflora, Tostat, September 2016

Maurandya antirhiniflora is a charming slender seed-grown climber which has flowered for the first time.  I have four small pots sitting in the big pot of ornamental orange, and they have been on the weedy side till this year, but are now twining delicately around the small orange tree, and looking very sweet indeed.  Ranging in colour from dark blue, to this purple, to a soft pink, they are sporadic but worth the wait, and I love the way it dresses the orange, which by now is sometimes a bit on the twiggy side.

And two more trusted plants which come back bigger and better in pot-land.  Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ is cheap as chips, and I love it more for its foliage than the delicate pink flowers.  Brush against it, pick a leave and roll it in your fingers and you are in the souk in Fez or Aleppo immediately.

Plumbago auriculata needs an easy winter.  Not too cold and not too dry, so I take it into the open barn which is usually just fine for it- enough cover to hold back the frost.  It is a slow developer each year, looking like a depressed bunch of twigs right up till June and then it just begins to romp.  It’s going to need a bigger pot next year.  Thank you, Chloris, for your correction on this plant!

See.. .your mind turns so easily to next year….

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Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ caught in the early morning sun, Tostat, September 2016

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Plumbago auriculata, Tostat, September 2016



Summer with the Bees in Scotland

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Inula magnifica, at the Bees, August 2016

A lightening dash to Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago gave me the chance to swap my burnt-to-a-crisp garden for one that was overflowing with colour, insects and gorgeous things all doing beautifully in fine, Scottish weather.  It is always a delight to visit a friend’s garden as you can really have a good nosey around and also spend a long time chewing over the ins and outs of this or that plant.  Time flies.  So, in the Scottish garden was a full-tilt flowerer, Inula magnifica, and true to name, a bee arrived at the right moment on the Bees’ Inula.  I don’t grow this as I am pretty sure it would want more moisture than I can give it, but it is such a splendid thing reaching 2m in height and standing proud with great, billowing leaves. I do grow Telekia speciosa, which is a first cousin, and I love it, though here right now we are talking plant corpse condition.  Fatter centres and more stumpy petals on the Telekia would seem to be the main difference between the two.

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Telekia speciosa, Tostat, June 2015

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Dahlias on top of their game, the Bees, August 2016

Fabulous and super-sized dahlias were doing magnificently. I am embarassed to show you any of mine other than Dahlia Twynings After Eight, which has been the exception to the rule this year of stunted growth, repeated brutal attacks by slugs and snails and no flowers. Ah well.

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Dahlia Twynings After Eight, Tostat, July 2016

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The Shed, the Bees, August 2016

I adore this shed.  I wish I could steal in during the night and whisk it away to Tostat, where, admittedly, it would look very Scottish next to our pigshed, currently under renovation.  This shed is so solid and serious about what it does.  I love the home made table outside with potting stuff on it, and the sense of considerable work in progress. Yum.

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Persicaria amiplexicaulis Alba, the Bees, August 2016

I love the see-through delicacy of this new-to-me white Persicaria, Persicaria amiplexicaulis ‘Alba’ which has been planted in the midst of an elegant Miscanthus, and the two are a very good match.

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Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’, the Bees, August 2016

This is such a good plant.  The dark, wine-red stems, handsome green, tinting towards autumn foliage, and the custard yellow flowers with extravagant centres, studded as if with jewels.  Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’ is a trouble-free plant, only wanting enough moisture to fully develop its stately presence, up to about 1.25m high and wide.  With me this year, it has faded fast before even flowering, but I am sure it will return next year to try again.

And there were white lilies on the other side of the Miscanthus, not far from the Persicaria, still blooming and lighting up the gloomy end of the afternoon. They really demonstrate so well the power of white and pale colours to bring luminescence where you need it.

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Lilies snuggling up to Miscanthus, the Bees, August 2016

And, lastly, there was a mountain of tumbling sweetpeas, bringing colour and freedom to a pyramid wire structure- and just a glimpse of the beautiful brick wall which encloses this part of the garden.  Which always reminds me of one of my favourite books as a child, ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

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Lovely, tumbling sweetpeas, the Bees, August 2016

“…And then she took a long breath and looked behind her up the long walk to see if any one was coming. No one was coming. No one ever did come, it seemed, and she took another long breath, because she could not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door which opened slowly–slowly.

Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight.

She was standing inside the secret garden…”

from Chapter 8, ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published in 1909.


Gallery of heat-survivors, almost all pot-dwellers…

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Surviving well in a watered pot, though this was last week and it is toiling a bit now, the gracious leaves of Astilboides tabularis, now having its fourth birthday from seed, Tostat, August 2016

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New to me this year, Begonia luxurians, semi-shaded position and well-watered, and I really love it. What luxury!

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Clerodendrum bungei lasted only a week in the heat and is already setting seed

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Deinanthe caerulea ‘Blue Wonder’ is taking it’s time to settle into a pot. But the strange flowers are quite unique.

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The lobster-pink flowerspike of Hesperaloe parviflora– very badly treated by me, but it has flowered for the first time! Unfortunately it was decked this week by the dog!

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Hedychium gardnerianum flowered with great ceremony, but only for a few days!

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The fleeting beauty of Lilium lancifolium Flore Pleno with added spider web…

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Stunning black flowerhead of Pennisetum alopecuroides f. viridescens… first one this year.

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New to me this year, Salvia x hybrida ‘Embers Wish’ with delectable colouring

The story of the ‘Women’s Tree’

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Vitex agnus castus against a blue August sky, Tostat, 2016

There is a small, spreading tree which I grow on Shitty Bank next to the ruisseau.  When I planted it there 9 years ago, it probably only measured about 0.5m high.  Now, it is a magnificent, spreading, but also delicate, small tree, up to maybe 4m high and wide,  that flowers abundantly in July- September, sending strong shoots of flowersprays out at an angle from the trunk of the tree.  These lilac, mid-blue flower sprays are a magnet for bees, butterflies and other insects- almost as popular with them as the more traditional buddleia.  It copes very well with heat and dryness, but it also loves to be close to water, which is why the plant near the ruisseau is bigger and bolder than the one planted elsewhere in a drier spot.  It’s name?  Vitex agnus castus.

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Vitex in the landscape of Shitty Bank, with close neighbour, Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ and Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelturm’ in the foreground, Tostat, August 2016

But, I have always been intrigued by it’s many common names, such as ‘The Chaste Tree’, or in Germany, ‘The Monk’s Pepper Tree’.  I am indebted to Christopher Hobbs, whose site is a mine of interesting detail, but to summarise, this small tree has been used medicinally from the earliest times.  The ancients revered the small, hard, dark fruits which were taken in the form of a tincture or drink made from the more concentrated fruits or new leaves, according to Pliny.  It was used to treat women suffering from menstrual or menopausal hormone imbalance and discomfort- and, interestingly, for men who wished to calm their sexual appetites, hence the name ‘Monk’s Pepper’.  However, Christopher Hobbs quotes a well known 19th century, French herbalist, Cazin, who took the view that the treatment was more likely to arouse passions than calm them!

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An early flowering sprig, Tostat, July 2016

In the garden, it slowly opens up from tight, woolly grey buds into individual florets that last for weeks.  It’s ability to weave through other plants and not be too dominant is a big asset for the smaller garden.  It has proved very hardy with me, reliably holding on through -10C for a fortnight, for example, but I suspect that, despite liking to be close to water, it would be excessive winter wet that might make it turn up its toes.  So, free draining soil, a slope or added grit would handle that. And it has no need for rich soil, and probably, the thinner and rockier the better.  It is not a fast or showy grower, but here in Tostat, it is a stalwart of the late summer bulge when the scene can look pretty tired by August until September rains kick in.  This year has really tested that point.

A companion plant, which is not well known but should be for those of us with difficult, hot situations is Elsholtzia stauntonii.  Successfully posing as a normal shrub or shrublet, this tough plant in fact can cope with any amount of dryness and hot sun, and, with me, returns reliably on deceptively fragile looking stems each late Spring.  In fact, beware: the fragile stems can look very like a spot of couchgrass or weed, so remember where you put it!  A very good blog article on habit and with good photographs is available here at Robert Pavlis’ Garden Fundamentals.  I read about it on Annie’s Annuals emailing and grew mine from seed about 4 years ago, and in the toughest position, they are doing fine, now about 1m tall and flowering soon.   It takes it’s time to grow, but given how much harshness it can take, it has all the lush, green foliage you would expect of a woodlander.

And outside, the garden fries at 36C, the return of the Spanish plume, and no rain forecast of any note.  As for me, I am indoors.

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Elsholtzia stauntonii, flowering in September last year, Tostat






















Gallery of positives

It’s another of those days, when, despite real excitement at the prospect of a woman US President, the news has been mostly about ghastly events around the world, especially in Syria.  So, to buck up, I decided to go outside and take a photograph of what’s looking good in the garden, despite hot temperatures and no rain.  Enough moaning, I said.

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Unknown crocosmia blooming beautifully in the bucket I stuffed it in and never re-planted, Tostat, July 2016

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Artichoke flower, nearly-O Flower of Scotland, Tostat, July 2016

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It’s the dark chocolate that does it, Dahlia ‘Twynings after Eight’, Tostat, July 2017

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Dianthus amurensis ‘Siberian Blues’ growing where it is hottest and driest, Tostat, July 2016

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It only lasts a day or so, Hedychium gardnerianum, Tostat, July 2016

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New to me this year, and so pretty, the Australian Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’, Tostat, July 2016

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Abutilon pictum close-up, Tostat, July 2017

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So tiny, and so fabulous, Pelargonium x ardens, Tostat, July 2016


Sometimes you need new eyes…

Sometimes you need to go away and come back again, to see the garden in a different way. Having had a day away in the Valle d’Aran just over into Spain, coming back yesterday afternoon and evening was almost a re-discovery.  It was partly thanks to the soft light of late evening, which gave a kindly glow to plants that are suffering, again, owing to drought since our last rain, but it was also that I realised I often look at the garden from the same vantage points, and so, I see the same things.  If you couple this with my usual micro-vision tendencies, where I examine the individual performance of a particular plant- it’s a wonder I am not totally blind really.

So, this is what I noticed yesterday evening, as if for the first time.

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Looking towards the olive tree from the back door, Tostat, July 2016

The light really caught it.  Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana ‘Claret Jug’ shines out from the image with the ruby-red leaf backing picking up the light.  It is such an easy plant.  Although often described as hardy, I wouldn’t risk it even in our often mild, wet winters.  I grow it in a massive pot, partly filled with polystyrene chips to reduce the weight, and I just lug it into a covered, but open space in November, keep it pretty dry, and then start watering in March under cover.  I drag it out in April and the rest is all done without my help, though I do a weekly feed from about May onwards.  I am not really a begonia flower person, so the pink flowers are not my thing, but they are small and the leaves are the main act.  Tons of tiny bulbils get scattered and so you will have this plant forever, and keep your friends supplied if you just pot them up in the autumn.

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Being Gothic, Verbena bonariensis and an arch, Tostat, July 2016

I have often raved about Verbena bonariensis.  I love it for it’s attractiveness to butterflies and other insects, for it’s abundant self-seeding (which can also be a pain), but mostly for the electric quality of the flowers.  In low light, it’s as if it’s wired to the mains.

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A new view, Tostat, July 2016

This is a new view.  I am looking back towards the back of the house, across the top of my only-planted-this-year-from-seed-grown-last-year area.  This area has toiled a bit in it’s first year, finding the spring very cold, the summer very dry and the wind very debilitating.  But, I think it will make it, although this year will be a bit of a damp squib. These Liatris spicata bulbs, bought from Aldi for 60 bulbs at E3, a total bargain, have done a great job in providing some points of punctuation where flowering, as I hoped, has not quite materialised.  I don’t find Liatris a reliable returner year on year, I probably lose about 50% of them over a wet winter, but, they are so cheap and dependable, that I am still a great fan.  In the US, where they are native plants, they are often called ‘Blazing Star’- you can see why, something of the electric about them too.

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Slightly new view, Tostat, July 2016

This is a new view as far as the further away view is concerned.  In the foreground, is a reliable and terrific Pennisetum alopecuroides which I bought ages ago, put in the wrong place, replanted and now it adores where it is.  Slightly flattened by dryness, it is a gentle punctuation point at the end of the promontory bed.  It may be the variety, ‘Hameln’ but I can’t remember after all this time.  ‘Hameln’ is supposed to be the hardiest of the varieties and so it may well be that.   The thing with Pennisetum is that nothing seems to be happening in the growth department until really late in Spring, then up it pops, so it’s important not to poke it and panic.  The other main new-this-year-area is encircling the olive tree, and I have planted, though you can’t see it, another Pennisetum, Pennisetum alopecuroides f. viridescens.  I couldn’t resist the idea of dark-charcoal-purple-black flowerheads meeting, almost head-on in a Pennsietum-off, the older Pennisetum you see above in the photograph.

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A new view, Tostat, July 2016

This is a new view to me.  The foreground is of the new area encircling the olive, this year planted with, a great success in our dry summer, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ has been sterling.  It might even win me over to annuals.  But the real feature of the view is the borrowed landscape.  It is the dark green of the ornamental cherry tree, actually growing in a commune space, over our wall, which brings the Stipa gigantea to life.  Without it as a backdrop, you would hardly see the delicate, golden flowerheads of the Stipa.  Thank you, Tostat.

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The one that nearly got away, Tostat, July 2016

And this is a view that I nearly rejected.  Then I thought, ‘hang on, it’s different’ and so it stays.  Looking back across the grass towards the old privvy door, what you actually see is how comfortable the Hydrangea arboresecens ‘Annabelle’ is with its’ big, creamy flowers still looking good against the big leaves of Telekia speciosa.  And further along to the left, you can imagine though not quite see, the now-pinky flowerheads of Hydrangea paniculata filling in the space.

So dry and thirsty, but not yet down and out.  By contrast, the Valle d’Aran looked bewitchingly green.

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Near Vielha, Spain, July 2016