First snowdrops…

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First snowdrops en masse in the woods, Tostat, January 2018

Yesterday was the first day of sunshine, bar the odd hour, for what has seemed like almost a month of high winds and deluging rain.  Given the general state of drought that existed for most of last year, there is a lot to be thankful for, but grey, wind and rain doesn’t do much for the spirit, no matter how festive the season.

But the snowdrops, and I am no galanthophile, that arrive with splendid timing usually just after but sometimes just before Christmas, in the woods, are a wonderful thing.  They decorate the woods beautifully, bringing just enough brightness and bounce into the wintry landscape.  The dog and I did a 10k circuit walk yesterday, spending much of the time (me) jumping over huge puddles and soggy patches while Molly romped through the middle of everything with glee.

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Snowdrop close-up, Tostat woods, January 2018

Our river, the Adour, which has spent most of the year trickling along on the rocks is now a raging spate of wild water, which is how it should be.

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The Adour in full flow, Tostat, January 2018

The sunlight brought out the colour that there is in January.  Mistletoe glowed golden against the bare branches of the trees, and some grass seemed so green as to be almost freshly grown.

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Mistletoe in the trees, Bazillac, January 2018

In the winter, lines and shapes in the landscape are revealed- I am always taken by the sombre, communal, standing-to-attention of trees that demarcate fields and maybe ownership, such as these coppiced trees in Ugnouas.

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Old coppiced trees stand sombrely, Ugnouas, January 2018

In some of the fields outside our village, there are still small patches of vines, grown originally by grandfathers or great-grandfathers two or three generations back for home consumption.  Our house once offered the service of pressing the grapes to people in the village- big gatherings would happen in our barn with shared food and drink to celebrate the work of crushing the grapes.   We still have the press.

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Looking away towards Escondeaux, January 2018



Snobbish tendencies meet Paloma Blanca…

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Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, Tostat, September 2017

Starting a New Year, and some tendencies to tackle, I think.  One tendency is certainly a kind of plant snobbery.  I have a yen to always find something different, off-beat, not yet tried by me, and in this hunt for the different and the new, I realise that I can often overlook the really good plant that is not exceptional or unusual, but just does a good job where it is. Even the phrasing of ‘just does a good job’ seems to somehow denigrate.  I admit it.  But this year, I am going to outface this tendency as being, frankly, silly- not to mention more than a bit snobby.

The good old Japanese anemone (see above) is one such plant.  For me this plant grows not only where you might expect, moist, sun and goodish soil, but also, it has stuck itself in one of the hottest, driest parts of the garden, and, albeit, a little stunted in comparison with it’s more well-off neighbour, it still flowers nonstop for more than two months and the foliage looks great even if in baking heat.  Hitherto, I have only had the pink, but now, I have been given bits of the white- and so, it is getting the recognition it deserves.

I have a tricky area right in front of the house.  A very old and grotty spiraea has given up and been strangled by bramble, and I have one or two other shrubs that have never got beyond their first year.  Two reasons mainly- first, it is soaking wet in the winter and then bone-dry in the summer, and secondly, despite my attempting to protect them with stakes, they have been mown down twice or three times by us or a helpful housesitter.  All in all, they have thrown in the towel.  And, I frankly admit, owing to the snobbery problem, I have refused to look again at spiraea.

But this is plainly ridiculous.  What I need is a tough, good-looking shrub that flowers well at some point, and arches nicely but doesn’t grow too tall and annoy the shutters or windows- so 1.5m height is about the max.  Spiraea, particularly Spiraea cinerea Grefsheim seems to utterly fit the bill.  Early Spring flowering, and drought-tolerant according to all the sources I have found, and the perfect size- so this is what it will be.  This variety is a sort of baby version of the Bridal Wreath spiraea which needs more space than I have, so it comes with good parentage.  The right plant for the right place, as Beth Chatto would say, and only a trace of  snobbery.

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Spiraea cinerea Grefsheim. Photo credit:

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Euonymus japonicus ‘Paloma Blanca’ photo credit:

Europop not being my thing, the mere mention of ‘Una Paloma blanca’ is enough to make me cringe- but look, this is the name of a very interesting, well to me, variety of Euonymus, which is a good doer in many situations for me- notably sun and dry.  It is a small, fat upright shaped euonymus, Euonymus japonicus ‘Paloma Blanca’, which for 9 months of the year is a deep, glossy, emerald green and so does very good shaping in the garden.  But, for 2-3 months, the new Spring growth is a startling, brilliant white until it turns green… sounds a bit naff?  Maybe, but it has stuck in my mind and finding 3 small plants this week in a post-New Year forage at a nursery in the Gers, the Embalogue at Mirande,  was enough for me to cave in.  So, tres Paloma Blanca it is.

Back to Alicante in my mind…

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Hymenocallis festalis, Carmen del Campillo, Alicante, October 2017

Sometimes a new plant haunts you.  This slightly spectral photograph, taken almost in the dark, is of a plant which is currently haunting me.  Wispy, spidery white tendrils surround an almost-daffodil centre, with loose, floppy foliage a touch reminiscent of agapanthus.  It should be grown in the sun, though clearly the gardener at Carmen del Campillo, Crevillente, just outside Alicante knows his conditions well.  So unusual and so pretty.  I am searching for bulbs of Hymenocallis festalis right now.  It may also be called Ismene x deflexa.  Darn it, Crocus are offering 2 bulbs for £1.50 right now, but they don’ send to France- sniff.

Carmen del Campillo is a lovely place to visit, a delightful, shady courtyard garden with snaking paths and many little corners to visit- and as importantly, charming little nooks in which to taste a superb selection of teas and delicious Moroccan pastries.  The garden evokes Morocco in every way, smells of blossom, intriguing objets and plantings, and moments of mystery and beauty.

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Lanterns, sharp light and shade and fountains, Carmen del Campillo. Alicante, October 2017

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The light and shade of it, Carmen del Campillo, Alicante, October 2017

Deep marmalade orange and a falling head of flowers, Clivia x cyrtanthiflora was another clever pot choice.  It might work for me with a little protection according to San Marcos growers, so it’s a maybe.

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Clivia x cyrtanthiflora, Carmen del Campillo, Alicante, October 2017

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Foliage and containers, and lanterns…Carmen del Campillo, Alicante, October 2017

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Polygala myrtifolia with gorgeous stamens, Carmen del Campillo, Alicante, October 2017

Many thanks to Dan, aka ‘The Frustrated Gardener’ for the identification of Polygala myrtifolia!  I love his blog and he is a serious and committed plantperson- there is always something to learn from him.

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Light opening up shadows, Carmen del Campillo, Alicante, October 2017

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Framed by scented pelargonium, Hibiscus hids out by a pillar, Carmen del Campillo, Alicante, October 2017

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And a pink Hibiscus caught in a spotlight, Carmen del Campillo, October 2017

If you visit, beware of the tiny roads and use a GPS!  It is really worth a relaxing stroll and an hour or so of feeling completely removed from the everyday…

Happy New Year by the way.  I forgot to complete this post just before Xmas.

Sissinghurst dreams…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Berkheya purpurea, beautifully fringed, Sissinghurst, June 2017

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

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

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

Baby, it’s cold outside…

November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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Seedheads of Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, December 2017

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Telekia speciosa, Tostat, December 2017

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

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


Alicante in the wild…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leptospermum scoparium, Lucentum, Alicante, October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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The Stumpery, Tostat, November 2017

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

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Salvia confertiflora, Tostat, November 2017