Sissinghurst dreams…

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A Bagatelle urn, given to Vita by her mother, placed amongst tumbling rosemary and euphorbia, planted with Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Two recent cold weather reading bouts brought me back to the hours spent at Sissinghurst at the end of June.  There is always the risk that an iconic garden can be overwhelming, disappointing or even just too hard to take in because it is so heavily visited.  There was an element of the first two possibilities in my experience, but, actually, I was not disappointed.  I realise now, looking back, that I didn’t get to grips with Harold Nicholson’s clever and thoughtful structural elements, and that I wandered, in a rather delirious fashion, round the garden without much order or thought.  So, remembering what was where required a lot of post-visit referencing of the garden map and descriptions.

So, is there a problem with garden delirium?  Actually, I don’t think so.  I do have in my mind the sense of joyful chaos, of generous planting, the excitement of meeting plants that I didn’t know, and then had to try and identify later.  I did really love the hovering sense of Vita in her garden, even down to the slightly artful arrangements of tools and equipment that had been placed so well to give the sense of a working garden.  So, probably that feeling of the love and absorption that Vita gave the garden and the place is one of the most important things to take away.

But back to the reading episodes- one, a book, the other, an article.  I had seen in the NT bookshop, the book written and compiled by Sarah Raven about Vita and her garden.  I confess to later buying it in pristine condition and half the price from Abebooks.  I really enjoyed it.  No silly worshipping here, good, honest information and a really  solid compilation of Vita’s writings about her gardening habits and practices- and an abundant sense of the garden as it is now, a mixture of history, Vita and those modern gardeners who have championed the garden since her death.  I really recommend this book.

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Looking down on the garden from the Tower, Harold’s double planted Yew Walk cutting cross the garden, Sissinghurst, June 2017

And then secondly and by pure chance, as I always check the Tory press, so important to know what the opposition is doing I reckon- a really good and interesting article 2 days ago, sadly in the luxury section of the Telegraph online.

When I look at my photographs, only a few managed to reach into the garden.  This is a visitor-numbers issue.  It was almost impossible to draw breath or take a photograph in the White Garden for example- not that people were jostling, just the amount of movement around you made it really hard to concentrate at all.  I only have hazy memories of the White Garden.  So, I took the photographs that I could rather than the ones I wanted. Ah well.

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The view through the Bishop’s Gate into the White Garden, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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The domination of the Tower, Vita’s sanctuary, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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Pruning the pleached limes to the Bacchante statue, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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Haze of hot colours, the Cottage Garden, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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The White Garden, the mysterious statue of a vestal virgin by Toma Rosandic, shrouded by the leaves of the weeping silver pear, Sissinghurst. June 2017

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Cram, cram, pots, troughs and corners, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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Harold’s Irish yews and the Cottage Garden, Sissinghurst, June 2017

There were some truly gorgeous plants as you would expect.  I have talked about the roses and some of the plants in two earlier posts, here and here, but here are some photos and links for some of the plants I have managed to identify.  Happy hunting.

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On a very wet day, a pale orange lily soaring through the Allium heads and white valerian in the White Garden, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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Berkheya purpurea, beautifully fringed, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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Cichorium intybus ‘Roseum’ in the Herb Garden, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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And the blue chicory, Cichorium intybus in the Herb Garden, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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And this is fabulous and on the list for next year, the redoubtable Pittosporum tenuifolium Purpureum, Sissinghust, June 2017

Baby, it’s cold outside…

November 2017

The last of the leaves on the Acer, Tostat, November 2017

The end of November still brought us beautiful, crisp, sunny days and some cold nights with frost when the silver birch looks at it’s most regal.  But it was still warm enough to garden and to keep working on the changes for next year.  It is true that there is a lovely clarity about the slightly-felled winter garden which often really helps when thinking about changes…which I always am.  It’s not about restlessness, more about continually working away as things themselves evolve, and create new possibilities.  There are always too those corners which, for some deep psychological reason, I occasionally torture myself with by leaving them to fall into decrepitude.  I am then forced to the altar of decision by the mess that I have allowed to develop.  Strange business, the mind.

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Frost on the silver birch and borrowed trees, Tostat, November 2017

But, after a few days enjoying a wintery London, I came back to a freezing mist and was slightly amazed that the car started first time in the airport carpark.  Back home, dawn the following morning, was a delight.  Light creeping into leaf shapes and cracks, dusting the top of iced plants and so, despite the fact that my usual dressing gown was supplemented by my winter parka, I rushed back into the house to get the camera and do my best with it.  Piet Oudolf is quite right, the best plants die well as well as grow well.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ just touched by the dawn light, Tostat, December 2017

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Seedheads of Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, December 2017

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Telekia speciosa, Tostat, December 2017

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Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ punctuated by the fantastic winter crowns of Phlomis russeliana, Tostat, December 2017

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Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’, with the hips of Rosa ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ behind, Tostat, December 2017


Alicante in the wild…

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Wild garden on the Cabo de las Huertas, Alicante, October 2017

When the sun is so bright and the sky is so blue, the brilliance of the light is both exhilarating and exhausting.  Walking towards the Playa de San Juan from Albufereta on a hot, sunny October afternoon, we felt as if we were planets away from South West France.  The walk is perfect, leaving the beach at Albufereta behind us, passing the waves of highrise apartment buildings, some built in a surprisingly Stalinist style, the headland itself brings rock scrambling and sandy paths plummeting downwards into dunes, some unexpected nudist bathing, and then, as you round the headland, some mysterious gardening appears.

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Definitely gardened, Cabo de las Huertas, Alicante, October 2017

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Blown sideways by the wind, more gardening, Cabo de las Huertas, Alicante, October 2017

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Crevice gardening, Cabo de las Huertas, Alicante, October 2017

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A tiny crevice planting, Cabo de las Huertas, Alicante, October 2017

More than a coincidence, there must be a lone or maybe more than one, gardener who is helping these small plantings along.  Tucked into crevices, mixtures of succulents, sedums, and grasses, all surviving and looking in good shape- presumably just out of the reach of the tidal waves.  I am not botanically expert enough to nail the identities of the plants concerned, but I loved the expression of joy that these little tended garden areas seemed to exude.  A kind of ‘You watch me, I can do it’ feeling.  Brilliant.

In other public spaces, or sometimes looming over high walls round houses or apartments, there were lovely moments of planted generosity and brilliance.  Clouds of fluffy white Pennisetum (I think) drifted up and down the rocky outcrop of the mediaeval Castle in Alicante city, sparkling in the low light of the sun setting.  Totally wild and self-seeded, I am sure.

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Unknown Pennisetum, growing on the rocky Castle outcrop in central Alicante, October 2017

Bougainvillea was blooming like crazy everywhere, but not often in orange. This rusty, strong colour really brought out the real flowers, the little white centres.

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Hot and gorgeous, unusual orange Bougainvillea tumbling over a wall, Alicante, October 2017

An amazing tree, new to me, with a swollen bulbous trunk, which was adorned with the last of what looked like floppy orchids from afar, nearly cost me an ankle, as I wobbled about on piles of logs to try and get that little bit closer to the flowers and also the orbed, green fruits.  And once seen,  I then realised that Ceiba speciosa is a go-to-tree in Alicante public parkland.  Ubiquitous, but quite gorgeous.

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Stunning colours, Ceiba speciosa, growing wild in Vila Joiosa, Alicante, October 2017

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Leptospermum scoparium, Lucentum, Alicante, October 2017

In the Roman ruins of Lucentum, the Roman city at the back of Albufereta, Leptospermum scoparium was blooming with the occasional rain that comes in October.  Other walls were adorned with the china pink blooms of Pandorea jasminoides.

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Pandorea jasminoides, tumbling over a wall again, Alicante, October 2017

I adore Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, which municipal planters in Tarbes use all the time in the summer for their flowering baskets et al.  With us, of course, the winter is the death of it.  In Alicante, it really is almost in the weed category as it pops up everywhere on bare ground, obviously unassisted.  But the colours are so warm and full of life, that it is a weed I would happily invite to pop up in my garden.

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Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, Playa San Juan, Alicante, October 2017

On Jim’s back balcony, Passiflora x violacea atropurpurea was opening flowers every day, with that firework burst of silver and purple filaments surrounding the central stamens.

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Passiflora x violacea atropurpurea, on our Alicante balcony, October 2017


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Glistening raindrops on Muhlenbergia capillaris with Andropogon gerardii ‘Rain Dance’ in the background, Tostat, November 201

Sizeable amounts of fine and persistent rain have fallen finally.  And now the River Adour looks like a river, not just a large puddle.  Not normally a gratifying experience, rain, but I have been quite enthralled by it, as has the garden.  Although it is becoming very chilly at nights, plants are still growing, and many have made a remarkable come-back from the arid conditions of the summer and autumn.  I have been wandering about, as well as doing more practical jobs, mainly noticing how much has in fact recovered.  One or two plants have gone beyond recovery and have actually mistaken all of this for Spring.  Both the Rosa banksiae, the yellow and the cream coloured one, have sporadically flowered.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, November 2017

The cooling temperatures, and a couple of frosts, more predicted for tonight, have brought out the colours in some plants- something which I had thought we might miss out on owing to the dryness.  Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ is rightly one of those Autumn starlets, and the cold and wet, have given the leaves an almost glossy finish.

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Rain-soaked colouring on Euonymus elatus ‘Compactus’, Tostat, November 2017

The unknown orange Abutilon which I love very much for the endless supply of soft orange chinese lantern-type flowers, is still going, but the Berberis, with the very long name, has abandoned itself to scarlet, scarlet drop-shaped berries and the leaves.

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Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’, Tostat, November 2017

Having looked very sorry for itself most of the last few months, my small and experimental Stumpery is enjoying the cool and the wet.  The Persicaria is turning buttery, but the two ferns at the front, Dryopteris atrata, are growing back, and the blue-green fronds of the new Mahonia, well, new this year to me, Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ have handled the year well and are looking fresh.  This is a slow spot for growth, shady but often dry, and tough, tough stony, poor soil, but like everywhere else, I am just trying to see what will work, and grow, even in less than ideal conditions.

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The Stumpery, Tostat, November 2017

Today, one of the Salvia confertiflora flowers finally began to open, with small, cream-lipped orange-red flowers pushing through the red velvet bracts.  Now there’s something you don’t often see- even if it is inside in our cold, but not freezing hall.

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Salvia confertiflora, Tostat, November 2017

Jardin Albarda…a work of generosity and welcome

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Arbour, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

In the 1990s Enrique Montoliu began the construction of what was to be the realisation of his dreams of French and Italian classical gardens on a beautiful hillside, near Pedreguer village in the Alicante region of Spain.  According to the charming and helpful Fundem volunteer who brought us our coffee and cake, his dream turned into a nightmare.  The planting he had chosen died outright and he admitted defeat.

Calling on botanists and horticultural experts of the region, he began again with a palette of plants that would not just survive but thrive on his hot, dry hillside.  And, over the last 20 years, his dream has been realised, a garden, the Jardin Albarda, with all of the classical bones that he would want, but planted with water-wise native and other plants that will take the heat and the sun.

Now, having established Fundem as a non profit-making trust dedicated to the preservation of the flora and fauna of the Mediterranean region, Fundem runs the garden whilst Enrique still lives in the beautiful villa at the heart of the garden.  Visitors are welcome every day of the year, and are charmingly personally greeted by young volunteers who explain a little of the history and bring the most delicious carrot cake and coffee for a small fee.

Close to the house, the straight axes, wide tiled pathways and formal lines, with arbours and trellises at the crossing-points, all connect to the original Franco-Italian vision that Enrique worked on.  He has used and favoured the enormous clipped box and privet pillars, hedges, columns to create the structure, supported by fountains, urns, vast trellis structures and pots of all sizes filled with flowering geraniums and begonias.  Every detail is thought of, the ease of walking the wide paths, the need for shade, for colour where you can, perfume, seats and chairs, walls to sit on- it is the garden of a generous, thoughtful person.

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Formal garden, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Allee, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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The stillness of the long pool, close to the house in the formal garden, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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The Renaissance Fountain, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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House steps, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017


Enrique’s home, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, photo credit:

And then you follow one of many winding small paths into what seems to be ‘the bush’.  and wrapped around the classical garden is another one, filled with native plants, shrubs and trees, tiny wiggling paths leading you through from one planted environment to another.  Inspirational groundcover in a gravelled area in one moment, then the next you find yourself stumbling across a massive cascade, falling into a rocky ravine and pool, native plants filling every crevice.

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Groundcover planting, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Cascade, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Heron pond, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

Ponds and pools abound, all hidden and screened by native shrub and tree plantings, and leading finally to the Valencian garden with its Moorish influences.  Perfectly tended axis hedging enclosing citrus plantings, fountains and rose trellises, and at the border of the garden, an immense tiled walkway shaded by trellis overhead, splendid with massive colourful animals recreated in tiles.

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Trencadis walkway, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Trencadis snake, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

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Arabic fountain, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017

On leaving the Terrace, with the borrowed landscape of hills behind it, there is a lovely small detail.  The classical urns at the tops of the steps had been filled with lemons.  Bring a picnic if you visit, enjoy the coffee and cake, and take your time.  A wonderful place.

Check the directions carefully and have faith once you get off the main road towards the area where the house is located.  It is a very smart neighbourhood with very discreet, in other words ‘tiny’, signage.  Blink and you could miss the sign.  More about some of the plants in another post.


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Urn full of lemons, the Terrace, Jardin Albarda, Alicante, October 2017


Going, going, gone…

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Salvia confertiflora and ‘Anthony Parker’ mingling in the hall, Tostat, November 2017

That’s it.  First big cold spell of this autumn/winter last night with a frost of -2C but the recompense is beautiful sunshine this morning. And to be honest, given all the topsy-turviness of this year weather-wise, it feels better to be having the weather we should be having at this time of the year.

So, on Sunday, much lugging of pots, pruning of things, and then fleecing of the odd pot too big to bring in took place.  Yesterday I ran round and dug up the 3 plants that had been planted in- and managed to remember to bring only two of them into the house.  Result: one very brown and unhappy Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ outside this morning.

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Salvia Mexicana ‘Limelight’, Tostat, November 2017

It had only just flowered, and possibly the flowering had saved it’s bacon.  I am so disappointed with this plant!  I should have paid attention to Louis the Plant Geek.  he says, ‘Want the excitement? Accept the dullness. No pain, no gain.’  Louis is a brilliant blogger.  In my view, he has everything.  Good pictures, great, tested in his own garden information, a witty and astringent turn of phrase- and really detailed advice.  I bow down.

The thing is with ‘Limelight’, the dullness goes on for ever- well, given that it has been outside since April, precisely 7 months.  I am not yet sure that the gain outweighs the pain. Not to mention, that ‘Limelight’ is a thirsty so-and-so, bending leaves down every day in a sort-of-Mum-wait-for-me way.  And growth was stingy to say the least.  From the opposite, more rational point of view, these 2 plants were grown from seed last winter and it thrilled me that they germinated on a sunny windowsill.  And, in the first year, perhaps I am being unduly testy about the lack of performance till now.  So, Louis’ advice is:  sink it in a 3 litre pot into the ground, as opposed to planting it which I did, then at the first frost, cut it back and overwinter in a cool place.  The last part is easy: the big hall, codename IceStationZebra, in our house.

So, I have half-frozen one plant and saved the other plant.  I shall cut both down as Louis describes and hope that over-wintering will give them more of a headstart than they had last year- and meantime, allocate 2 x 3 litre pots for them for next year.  I shan’t be mean and ditch them.

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ had made it just in time to flower.  In fact, the cooler nights have brought out the golden tints at the ends of the petals, which really brings the flowerheads alive, I think.  They can stay outside for now, and I will move them to the outside barn so they don’t get drowned in too much winter wet.

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Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2017

This little Aussie plant, Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, was planted, new to me, about this time last year, and it turned out to be pretty robust in our sunny, dry border, happily shrugging off a spell of -10C last winter.  These are the first flowers on this little plant, and I am hoping that it will slowly bulk up to make a jolly 1m wide and high mound of light green foliage, pretty in itself and then these sweet spotted-throat white flowers in little groups.

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Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, Tostat, November 2017

And this shot of the back of the garden, looking West, in the last sunshine of yesterday afternoon, is a kind of  over-and-out shot, as the leaves on Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ which are so golden in this photograph, have almost all fallen off this morning.  Another season begins.

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November 2017, Tostat.

Getting to the final blast…

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Salvia leucantha ‘Purple Velvet’ in the dew, Tostat, October 2017

It is almost the end of all things flowering in a concentrated way.  There will still be the odd rose, the odd mixed-up plant that mistakes autumn for spring, but, apart from the Salvias, mostly everything is winding down and packing up for the winter.  Salvia leucantha ‘Purple Velvet’ is a last-minute late star.  It is a tall, rangy plant with elongated, slender leaves and is not a busy plant- it languidly droops rather than gets on with anything.  But the flowers are so-strokable, the word ‘velvet’ isn’t in the name for nothing, and with a heavy dew, it almost feels like a damp flannel. I had a shot at some cuttings earlier in the autumn, and nothing worked, but as it is only flowering now, I will have another go.

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Salvia elegans, Tostat, October 2017

I was given a happy cutting of Salvia elegans in May, and it has rocketed away, forming a bright green, determined plant of Im across and high.  Yes, the pineapple smell is adorable, but really it is the licking flames of the flowers that captivate me, and they even conquer the background of last week’s washing on the line behind it.  I know it is on the tender side, so, in a couple of weeks assuming no frost, I will let it dry out, give it a trim and put it into the open barn, where it will get sun, but protection from wind and rain.  All I need to do is to remember to water it very sparingly occasionally.

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Salvia miniata, Tostat, October 2017

This Salvia miniata, now in its third year, is another rangy soul, pairs of bright green glossy leaves arrange themselves neatly on the stems, and it has been flowering non-stop since June.  It has a fairly upright habit, and flowers in short bursts, but with something of the same velvet feel to each scarlet trumpet.  Another pot Salvia, as it also needs the open barn treatment and freedom from frost and rain.

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Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, October 2017

This Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’ is a giant. Even with the heat and dryness this year, it is a good 1.25m high and wide, and last year it put on another 30 cms at least all round.  It’s a very thirsty customer in the summer, with elegant leaves and a good bush shape.  Just as well, as you have a long wait for the flowers- they burst out while we were away in the middle of October as Tostat had yet another hot spell.  The buds are greyer than the eventual flowers, which are a lovely deep amethyst colour.  Cuttings have taken well and so, as usual, I have a host of small pots to keep watching over the winter.  This Salvia will get the open barn, and the cuttings will come in to a sunny windowsill.

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Salvia involuctra ‘Mulberry Jam’, Tostat, October 2017

An early October flowerer, ‘Mulberry Jam’ is a gorgeous pink with strong stemmed flowers- which can, however, be brittle and broken by passing dogs and cats.  But I adore the colour, nothing wimpy about it, and a good, strong grower too, with dark green foliage.  This one is not hardy either, so they are going to be queuing up in the barn.

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Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, Tostat, October 2017

The award for ‘surprisingly tough’ goes to Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ which has been flowering all month beautifully, and is new to what was a shadier part of the garden. I say ‘was’ as last week Andy attacked the wisteria, which had become indomitable, so maybe the Eupatorium will not be feeling so chirpy next autumn.  Ah well.