Big and little in focus…

The first Apple blossom, Tostat, yesterday

The lockdown in France, now extended until somewhere in mid May, creates a strange state of continual tension. Forced to focus in, the mind explores small things, small changes, observes more than usual maybe in the garden. But tension exists continually with the global macro situation of countries battling, systems battling, people battling the hidden enemy. I think that I have adapted reasonably well to the changes in everyday life, but then, unexpressed distress is never that far from the surface- usually prompted by news of close family and friends or stories of loss. So, the early appearance of blossom in the garden set off tears this week, tears for earlier times when there were less big questions to address and maybe much more complacency.

Cherry blossom, Tostat, yesterday

The apple blossom in first flush is pink and embarassed to be out so early whereas the bitter cherry is self-assured, just a little early but who cares? And with the bright, sunny weather, not always warm till the afternoon, and sometimes misty in the mornings, buds are appearing

Libertia grandiflora was one of the first plants that I tried from seed, courtesy of the Hardy Plant Society. It slowly, slowly makes a stately clump of bright green strappy foliage, evergreen all year although looking tired by the New Year. And then, the fat buds hide themselves by sitting sideways on on the stem, so they are easy to miss on a quick fly-by. It will take the driest conditions and also is happy in moist conditions- a very tolerant plant.

Libertia grandiflora in bud, Tostat, March 2020

Last year, I planted five small clumps of Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ into terrible soil in full sun close to the Stumpery. Terrible in that it largely consisted of coarse sand and building rubble, mixed with old crumbling concrete. And here they are again, unbothered by their neglectful surroundings and bringing an air of pristine sophistication temporarily to a squalid little corner.

Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, Tostat, March 2020

Sometimes plants creep up on you. About 2 weeks ago, obscured by my weirdly right-angled Hedera helix ‘Erecta’, (which I must try and photograph so that you can see how odd it is), I noticed this tall, slim, strung out plant with shrubby stems- so clearly not a weed. Poking around at the bottom of it, having already decided that it closely resembled a Phlomis but with no memory of it all- I found a handwritten label from a great nursery in the Languedoc at Caunes-Minervois, ‘Le Jardin Champetre’. Phlomis cretica, it is. I might remember it when it flowers!

Phlomis cretica in bud, Tostat, March 2020

Our gas tank left us last month. A dramatic experience, as you can see. Our plan is to create a wildlife pond in the driest and hottest part of the garden. This may seem mad, but I think it will be fine, and anyway, what else interesting could be done with a giant hole. Getting started on it has been slow. But we are buckling down to it, and helped by the fact that nurseries are still taking and delivering online plant orders, there will be news as to progress. I have never had the chance to do this before, so it’s a whole new area of knowledge to get the head around, which does make it very worthwhile now that life is constricted.

The gas tank leaveth us, Tostat, February 2020

Back to the micro, and Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynabbie Gem’ is flowering- it is the very lightest shade of mauvey-pink so it easily looks white in bright sun. It has not been such a good plant as I had hoped, very stringy and tall, but it does cope with an exceptionally dry and hot part of the garden, so I shouldn’t be too hard on it.

Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynabbie Gem’, Tostat, March 2020
Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, Tostat, yesterday

This little tulip, Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’ is a fleeting thing. Very fragile and slender, I think it actually looks best partially closed, as the petals which open out white are a gorgeous muted pink on the underside. My photographs have not done it justice, I will try again.

Lockdown spring…

First shoots on Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’ last week, Tostat, March 2020

I had almost completed a blog post about visiting the Airth Pineapple and Culross when we were in Scotland only 3 weeks ago- but within less than a week, we are in covid19 lockdown here in Tostat, and it seemed out of time and place to finish that post.

What a strange and frightening experience this all is. Today, we expect to be told that we are no longer able to walk more than 500m from our house even with documents and that this will continue for at least 2 months. We have been in daily contact with family, spread between Scotland and England and Spain, and this has been a real relief. But it is the surreal, amorphous nature of the necessary lockdown which has taken us all week to come to terms with. The village is silent. Birdsong seems to have reached operatic levels, which is wonderful, but it feels very strange. Luckily the weather has helped, warm afternoon sunshine has turned the corner on winter and you can almost hear plants growing and changing.

Anemone nemerosa this morning, Tostat, March 2020

So, it feels as if the garden needs us to buck up and get on with freeing it from winter, whilst simultanously, I am reviewing and rethinking much of what I would normally have done at this time of year. So, I am only digging up dandelions and really pervasive perennial weeds in the beds- everything else is being left. The one-armed gardening of last year taught me that annual spring weeds are killed by drought and heat by mid June, so I am thinking that I will leave them. At the very least, they will cover any bare ground until the summer perennials get going, thereby retaining soil moisture for later. I just have to get used to that itchy period before the perennials fire up, and resist messing about with the balance. In fact, I am sticking roughly to this rule pretty much everywhere in the garden. This means excessive self control has to be applied after any rain, when the pesky annual grasses pop up at a great rate.

But there are also some lovely surprises. Back in Scotland, I had a gorgeous clump of the double Anemone nemerosa- and not being able to find that here, I experimented about 10 years ago with a couple of the single wood anemone, Anemone nemerosa. They have only flowered maybe 3-4 times in 10 years, and are roughly the same size as when I planted them. So, conditions are certainly not idea for them. But when they appear, as two days ago, I am joyful, no matter what the lockdown conditions are.

Doronicum ‘Little Leo’ this morning, Tostat, March 2020

‘Little Leo’ is another tiny plant that has not really enjoyed life in Tostat, but one or two small plants are hanging on in there. My mum adored Doronicum, and so this is in memory of her.

Gunnera manicata, Tostat, March 2020

The Gunnera is already more than a metre high, courtesy of the mild winter and the recent rain and storms. You couldn’t make it up really, as it is surely a bit player in every sci-fi film going with the strange prickles on the stems and the leaves opening like hands reaching for you.

Eriostemon myoporoides last week, Tostat, March 2020

This is going to be a great plant. Eriostemon myoporoides has died for me twice, mainly because I bought baby plants and then wasn’t careful enough of them in their early lives. Mea culpa. So, a glutton for punishment, I had another go with more mature specimens. I am really impressed. This plant has thickly cuticled leaves, a little like Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’ to look at and tiny white, star-shaped flowers (allegedly smelling of gin and tonic, not yet apparent to me) in profusion in early Spring. It slowly makes a rounded shrub and will apparently grow to about 2m all round- mine is barely 0.5m all round and must be 3 years old. But it is bone-hardy, drought tolerant when established, and with time, will make a good evergreen presence in difficult areas. Works for me.

Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, March 2020

This fabulous pillar-box red Anemone x fulgens Multipetala is a Spring favourite of mine. I bought 6 bulbs for a king’s ransom about 6 years ago, and since then, the plants have gently swivelled themselves to where they want to be, underneath Physocarpus ‘Tiny Wine’ and, aware of the photo potential, right in amongst Spanish bluebells which are about to flower. I adore them for their raggly-taggly look and the fabulous colour which leaps out amongst the green of the bluebells.

Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, this morning settling into coral from lobster pink, Tostat, March 2020

I love this baby tree, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’. It is a slow grower, well, so far. But tough, it takes heat, drought, frost, wind and rain with aplomb. This is the beginning of the show, when the new foliage (see top) starts out lobster pink then moves to coral. It is such a good plant. I hope it will get going this year, it’s 3rd year in the ground- but whatever it does, it will be noticeable and I will be watching. There’s going to be a lot of watching for the next 2 months- and a good season to be doing it.

Surprises and purges…

Looking south yesterday in early sunshine, Tostat, February 2020

Early sunshine this week is just beginning to catch the turn into Spring. The greens that were a bit fatigued are beginning to perk up and the quality of the light is warming up just a bit. Looking south yesterday, while I am not yet doing my minimalist tidying up, of which more later, I could just detect the whiff of Spring coming.

In one of the planted squares near the back door, last year’s from-seed- Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’ is looking really good. I chose it because I have a bit of a thing about dark foliage, and the glossiness of theses leaves which have come through blistering heat and dryness, a soaking November, and now a mildish winter is picked up beautifully in the morning light. For such a lovely plant, and dead easy to grow from seed so don’t pay good money for plants in pots despite my link above, the name ‘Chedglow’ is a bit of a clunker in my view.

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’, Tostat, February 2020

And not far away in the same square, is a Spring favourite of mine, Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’. Now there’s a name that works! A smallish plant but it does slowly clump up, and when the golden lemon flowers open, the contrast is quite lovely.

Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, Tostat, February 2020

I really hate big irises. It’s not that other people can’t make them look wonderful, but with me, they are nothing but a problem, not liking an often damp spring, and providing safe havens for seriously annoying weeds that I don’t want. So I have annihilated them pretty much from the garden. However, the very early Iris reticulata is another story. Tiny, but very animated, I grow them in various places round the garden just to create a tiny surprise at this time of year, and I have some in a low basin that I can put where I like. This lovely dark one pops up under clumps of Eryngium eburneum, whose long, strappy leaves are a bit on the dormant side right now- which makes just enough sun to tempt the Iris to flower.

Unknown Iris reticulatat, Tostat, February 2020

This has been the best year for Daphne odora aureomarginata. It bursts into flower before any new foliage has got going, and this year, the bees and insects visiting have created a turbine sound effect at the back door on warmer days. But Daphne can be a bit temperamental. This large one was bought about 15 years ago by me as a tiny stripling, but I have another one which, at least 8 years after planting, is still barely 20cms x 20cms and looks deeply miserable

The path at the back door, Tostat, February 2020

I can forgive Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii anything at this time of year. Later, this will be a year of the purge to reduce my expanding population a tad, but now they have free rein. The praying heads are just fabulous, especially when draped nicely with dew, and the chartreuse flowerheads that follow are a welcome punch of colour that outdoes any daffodil.

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, Tostat, Feburary 2020

Talking of purges, Andy did a massive hack in Shitty Bank. This is the part of the garden that is no more than the poor, stony spoil from the swimming pool installation chucked up to make a mound by the ruisseau. Whatever grows here has to be super tough and many plants have died along the way. This year we are experimenting with making great heaps of cutback material and leaving them to cover difficult areas, to see if we can regain control where brambles have got dug in. So, amongst the shortly-to-be-stately Eryngium eburneum clumps, Grevillea rosmarinfolia and a mean Yucca, here are the heaps of cutback. Let’s see.

Shitty Bank, Tostat, February 2020

A great delight last year was growing this lovely Yellow cerinthe from seed. And as ever with cerinthe, if it likes you, it has self-seeded beautifully and these are the first flowers.

Yellow cerinthe in the dew, Tostat, February 2020

I don’t purge any wildlife, and try my best to let it all in, come what may. But I draw the line at the Pine processionary caterpillar. An evil little kritter, which forms up into dangerously charming lines and sets off following its leader all over the garden. They are poisonous to humans and other animals, and I have yet to find a good reason for their existence. Petrol and matches on the spot before they start roaming is the only answer. These ones have all been torched.

Finishing on a cheerier note, two new Hellebores flowered for the first time today, and are a very elegant addition to the fold, see below. And they are such a good and all-round player, the Hellebore. Clothing the bare legs of Rosa ‘Fantin-Latour right now, the jungly Orientalis foliage will stay good and green right through the winter. The danger of a few blotchy bits can be over-exaggerated I reckon.

Time, motion and weather…

Fritillaria meleagris, Tostat, February 2020

The last two weeks we have experienced a couple of hard frosts, glorious sunshine with temperatures in the early 20s, belting rain and fog. The weather has bounced from one season to another with no compunction. The impact of the weather has troubled the garden. The fritillarias that I bought at sale price, how could such a lovely thing be on sale?, have been fooled into flowering early, and in 3 days have gone from slim, tightly bound buds to full strength. But this isn’t too serious- what makes me ponder is when plants and shrubs at the tough end of the spectrum cave in.

Two plants have done this- only two found so far. Bergenia ‘Wintermachen’, which was new to me last winter, has caved into, I suspect, our piercingly dry and relentless summer and is no more. And a small shrub that I loved, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ has also given up and it had been in the garden for three years. Think I have to up the tough stakes for entry into the garden.

The end of the path….River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

Meantime, just before Christmas, when the Adour river broke free and forced the evacuation of part of our village, we now have new vistas down by the river. The sentier de l’Adour, which winds its way down the river from Maubourguet to us and beyond, and is a favourite for walking groups and cyclists, has been washed away and we have a new bend in the river and a shingle bank where the path ended up on the other side. We also lost about 20 trees in the deluge.

Molly picks up the path, River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

This little Iris reticulata is such a gem. I planted about 6 bulbs 2 years ago, and then treated them with great neglect. They are easy to forget about, as they are tiny anyway, and die down completely in about two months. But the blue is gorgeous. I have forgotten the variety, but one bonus from our dry, hot summer is that the bulbs have been busily reproducing themselves in the heat, and so there should be more than 3-4 flowers next year in this little group.

Iris reticulata, Tostat, February 2020

Amazingly, only 3 weeks after being utterly drowned beneath the deluge and the detritus from the river, the snowdrops burst forth- but were then hit by the hot sunshine and so only lasted 2-3 weeks this winter. They are spectacular though, and adore the dappled shade of the forest and paths.

Snowdrops final blaze, River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

I love the simple purity of Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’. For my money, you can keep your doubles, those salmon-pink varieties and all the rest. This is the real McCoy. So elegant, contained, and almost Japanese in their stick-like growth and green tea-coloured buds, they really signal the beginning of Spring to me. No trouble at all as a shrub, and I just allow the sticky, angular shrub to grow as it likes in the semi-shade and relative moisture of the area beside the ruisseau or canal.

Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, Tostat, February 2020
Caught by the sun, Tostat, February 2020

And here we have Fritillaria meleagris in full purple, leopard-spotted glory. I used to have these growing under a Daphne mezereum f. alba in our garden in Scotland, and I know that these will be fine in the Spring but will not enjoy the summer, so I have them in a pot which will be later positioned in the coolest, dampest part of the garden that I can find.

Fritillaria 3 days later, Tostat, February 2020

And this small Hellebore has been taken all of three years to flower. No idea what variety it is, but the pointed green-tinged outer petals combined with the creamy rounded inner petals and the double form are a great combination. The crown of frost was a lucky find this morning.

First time flowering double cream Hellebore with a dusting of frost, Tostat, February 2020
And the inside of the Fritillaria flower is just as gorgeous, Tostat, February 2020

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