Summer slides but not fast…

Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’, September 2022, Oloron Sainte Marie

The summer is waning a little- some cooler nights and some rainfall every week to 10 days, though not nearly enough to break the drought stranglehold. We will have to wait till the end of the month, I reckon, to begin to see rainfall on a more regular basis. South West France has suffered plagues of mosquitoes, including the new extra-sized tiger variety, this summer, starting at the end of July and only just beginning to slow up. Being the person who blows up like a balloon and is always eaten alive by flying biting things, it hasn’t just been the heat that has kept me indoors, glowering balefully at the sunshine. It has been a fairly hard summer.

But difficult times call for re-thinking. On the plus side, the ‘garrigue’ garden at the front, having wobbled a little at the first of the heatwaves, has come through really well. One or two losses, a completely cooked tree lupin for one, but most other plants have dug in to successfully wait for the rain when it did come. Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’ was looking pretty sick in July, with barely a leaf in sight. But it has recouped, and even flowered, which is brilliant. In fact, I walked past it to start with, as I had been semi-averting my gaze in preparation for what I thought would be bad news. I couldn’t find a UK site with decent details of it, so the Texan site will have to do. And mine is still pretty spindly, but I live in hope.

A stray Gladiolus murielae flowered fleetingly from the compost heap! Always cheers me up when an escapee breaks out.

Gladiolus murielae, September 2022, Oloron Sainte Marie

But returning to the re-thinking, I now know for sure that the back Barn Garden is far drier in the summer than I had orginally thought. This year we have slid headlong into summer-drought conditions, far too hard for some of my original choices of plant, and I need some more heat and drought tolerant presence during the summer months. This means, I have decided, taking out my 3 Sambucus nigra, grown from twigs years ago, and using the space differently. They won’t be wasted, I had originally planted them for their uprightness and their greeny purple foliage, but I need some colour and seasonal activity to hold the space together, so I will find them a home in the front garden where we are slowly making a tree and shrub space with some wildness. I cannot remember now what variety they are, but they aren’t ‘Black Lace’ which might have kept them where they are. I also have too much Calla lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica, sprawling around, so some of that will go too.

And in will come….Physocarpus opulifolius. I was won over completely to this shrub in Tostat, where I planted ‘Tiny Wine’. It was wine-coloured by the summer but an astonishing vibrant orange-bronze in the spring, and stunning in the autumn. Tiny it was not, easily 2 metres high and 1m wide within 4 years, but what a good plant. Pretty spring flowers as well, so it wins on all fronts really. It also does well with other plants, being not so dense that other plants can’t weave their way amongst. So, a generous soul.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, March 2019, Tostat
Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Mindia’, September 2022, Oloron Sainte Marie

But I decided to try ‘Diable d’Or’ or as France seems to prefer it, ‘Mindia’. Working the name out took a while. So, ‘Mindia’ ups the ante, dark colouring in the summer, and souped-up bronze in the spring, and similar strongly coloured stems, another bonus. I am also very drawn to Diervilla x ‘Kodiak Orange’, but haven’t bought it yet. I think I will give it a go, as it sounds tailor made for me. Proven drought and heat tolerance, enjoying semi-shade, good colouring, structure, flowering in the spring, but it is a new introduction. However, my favourite shrub nursery, the wonderful Coolplants, run by a plantswoman of great taste, Cathy Portier, is stocking it, so I travel in faith.

The other change I will make in the back is to bring a little more structure and lushness into the sunnier end, where I have some great tall perennials but which need something else to lean on. So, I am going against a long-held dislike of Choisya, for the sake of this new variety, ‘Greenfingers’. It’s not at all related to a Fatsia, but ‘Greenfingers’ has just enough of the Fatsia about it, to draw my eye, and it flowers apparently with bigger blooms than the regular Choisya. And even I can smell the scent. I think it looks great, and there may be another one bought before I get planting in October.

Choisya x dewitteana ‘Greenfingers’, September 2022, Oloron Sainte Marie.

And lastly, for the front, where we are slowly developing a treescape, with shrub support, I rather fancied this new variety of smokebush, Cotinus coggygria ‘Winecraft Black’. It does the smokebush thing, but makes a smaller rounded shrub than tree, and should handle the exposed, drier conditions at the front easily. The new growth starts out bronze, another plus. There’s a bit of a theme here, you will be saying.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Winecraft Black’, September 2022, Oloron Sainte Marie

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