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

Gifts from a hot, dry summer…

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Bright, fresh Eryngium eburneum babies, Tostat, September 2017

This week, as we have the sun back but not the warmth, the snow is clearly visible not just on the peaks of the Pyrenees but gliding down the slopes too.  It may well melt as the cold spell passes, we hope, but it is still a signal of an early cool-down that has taken many plants by surprise- with signs of semi-frost activity on tender plants in exposed places.  Today is glorious, warming slowly to maybe 22C with a bright, blue clear sky. Quite different from how it has been.

And as if by magic, literally visible only in the last 10 days, the Eryngium eburneum has not only scattered seed, but that seed has germinated into a fine clutch of baby eryngiums that all look as fit as a fiddle.  They were a little hidden as the cherry tree is shedding leaves already, and so I had missed them until yesterday.  This has only happened maybe once before during and after a hot August in the 13 years we have been living here, so I look on them as a gift from a harsh summer.

Eryngium eburneum is a fabulous plant.  It likes hot, dry, poor soil, free-draining and stony is ideal.  It grows to a very stately clump of fine, saw-toothed leaves, creating a grand presence. And then, in May or June, up shoot the flower spikes, on thin, slender, but tough stems, each carrying a bunch of pale-green fuzzily dimpled acorn-shaped flowerbuds.  These last for a very long time, usually right through to the autumn, but this year, as you can see below, they have been brown and shrivelled- though still standing- for weeks.

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Eryngium eburneum flowering in June, Tostat, June 2017

For sure, it is not the most colourful plant in the garden, but I really prize it for the statuesque elegance it brings, and the fact that, with me, it does remain mostly green throughout the winter, if looking a little faded by Spring.  So it is an incredibly tough, undemanding plant with it’s own pale charm- and lots of presence.  It was also one of my first plants that I grew from seed back in the day- and knowing what I know now about how rarely the seed germinates, I was one lucky novice gardener back then.   Beth Chatto adores this plant, and she is a great hero, so that is another tick in the box for me.  Last week, her nursery was named as one of the top 10 online nurseries in the UK.  Follow the link to see why.

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Aunt not parent, as seen today, Eryngium eburneum, Tostat, September 2017

Approaching Sissinghurst

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Sissinghurst, June 2017

In June, alongside all the other wonderful gardens we visited, we also went back to Great Dixter and visited Sissinghurst for the first time.  Sissinghurst is a name to conjure with. I realise that I have been sitting here wondering what I could say about Sissinghurst that has not already been said by much more august bloggers and proper writers than I.  And so, a sort of blogger’s cramp set in for most of this summer.

In the end, I decided that I would start with the plants that caught my eye, and then work outwards to some more general comments about the whole garden.  It is, of course, stuffed with visitors every day, and so, long range photographs would have meant setting up camp for the odd second when no-one was passing- not my style.  So, I really did focus on on the detail of the plants and the planting at first, to overcome the sense of intimidation being in such an iconic place.  And I began with the roses that we managed to catch…

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Rosa ‘Allen Chandler’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Planted by Vita Sackville-West to cover the inner walls of the front courtyard,  this repeat-flowering climber, Rosa ‘Allen Chandler’ has deep cherry-red flowers with long golden stamens, and is a very good do-er according to many.  It would have been a very modern rose to her, an introduction from 1923 by Alfred Chandler and George Prince, the latter being a well-known Oxfordshire rose grower.  It does marry really well with the warm brick of the walls behind it, and although it had been scorched and then drowned by rain on the day we saw it, it was looking pretty good.  On roses, Vita herself says, writing in her 1954 garden notebook

“…There is nothing scrimpy or stingy about them. They have a generosity which is as desirable in plants as in people…”.’

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Rosa ‘Blossomtime’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Probably not planted by Vita, Rosa ‘Blossomtime’ was nevertheless a big bouncing beauty, with huge generous flowers, it is true in pink and not always  my favourite shade either, but a healthy and well-growing rose.  I am a big fan of Rosa ‘New Dawn’ and this rose started out as a chance ‘New Dawn’ seedling.  It is a modern rose, dating from 1951 when it was introduced by Conrad O’Neal, a well-known US rose grower.  It can be grown as a shrub or a climber.

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Rosa ‘Cramoisi Superieur’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Rosa ‘Cramoisi Superieur’ is a China rose, with twiggy growth, repeat flowering but smallish flowers, and good resistance to disease.  It is a very old rose, certainly grown before the 1830s when various French growers lay claim to originating it.  This may well have been one of Vita’s roses, the cherry-red colouring being a favourite of hers- and very garden-worthy, as it takes all-comers, including heat, with ease.

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Rosa ‘Paul Transon’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Almost the last flowers on this beautiful rose, Rosa ‘Paul Transon’, when we visited at the end of June.  But it is one of those roses that only gets more glorious as the flowers age- the soft mauve is so much more romantic and interesting than the youthful pink.  A 1900 introduction from Barbier Frères,  it grows against a warm brick wall in the Rose Garden, and it may well be one of Vita’s own selections from the 1930s.

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Rosa ‘Ispahan’, Sissinghurst. June 2017

In the Rose Garden, another fabulous name from the past, Rosa ‘Ispahan’ was almost at the end of the flush of flowers for June.  Again a pink- but what a grand presence it has.  A Vita selection, this rose is a very old Damask rose, dating probably from the Middle Ages.  A once-flowerer, nevertheless it has huge big flowers, great disease resistance and a strong fragrance, though I couldn’t get near enough to verify.

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Rosa ‘Golden Wings’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Not a Vita selection, but Rosa ‘Golden Wings’ has all of the simplicity of the wilder roses, and the colouring and presence of the breeder’s rose.  Another US introduction from Bosley Nurseries in 1956, it is an easy shrub rose, blooming once and thereafter sporadically, it is heat-resistant, disease-resistant and needs very little attention.

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Rosa damascena var ‘Trigintipetala’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Rosa damascena var Trigintipetala may be one of the oldest roses in the collection. Dating from before 1612, it appeared in Europe shown by Dr. Georg Dieck in 1889, having originated in Bulgaria or Turkey.  It may also be found under the name ‘Kazanlik’. On a quick search, I could only find a couple of French stockists.

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Rosa ‘Wolley Dodd’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

This Vita selection, now bizarrely named as Rosa rubiginosa ‘Duplex’, is a bit of a mystery.  Unusual as it is happy growing in deep shade in Sissinghurst,  I almost passed it without realising it was there, as the last flower was hidden deep in the foliage. Described as ‘armed with thorns’, it should be better known all the same- how many other roses tolerate, let alone enjoy, living in shade?

Enough for now, but I feel I have worked my way in to the Sissinghurst hang-up…



Catching the eye…

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Rosa Woollerton Old Hall, Ludlow, June 2017

There is a lot of recovery going on in the garden after our harsh summer- but we also have had Scottish weather the past two weeks, strong winds, heavy rain and fresh temperatures- so everything has slightly stopped in its tracks, not quite knowing what is going on.  Me included.  So, thinking back over the spring and summer, here is a mixture of plants that caught my eye and survivors in the garden.  Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’ is a creamy-yellowy-apricot rose that just seems to keep on giving.  I bought one as a gift for a friend and she has been delighted with it all summer- and apparently, it has an strong and unusual scent, which makes it a good ‘un all round.

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Jane’s pretty white geranium, Ludlow, June 2017

In my friend Jane’s garden, a lovely blue-veined white geranium, not sure which, looked glorious in late June.

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Potentilla ‘Arc en Ciel’, Ludlow, June 2017

I loved the burnished look of this Potentilla ‘Arc en ciel’ which I saw in the Ludlow Food Centre garden section.  Golden tips to the petals and a darker, ruffled centre- very pretty.

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Rosa ‘Wild Eve’, Ludlow, June 2017

Again in Jane’s garden, this sumptuous rose ‘Wild Eve’ is almost Titian-esque in habit, hanging in swags over the foliage.

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Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, Ludlow, June 2017

Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ is adorable and could be seen all over Shropshire in June. It doesn’t like Tostat- and the only Monarda that does is ‘Monarda fistulosa’ which can take some dryness without mildew.

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Jane’s garden, Ludlow, June 2017

A big investment pays off in Jane’s garden.  A great idea to create a rising range of arches creating a strong diagonal sweep over the garden.

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Rosa ‘Ginger Syllabub’, Ludlow, June 2017

Another ‘Jane’ rose, very pretty and just perfectly balanced on the acidic side of pink and peach.

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Jane’s garden, a longer view, Ludlow, June 2017

A longer view of Jane’s garden- showing the full effect of the well-positioned arches.

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Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ with the orange Abutilon behind it, Tostat, September 2017

At last, a little colour and life returns to us in Tostat- I love the orange and the blue, the blue gets deeper as the flowers mature, which makes for a great contrast with the lime-green foliage.  Such a good plant.

And, the only flowers on Geranium ‘Havana Blues’ this summer can be counted on the fingers of one hand.  But, I am rethinking some of the planting to give this good geranium a bit more cover, and hopefully, there will be more flowering next summer. Geraniums are forgiving, although you have to wait until next year.

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Geranium ‘Havana Blues’, Tostat, September 2017


Oh my…

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Bessera elegans, Tostat, September 2017

Last month, my daughter was looking for the chives and was poised with a pair of scissors to cut a huge chunk of my Bessera elegans, placed in a pot near the back door to ensure it didn’t get too much rain or wind- not that we had much of either anyway.   Screams were issued and she was re-directed towards the almost extinct chives in the herb patch.  So, now you know what the leaves look like- too look-alike for their own good really.  And for quite a while, that was all we had.

Then, in what seemed like a matter of days, long, thin stems shot up from the chive-like leaves.  And a week or so ago, from those long, thin stems came these extraordinary candelabra- like arrangement of buds.

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Bessera elegans, beginning to flower, Tostat, September 2017

And then yesterday, out came this gorgeous flower with this extraordinary green/turquoise pollen and just behind, the purple pistil which is hiding behind the pollen bearing stamens.  So, then the acrobatics began, as I tried to get a better photograph of ‘inside the trumpet’.  Much wobbling about as I tried to get under the trumpet.  This is the best I could do…..

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The final flower, Tostat, September 2017

Beautiful cream stripes inside the flower, and a better view of the purple pistil- and what a fabulous colour.  So, must lift the bulbs and dry-store them over the winter.  Note to self.  Bulbs available from Sarah Raven in the UK.