Stormy weather…

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Back door view, Tostat, July 2018

Last night was the third night of big storms- a huge electrical show in the sky, and Tostat lit up like Las Vegas.  This morning, a dark and sombre tone to the light, and continuing rumblings.  So much so that Molly the dog literally turned tail and ran back into the garden first thing.  The rain is very welcome, but like the whole weather scene this year, too much, too big, and utterly unpredictable.

In the last post, I was raving about Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, and here in the foreground pot, you can see ‘Eucomis autumnalis’, which is the baby cousin and my first shit at Eucomis. I think that I need to repot all those bulbs for next year, as whilst the decorative drooping is pretty, it really means it’s a bit crowded in there.  Such a good plant- self-seeds and produces babies, and you can also grow the seed on- though it takes a few years to make a flowering plant.  I keep both Eucomis in pots, they like winter dry and some shelter, and then they handle sun and pot-soakingof every 2 days- unless we are in a heatwave when it would be daily.

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Kalimeris incisa ‘Madiva’, Tostat, July 2018

Just coming out now, and continuing for 2-3 months, is Kalimeris incisa ‘Madiva’, a plant that is only in its second full year, but is proving to be a real trooper.  Just 1m high, it is really tough and shrugs off wind and rain, as well as hot sun.  It spreads steadily but not greedily, and is a delicate pale mauve colour- it looks fantastic next to the Monarda fistulosa, which has gone nuts this year with the rain and is taller than me.  This plant keeps going right till the late autumn- flowering when rain allows, and remaining upright and impressive.  From seed it is really easy, and these clumps are now 3 years old, so I will be dividing them later on.

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Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, July 2018

When the early or late light hits the Monarda, there is almost an electric quality to the mauve flowerheads.

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Monarda fistulosa shimmering, Tostat, July 2018

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Rosa ‘Crepuscule’, Tostat, July 2018

At least, I think that this is ‘Crepuscule’.  Apricot to start with, golden cream and yellow later, and a deep, drinkable scent- I love it.  Not mine, in the sense that I inherited it, and it is a gawky thing, but with all the rain, it is trying for a second show.

In this strange weather, I am taken with seed production.  Clearing out my seed collection, and seeing if there is any life left, but also growing some new plants that I want to try.  I adored this plant last summer in Herefordshire, and bumped into it again in Gloucestershire at Berrys Farm Garden, open for the NGS.  ‘Trifolium ochroleucron’ is stunning.  A big shapely clump of 1m or so, with these super-charged giant cream clover heads.  The good news is that all the seed has germinated in less than 5 days.  Now, I just have to not kill them over the winter.

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Trifolium ochroleucron, Berrys Place Farm Gloucestershire, June 2018

More riskily, I am trying this- Alogyne hakeifolia.  Tiny pic, thank you Australianseed.com, and also ‘Gardening with Angus’ for more information.  I saw this in Spain, and fell badly.  So, why not?  All gardening is about love and passion really.  I am in a mauve phase.

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Alogyne hakeifolia Photo credit: http://www.australianseed.com

Summer vengeance, rain, and surprises…

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Lilium Flore Pleno, Tostat, July 2018

Whilst we were away in England for a family wedding, summer arrived with no notice and a sense of vengeance- it was out to get us for our wet, cold spring and early summer (which wasn’t).  At least the vengeance could be felt when we got back- toasted and burnt roses, in fact, toasted and burnt was about the top and bottom of it.  We arrived back in a spectacular storm, with heavy hail hammering on the roof of our plane as it came into land.  So we were met by a garden that was toasted and burnt, also utterly decked by the rain, hail and wind.   Oh joy.

But recovery set in.  Some plants have really suffered, so this may mean that they don’t get a second life if they can’t handle the increasingly temperamental weather we seem to experience.  Roses have been a total dud this year, and one new planting has had to be rescued and potted up in the recovery ward.  The earlier lilies, Lilium regale, really hated what was on offer and turned to a mushy brown fairly swiftly.

These extravagantly coloured and shaped Lilium Flore Pleno, have arrived later than usual this year and seem to be coping just fine.  The leopard-spottiness of them is quite adorable to me, though I can see why they might not appeal across the board.  The small seeds, sitting like brown buttons, in the leaf nodes are a real bonus.  Many will germinate in the pots alongside the parent plants, and I just leave them there for a couple of years to bulk up and then plant them on.

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Romneya coulteri, Tostat, end of June 2018

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Romneya coulteri, sky-ward, Tostat, July 2018

In June, it was possible to take a photograph of Romneya coulteri straight in the eye- that astonishing fried-egg look of pure white and sunny yellow looking almost blue in the early morning light.  But three weeks later, and the whole plant has galloped away, far away from me even on a ladder.  This plant is, of course, a thug, but such a lovely one.  I am hoping that a big bush of Lonicera fragrantissima will manage it on my behalf.

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Salvia buchananii, Tostat, July 2018

This small Salvia buchananii is a delight.  Planted in the wrong place by me, and stupendously ignored for a year or two as well, it hung on.  I now realise that it is not a Salvia as per our normal understanding of Salvias.  It likes damp shade really, though it might cope in a Scottish summer just fine.  I now have it in a medium pot, and so it gets lots of water and attention- but it is really worth it, velvety sharp pink flowers, with delicate hairs making the plant look very lustrous.  Lustrous is a good word too for the deep green, shiny leaves.  A really good plant.

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Phlomis Samia and Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardener’s World’, Tostat, July 2018

Here is a very happy situation.  I love ‘Phlomis Samia’ with its big, heart-shaped leaves and tall, dusky pink flowerspikes- and there, something brilliant has happened, probably thanks to the rain.  I bought 3 small plants of Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardener’s World’ about 4 years ago.  They didn’t make it through our summer, and I really regretted that as I liked the idea of the double carmine flowers, without the species’ painfully massive self-seeding that gets out of control with me.  But here it is.  Maybe it was growing slowly all the time, hidden by the Phlomis and the rain has brought it out this year.  What a miracle.

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Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, Tostat, June 2018

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Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, Tostat, July 2018

What a difference a month makes.  This expensive, but really worth it, bulb, ‘Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy’ is one of my favourite summer events.  First, from about mid April, the big purple-red leaves make a dramatic appearance, getting larger and taller, finally reaching at least 60-75 cms long.  Deep down in the bulb, the pineapple-shaped flowers start to form in June, and by July, the flowers are towering over the leaves, nearly, and the leaves have turned a gorgeous olive-green, leaving the stage to the purple-red flowerspikes.   These then take several weeks to slowly open, small flower by small flower, so all in all you are looking at 4 months at least of great pleasure watching this terrific performance.  They are easily over-wintered in a sheltered place, and kept fairly dry, to be brought out in the Spring with a good shower of water, and possibly, re-potting.  So easy, so fabulous.

Rain does well…

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Phormium tenax flowers, Tostat, June 2018

This Phormium, now pretty big at more than 1.5m wide and high, came with us from Scotland fourteen years ago, and has never flowered before.  There was a point to all that rain we had.  That is the only reason I can think of for it suddenly springing to life in this way.  The flowers are really attractive, like big comma-shapes reaching for the sky.  The spikes have arranged to meet each other, in a very companionable way, which looks spectacular against the wide sky.

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From a distance and against the early morning sky, Tostat, June 2018

Forget the roses this year- largely beaten and drowned by rain and storm.  But other things have loved the strange weather.  I loved the look of Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’ in May, despite the soaking conditions.  I grew these from seed last autumn, and was pretty doubtful about their weediness when I planted them out in March.  But I have eaten my hat.  These plants have adored the weather and have flowered non-stop since late April.

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Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’ with Ozothamnus ‘Silver Jubilee’, Tostat, May 2018

Here they are today, just caught by the early sun, which has turned them more of a cherry-red colour.  What a bargain for a packet of seed and they may have flopped a bit but have largely held their own.

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‘Black Ball’ today, Tostat, June 2018

Kniphofia ‘Timothy’ has had a rather vagrant existence in the garden.  Never quite settling and several moves later, I split all the clumps and had another go at finding them a home.  They have adored the rain, and are in great shape, even flowering much earlier than usual, and also flowering well.  It’s a bit of a mystery to me why they are so moody here, as it seems to me we should get on really well.  Maybe they want to stay put, and I should let them.

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Kniphofia ‘Timothy’ pairing up nicely with Cornus kousa, Tostat, June 2018

In the stumpery, where the ferns and shade-lovers have likewise enjoyed the wet, but now are longing for some warmth I think, a fairly new introduction of Mahonia is looking splendid.  With an impossibly long name, Mahonia eurybracteata subsp.ganpinenesis ‘Soft Caress’ is totally different from almost every other Mahonia.  The clue is in the name.  No spikey bits or prickles, just soft green foliage draped beautifully around a central stem.  Mine is about 2 years old, so only a baby really, but I adore the gentle effect it creates amongst the ferns and, yes, a touch of bindweed grows at the back.  ‘Soft Caress’ hasn’t flowered yet, maybe next year.

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Mahonia eurybracteata subsp.ganpinensis ‘Soft Caress’, Tostat, June 2018

In the re-vamped and re-planted dry areas, I planted a new groundcover perennial this Spring, Ononis spinosa.  Looked a bit dull at the outset in February, and, coming back from Spain 2 weeks ago, it had been totally submerged in triffid-like weed growth, which I swear wasn’t even visible before we left.  So, post-hacking, the plants have re-emerged and I am really pleased with them so far. I say that because their real strength should show through in dry conditions rather than what we have had.  Nevertheless, sprawling nicely to form a loose clump about 0.80cms all round, and currently flowering with small pink pea-flowers, they look promising.  More on them later in the summer.

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Ononis spinosa, Tostat, June 2018

Two plant companions that have not enjoyed the two dry springs we have had, have been very happy with life in Tostat this year.  I always rave about Telekia speciosa.  Tall, stately, custard-yellow daisies that last for ages in the garden, with huge vivid green leaves at their feet- it is a great plant, and easy from seed.  Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ was one of my bargain-basement purchases years ago, and is now a striking 2m high and across- and in very fine fettle.  I love cream and green.

Rain scores well for plants- if not humans.

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Telekia speciosa and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, Tostat, June 2018

Les Jardins de Clogs 65

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Les Jardins de Clogs, Gaussan 65, June 2018

Last week, there were about 4 hours in total when it didn’t rain in stair-rods.  Some villages really suffered with flooding, and our local pepinière, Bernard Lacrouts, was almost washed away by a wave of runoff water from local fields.  It was wet.  Biblically wet.  Again.

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The other view from the Basque red gates, Les Jardins de Clogs 65, June 2018

But in those grey, but not wet hours, with the occasional glimpse of watery sunlight, we visited a garden near Gaussan, between Castelnau-Magnoac and Lannemezan.  Les Jardins de Clogs was created by Adrienne Child, who, like us, moved to South West France from Scotland in 2004.  She has cleverly thought about and responded to her garden site that sits to the side of her house.  The site has beautiful mature trees and she has accentuated their planting with some very choice trees and shrubs of her own choosing.  The garden weaves through the landscape, with her paths and interest points responding with great charm to the ups and downs, the twists and turns.

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Hellebore foliage holding its own with great cedar, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

It is a very interesting use of the space- making the very best use of every small point of interest- Adrienne has a really good eye for what is around and she can make use of.  She describes the garden areas as ‘English-style’, which is an important signal to the French gardener who would then understand that there will be billowing planting, there will be some disorder and freedom and probably not a straight line.  But I would probably say that this garden is about how she is interested in space, in combinations and in creating an atmosphere- rather than being traditionally border-bound in the conventionally accepted English sense.

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Lollipop shaped trees create moments of formality in amongst the drapery of the Sassa and the hemerocallis, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

Importantly, this is not a pampered garden.  Adrienne has chosen tough and beautiful plants and shrubs that can mostly take of themselves- and the established trees give a lot of dappled shade which will help with water conservation.  She is also not afraid to repeat a plant that really loves the space- there are swathes of Bergenia that are quite fabulous, a sea of large, textured leaves that look great washing through the garden.

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Swathes of bergenia, the basque red of the Nandina to the left, and sharp grass, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

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An archway, lollipop tree, sharp gravel and the silver grey of Onopodum thistles, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

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The labyrinth garden, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

I have never been a fan of Heucheras.  But I am converted.  I loved the marmelade-apricot colouring with the plum in these two very pretty pots.

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Heuchera-filled pots on the terrace, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

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The fresh yellow of the Euonymus gives way to the field next door, with bergenia again proving lush formality, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

Adrienne also offers tea and a slice of cake so that you can relax and take in the atmosphere of the garden for a little longer.  A lovely idea.  I really miss that unbeatable combination of a Yellow Book garden with tea and cake- and she has re-created that right here in France.

She opens her garden from Wed- Saturday for a small entrance fee each week, with a break in the summer, all the details can be found on her website here.  Treat yourself to an afternoon visit.

 

 

Living off the land…

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Early morning landscape, La Burra Verde, nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain, June 2018

A great delight of visiting Southern Spain for a couple of weeks, was spending six days off-grid at La Burra Verde near Orgiva. A group of us were keen to learn more about living with nature and wanted to learn about growing food and living off-grid.  Arriving in the dark and walking down the dusty, windy path into the finca or farm, carrying our rucksacks as there is no vehicular access to the farm was a strange and startling introduction to what living off-grid includes.  Of course, our lives in a French village are, just as in a town or city, dominated by street lighting and refuse collections.  When you have to carry out all the things you want to dispose of, it does sharpen your understanding of sustainability, re-usability and the point of most packaging.

Waking up the next day in Casa Luna to nightingales singing, no automated noise at all, and the peace of these incredible views was sheer joy.  Over the few days, we learnt about cooking with solar cookers, permaculture and non-dig methods of gardening and growing food, the everyday challenges of weather, heat, cold and living off the land.  Kate Fairtlough, who rescued this piece of valley and its olive trees, works the farm with four young staff members, producing delicious organic olive oil, trading and swapping with neighbours to share out produce, and letting two Airbnb cottages, Casa Luna and Casa La Parra.  I also spent two nights in the newly built straw bale house.

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View from near Casa Luna, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

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Casa Luna, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

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Straw bale house and the vegetable garden, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

Kate’s passion and experiences through her life of restoring this earth to fertility,  following traditions of harvesting are very powerful teaching tools.  I have always thought of myself as thrifty and careful as taught by my mother, but Kate re-purposes and re-uses more than I could ever have imagined.  I realise that there is far more ‘housewife’ in me than I would ever have imagined, and the cost of that cleanliness to the planet is sobering.

We were so lucky in the rain that had fallen this Spring in the Alpujarras.  Wild flowers and lush vegetation are not a normal sight in late May and early June.  The abundance of the flora was astonishing.  One of our group, another Kate, introduced me to the delicate magic of wild flowers, that I had experienced as a child, but largely forgotten.

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The spring landscape, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

We spent some enchanted hours in the landscape with our cameras, identification books, and Kate’s meticulous lists.  Kate is also a very keen birdwatcher, though we could hear fabulous lyrical birdsong, it was really hard to actually see the birds in amongst the dense bushes and trees.

You can follow the links to the 2 Airbnb houses.  An inspiring, self-revelatory few days appreciating how closely tied I am to modernity and some measure of consumerism.  Now that I realise this, I can try my best to absorb the learning from La Burra Verde.

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Amazing bee-orchid, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

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Iris xiphium, Orgiva, Spain, June 2018

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Helichrysum stoechas with lone blue flower of agapanthus, Orgiva, June 2018

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The surreal parasitic Broomrape, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

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Massive salsify seedheads, some 8cms wide, la Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

 

Rain almost stops play…

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Papaver commutatum, ‘Ladybird’ poppy giving Romneya coulteri a shove-over, Tostat, June 2018

It really has.  I was away for 2 weeks in Southern Spain, enjoying cool, but perfect temperatures for travelling and walking a lot, and have come back to discover a garden that is the closest to a bog you can imagine.  Squelching across the grass, the dry plants in the South-facing border are looking a bit sick, and everything else looks as if it has been on drugs- and not necessarily in a good way.  What had been normal sized Ladybird poppies are now 2 metres tall and out-running the well-known thug, Romneya coulteri.  Weeds have appeared as if in a sci-fi movie, and I can’t quite believe it.  Another 3 ins of rain fell last night, so everything is leaning at 45 degrees, as if being sick in a boat in a storm.  People in the village, never mind plants, are looking very depressed.  Non-stop rain, massive electrical storms which almost shook the earth, and cool temperatures do not suit us here in June.

Roses have been beaten into submission, but not Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’, a thug at the best of times but likeable all the same.  The perfume from the massed swags of roses can be smelt, even by me, from 50m away from the house- and I have never noticed that before.  This rose poses a danger to traffic passing unless we don protection and give it a good hacking every year, but it does hide a horrible bit of wall so I am always pleased about that.

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Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’ battered but unbowed, Tostat, June 2018

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Close up, ‘Kiftsgate’ is almost a sweetie, Tostat, June 2018

Going back briefly to the Ladybird poppies- they are a tribute to the power of the seed.  The only explanation for their appearance is that Andy sowed seed which did not germinate about 4 years ago or maybe more.  In early spring, I cleared and disturbed that ground- and astonishingly, up they popped.  Nature waits sometimes.

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Dripping ‘Ladybird’ poppy, Tostat, June 2018

New to me, and soaked but holding on, are Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Ceanothus x pallidus ‘Marie Simon’.  I had a go at growing the Penstemon from seed and drew a blank, so I bought a couple of good sized plants last autumn and divided them- thus making 6 smaller plants.  I had chosen them for their drought tolerance, so I think the wet is not their thing, and consequently, they look a bit weedy- but the sun has got to come out soon, hasn’t it?  Ceanothus x pallidus ‘Marie Simon’ appealed to me because it isn’t blue, but a lovely pale pink with very good green foliage and reddish stems- a feature it shares with the Penstemon.

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Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Ceanothus x pallidus ‘Marie Simon’, Tostat, June 2018

In both Granada and here, Iris foetidissima is flowering.  Just the concurrence of that is a testament to the weirdness of the weather here in Southern Europe.  Of course, it is more sinister and this is about the growing effects of climate change.  Am I alone in worrying what we are leaving, it would appear, to our children to resolve when it is too late? Or can the human being generate world support for science and technology that can change things?  It worries me a lot.  Back in Southern Spain, I spent a week off-grid on an eco-farm that is single-handedly saving a small piece of the Alpujarras landscape.  It was both a very inspiring and sobering experience. Next post….

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Iris foetidissima, Carmen de los Martires, Granada, June 2018

 

Inspiration from 2007…

Three years ago, I tried an experiment.  Could I grow a whole area essentially from seed, or self-seeded perennials, with one or two shrubs added in? The last two years have been a waiting game, but now, I can say that I am on the way.  It was only the other day when reading about the founding of the recently established Königliche Gartenakadamie opposite the stunning Botanical Garden in Dahlem, Berlin that I remembered what had been at the back of my mind as images of how I wanted the ‘mix’ bit to be.  Isabelle van Groeningen works in partnership with Gabrielle Pape, the main force behind the new Königliche Gartenakadamie in Berlin- but it was Chelsea that first introduced them to me.

Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape made a Main Avenue garden at Chelsea 2007- inspired by and strongly evoking the matrix- planting style of the reknowned German plant-breeder and nurseryman, Karl Foerster.  I remember that garden, not in detail, but in terms of the unusual effects it created.  Using plants as singletons or pairings, the garden seemed swarming with plants, but not arranged in clumps, but as a tapestry of individuals who all seemed to get on very well one with another, almost a ‘pointilist’ garden.  Back then, I was only at the beginning of my formal garden design study and it was all completely new to me.  I remember being disappointed that the garden only got a silver medal.

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Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape for ‘The Telegraph’, Chelsea 2007 photo credit: http://www.telegraph.com

This photograph doesn’t quite capture what I remember, the dotted planting of ones and twos of plants in a tapestry effect, but what you can see is the depth of planting and that crammed impression which I loved.  My version is much more clump-formed than matrix planting in the strict sense, but I have encouraged Stipa capillata to self-seed and this has created a wafty movement at about 0.75m high, which I really like.

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The ‘mix’ in early April, dew on Stipa capillata veiling Cistus ‘Gold Prize’ and Libertia peregrinans in winter orange, Tostat, April 2018

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The ‘mix’ featuring Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, spikes up in blue, red spots of luminous Dianthus cruentus, Phlomis longifolia bailanica, Geranium albanum, Tostat, May 2018

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The edges of the ‘mix’, tall flowerheads of Eryngium eburneum, Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, Monarda fistulosa, Cornus kousa, Tostat, May 2018

A key plant, which has take all of these three years to really get going, is Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’.  It is a much more intense blue than the photographs suggest and sits a good half metre above the other planting- so it really reaches for the sky.

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Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, Tostat, end April 2018

It is very wafty so I am hoping it isn’t decked by strong winds- always a possibility.  For the past two months, the two self-seeders. Eschscholzia californica and Cerinthe purpurescens have behaved magnificently.  Purple and orange- so good together. Noel Kingsbury has some interesting and de-bunking comments to make about getting holier-than-thou about any one way of gardening,  but whatever else, closer planting helps but will not remove the need to occasionally sort out thugs and reduce competition.  With the ‘mix’ I am stuffing in and also actively managing, not just the plants but also the invaders.  Good news is that a spot of wild carrot is easily removed.

Lastly, I would like to remember Beth Chatto,  who died last week, and a fantastic visit made to her Essex nursery eight years ago on a wet and grey day- she was a one-off.   What a woman.

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Beth Chatto’s inspirational Gravel Garden, Essex, 2012