Work in progress….

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Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, March 2019

Sometimes, at any time of the year, you just turn around in the garden and, wham bam, the light spotlights something and you gasp.  And the other day, I just happened to have the camera around my neck, and ‘Tiny Wine’ obliged with photogenic new foliage breaking out in a flash of early morning sunshine.  This is such a good shrub.  Not too massive, though it is now about 1.5m x 1.5m, and such a good performer.  From this glorious happy coloured foliage, the leaves darken to a plum red, small pink flowers appear later in spring, and then in the autumn the first colder nights really flame the foliage.  I love it.  I can only grow it in a damper part of the garden as it really doesn’t do dry, but I wouldn’t be without it.

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Early light, Tostat, March 2019

I yank out Euphorbia chariacas subsp. wulfennii by the handful all year round in the garden as they are such prolific seeders, but in the spring, with the citrus lemon flowers shining, they are magnificent- so the next cull can wait till they have finished flowering.  They catch the light brilliantly- see top left in the photograph.

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Kerria japonica ‘Albiflora’, Tostat, March 2019

This Kerria japonica ‘Albiflora‘ was one of my bargain basement buys last year, and looked pretty weedy till last month.  Unlike it’s bright yellow cousin, which I also have, I have been smitten by the charm of this woodlander.  It likes semi-shade, moistish conditions, which, for me, means only one place, but it seems to have settled in well.  The soft cream-coloured flowers are charming and are matched with sharp, emerald green foliage.  If it is as tough as the yellow one, it will do just fine.

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Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, frosted, Tostat, March 2019

Here was another turn-around moment this morning, catching Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ with a stunning, frosted outline.  Normally, I would have cleared the area around this little Ranunculus so that we can see it better, but this year, projects and tendons mean that it is still a bit covered with winter rubbish.  But the frosting makes the leaves sing.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, March 2019

The frost doesn’t spoil the game for this rose, Rosa banksiae lutea, which is about to flower any minute.  Unfortunately, here in Tostat village, an over-helpful gardener has pruned our lovely Banksiae in the lavoir, including removing most of the buds.  You have to prune after flowering, and allow the rose to build up old wood for next year.  Darn it.  Actually, to be honest, I don’t even really prune it, I just lop off any over-excited arching branches that get in my hair, literally.  It doesn’t need more than that.

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Gunnera manicata, Tostat, March 2019

This plant, Gunnera manicata, always makes me think of zombie hands coming through the earth in any number of trashy horror films.  It really claws its way out of the winter debris around it- no need for a helping hand from me.  Growth rate is fast, pretty soon it will be towering above me, and drinking like a fish from the canal it is planted near.  It wouldn’t stand a chance otherwise.

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A little bit of daffodil ballet, Tostat, March 2019

I am sorry that I can’t remember the variety, but no matter, I thought of a daffodil pas-de-deux, it made me smile.  This one below is definitely Narcissus ‘Thalia’, which I really love for the drama of the dark greeny blue leaves and the pure white flower.  It is almost the last to flower with us.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Tostat, March 2019

This is the first flowerhead on my clumps of Eryngium eburneum, which is such a good plant for me.  Forming big clumps of draping scissored leaves, and sending up flowerspikes to well over my height at 5 feet, it handles everything except winter wet, always looking a bit desperate by the end of winter.  But, within a few weeks, it picks itself up and gets going again.  A great sign for the year to come.

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Eryngium eburneum flowerhead, Tostat, March 2019


Tendons and storms…

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Stormy weather generates moodiness, Magnolia stellata, Tostat, March 2019

I am over-dramatising just a tad.  Storm Gareth which has bashed Britain this week has only meant stormy interludes of rain and wind here- the rain part being very very welcome.  Inbetween, although we are back to winter temperatures, there have been passing sunny periods, with intense blue sky.  Not wet enough yet to start spreading the mulch I have been saving, but nearly- I may just spread it anyway at the weekend.

The poor old garden doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going as we plunge back to frosty nights and cold winds- but for most plants, they are now committed to beginning spring growth whatever happens.  I have been nursing a shoulder injury since before Christmas, hoping that time will do the trick.  Turns out to be a tendon injury in two arm muscles- good job Alison- so I am grounded from gardening whilst the anti-inflammatories have a chance to work on those pesky tendons.  So, gently swinging the camera in the other hand, I am just looking at the moment.

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Anemone fulgens x Multipetala, Tostat, February 2019
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Anemone fulgens x Multipetala, Tostat, March 2019

Boldly appearing in February, so far only 3 flowerheads on this beautiful wild anemone, Anemone fulgens x Multipetala have opened, and been a little rain-dashed for their trouble.  But, this great plant is such a joy, bringing postbox red to spring, and gently spreading beyond the three expensive bulbs that I planted 3 years ago.

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Bergenia ‘Eden’s Dark Margin’, Tostat, March 2019

I have tried so hard to source the fantastic red bergenia, Bergenia ‘Irish Crimson’, that I saw in Dan Pearson’s gardens near Kings Cross two years ago.  No luck in France, and I am not such a prolific plant smuggler as I used to be.  But this could get pretty close. I am trying out Bergenia ‘Eden’s Dark Margin’  and also Bergenia ‘Wintermärchen’ in a couple of places on the moister side in the garden.  So far, ‘Wintermärchen’ is more upright, with narrower, more pointed leaves and has already lost the redder tinge to the leaves that it had in January.  Whereas, the dumpier ‘Eden’s Dark Margin’ is still glowing crimson.

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The new path to the back, Tostat, March 2019

Also starring Sophora ‘Sun King’ in full bloom on the left, the unveiled new path curves sinuously round the side of the hot, dry border taking you on a full circuit of the house if you wish.  I love it.  I wasn’t sure before we did it, but keeping the angle of the curve and making it frame the dry border was a brilliant move- thank you Jim.  Molly the dog has other ideas and uses her own track as you can see- more direct and less messing!  By the way, if you are willing to wait, Sophora ‘Sun King’ bought in a 9cm pot and planted in a sunny, free draining spot, will only take 4-5 years to be a decent-sized shrub, and after that, it can gallop.

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Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, Tostat, March 2019

The above is an experiment, which I think will work.  I have planted spring flowering white Muscari, Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, in some rubbish soil at the edge of the Stumpery.  We will see.  I am hopeful.

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Baroque daffodils, Tostat, March 2019

I am really hopeless at remembering bulb names.  Mainly I suspect because I have a tendency to think of them as an after-thought to the main show. Daft.  Because right now they are the main show.  So I can’t tell you what this  very baroque variety is.  But here is a mutant variation.

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Mutant double baroque daffodil, Tostat, March 2019

Commitment to Spring has even started with my baby Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, so hurry up tendons.

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Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, Tostat, March 2019




Gold, green and blue…

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Sophora Sun King, Tostat, February 2019

Radio silence has lasted for more than 10 days- as we have had the most scarey, but also without a doubt enjoyable, beautiful clear, sunny days with cool nights- days that have got up to 24C by lunchtime.  And so, I have been gardening, with Andy and Jim as heavy-duty diggers and clearers, making a new border where the labyrinth was, and enlarging two established borders, as well as making a new path which completes the circuit of the house without getting muddy feet.  It has been glorious.  What luck, a friend arrives keen to help out with projects and the weather plays the part of good friend for a change.

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The extravagant beauty and construction of one of my rescued wild daffodils, Tostat, February 2019

But the self-same weather is also responsible for the reluctant decision on my part to abandon my hand-grown labyrinth in the back garden.  I trained as a meditative labyrinth facilitator as the last phase of my working and professional life before packing it all in to be retired- and I built my own 5 circuit labyrinth in the back garden, creating the definition of the path with home-grown Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’– nearly 400 of them.  So this was about 6 years ago.  Since then, the Carex has really toiled- it really is a case of summers that have lost their traditional pattern dramatically.

Fifteen years ago summers reliably worked like this- 5-6 days of warm, even hot sun- followed by 2 days of stormy rains.  In essence, we have now had 4 or maybe 5 summers of super-hot weather with no storms and very little rain.  The entire family began lobbying for the dismantling of the labyrinth two years ago- and I dug in, adding supplementary water occasionally and replacing plants.  But last year was the end of all that.  I realised that this was like a labour of Hercules- who I do not resemble in any way!

So, I am making a memory of my labyrinth into a tear-shaped border about 3m wide and 5m long, with echoes of the labyrinth path emerging from the sharp end of the tear in 3 wispy arcs of the tougher, remaining Carex.  I am trying out what I hope will be a shrub/plant mix that will take all that our summers can throw at it, without supplementary water after the first year in.  There are some Australians in the mix.  First off, Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’.  This is the brightest emerald-green you can imagine, an upright 50cm grass look-alike forming bouncy tufts.  It is frost-hardy to -10C, happy in drought and evergreen.

Also from Australia is Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’– which is a strappy 40cm plant with blue-green leaves and blue/yellow flowers in the summer, and another Dianella, Dianella tasmanica ‘Wyeena’.

Looking a bit like a galloping Phormium, I am hoping ‘Wyeena’ will make a nice, strappy presence around a small, deciduous tree that I have always wanted to grow,  Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’.  It has the most stunning coral-pink foliage in spring, settles to a beautiful gold colour for the summer and then flames up for the autumn- the photographs below are from a specimen that we planted outside the church in Tostat two summers ago.

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Early foliage, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, Tostat, early April 2018
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Going for gold, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, Tostat, May 2018

And then back in the new tear-shaped border, I am trying out Philadelphus ‘Starbright’, a new Canadian introduction with purple early foliage and good heat and drought tolerance.  And new to me is Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’ which is a dwarf form of Cornus, which I am hoping will give us a touch of gold in winter stems.

Lastly, because I can’t resist a good perennial, I am trying out two new plants, Parthenium integrifolium ‘Welldone’ and Thermopsis chinensis.  Parthenium promises to be a white umbel flowered clump to about 1.2m, which should handle heat and drought well being a native of of the US Midwest.  Thermopsis chinensis is a medium height spring pea-bush with yellow lupin style flowers, and again, should be on the tough side.  As these plants will be in battle formation to ward off the tufty old grass that made the labyrinth paths, I am thinking of laying cardboard down as a humidity protector and weed deterrent.  Just for the first year, you understand.  It won’t prevent everything from breaching the ramparts but it will give the new plantings a fighting chance.  I would use a mulch but I have other areas in greater need with more dense plantings to deal with.  This is, at least, a new area and so cardboard it will be.

Meantime, wild blue violets are everywhere that I allow them to be, and one solitary wild white violet has re-appeared as a solo plant this year.

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Wild blue violets, Tostat, February 2019
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Wild white violet, Tostat, February 2019

Photographs of the labyrinth memorial will follow even featuring cardboard.

Grevillea galore…

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Grevillea hookeriana, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Ten years ago, when we cleared out what was accurately called ‘The Snake Pit’- to make the New Garden, completing the wrapping of the garden round the house, I planted a small Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’.  As we did the annual bramble attack 10 days ago on a lone sunny day, I realised once again that it really is a gem of a plant.  Evergreen, with fine needle-like leaves, it makes a solid, but not too solid, presence now measuring nearly 3m by 3m.  It starts to flower round now, with tiny red spidery flowers that open out from claw-shaped buds, and it flowers in a big flush now until about May or June, then sporadically after that.  It requires nothing from us.  And we are so used to it, that it can easily be forgotten- but that’s our fault, not it’s.

In Australia, the Grevillea is a seriously important group of plants, both wild and cultivated.  Ranging from the ‘toothbrush’ group which includes Grevillea hookeriana pictured above, to tiny spidery flowers and fat waxy leaves, to slim, fern-like foliage and firework-shaped flowers- the Grevillea is a workhorse plant, coping with hot, dry conditions as well as occasional flooding- and there may be much more interest in the Grevillea from Europe as climate change continues to bite. While there, I became more than a bit obsessed by finding them as we travelled.

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Grevillea monticola, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018
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Bust of Sir Joseph Banks, entrance to the Australian National Botanic Garden, Canberra, October 2018

Joseph Banks, travelling with Captain Cook, on his first voyage of discovery in 1768-71, was the first to collect seed and specimens of Australian native plants, which were all collated back at Kew Gardens in London.  The plant pictured at the top of the post, Grevillea hookeriana, pays tribute in name to Richard Greville, co-founder of the Royal Horticultural Society, and William Hooker, director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew at the beginning of the 19th century.  Australian plants, including Grevillea, had a period of intense fashionable interest, which lasted until the growth of the temperate glasshouse and the switch of fashion to tropical plants from other parts of the world.  In some ways, European interest in Grevilleas has remained at the specialist rather than popular interest ever since.

Grevillea monticola is a smaller plant, about 1.5m all round- and with interesting holly- like prickly leaves and a delicate, creamy yellow inflorescence.  Grevillea steiglitziana similarly has holly-like prickly leaves, and this fabulous firework-style flower, so intricate and such a piece of natural engineering.  This is a rare shrub, native to the Brisbane ranges.  It grows in rocky gullies and dry forest and was only formally identified in 1956.

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Grevillea steiglitziana, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, October 2018

Grevillea Poorinda Royal Mantle could be a real doer for us in Europe.  A sprawling, low-lying groundcover plant, with finely shaped leaves and the ‘toothbrush’ flower, it is frost-tolerant, drought-tolerant, and will spread quickly to 6m.  According to Shoot, it has a cautious H4 frost rating, which would do for most gardens in Europe except at altitude.

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Grevillea Poorinda Royal Mantle, Australian National Botanical Gardens, Canberra, October 2018
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Grevillea capitellata, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Grevillea capitellata is another low-lying shrub, but grows in poorly drained soil and swamp margins south of Sydney.  It is considered a good plant for revegetation, and, again, in Australian terms is hardy- but probably untested as yet in a European context.

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Anonymous Grevillea, possibly Grevillea longistyla, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Grevillea longistyla is a native plant that is a hot contender for horticultural use, largely because of it’s neat, open habit, the almost fern-meets-seaweed foliage, and the flowers.  Growing to about 2m high and wide, it’s a garden-sized plant.

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Probably Grevillea speciosa,  Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Grevillea speciosa was first cultivated in the UK in 1809- many thanks to the Australian Native Plants Society for their very useful paper on Grevilleas.  Trouble-free for the gardener, but like mine, able to fill a difficult hole with ease.  Most Grevilleas are also excellent food sources for birds and insects, which make them really worth considering from the ecological perspective.

Look out for them.  The juniperina and rosmarinifolia varieties are thought to be the toughest in terms of frost hardiness in the UK, but maybe more varieties will be made available from Australia as we learn to appreciate a different aesthetic with global warming.

What’s doing…

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The pigshed, Tostat, February 2019

I had to take this photograph.  This was, 2 days ago, the first official day in my book that felt like just the merest stirrings of Spring.  It was all down to the light- not pale and translucent as in winter, but with a bit of a glow about it.  We spent some time last year restoring the pig shed, fixing the roof, varnishing the wood trellis area where the chickens would have been, and painting the pig doors.  We actually really only store wood and whatnot, quite a bit of whatnot, in it- but it is part of the heritage of the house and there aren’t many of these left in the village.

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Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’ in bud, Tostat, February 2019

I love this shrub.  It only has a short period of interest between February and April when the leaves come out, but it nicely sandwiches the brown period of winter and the blooming of Magnolia stellata, which is see-through at this time of year, just in front of this Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’.  The cheery, single flowers are a bright white.  The rest of the year it blends into the woodwork- but the wasabi green of the football-shaped buds makes me smile.

A bit further along in the wild, woodland bit of the garden that has the canal at the back, are the literally ‘wild’ daffodils that I rescued from a nearby field.  I am not prone to stealing plants from the wild at all.  Honestly.  But having seen these bloom early every year, I noticed that the farmer was strimming and clearing the edge of the field, and approaching these clumps. I wasn’t going to let them be demolished, so Andy and I raided them and brought into the calm of our only woodland area.  They have taken about 3 years to calm down from the shock of it all, but are now slowly spreading underneath the bigger shrubs.  They are short-arses, only 15-20 cms tall, and from these fat buds, there appear double/treble/frilled flowers which are a slightly dotty delight- though not long-lasting. I love them.

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Tostat wild daffodils, February 2019
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Helleborus foetidus caught in early sunshine, Tostat, Febuary 2019

The sun hit these Helleborus foetidus and all was golden- fabulous.  They have had a rough few weeks with the rain and the frost, but they will only get taller and better, lasting for two months usually.  The charming red tinging of the bells will get stronger.  Beth Chatto loved these plants and introduced me to them- not literally, you understand.

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Close-up of Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, Tostat, February 2019

Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ is another statuesque shrub that has many moments of glory between December and late March with sprays of bright yellow scented flowers- and after that, it is just, well, statuesque.  Not bad though at all.  And I forgot to mention the blue berries after the flowers…

I grew Penstemon pinifolius from seed the year before last.  These seeds took ‘tiny’ to a new dimension and I was sure that most of them had blown away.  These make small, thready plants and haven’t flowered yet- this year will be the year.  They are so small that I put them in a shallow pot with a gritty compost, and sat them on top of the lovely pot that Andy bought me last year.  They should sparkle with tiny, bright red flowers in the summer.

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Penstemon pinifolius, Tostat, Feburary 2019

Now this shrub could qualify as dull.  But.  Those dark, twining stems, coupled with the pearly-green Japanese look of the tiny leaves- they got to me.  It is making a nice, upright, delicate presence in the front garden- a statement plant that doesn’t get in your face.  It is Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Green Elf’

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Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Green Elf’, Tostat, February 2019

The villains for later this year are getting ready.  We have a big problem with processionary caterpillars.  Very nasty things- bad all round.  if you have pets or small children, they are dangerously fascinating.  We have got rid of them, touch wood, in our garden, but only by chopping half our pine tree away.  These are too close for comfort, just behind the pigshed in our neighbour’s garden.

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Processionary caterpillar nests next door, Tostat, February 2019

And the banana looks as if it has had it.  But it hasn’t.  In a month or so, we can chop away all the brown stuff, and there is a lot of it, and it will spring back looking fabulous by May.  This is Andy’s favourite plant, I think.

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Dead banana growth waiting to be revived, Tostat, February 2019

I love the moss.  Only on show for the winter months, it fries away in the summer and then comes back, looking velvety and lustrous in the winter.  One of the good things about the winter.

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Sumptuous moss on our old stone walls, Tostat, February 2019

Westering home…

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Lonicera fragrantissima, Tostat, end January 2019

I have struggled to have a ‘song in my heart’ this week, and I will continue to struggle for another whole week.  The westerlies have arrived, big, brassy, dark-skied storms fresh from the Bay of Biscay, which bring swirling dollops of rain, hail, snow if you are higher up than us, and filthy, grey skies from dawn till dusk.  The garden is sodden.  This is good for the general water table for sure.  We have had hardly any rain from the end of April last year till now, and the river Adour has been struggling to get past its own rocks.   But it is hard on the psyche.  We lived in Scotland before moving here, and we have obviously gone soft as a week of rain, or more, just brings the grumbles on.

However, plants that venture out this early are toughies, and carry on regardless.  Though as the hellebores start to flower, I do notice a real difference between my home-grown Helleborus orientalis– based plants, and those more fancy creatures that I have paid money for.  The former have broader, more jungly-looking hands of leaves and the flowers are generally tall and held securely above the foliage with fat stems.  The leaves are fantastic and last all year with us even in the hottest spot.  They really work hard for their living.  They produce masses of baby plants within a few weeks, it seems, of flowering being over, and many have to be yanked out or they would be the only plant left in the  garden.  The flowers can become a muddy pink with cross-polinating, but actually I don’t mind- though some do.  These plants are only in bud now, whereas the more exotic ones are in flower already.

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Un-named variety, double dark crimson red Hellebore, Tostat, January 2019

The more exotic-flowered hellebores that I have bought are rather different.  Their growth rate is much slower.  They are much shorter,  with smaller, brighter green hands of leaves, and the flowers remain tightly attached to the leaves almost, so they have to be lifted by hand to see the flowers.  I love doing this, but with the added rain factor, their natural droopiness has become very pronounced.  I am guessing that selection for flower power doesn’t necessarily mean that the strong, good leaves of the old ‘orientalis’ make the cut.  No matter.

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This un-named single variety hangs the flowers like plums, Tostat, January 2019
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The last of my deep crimson Hellebores, a double with frilled petals, Tostat, January 2019

I love the contrast with the creamy white varieties, especially those that are freckled.  This is only a small patch of plants under the protection of the big pine tree, and although they are not fast growers- they are slowly colonising a 2m patch.  And they really are to be looked forward to- very cheering.

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Double plus flower, with extra heavy petals on the outside and pink freckles, Tostat, January 2019
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Different again, a single flower but with a frilly, double centre tinged with yellow, and pink freckles, Tostat, January 2019

Otherwise, in the garden, flowering is in short supply.   Lonicera fragrantissima is worth its leggy, twiggy, tumbling growth for the strength of perfume from the tiny flowers that absolutely cover the branches. Winter brings out the best in this plant- and today, the damp and wind obscured the fragrance, but on a still day, you can smell it from 5 m away.

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Tiny flowers of Lonicera fragrantissima, Tostat, end January 2019

A more sightly, but also tangled and twisted, scented shrub which is only just opening up right now is Daphne odora Aureomarginata.  This year must be its 12th, I think, and buds are sprouting everywhere on it- no scent yet, but it will be gorgeous for the next 2-3 months.  This may be a slow grower but it is really worth it.  We have it close to the back door, and on a sunny March morning, it is sublime.

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Cerise-pink buds on Daphne odora Aureomarginata, Tostat, January 2019

It’s smaller cousin is also worth growing, though again, not a fast grower.  Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ flowers all year round for me- with a few pauses in the winter, but it pretty much keeps going.  Small bunches of flowers, white or pink,  smell fabulous and it likes sun, and once it has roots down, it is pretty drought-tolerant.  I think it will make a neat 1m mound, whereas the bigger cousin is more of a jumbled bush at 1.5m and not at all neat.  The buds are pink in this photograph but the flowers do come out white in the end.

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Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Tostat, January 2019

Nipped out for 20 minutes to take these photographs and now back inside, and guess what, it’s belting down with rain.






The smallest jewels…

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The Golden Pavillion, Kinkakuji Temple Gardens, Kyoto, Japan, October 2018

I remember when I visited Venice for the first time 5 years ago, I cried at the beauty of it, but also because it was, in fact, so small in scale.  Canaletto lied to us with his enormous perspectives, and in some way, the smallness of scale amplified the melancholy beauty of it- and I cried.

Visiting Kinkakuji, The Golden Pavillion, in Kyoto was a startlingly similar experience.  To begin with, it is mobbed by tourists.  You have to breathe deep and walk slow, counting on the fact that 90% of the people will move quickly to the next thing, and tuck yourself away on the periphery of all the busyness.  If you can do this, you will have a wonderful visit to an extraordinary place.

Back in Venice, my absolute favourite church is Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Cannaregio.  This wide-open landscape from the 18th century is doing a Canaletto really- the church is tiny, viewed from the other end with the dome behind, it really does look like a small, sturdy jewel box.  Inside, it is beyond gorgeous, and as you can see from the detail of the barrel roof, portraits of saints are emeshed in intricate gilded patterning.

View of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Venice by Bernardo Bellotto, 1740 photo credit:
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Barrel ceiling of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Venice, November 2014

So, in Japan, Kinkakuji presents the same elements, tiny in scale and stature, almost like an adult dollshouse, the repeating scalloped roofs on each section, balconies and of course, the gilding- brought me back to Santa Maria dei Miracoli- and I felt the same love.

The original pavillion was constructed in 1398- the one we see now was rebuilt in 1955, after a wayward monk burnt it to the ground in 1950.  The lower level is in a modest style, one immense room with a veranda and shutters- the second level, in the Samurai style, used as a Buddha hall is gilded.  The third level has rounded windows and is built in the Zen style, and is also lavishly gilded.  The Phoenix sits on the roof, appropriately symbolising birth from fire.  All that gilt.  In some ways, bling doesn’t cover it, but the gold shimmers in any light, and the reflections in the water are mesmerising.  Thanks to for the technical details here.

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The top two floors are gilded in gold leaf, Kinkakuji Temple Gardens, Kyoto, Japan, October 2018
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The Phoenix, Kinkakuji, Kyoto, Japan, October 2018

Water and reflections are a major element in the landscaped gardens around the Pavillion.  Greatly influenced probably by the moss garden, a very important theme in 14th century Japanese gardens, the landscape is arranged to highlight the beauty of the Pavillion- the Lower Pond, in which the Pavillion sits, has several differently shaped small islands, planted with groupings of conifers, moss and stones.  Emphasising natural beauties, the landscape creates a dramatic setting for the meditative study of the natural world, and the man-made artistry of the Pavillion itself.

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The Lower Pond, Kinkakuji, Kyoto, Japan, October 2018

Below, in the Upper Pond, near the teahouse, the choreography extends to clumps of iris and reeds, planted to frame the island edged with stones and twisted larch trunks.  Groupings of partially submerged rocks connect the island visually with the banks of the pond.

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Island on the Upper Pond , the teahouse through the trees, Kinkakuji, Kyoto, October 2018

An island shrine is matched with a low, spreading, lichen-covered tree and seen through the framing branches of the silver trunk of the maple on the bank of the pond.

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Island shrine, Kinkakuji, Kyoto, Japan, October 2018

With gently rolling landscaped hills creating a bowl for the Pavillion- from a distance, it sinks into the landscape with only the third level fully visible.  It really is to be seen- just steel yourself for the shock of the crowds and walk slow.

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Distant view of the Golden Pavillion, Kinkakuji, Kyoto, October 2018