Creams and colours…

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Cephalaria gigantea, Tostat, June 2019

Two years ago, at this time of year,  we joined in with the ‘Gardens in the Wild’ festival in Herefordshire, and visited about half a dozen gardens over the weekend.  So many good things to see and plants to take in- one of which popped up in various of the gardens, and I adored it.  Cephalaria gigantea won my heart, for slender but tall stature and creamy lemon flowers.   Insects adored it, and so did I.  From seed, it has taken me two years to get flowering plants- they grow so high that I would need a ladder to look down into them, and so you can imagine, two years is what it takes to build up a solid root base.  Unknowingly, I mixed them in with seedlings of Thalictrum flavum glaucum– but I think that the two giants get on rather well.  They are in the most moist part of the garden, so this summer will tell if they can take it.

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Dorycnium hirsutum ‘Frejorgues’, Tostat, June 2019

Dorycnium hirsutum ‘Frejorges’ is a slow-burn plant.  Needing sharp drainage, full sun and poor soil to do best, I was not bowled over it by intially.  But, growing slowly over 2 years, to make a crinkled silvery-green mound, and this year, flowering for the first time (unless I just have forgotten) with creamy pea-type flowers, it has earned it’s place in the garden.

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Jardin de la Poterie Hillen, Thermes-Magnoac, June 2019

The best bit from Jardin de la Poterie Hillen last week was….this view.  It was jammed with people- note to self, don’t bother with Portes Ouvertes days, find another time.  I really liked the shaped shrubs, the bench, the slim cypresses behind, the lilypad bowl and the three weathered uprights that sounded like metal, but felt quite light to the touch.  Material therefore unknown.  I also liked this rather florid clematis- baroque swags of flowers absolutely saved by their cool creamy green colouring, Clematis florida Alba Plena.  A good combination.  On the list.

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Clematis florida Alba Plena, Jardin de la Poterie Hillen, Thermes-Magnoac, June 2019

Back home, the trooper plants are blooming.  Both are Lychnis, the top one, Salmonea, I grew from seed a few years back which I got from the Hardy Plant Society and it is just beginning to self-seed gently in the mixed planting under the cherry tree.  The bottom one is the more common, scarlet chalcedonica– which I also grew from seed, and it gives a real flash of scarlet.  Nothing demure about it at all.  Easy and tough as old boots.

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Lychnis chalcedonica Salmonea, Tostat, June 2019
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Lychnis chalcedonica, Tostat, June 2019

In the Mix, the alliums are over but still making a great vertical against the Stipa tenuissima.  In the morning light, the effect is magical, golden, slender, wafting against the green of the emerging Miscanthus sinensis Strictus– not yet producing the golden zebra stripes that I love.  The Miscanthus has been waiting for heat so far this summer.

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The Mix with Stipa tenuissima and seedhead of Allium nigrum, Tostat, June 2019

In the cool, semi-shady conditions of the Bee garden in Peebles last month, self-sown  and spreading Camassia leichtlinii, don’t know the variety, were taking over beautifully from the Scottish bluebells.  My friend has them planted in and amongst a crimson-leaved acer, and the light filtering through the acer picks out the Camassia beautifully.  Irresistable.  But they must be resisted.  Tostat would bring certain death to moisture-loving Camassia.

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Camassia leichtlinii, Peebles, May 2019

But, close in colour, though again an unknown variety, that I got as a cutting from Jardin d’Antin nearby to us- is the plummy, purply, blue of this statuesque Penstemon- the orange background kindly donated by the spreading branches of the unknown orange Abutilon.

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Unknown Penstemon, from Jardin d’Antin, Tostat, June 2019

A week ago, I was talking about the Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’.  Here is a photograph of the quieter, less-in-your-face flowers of ‘Husker Red’- not creamy in my case, more of a pale mauve I would say, but pretty all the same, and flowering for the first time after growing from seed 2 years ago.  I am looking forward to seeing how the plants themselves develop.

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Penstemon Huskers Red, Tostat, June 2019

This coral-red Salvia is new to me, Salvia dichlamys.  The colouring has that electric quality that you get in the purple-mauve of Verbena bonariensis- it really speaks to you.  I shall be very happy to take cuttings later in the summer, and see what happens when brought in for winter.

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Salvia dichlamys, Tostat, June 2019

Nostalgia at Greenbank Garden, Glasgow…

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Euphorbia griffithii, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

Last month, whilst in Scotland, I visited Greenbank Garden in Glasgow- well, right on the very edge of Glasgow really, nestled amongst the slivers of farmland that separate Newton Mearns from Clarkston.  This is a National Trust Scotland property, a small but perfectly formed mid 18th century mansion house (not open) and the grounds that surround it, including a walled garden, other garden areas and woodland spaces that beguile you into thinking you are in the countryside.  Intended to offer inspiration to home gardeners, the NTS have retained a relaxed, non-modish style of planting- reminiscent of Scottish country houses in the 1950s almost.

I have very fond memories of this garden.  Nearly 30 years ago, we lived nearby, renting a tiny, damp cottage in Waterfoot Row, and visiting Greenbank became a bit like popping next door.  I remember pushing the pram up the country road with my eldest daughter as a baby- and so it was fun to revisit it with her last month, especially as she is developing a real love of gardening, growing and plants.

So, here are some of the plants, trees and shrubs that caught my eye on a cool but sunny day in Glasgow in May.  I loved the soft red of this Chaenomeles x superba ‘Knapp Hill Scarlet’, and it enjoys the cool, damper conditions of Scotland.  A Victorian introduction, it is perfectly chosen for an historic garden.

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Chaenomeles x superba ‘Knapp Hill Scarlet’, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

This Cornus mas Variegata was just breaking open the cool, white new foliage, which will deepen in tone a little and develop green and cream tints in the summer.  I didn’t know this small tree, but it sounds like my kind of tough customer, with the added bonus of yellow spring blossom which forms small, hard fruit in the autumn.  It makes great fruit jelly apparently.  Not for full sun, but otherwise tough.  It goes on the list for the future.

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Cornus mas Variegata, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

This magnificent magnolia is perfect for Scotland.  Flowering as late as mid-summer, Magnolia wilsonii probably avoids any sneaky last minute frosts, and the flowers are spectacular, being the purest white like crumpled linen, with dark red centres.  I have only seen this tree twice, here at Greenbank and also at Dawyck Botanical Gardens- and it is one to stand under and savour.  It was brought back from China in 1904 by the famous plant hunter, Ernest Henry (Chinese) Wilson– hence the name.

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Magnolia wilsonnii, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

Me and conifers don’t mix well.  I love tall, slim conifers for their Italian look, and Scots Pine for their drama and beauty in the landscape, but otherwise, I am not a great fan.  But, at Greenbank, there were a couple of surprises that made me eat my hat.  I have had to research the beautiful cones and growth below, as I had no idea what this plant was. I am pretty sure that this is Abies balsamea nana from some hard internet trawling.  I was drawn to it for the drama of the dark, upright cones, almost purple in colour, and the pale-green contrasting needles of the new growth.  Perfect for Scotland, it is a a low-growing dwarf of the big version, liking semi-shade and acidic soil.

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Abies balsamea nana, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

Sir Isaac Newton liked his crabapples.  This tree was propagated from a baby Malus that came from the very Malus that grew in Newton’s garden.  So, whilst it may not be the most unusual plant ever, it carries some real history.

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Malus domestica, propagated from Sir Isaac Newton’s tree, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

I obviously can’t grow Rodgersia in Tostat.  I did try though.  One tiny sprig hangs on and pops up every year, only to give up a few weeks later.  The sun and shade on the burnished leaves of this Rodgersia podophylla caught my eye- gorgeous.

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Rodgersia podophylla, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

I am successful with some hardy geraniums.  I haven’t tried Geranium ‘renardii’ or any of its offshoots, but the clean purple striation was lovely, as well as the star-shaped separation of the petals- a pretty stylish customer, I thought.  It needs more moisture, I think, than I can guarantee it with my no-watering policy.

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Geranium renardii, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019
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Salix lanata, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

This little Salix lanata really charmed me.  The soft, fluffiness of the catkins, with their bold, upright stance, and the felted leaves was a lovely combination.

And the next day we tackled urban gardening using fabric pots, and recycled wood and stones.  It was a lovely thing to be a helper.

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Gardening in Langside, Glasgow, May 2019

June goings-on…

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The Mix, caught in early sunlight, Tostat, June 2019

At this time of year, the light becomes so bright that photography is an early morning or late evening activity. The light creeps over the house in the morning like a ranging searchlight, and the other day, it was the right place and the right time.  Standing by the Mix, my now 3 year old perennial planting with the occasional small shrub and grass, the sun spotlit the tops of the clumps of perennials, picking out the Monarda fistulosa and the Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’ as the tallest in town just yet.  This area has been a real experiment- made even more experimental this year by the one-armed bandit requirement of ‘no weeding’.  About 6 weeks ago, it looked pretty awful.  But now, with the rain and sun we have had, the perennials are powering upwards, and, unless you have a pair of binoculars, you mostly can’t see any serious weed activity.  There is a lesson here for the future.

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Papaver somniferum, from Biddy Radford, Tostat, June 2019

This has been a good year for self-seeding- another bonus for one-armed gardening.  Opium poppies, Papaver somniferum, have popped themselves all over the gravel paths and into some of the more orthodox places as well. As self-seeders, you can get years when the colours are very washed out- but this year has been loads better with good mauves and soft pinks.  The bees and insects love them- and I do, for their unfurling architecture as much as for the flowers.

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Unfurling Opium poppy and Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Tostat, June 2019

Playing with Penstemons has become a bit of an obsession.  I grew some Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ from seed the year before last, and so with the wait, this is the beginning of seeing the plant in action.  Slim, upright growth, dark beetroot colouring on the stems and leaves, and buds which are creamy-yellow.  Not yet a big player, but with potential.  I also bought some Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ a cross between ‘Husker Red’ and ‘Prairie Splendour’.  Now this is a big, beefy plant.  Strong upright, dark crimson, darker than ‘Husker Red’, stems and leaves, altogether bigger and more imposing, and then, on filigreed stems, big pale mauve flowers. So far, so very good.  Not yet tested for drought tolerance, but that will come.

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Trifolium rubens, Tostat, June 2019

Two years ago, visiting the stunning gardens at Kentchurch Court, I was seriously smitten by what seemed like giant clover flowers on speed.  It was a variety of Trifolium, and so I have been growing some from seed since last summer, and it is just about to flower.  This is the species form of Trifolium ochroleucon– more to follow.  But, I have also bought plants of two more Trifoliums, Trifolium rubens and Trifolium pannonicum ‘White Tiara’.  Both are doing well so far in their first year, seeming to cope well with the conditions- the true test will come.

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Trifolium pannonicum ‘White Tiara’, Tostat, June 2019
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Philadelphus ‘Starbright’, Tostat, June 2019

A bargain basement buy this year in the new area, still covered in cardboard, and holding its own, is a newish variety of Philadelphus called ‘Starbright’.  A recent Canadian selection, it has dark-red stems and strong, single white flowers and is very cold and drought tolerant- hence my giving it a go.

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Phlomis longifolia var. bailanica with Allium nigrum behind and a sprinkling of Dianthus cruentus, Tostat, June 2019

This has been the year of the Phlomis- all my plants have adored the weather and conditions.  Phlomis longifolia var.bailanica has doubled in size, and has emptied the custard tin over itself, with incredible Birds Custard coloured flower heads.  I am responsible only for the Phlomis and the Allium nigrum, also enjoying life- the Dianthus cruentus is self-seeded, I think from a few feet away.

Tomorrow, we are off to visit Jardin de la Poterie Hillen– this should be a lovely garden day with great patisserie as well.  Not to be knocked.  And some splendid planting, such as this extraordinary rose, Rosa ‘Pacific Dream’, photographed by my friend Martine in case I missed it….

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Rosa ‘Pacific Dream’ Jardin de la Poterie Hillen, Thermes-Magnoac 65, June 2019.  Photo credit: Martine Garcia






All in the blue…

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Native bluebells in the sun and shade of Dawyck Botanical Gardens, Scotland, May 2019

Just back from a lovely 10 days in Scotland, visiting old friends and family.   The weather was, well, Scottish, with one or two exceptions, but visiting old haunts and memories, telling stories with old friends and family is always good for the soul.  For those who have not been to Dawyck Botanical Gardens (pronounced Doik), near Peebles in the Borders- here are some very good reasons for going there.

Firstly, it is a beautiful, unfiddled-with woodland and glen landscape with good gardening going on in it.  Secondly, it has a grand tearoom and outdoor space to enjoy your soup and scone or sticky bun.  You need to know that I enjoyed both!  Blue was the colour that drew me on this visit.  The native bluebells were everywhere, nestling into the shade and the sun alike.  A gorgeous mist of blue was everywhere.  The native bluebell is not a showy thing, the colour is actually quite pale, and so the blue mist is only possible because the plants have colonised and spread massively over the years.

Green was also good.  Sharp, bright green on the emerging foliage everywhere, and Dawyck has a wonderful collection of trees from all over the world as well as native specimens.  Shuttlecock ferns, Matteucia struthiopteris, were powering up in the semi-shade, almost an army of green soldiers ready to set out on campaign.

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The shuttlecock fern, Matteucia struthiopteris, Dawyck Botanical Gardens, Scotland, May 2019

But the king of blue, the Himalayan poppy, Meconopsis ‘Slieve Donard’ was gloriously flowering in large masses, both in the semi-shade and, surprisingly, the bright sun.

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Meconopsis Slieve Donard, Dawyck Botanical Gardens, Scotland, May 2019

Blue poppies are such a haunting colour.  The delicacy of the petals belie the strength of the plants, I think, and the colour, especially if caught by light, is irridescent.  ‘Slieve Donard’ makes for quite a stately plant, flowerstalks reaching at least 90 cms, and whilst infertile, which probably increases the flowerpower, it clumps up well and is easily propogated  by division.  I have never grown it, but wish I had.

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Meconopsis Slieve Donard in the sun, Dawyck Botanical Gardens, Scotland, May 2019

Clean air doth good lichen make.  The trees were covered with what looked like fur.  I loved the contrast between dark stems and trunks, and the pale green froth of the lichen.

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Trees cloaked in pale, mysterious lichen, Dawyck Botanical Gardens, Scotland, May 2019

Close up, it really does look like foam…

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The foaming quality of the lichen close-up, Dawyck Botanical Gardens, Scotland, May 2019

The blue theme was hypnotic to the eye, and I probably missed all sorts of other less showy triumphs being caught by the blue.  But I did manage to catch one or two other lovely things.  This delicate, arching berberis, Berberis lepidifolia, was really beautiful.  The surprise being the small, hanging yellow flowers, like tiny lanterns- a bit like Euonymus or spindlebush flowers- which bobbed gracefully in the breeze.  It was collected by the great plantsman, George Forrest, who travelled from Scotland to Yunan in China in 1904 and made 6 more expeditions before his death in 1932, bringing back many plants that grow in our gardens today.

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Delicate arching Berberis lepidifolia, Dawyck Botanical Gardens, Scotland, May 2019

I love them in other people’s gardens, especially in Scotland, but they are not for me- the rhododendron and the azalea are not my cup of tea.  But the fragrance from Rhododendron luteum was like warm honey on the wind at Dawyck.  It is a slimmer, finer flower than some of the more blowsy rhodos- much more to my liking.

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Rhododendron luteum, Dawyck Botanical Gardens, May 2019

Another plant that I have never grown, is the Trillium.  Dawyck has substantial plantings of the classic crimson, Trillium erectum and Trillium grandiflorum, which has a delicate pink mottle to the white flowers as they age.

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Trillium erectum, Dawyck Botanical Gardens, May 2019
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Trillium grandiflorum, Dawyck Botanical Gardens, Scotland, May 2019

By the way, the Dawyck tearoom has the richest, most gingery parkin I have ever tasted.  The complete garden visit really.


Mrs Oakley-Fisher…

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The golden apricot blooms of Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’, Tostat, May 2019

Amazing!  Despite the coolness and the rain, at noon today, Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley-Fisher‘ burst into flower- roll of drums etc etc.  It feels like a roll of drums is required, because, as I commented in an earlier post, it seemed to me that she wouldn’t make it after a torrid first year with no flowering at all.

What can I say?  Golden-warm apricot flowers that seem to put others in the apricot category in the shade, and bright red new growth that adds to the fun.  Stand aside, Buff Beauty, I say.  Though Mrs Oakley-Fisher is a compact plant so far, though maybe in California, aka Annie’s Annuals, she gets bigger.

Who was she?  Only one photograph exists, of a woman taking her responsibilities seriously , named for one of the first women to be elected to the National Rose Council in 1921.  She was from Sudbury, in Suffolk, and the rose was bred probably by Cecil E. Cant, the son of the famous rosarian, Benjamin R. Cant, of Colchester, only 16 miles from Sudbury.  Cants dominated the rose breeding world of England in the late nineteenth century, established in 1765, by 1880 they were the leading rose exhibitor.

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Benjamin R. Cant, painted by Charles Head (1850-1926), Colchester Museum.

The rose dates from 1921, when it was first exhibited, and pretty soon Vita Sackville-West was growing it at Sissinghurst, and giving away cuttings to friends, such as the incomparable Christopher Lloyd, who grew it at Great Dixter, where you can still see it.

I am so thrilled that she has made it- and yes, today I learnt that it is Oakley-Fisher with a hyphen.

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Rosa Mrs Oakley-Fisher last week, Tostat, May 2019
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And today in the sunlight, Tostat, May 2019


Memories of Scotland…

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Cistus x hybridus ‘Gold Prize’, Tostat, May 2019

Winter to summer, spring to winter.  This week we have experienced all four seasons and a whole lot of rain- I am not knocking the rain at all, believe me, but I am looking forward to a little more seasonal consistency.  Although, gloomily, that may not exist anymore with global warming.

In the garden now, this compact Cistus x hybridus ‘Gold Prize’ has just started to flower.  I bought it 3 years ago, but it really has taken this long to settle in.   I had it marked as a damp squib until very recently.  I am still not quite sure how I feel about the variegation. In some lights, it can look charmingly golden- in others, a bit on the sick side.  But it is a useful size, as Cistus can turn into giants with ease in our summer-hot dry climate.  So, it sits well with other perennials without squashing them.

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Geranium albanum, Tostat, May 2019

Geranium albanum was my first shot at growing geraniums from seed- which if you haven’t tried, is a test of patience above all.  I love it for the dual personality- purple-veined pale white flowers which then turn a deeper pink, as you can see from the other flower in the photograph.  I prefer the first incarnation I have to say, but live with the two together.  It grows in a tough spot for me, underneath a small tree, and in quite a dry situation.  This leads to the plant taking off into dormancy and disappearing altogether in the heat of summer, but it re-appears unabashed in Spring each year spreading a bit more.

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Small tortoiseshell butterfly, Tostat, May 2019
Swallowtail butterfly, Tostat, May 2019

This week has seen the first serious butterfly arrivals.  Previous attempts have been thwarted by a largely Scottish April, but in the sunshine between the showers, the red valerian was the plant of choice.

Also, this week, Tostat has been tackling a big job.  With help in the form of some funding, and the muscles power of Tostatenfleur and the cycling club,  we have laid down a heavy biodegradable covering, and then planted through the covering with tough-as-boots perennials which will form a good, colourful groundcover for the cyclocross circuit.  Over two days, fuelled by a grand lunch outdoors courtesy of Nicole, we battled with the covering, the planting, the embedded stones and whatnot, to get nearly 800 plants into the ground.  Another 800 or so plants arrive in a couple of weeks for Phase 2.  We are a little late in the year, but the Scottish weather has really helped us for once.

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Tostadium team, Tostat, May 2019
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Tostadium team 2, Tostat, May 2019

And one of the best parts of gardening together, apart from eating and laughing, is the conversation about all sorts, and life and gardening.

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Walking and talking, Tostadium, May 2019

One-armed gardening

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Auricula Jungfrau, Tostat, May 2019

So, the tendons are mending- but largely one-armed gardening continues as I am keen not to mess it all up again, which is probably what I did in the early Spring.  So, some parts of the garden are engaged in slugging it out with annual weeds and that nightmare called ‘Sticky Willy’ in Scotland…whilst other parts have benefitted from my rather feeble attempts with the left hand.  I have to just accept it.  Most things are in their 2nd/3rd years or older and so will eventually tower over the rubbish, which will start to wilt once the warm weather arrives.  Be stoical, I say to myself.

I bought some tiny auriculas on my last but one visit to Chelsea, which puts it at at least six years ago.  I loved them dearly outside in a little raised, stony bed in Linlithgow and they loved the coolness of it all.  Needless to say, they have toiled here- but they hang on in there and I keep them in the shade, but sometimes with less moisture than they would like.  This year,  Auricula Jungfrau has been the best- it is a pale pinky-peach colour, normally a little inside the beige range for me- but up close, they have a miniature baroque quality to them, and they look as if cherubim with nothing on should be holding them in swags.  I am rather glad that they are not cream-coloured as Barnhaven suggest in the link.

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Cerinthe yellow, Tostat, May 2019

This year, following a link on Noel Kingsbury’s new blog from Portugal, I bought seed from a lovely man called Liberto Dario.  He has a Facebook page and if you would like seed from him, message him on Facebook and he will send you the lists.  I have been really enjoying trying the seed out.  This gorgeous yellow Cerinthe was something I tried early this Spring.  It is about the same height as the blue Cerinthe, but a bit bushier in inclination and the flowers are a lot shyer.  You have to look for them under the mottled leaves, but they are so fresh and pretty with the red splodge at the top and the vibrant yellow.  They seem to be as tough as the blue, so let’s see if I can get seed from them later in the year.

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Geum Totally Tangerine, Tostat, May 2019

Poor old Totally Tangerine, I think, found last summer altogether too much, too much heat and too little rain.  By last year, my clumps of this great Geum were really big- this year they have been on a diet, but are still there.  I may consider moving them back into the shade of the Daphne in the autumn and see if that perks them up.

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Cotinus coggygria Royal Purple, Tostat, May 2019

This is the time of the year when, if it’s sunny, you need to be up either really early or getting into the evening-  the light is already almost too strong for good photographs.  But I just made it with the new foliage on Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’- vibrant ruby coloured and just flushed with dew.

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Rosa Mrs Oakley Fisher, Tostat, May 2019

There is a story to Rosa Mrs Oakley Fisher.  I bought one 30 years ago for my Mum, who was a green-fingered garden lover. I thought she would love it for the apricot flowers and the slightly 1920s form of it.  Embarassingly for her, it died on her, but she didn’t tell me till ages later. So, when I saw it again last year for sale here in France, I wanted one to remember my Mum by.  Last year, it was very unhappy and I thought it might have gone the way of the original.  But no, this year, it looks as if it has cracked it, and the slim, elegant buds are just about to burst on the next sunny day.

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Convolvulus Cneorum, Tostat, May 2019

Frost is still around. This isn’t unusual but a bit annoying.  It is one reason, as well as the one-armed situation, why my tender pots are still all clustered, albeit outdoors, near to the house at the back where they get a bit of warmth from the walls.  Just a touch of frost though gives some plants a diamond-necklace look. It certainly doesn’t bother Convolvulus cneorum at all- one of life’s tougher troopers.

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Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’, Tostat, May 2019

Here is a real surprise.  A comeback kid, that didn’t ought to have.  A too-late-in-the-season purchase last Spring, which I knew was a risk,  didn’t make it and I kicked myself-again.  But, only one small sprig, but alive neverthless, popped up, coming through the foxglove leaves to flower.  The other thing to remember about geraniums is that they really are tough- don’t give up on them.

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Rosa Alissar Princess of Phoenicia, Tostat, May 2019

Being of part-Persian stock, I bought this lovely little rose, Alissar Princess of Phoenicia, expecting it to be tough and able to cope with heat.  It has struggled a bit, but this year, in its 3rd year, may have got itself on an even keel.  The only slight disappointment is that I don’t get the rather charming colour change in the flowers from cream to pink.  This may be because it is in a sunny spot from the off, but all the same, it is pretty.