Seeds and all that….

Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ Tostat, December 2019

Seed catalogues make great reading in January. Every gardening journalist worth their salt will be saying this to us readers as we face the fact that we can’t do very much at this time of year. I admit that my method of choosing seed doesn’t start with the seed catalogues, I come at it from the other end.

I like to start with what is new to me, interests me and might work in my testing garden of soaking wet and bone dry…. and then I look and see if I can get seed. So, it is with purple leaved tough plants that can give my soil a bit of a rest and maybe do battle with some of the weeds that I decide have no value to me. With seed you are talking about allowing growth for a good 9 months to a year before you have a plant that will make it- so some thought is required. Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ was one of last year’s picks. Not impressed for the first few months, I came home at the end of October to find very bonny- looking plants that had filled out their pots and were looking great. They still look good, even the ones I risked planting out last week before the frost came back.

Plantago major rubrifolia
Photo credit: www.jardindelasalamandre.blogspot.com

Alys Fowler woke me up to Purple Plantain. I can grow Plantain- oh yes. You might say that the grass in our back garden is easily 60% plantain in plenty of places. So why not grow the purple stuff? You can see the connecting thought between the Salvia and the Plantain. So, I bought seed from Plant World Seeds and I have about a dozen, rather tired looking baby seedlings in pots under cover outside. So, I am hoping that they will become gorgeous as the salvias did after a few months. Fingers crossed.

And now I have another one to try. Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’ which is not only purple, tick, but is also frilly-leaved. I can’t wait. Seed is on its way from Special Plants.

Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

Every year, during the winter, I grow one or two things from seed in the house. Usually, I manage about a 40% success rate. But honestly, growing seeds indoors even with managed humidity in December is a long shot and is more to do with my itchy fingers than it is to do with horticultural success. It has been a damp squib this year. I had a go at Penstemon whippleanus and Nipponanthecum nipponicum. Both have been, well, disastrous. Never mind, I will have another go at the Nipponanthecum- it’s a small, determined chrysanthemum which apparently likes sun and dry- so it’s got to be worth it.

Helleborus ‘Ushba’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

I also chose Helleborus ‘Ushba’ as seed from Special Plants. I don’t have a big number of hellebores, but I do love what I have, and ‘Ushba’ is a Helen Ballard variety, and one of her hallmarks as a breeder was managing to create varieties which hold their flowers in a more open and erect way than other varieties. I have not had a lot of success with cold germinating seeds, but I am going to try from the moment they arrive in the post. And my last seed possibility for this New Year selection is Kitaibelia vitifolia. A fast-growing Mallow with creamy-white flowers will do me nicely, thank you.

Kitaibelia vitifolia
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

Small pleasures and the dangers of big plans…

Double nearly black Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

January gardening is a time for small joyful discoveries, such as the first flowering Hellebore, and also for the making of dangerous big plans- usually involving purchases. The danger lies in the ‘itchy finger’ situation- feeling some sunny days, seeing some new growth and then getting carried away with Big Ideas- that are not very well thought through, but carry the reward of feeling as though something is happening! Wanting to rush into Spring long before nature is ready for it is a real risk for me, and what happens is that nature pays you back with a prolonged frost that puts you right back where you started.

So let’s stick with the joyful small discoveries. I bought these Hellebores about 5 years ago as tiny plants from the very good ebay grower, Stephen Roff. They are really good plants, especially as they don’t have the easiest ride in Tostat. They have some shade and protection from the big pine tree, and do really well as later in the year, the palmate leaves follow the flowers just as the pine tree starts sucking up most of the available moisture.

Personally, I am not a fan of the ‘tidy up your Hellebore leaves’ brigade. Yes, you do get some dark mottling on the old leaves by the Spring, but honestly, in a matter of six weeks or so, the fresh new growth will come powering through and will hide the old leaves anyhow.

Ruffled and freckled cream Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

The flowers need help being seen for the first few weeks. Then, later into February, the longer days seem to fire them up and all of a sudden, the flowers are standing tall and opening up. The freckles are adorable.

Double green tinted white Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea was one of the first plants I bought when we moved in. Now, sixteen years later, it weaves through the shrubs lining the edge of the ruisseau or canal at the bottom of the garden. It’s moment is now. New golden-pink growth catches the sunlight and will be followed soon by chartreuse flowerheads- but for me, it’s the new growth that is so pretty.

Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea, Tostat, January 2020

Another plant that looks great just now, but has never quite hit it’s stride in the garden is Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’. I have moved it for this year to another spot, to give it a second chance. Golden- yellow leaves really shine out in low sunlight, and so I am hoping it won’t just fizzle as it has done for the past seven years or so. Mind you, it has taken me this long to do something about it.

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’, Tostat, January 2020

Another plant that I had almost given up on, has come back from the brink and is looking, well, not bad. Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ is, admittedly, being a bit pushed to the limit in the Stumpery, it likes semi-shade but would probably prefer a tad more moisture. It has languished with what seemed like the same three leaves for the past four years, and I got fed up two years ago and planted an insurance-policy Aucuba japonica Crotonifolia too close to it ( you can just see in the photo). So, now, I will need to choose between what stays and what goes- guess the Aucuba will lose out. But as I have developed rather a fondness for the old spotted laurel, especially if the spots are good and strong, it won’t be long before it’s in a new home.

Grevillea juniperina ‘Canberra Gem’, Tostat, January 2020

Serious battle with the usual spring invader, the bramble, has been waged to allow Grevillea juniperina ‘Canberra Gem’ to begin flowering without being strangled. This is such a great plant, it probably flowers for almost ten out of twelve months in a hot, dry spot, and is now a grande dame of 3m across and 2m high after eleven years. I wish I could find some of the glorious yellow flowering grevilleas I came across in Australia in 2018- they seem to be slow to be introduced here and in the UK, but with climate warming, they are a trusty friend in the garden.

Grevillea alpina x rosmarinifolius ‘Goldrush’, Julie’s garden in Canberra Australia, October 2018

The Australian fires have been, and will be horrific for weeks to come. It was really sad to read about the fires attacking the Eucalypts in the Snowy Mountains just around New Year. The last two photographs were taken be me in snowy conditions only 14 months ago. I am never going to moan about the weather here in Tostat again.

Eucalypts, Snowy Mountains near Jindabyne, Australia, October 2018
Eucalypts, Snowy Mountains near Jindabyne, Australia, October 2018

The spirit of New Year…

Early morning rainbow, Tostat, end November 2019

It’s a New Year. Curious, isn’t it, how the cycle of the seasons is so compelling to us- we follow the patterns of changing seasons- and this time of the year is one that absolutely leads to re-examination, re-evaluation, pondering and pottering. I am an inveterate potterer, with more plans in my head than I will ever actually want to achieve. The garden in winter prompts structural thoughts because there is spareness and space where the summer and autumn plants have died back, and then, clarity emerges as growth re-appears, showing you which and what has survived, prospered and is ready for another year.

This winter, so far, apart from biblical rain and wind in November, has been quite kind to us. A few frosts, but nothing major, and my plan of over-wintering slightly tender plants in pots in the open barn has worked fine. Some plants have really surprised me- like the Leonotis leonorus which flowered even to the very tallest stem in November, living through the wind and the rain in the open barn- so I haven’t cut it back yet, it is still there at 2.5m tall, green and contented.

Some new plants have taken the weather in their stride. Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ which looked a tad weedy when a baby plant, has toughened up outside retaining the glorious red-purple of the leaves and shaking off the frost. It looks like a really sturdy plant, more useful for the tough foliage and the colour than the small flowerspikes in the summer- but I am very impressed. An easy, reliable plant from seed sown in August and kept out of the heat.

Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’, Tostat, December 2019

I had a go at another Erodium from seed in the summer. Erodium pelargoniflorum, grown from seed from Special Plants, is not going to be giant, more of a tough baby at 40cms max tall, but again, showing itself to be well able to cope with winter conditions and still look very composed. I need to find somewhere to plant them to make a drift near the front, or they will be swamped by the big guys.

Erodium pelargoniflorum, Tostat, December 2019

I adore bronze fennel. In the Latin, Foeniculum vulgare purpureum, the plants sounds as though it will be reddish-purple, but bronze is a better description. The spring growth makes a fabulous cloud of frothy bronze foliage which is indescribably romantic with roses, and it usefully covers bare legs. Normally, it would self-seed all over the shop with me, but this very dry summer left me with only a few small plants, so now I have about 50 plants grown this summer from seed. Feast or famine.

Foeniculum vulgare Purpureum, Tostat, December 2019

Santolina etrusca does get more than a bit floppy by the end of summer, but the first few months of astoundingly vibrant, fresh green, just when you need it, is worth all the flopping. Trouble-free and needing nothing, it is a good, though modest plant. From seed, the tiniest seedlings dig in and make plants. Just choose a calm day to sow the seed and then again, wait for another one to transplant the seedlings.

Santolina etrusca, Tostat, November 2019

A donated plant that needed a home, I have been amazed by the winter behaviour of this unknown sedum. I stuffed it in a pot, literally, and it is as happy as can be- with cold temperatures producing this gorgeous red colouring. I have never been that taken with sedum, but this is changing my mind.

Unknown stonecrop or Sedum, Tostat, November 2019

There will have been some casualties despite the easy ride we have had so far. I used to fret, but now I take this as another challenge- there must be a plant out there that I would like to grow which will cope and survive. Another dig in the ribs from the garden.

A very Happy Gardening Year to you….

Rain stops play…

Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ caught in morning stormy light, Tostat, November 2019

I think it would be true to say that it has been raining now every day, lavishly, for nearly a month. We have had one or two dry mornings and evenings, but on the whole, it has rained biblically for what feels like forever. Of course, this means that Nature is making up for our incredibly dry and hot summer, and a not particularly wet spring either. But us humans are suffering a bit from cabin fever. I have now got most of my pot plants into their new space, which is the open barn (so there are fleecing implications when temperatures drop below zero), but this does mean much better light for them and also some rain drifting in when we have downpours.

One or two are still outside and will come in very shortly. I used to keep them at the back door, but the light is really not good and usually they were in bad shape by Spring- so I hope that the barn will work better. I am also sheltering some of my baby plants grown from seed this summer, as the rain would bash them up so much it would be like sending them into the ring with Mike Tyson.

My misnamed Chrysanthemum zawadskii, Tostat, November 2019

There isn’t much left standing out in the garden. I have two chrysanthemums that I grow but often miss completely because of our habit of going away in the autumn. One I thought was Chrysanthemum zawadskii, the mother plant of so many good varieties, but mine is a strong pink so I am not sure now, as most photos show zawadskii as white and upright. The word ‘floppy’ captures mine better, but when I get the chance to see it, I love the carmine pink as that colour is usually well over in the garden by autumn. Maybe I have ‘Clara Curtis’?

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2019

I love ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’. The colour is superb with golden highlights, and I grow them in pots in miserable sandy soil and barely water them- they take any amount of punishment, it seems to me. And I just leave the pot somewhere outside in the winter with just a bit of shelter so they don’t get too waterlogged.

Plectranthus ecklonii ‘Erma’ still going strong, Tostat, November 2019

This photograph is almost identical to one I took a month ago, except that the flowerhead has become even more violet and the leaves look a bit more battered. I love this plant, for the upright habit and the combination of golden- tinged foliage with the deepening violet of the flowers which last for weeks and weeks. It is not hardy so I need to bring it in soon to the open barn, but it is still so lovely that I am chancing my arm. In September, I took some semi-hard cuttings and all have rooted so another few potfuls will be possible next year. Louis the Plant Geek, a very useful blogger, waxes lyrical about ‘Erma’ here.

Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, November 2019

Another plant beloved of Louis the Plant Geek and Crug Farm, is Colquhounia coccinea– a late show-stopper that is still looking great in the garden. I have it planted in. although it can be stung badly by cold temperatures. I have been lucky so far that it has re-appeared from the base late in the Spring, but this year I have successfully grown on three good cuttings so that’s a bit of insurance. It gets a bit of shelter from the pine tree next to it, and this also reduce the rainfall directly onto it- all good for the chances of a comeback.

Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’, evening light, Tostat, November 2019

And so to the end, nearly, of the outdoor gardening year. I leave everything as it was till the Spring, the dying topgrowth protects plants at the base, though they can get a bit too much water on them as a result. But the dying embers of the garden are great for all creatures great and small that live in the habitat we borrow to garden in, so I ain’t tidying up till Spring. I swore I would never grow another tulip after losing so many bulbs in the Spring wet the last few years, but look who’s having another go…Hope springs eternal.

And Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ is simply gorgeous, the last few leaves shimmering in any light available at dawn or dusk. Hope does spring eternal.

Storm Aurelie arrives for November…

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, end October 2019

It is always a shock and a surprise to get back from holiday and re-see the garden through new eyes. We are often away from September to October, and though I love travelling, there is always a strong sense of regret at having missed the Autumn beginnings. Usually there is some rain and this brings out the colours from what has been a pretty summer-parched garden.

This year, we returned to be lucky enough to have 10 glorious days of warmth before Storm Aurelie turned up yesterday. The morning light was soft and colours shone in it without being bleached out. Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’ is a perfect shrub, gorgeously coloured foliage in spring and autumn, pink flowers in early summer, tough and very hardy. In my view it is a bit on the giant side to be described as a ‘dwarf’ shrub- at 4 years old, it is nearly 2m x 1.5m, but no complaints from me.

Leonotis leonorus in the dawn light, Tostat, end October 2019

Leonotis leonorus has been a real delight from seed this year, and even with a bashing from Storm Aurelie, it continues to flower even up to the top tier at 2m tall. I have taken some cuttings and will also try to overwinter the two parent plants- even if only to try and get a headstart on the flowering period for next summer. I adore everything about it, the flaming colour, the sputnik flowerbuds, the stateliness of it….I won’t go on.

The Stumpery view, Tostat, end October 2019
Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’, Tostat, end October 2019

The Stumpery is getting ready for it’s best season, winter and early Spring when it gives green and verdant in great quantity. Right now, Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ (front of scene)has given fabulous red and copper tones to the view, Rosa ‘Marguerite, Reine d’Italie’ is still blooming, and another favourite shrub, Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ is looking very relaxed now that the heat of summer is over. This Mahonia is probably just at the limit of what it will take in terms of dryness in the Stumpery, but the semi-shade is what saves it, I think.

Plectranthus ecklonnii ‘Erma’, Tostat, end October 2019

I love this plant, Plectranthus ecklonnii ‘Erma’ and grew it from seed last year in a pot. It likes moisture and semi-shade, but is such a beautiful golden-green with an upright vase shape that gives it great elegance. The bonus is these lovely violet flowerspikes which come really late in the season. Backlit by evening sun, it is glorious. Cuttings have been taken and I will do my best at the overwintering.

I also love a second Plectranthus, Plectranthus argentatus, which I grew from seed a couple of years ago. If you take cuttings now, they will root and produce new plants at the drop of a hat. This plant is better known for silvery foliage alone, but does flower with small blue-white flowers at the end of the season. I am toying with the idea of giving this one a little less water next year to see if that will hasten the flower production. I also grow these in pots and overwinter them.

Plectranthus argentatus, Tostat, end October 2019
Tagetes lemmonii, Tostat, end October 2019

I nearly always miss Tagetes lemmonii flowering- as it waits, I swear, until we have left for holiday. This year I just caught the end of it when we came back. This Tagetes adores dry, hot soil, and will keel over if it gets too wet although it is hardy in the ground if you have razor-sharp drainage. The leaves have a powerful aroma, a sort of foxy-lemony scent, and the Birds Custard flowers are a real kickass colour at the end of the season.

Tagetes minuta, Tostat, end September 2019

Another Tagetes, Tagetes minuta, has a different super-power. This unassuming plant with finely-cut foliage and a tall habit is not a great looker as Sarah Raven says, but it seems to drive out bindweed and couch grass- in my book, a serious super-power. It self seeds like mad with me, but that’s an easy problem to have considering the super-power. To be sure you grow it where you really want it, start off with seed in the spring.

Vernonia lettermannii, Tostat, October 2019

This Vernonia, at a compact Im tall, has been a complete star this year. I grew it from seed to plant it in the new bed, in stony, dry soil in full sun. From the smallest seedling, it has made mature flowering plants in 7 months, and is still flowering from the many buds that each plant carries. Totally hardy, adored by insects…and me. Roll on next year as my next batch of seedlings plump up.

Seed extravaganza…

Is this a rogue Leonotis? Tostat, September 2020

Fifteen years ago when we moved to France, I was really a bit intimidated by the idea of growing perennials from seed, but now it really is my preferred way of growing plants, though I do still buy plants from time to time- when the wait is just too long. I have learnt that there is tremendous surprise and pleasure in the growing of something from scratch and I have a great emotional commitment to all my plants that I have grown myself! Sometimes there are great results and sometimes no results, dud seed- or rather probably, wrong time, wrong place, no can do. So you have to be prepared for a little Russian Roulette.

This plant grown from seed this spring is a mystery. One reader of this blog is a lovely chap called Tony Tomeo, who often leaves me interesting questions and observations, lives in Southern California and is a genuine horticulturalist- I am very pleased that he enjoys my blog and always look out for his comments. Puzzling a couple of weeks ago about this plant, he wondered if it was a monarda…he was bang on about the smaller plant, which clearly now a somewhat stunted Leonotis leonorus. To me this mystery plant is trying to channel an East European TV tower from the 1960s…and I am still at a loss. Have another go, Tony?

Conoclinum coelestinum, Tostat, September 2019

This is another new-to-me by seed plant. It used to be called ‘Eupatorium coelestinum conoclinum’, but is now just Conoclinum coelestinum– or in plain-speak, Blue Mist-Flower. I shouldn’t really be growing it as it needs a tad more water than I have in the garden, but I adore this shade of blue right at the end of summer, and it is a pretty thing in a raggy sort of way. This is the first flower on a new baby plant so the adult version will be about 1m tall with big, wide plates of blue fluff- and I will find a spot for it- as always happens.

Dendranthema weyrichii, Tostat, September 2019
Dendranthema weyrichii
Photo credit: http://www.rhs.org.uk

Grown from seed this spring, these were seriously miniscule as seedlings- but now measuring 2 handspans in the garden, and survivors of three canicule heatwaves, these plants already have a gong in my book. Dendranthema weyrichii is a tough, no-nonsense plant- in effect, a tiny chrysanthemum as shown in the RHS photo, and with a growth habit that just keeps on spreading, I think it makes a really good hot, dry groundcover plant. No flowers yet for me.

Vernonia lettermannii
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

This plant has been such a triumph that I have already sown more seed for next year which I bought from the fantastic Derry Watkins at Special Plants. She has always got interesting new plants to try, and this Vernonia lettermannii is a good’un. Growing to less than a metre, with feathery branching stems, it is close to flowering in the garden with me, but is such a wispy, almost see-through plant, that my photograph looked pathetic in comparison with Derry’s clump. The growth rate has been astounding for a perennial, and like the Dendranthema, it has come through serious heat and drought without blinking. The giant Vernonias are fabulous, but this smaller, feathery relative is such a good plant for late-summer and totally trouble-free for a dry, hot spot.

Early this morning, the tail of dying Hurricane Dorian brought us good rain- no wind, just good, serious rain for a couple of hours, and this works miracles on the exhausted garden. So, not to ignore old favourites that are also doing a good job, I love this combination of the bright, fresh blue of the Caryopteris and the soft orange of the Abutilon.

The Caryopteris is just at the limit of what it can handle in my summer-dry garden, but two out of three plants have survived this summer- probably because they have been a little sheltered from the full sun by other plants, like the Abutilon. There are many many reasons to be cheerful.

Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ with my unknown orange Abutilon, Tostat, September 2019

A new season…pre-autumn…

After the rain, Gossypium hirsutum flower, Tostat, September 2019

This week it has been all change. Fast forward to Autumn, or pre-Autumn if you prefer, with cooler nights and a couple of belting rainshowers. For those plants toiling under the heat, this has proved too tough a transition with many of them lying down with the effort. But for others, like my surprise of the summer, Gossypium hirsutum, it has been a real tonic. I am no Scarlett O’Hara, but I am really chuffed with my baby cotton plants. The glossy plum-coloured foliage is such a thrill in the heat, the upright stance makes such a good statement and these simply gorgeous, if short-lived, flowers keep coming. The flowers vary in colour, I don’t know whether this is to do with heat or coolness, but the flowers open a lovely cream-colour on cooler days and then heat up to the dark plum colour close to the shade of the leaves. In the heat, they go straight to plum.

Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

This Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ has hung on despite my indifference to it. I bought it precisely for the later summer flowering and the reputation for serious drought- tolerance. It has delivered on both fronts- but despite being in the garden for 4 years, this is the first year that it has really caught my attention. I think that my problem was with somewhat twiggy young growth and tiny flowers- but with maturity comes real beauty. Yes, it is still twiggy, but this is much less noticeable now, and the perfume of the flowers, and their size, has really developed- and it has given over and over this summer. So I eat my hat.

First flowers, Ageratum alitissima ‘Chocolate’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant, newly renamed from Eupatorium rugosum to Ageratum altissima Chocolate’ or even Ageratina, is a real delight. Fabulous dark plum, almost black foliage that likes shade but will take sun, likes damp but will take much drier with time- this is a plant that really grows on you. The flowers come in September, and sweet though they are, tiny and cream-coloured, the main show is the foliage. If it flags in the summer, a bucket of water now and then will keep it going. For this small effort, you get a steadily growing clump up to 1.5m of upright, structural pluminess- what more could you want?

Anemanthele lessoniana, Tostat, September 2019

Here is another lovely thing that you have to wait till September for. This used to be Stipa arundinacea and is now called Anemanthele lessoniana. I moved two big clumps two years ago, and they have taken their time to get over their resentment. But, interestingly, now being in shade and full sun, rather than constant full sun, their colouring has changed. The flowering heads are greener, more silvery-green than pinky-silver and both clumps are enjoying the slightly cooler conditions. They look wonderful and even make the washing line area look, well, dramatic.

Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, September 2019

And another lovely September entrant- Colquhounia coccinea. A buddleia cousin, so read big, bushy with fast growth once warmth starts in the late spring- with the risk of looking utterly dead before that. It rockets up, so plenty of space required and elbow-room. Then, in September, the flowerheads pop up in between the branches. Very pretty, but they can be shy so don’t miss them. It is borderline hardy for me really according to the books. But, I did my best to protect the clump with some fleece during the coldest winter nights, and then hoped for the best.

It does take a while to be willing to risk growth, but I held my nerve. Only snag? Bindweed has decided to move in. So I have seed for Tagetes minuta, which I will grow on in February indoors, and plant out next year. This has been brilliant wherever I have used it elsewhere in the garden, so I have complete confidence it will do the trick.

Erodium manescavii, Tostat, September 2019

New flowers with the rain on Erodium manescavii. Just the way, you grow something and it comes up a treat, so you sow more seed and …nothing. Never mind, I will give it one more go in the spring.

Rain on Eupatorium capillifoium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant is a bit of an oddity, but I love it. Eupatorum capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ makes a tall column of feathery green-ness and that’s it, but it is so pretty in amongst other plants and I wish I had more of it. It needs more damp than I can give it, but one of three plants has survived and make a comeback every year. I am not going to tempt fate.

Seedheads of Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Tostat, September 2019

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ is making cranberry coloured seedheads right now- I adore them, they look so bright and juicy.

Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’, Tostat, September 2019

I like Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii‘ for the emerald-green elongated leaves which are very elegant and hold the attention until the buds start coming- whoich can be as late as the end of October in my experience. But this year, we have one on show already. Don’t hold your breath- it takes an age to get from here to a flower.

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, September 2019

This Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ really is- big. 2.5 m or so in my case. It holds the back of the peninsular and outgrows Miscanthus ‘Malepartus‘- so there you are. But, it is currently horizontal on account of the rain, yet still doing purple-mauve beautifully.

Salvia ‘Amistad’ partnering Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

See? The good old Abelia.

August surprises…

Rudbeckia Henrik Eilers, Tostat, August 2019

August can be a cruel month. It can be the bald spot in the summer when the garden flags under the impact of heat and little rain- and if you are gardening summer-dry, as I do, with no watering except for the plants in pots, it can feel relentless. But, it is also the point in the year when midway though the month, some of the nights and early mornings begin to smell and feel different, fresher, cooler and morning dew is heavier. This can act as a real tonic to the garden, encouraging fresh growth and hot-weather plants to flower, and I love it too. Going out first thing with the all-important cup of tea becomes a pleasure again, as plants revive and try some more.

This year, Rudbeckia ‘Henrik Eilers’ has moved itself back into the border almost half a metre. Maybe it too is avoiding the sun and seeking some cover from other plants. I love the quilled petals and the straight bolt-upright growth, but deeper into the border, I am standing on a chair to capture the special shape of it, as, standing at nearly 2 metres, I am a shortarse by comparison. By contrast, Buphthalmum salicifolium has been toppled to the ground almost by the very occasional heavy rain we have had in the last 6 weeks- but it flowers away regardless on the deck.

Buphthalmum salicifolium, Tostat, August 2019

A few yards away, my recovering Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ has won it’s battle with the adorable thug that is Clerondendrum bungei, and is well clear of it in the height stakes. I love the darkness of the purple against the best feature of the Clerodendrum, in my view, which is the jewel-like remnants of the spent flowerheads. Spectacular.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ and Clerodendrum bungei, Tostat, August 2019

Smaller plants are also carrying on despite the heat, though looking a little jaded maybe. My absolute favourite Crocosmia is Crocosmia x crocosmiifolia ‘Emily McKenzie’, not as tall as ‘Lucifer’, and a lot more inclined to flop, at least for me, but the striking orange and carmine flowers bring a touch of Rita Hayworth to the garden, even if they are mostly horizontal to the ground.

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’, Tostat, August 2019

I have two Leycesteria in the garden, great shrubs in my opinion, especially because the form and the flowers keep going all summer long, looking fabulous right through to the end of autumn. The species plant, Leycesteria formosa, has strong, arching branches that make a great domed-shape in the border and has the classic dropping swags of flowers, fading to dark-red berries in the autumn. The variety, ‘Golden Lanterns’, is even better, with greeny-golden foliage contrasting well with the glossy, dark purple/red flowers which fade to bright jewel-like berries.

Leycesteria formosa, Tostat, August 2019
Leycesteria formosa ‘Golden Lanterns’, Tostat, August 2019

Now here is a puzzle. In this odd picture, you can see the smaller pot on the chair, with a narrow-leaved plant and an orange inflorescence. Next to it, is a tall, diamond-shaped leaved plant with a bud on the top. The taller plant is, or at least I thought it was Leonotis leonorus– actually I am still pretty that it is leonorus. In the pot, is a plant that I stuck in there having no idea of what it was until yesterday when the flowerspike opened up. It seems to be a smaller, more shrub-like Leonitis, maybe nepetifolia, but it has quite different leaves, slim and lanceolate, and is woody as opposed to being a green stem. Am definitely confused…anyone out there have another idea???

The two Leonitus’ side by side, Tostat, August 2019
Leonitis nepetifolia perhaps, Tostat, August 2019

Salvia ‘Ton Ter Linden’ has been a grand plant, although new to me this year. Deep blackberry-purple narrow flowers have kept coming…and the tendency to gracefully drape around the pot has been followed by upright, strong growth, so the plant has two ways of behaving- how clever of it.

Salvia Ton Ter Linden, Tostat, August 2019
Scrophularia macrantha, Tostat, August 2019

I have grown Scrophularia macrantha from seed this year. Small, but beautifully formed and I was so thrilled that I could be heard shrieking in the garden when I found the flowers on my tiny plants. I hope they make it through the winter.

Gossypium hirsutum flower bud, Tostat, August 2019

And my cotton has flowered! Unlikely that I will be harvesting cotton balls, but the Gossypium hirsutum flowers are a beautiful, if short-lived, surprise. Actually, the whole plant is a rather fine, if temporary addition to the garden, wine-red leaves and upright growth, pretty buds as if cut from paper. It won’t survive the winter and I probably won’t try to overwinter it, but just grow it again from seed next spring perhaps.

Cytoglossum hirsutum bud formation, Tostat, August 2019

How summer-dry feels…

View of the front garden, with baking sun at 0730, Tostat, July 2019

The last five days built to a ghastly crescendo of more than 40C yesterday. Human beings are finding it hard, hard to sleep even downstairs in the house and permanent darkness with shutters shut for most of the day. Today, all windows have been flung open, and rain is battering down, no hail fortunately, in splurges which are just gentle enough to penetrate the hot, dry crust of the ground. This is the first rain we have seen for 3 weeks at least, which has really tested the garden for the second time so far this summer. I have been watering the pots and any late plantings from 0700 for an hour and a half every day, but the rest has been left to handle the heat itself.

Abutilon pictum waiting, Tostat, July 2019

Some plants have just been sitting it out. Abutilon pictum is a lovely pot shrub, not hardy hence the pot, but with the most brilliant orange drop-shaped flowers. It folds it’s leaves down so that they hang straight down, which is an early sign of stress, but regular watering handles that.

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Ruby’, Tostat, July 2019

The Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Ruby’ is a wonderful thing and this year it has loved the wet, cool May and now the heat- as long as it is kept well watered in it’s pot. It is the best ever, 3 months of the huge, strappy, crimson-purple leaves which on their own are worth the price of the bulb, and then maybe 4 weeks of flowering as the flowerspikes slowly open. It can hang on, still looking good till the first cold night-time temperatures strike. This last winter I left the huge pot outside, but fleeced it well, and moved it into the protection of the pergola, which kept the worst of the winter wet off it.

Misumena vatia looking angry on Salvia ‘Mulberry Jam’, Tostat, July 2019

The heat has brought this angry-looking spider out early. Misumena vatia is a foraging spider which attacks bees and butterflies, hanging out very still in flowerheads that it can mimic in colour- bit odd then that it was in the white form on the Salvia. But maybe the colour change takes a while to activate. It is a deadly killer, as you can see from my 2018 photograph below. Wearing matching bright yellow with the flowerhead of Patrinia scabiosifolia, it is making short shrift of a hapless insect.

Same spider, Misumena vatia, new disguise on Patrinia scabiosifolia, Tostat, August 2018

I am ridiculously fond of this Hibiscus trionum which I grew from seed about 7 years ago, although it is a nothing-special-plant. But the flowers keep on coming regardless of heat and no rain, so it is not a slouch in the summer-dry department. The foliage is a healthy mid-green and you would never know that the sun was beating down on it.

Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, July 2019

Another plant which I grew from seed about the same time as the Hibiscus, is the unbeatable Bupleurum fruticosum. Not a great looker, but the olive-green leaves and structure are brilliant in the border, especially when summer heat can render other plants a tad on the floppy side. This year, I actually did a proper-gardener thing and pruned all of the Bupleurum pretty much to stumps above the ground in February. Of course, it was the right thing to do, making good, sturdy 1.25ish metre clumps, with good branching and form.

The redoubtable Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, July 2019

This tiny Linaria vulgaris is such a sweet thing. Custard yellow and cream flowers on a tiny spike, I grew these from seed a few years back and they are only slowly making little sprinkles in a hot, dry spot. I was inspired to try it after seeing a brilliant planting of it outside the Ludlow Food Centre in 2017. I am not quite there yet! But live in hope…

Linaria vulgaris, Tostat, July 2019
Linaria vulgaris and Stipa tenuissima, Ludlow Food Centre, Shropshire, June 2017
Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2019

Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’ is easy-peasy from seed and is a tough, but lovely, plant no matter what the weather. I adore the colours, the form with the golden ruffs, and the sprinkle effect that it creates in amongst other plants. A good neighbour of a plant.

Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum, Tostat, July 2019

Such pretty foliage, Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum. Feathery, ferny and upright, no slouching and a brilliant green. It may be that it is getting a little water seeping out of the pots in front of it, as it is not usually quite so robust in dry and heat.

In the heat, the Back Door view, Tostat, July 2019

The view from the Back Door is very dependent on greens, but Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ is unstoppable and fragrant no matter how hot it gets ( centre-right in the photo), Eucomis autumnalis ssp autumnalis, the Pineapple flower, is flowering away in a pot at the front, and Plectranthus argentatus offers up some silvery-green next door to the Eucomis. The big shrub, Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ if I remember correctly, will flower in a few weeks- another summer-dry star.

But for colour, the dragonflies and damselflies take the prize. Electric azure blue.

Colour in the wildlife, Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly, Tostat, July 2019

Aha and…oh no…

Valeriana pyrenaica, Greenbank Garden, Glasgow, May 2019

Sometimes a plant just catches your eye. This plant did. Wandering around Glasgow’s Greenbank Garden, it was growing in massive clumps in the woodland area, as well as being used as a filler plant in the borders. I asked a young gardener if she could identify it, but she couldn’t. But, sometimes, luck plays a part in finally cracking an identity.

Leafing through the plant lists for the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival gardens, there it was in the ‘Calm amidst chaos’ garden, designed by Joe Francis. Valeriana pyreniaca is actually a native of the French Pyrenees- fancy going all the way to Glasgow to see it! It is a sturdy grower, making a good clump just a metre and a bit tall, with heart-shaped leaves which remind me of Clerodendrum bungei, and like the Clerodendron, it prefers a moistish soil and not totally blazing sun all day. The wide semi-umbel shaped flowers in pale pink actually seem to sparkle in the sun, as fine plant parts reach out to frame the flatter part of the flowerhead. Very pretty and great for insects of all shapes and sizes. I am going to try some from seed.

Rosa ‘Astrid, Grafin von Hardenberg’, Tostat, September 2017

I am coming to the conclusion that my garden is getting too summer-dry for repeat flowering roses. The old varieties that flower once early in the season are doing fine, as by now, the show is well over and they are happily sliding into summer dormancy. But the later and repeat flowering roses are really suffering, and today, I dug up and potted up a third one, Rosa ‘Astrid, Grafin von Hardenberg’, a lovely rose reduced to a couple of twigs and a few leaves needing serious tlc in a pot. She joins Rosa ‘Summer Song’ and Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ which were both potted up this Spring. Astrid will bounce back, but I do think that this is another sign of the drying and warming that has changed our summers. I am not abandoning my non-watering policy, but if I want to grow these roses, I need to turn to the pot. And resist the temptation to grow any more than those I already have. That discipline could be tricky….