It’s been a long time! So, what’s been going on? well, it is a story of heat and drought really…
Back in September, all that was happening was the waiting for rain, which didn’t come in anything like enough quantity to break the iron-dry soil. So the plants that I had planned to plant in to combat the likely effects of 2023 being as tricky to manage as 2022 had been, all these plants stayed under cover in the courtyard and waited, like me. We went on holiday for 3 weeks to Croatia and Albania, came back and still no perceptible rain. It was so warm, apart from 2 days of normal winter weather, that even our turned-down heating didn’t come on. By the end of November, we had had some rain at last. But, in fear of winter turning up, I hung back with planting. Christmas and New Year came and went very enjoyably with returning adult children and lovely friends visiting.
So this week, bitten by the unavoidable New Year feelings of excitement and optimism and continuing warmish weather, also some more rain, I finally spent 2 days in the garden, planting and sorting. It felt wonderful, an almost visceral feeling of re-engagement with the garden, and, as reliably inspiring and exciting as ever. Thank goodness. That was a hard sit-out this Autumn, doing nothing whilst heat and drought raged on. But, I think I need to start thinking very differently about the gardening year, and really shift my focus to the winter and early Spring, up to maybe April, for doing serious planting and revision. The other eight months from end of April to November, I need to view as time for enjoying (as in sitting), planning, small bits of this and that, but nothing more. It has to look after itself. My job is to enable it to do that with good choices, small risks, and saving big work for the winter and Spring.
In the summer this year, I wrote an article for the Mediterranean Garden Society for the first time. It describes the first 2 years of making the stony front slope into a garrigue-inspired garden. This article was quite a challenge for me. I have always started the blog articles here with the photographs that I have taken near the time of writing. The MGS journal had to be tackled in a different way as the journal has no photographs in it, but instead, some rather pretty line drawings. I also wanted to build a good narrative to tell the story, so I really worked the laptop to get there, but, at the time, the experience felt strangely denuded without photographic stimulus. However, this article is being written in the same way, text first and then I will find the photographs I want to include. And this time it feels exciting, like going on a long journey you have planned for months. Change is good for me!
Meanwhile, back in the garden….
I have taken quite a few big plants out of the barn garden, mainly because they were really toiling, and some because I have changed my mind. Changing your mind really is a part of gardening, I love that about it. Sometimes in life, there is too much investment to be able to change your mind, another liberating feature of gardening as a life pursuit. The garden in Zadar proved to be prophetic, as I have essentially removed any plant that was suffering last summer, and am focusing instead on tough but beautiful evergreens, with some spikey and tough perennials. The barn garden should look stronger this year as a result.
So, first into the survival bin was a really beautiful Salix, Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’, which I had bought when we moved in, and which had done really well in the first 2 years. In August, the dieback was so bad that I thought it was a goner. But slowly, the remaining 20% that was living is clawing back and although I reckon I will have to wait another 2 years, it will make it. It will stay in a pot in the shady part of the courtyard from now on. Add to that, a Syringa laciniata, which was being cooked in the front garden, my seed-grown Elsholtzia stauntonii, and a young witchhazel, Hamamelis intermedia ‘Orange Beauty’, now also in a pot and resting, and recovering well, in the courtyard.
And changes? I have taken out a couple of very good Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ from the back as they were doing, well, too well, actually so I will give them more of a romp in the front garden in a not-too-exposed position, also two Buddleia lindleyana are about to make the move to the front. They were a silly choice in a too-tight spot, and so will have some room to breathe at the front. I will replace them with another Pittosporum ‘Green Elf’, a fabulous, elegant plant with delicate green leaves on dark black stems, which will make a soft and airy chain with three others already doing well, to shade us a bit from the fence behind.
And I am giving Skimmias a try in the barn garden where conditions have been so dry and hot this year. To be precise, Skimmia japonica ‘Kew Green’ and ‘Kew White’. One of each, to ensure good berries as you need a male and a female. British sites generally say that Skimmia need moist soils but US sites insist that Skimmia are drought tolerant and pretty forgiving of soils conditions, so I am going to try them. I am already a little in love with the form and foliage colour, a graceful goblet shape and bluey-green glaucous leaves holding up like open hands. I have been a snob about Skimmia I confess.
A bit of spotted laurel? Nearly. How about Aucuba japonica salicifolia? All of the tough and adaptable virtues of spotted laurel, but instead of the spots, you have long, slightly spiky deep green, glossy glossy leaves and a lovely arching shape. The glossiness cannot be over-emphasised, the leaves almost shine in any light, and though I will need to wait a while for serious growth to happen, I am already deeply in love with this plant. It combines tropical beauty with serious toughness, and did I mention the startlingly scarlet berries? Hooray. It wasn’t easy to find here in France, just a couple of nurseries stock it in small quantities, so I had to wait, but it is really worth it.
So, now in the all-change bay in the courtyard, sit pots of Alcathea suffrutescens ‘Parkallee’ and ‘Parkrondell’, Phygelius ‘Moonraker’, two pots of Lavatera ‘Frederique’ that never got planted out last year, and other bits and bobs. These will be rehomed in the front garden, once we have located a good space. They are all tough plants, but need better topdown sunshine that they got in the barn garden in order to straighten up. Their drought tolerance will be tested though to the max. I am also repotting and moving my four big lots of Eucomis bulbs, which I adore, but they need topdown sunshine too to avoid looking like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
It is wonderful to be back in action. A very Happy New Year to us all. Gardening is a good salve for the rigours of a heating planet.