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.

The comeback kids

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Salvia ‘Dancing Dolls’, Tostat, April 2019

This is the time of year when the comeback kids return to the garden.  Some are returnees every year because that fits their lifestyle- spring-flowerers or performers that disappear when the going gets hot.  Others are genuine surprises- seeds that have stayed dormant for whatever reason and then germinate and pop up sometimes years after you have given up all hope- or they may be revived corpses.  I have a few of those each year.

Salvia’ Dancing Dolls’ is a revived corpse.  I had three scattered in the hot and dry border, ideal terrritory for them you would have thought.  But no.  In fact, I hadn’t even bothered giving it a post-winter pruning as I was pretty sure it was a goner.  But just this week it has flowered more solidly than ever before, and now I remember why I liked it.  It is saved from pink insipidity by the darker pink on the flowers and the lovely stems.  Really worth it.

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Salvia pratensis nestled in amongst the Cerinthe, Tostat, April 2019

I have absolutely no memory of planting this Salvia pratensis.  It may have been one of a whole load of seeds that I tried about 4-5 years ago, obviously I was successful with 3 or 4 small plants, and I planted them out.  Then completely forgot about them, and they may well have taken this long to flower- which was what caught my eye, looking rather handsome I think against the dark blue-purple of the Cerinthe.  I love that.

Note: Mine are clearly pink…so something is slightly different from the ones offered by Crocus.

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Verbascum ‘Cotswold Queen’, Tostat, April 2019

These Verbascum ‘Cotswold Queen’ were a seed effort easily five years ago- and disappeared entirely from view.  They have the most elegant leaves- nicely serrated and spear-shaped, very distinguished-looking even in winter- and I left them in, recognising that they were something but not at all sure what.  They have flowered in, around and beneath Rosa banksiae lutea, a softer yellow, for the last 2 weeks and with more flowers to open.  The perfect plant in the perfect spot.  Nothing to do with me.

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Lespedeza thunbergii, Tostat, April 2019

Lespedeza thunbergii is one of those lax, droopy, but very good hot and dry shrubs that just looks like matchsticks in the winter.  But the spring growth opens like a host of umbrellas, and sets an elegant tone for the border.  They hold their green arching branches and leaves in the heat, and only the flowers sometimes get a little toasted.

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Salvia candelabrum, Tostat, April 2019

This is a giant of a Salvia, Salvia candelabrum– it makes a good big clump- and add in the flowers, on arching long stems of more than 1m, and you can see it needs space.  It also needs needle-sharp drainage and preferably poorish, thin soil- with that it will survive -10C with no problems.  I do try and help by not straining those requirements, as I have learnt the hard way that they are essentials.  But each flower is such a gorgeous blue, five times the size of a normal Salvia flower, and spread apart from the other flowers on long arching stems.  It will self seed, which is a real bonus.

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New ferny foliage on Comptonia peregrina, Tostat, April 2019

I am so pleased to see these baby leaves on the Comptonia peregrina.  I have three plants, all bought last year or this Spring, and they were expensive because of their rarity here in France.  I thought I had successfully killed one of them last year before I even got it planted, but I am touching wood right now as I have a hunch it is still alive.  The leaves are emerging very slowly, so slowly that you almost doubt them.  I am learning that this is a plant that is going to follow its own path no matter what I do.  But I think it will be a great addition to some of my hot, dry spots needing reviving.  Fingers are crossed.

We are in a cool, grey patch of weather while Scotland roasts…harrumph.  Fair dos, I guess.

Friday in Tostat…

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Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière, Tostat, April 2019

I went out this morning and could not believe it, Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière, such a good and tough rose, had bloomed first before the normal early-riser, Rosa banksiae lutea– which obliged later this morning but loses the gong.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, April 2019

So, today there is no chilly wind and I thought I would do a Spring round-up with mainly photographs.  This lovely Anemone x fulgens ‘Multipetala’ has been blooming for more than 6 weeks and these are the best flowers so far.

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Anemone x fulgens ‘Multipetala’, Tostat, April 2019

A small plant but with a big flower, Doronicum ‘Little Leo’ is only one year old, but doing fine.

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Doronicum ‘Little Leo’, Tostat, April 2019

The quince blossom is much more fragile than the cherry or the apple- it waits tentatively in a closed state until the sun warms it up- and is so easily destroyed by wind and rain.  So far, so good.

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The quince is blooming, Cydonia oblonga, Tostat, April 2019

I have two Westringia rosmariniformis in the garden.  Both have been a little stretched by the cold weather in the last week or so, and have browned a bit at the tips, but whilst not yet big flowerers, they have started.

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Westringia rosmariniformis, Tostat, April 2019

These white Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ are new to the Stumpery this Spring, and I rather like the semi-ghostly presence that they bring, even in the sunlight.

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Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, Tostat, April 2019

Further down in the Stumpery, these Muscari ‘Mount Hood’ are in their third year, and mot minding, it would seem, the semi-shade.  I love the little white hats.

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Muscari ‘Mount Hood’, Tostat, April 2019
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Wisteria and the moment, Tostat, April 2019

Wisteria can be a plague on all your houses here, as it thugs its way to global domination.  But, right now, on the wonky pergola, it looks and smells gorgeous.

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A new view round the side of the house, Tostat, April 2019

Funny how you can discover a new view even after nearly 16 years…pots awaiting planting on the bench when tendons recover…



York Gate…a gem

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York Gate Garden, Adel, Leeds, April 2019

I was watching a short piece by Adam Frost on Gardener’s World, having just fixed up a visit to Leeds for a few days, when I heard him say that York Gate was in Leeds, not York as I had dimly imagined without checking.  To cut a long story short, on a cold afternoon with sunny breaks this week, I found myself in York Gate Garden in Leeds- a garden that I have always wanted to visit.  Brilliant.

This is not a grand or massive garden- but it is a garden gardened beautifully with real attention to detail and designed by the family who owned it until the 1990s with a lovely mix of quirkiness and boldness.

Take the opening photograph. Ignore the superb spikey shapes top left, and what you can see is a shape redolent of Edwardian or Arts and Crafts gardens, a lozenge-shaped pool, with off-centre plinths, on one of which is a darkly painted planting urn of the period, neatly edged gravel paths and sweeping shapes.  The planting has all of the expected Spring plants that are quintessentially English in style- but looking closely, there are already planting gems, such as this stunning narcissus below.  From afar, what looked like daffodils massed in the borders, but this were a lovely surprise.  No idea as to variety, and only the stems and leaves say ‘narcissus’ to me, but the flower is creamy yellow something else.

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Unknown star-shaped narcissus, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019
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The Arbour, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

Robin Spencer made the Arbour from recycled wooden beams from a fire-damaged chapel at Armley, and the wooden beams sit on chunky stone legs, very Lutyens- like in their stockiness and practicality.  Close to the Arbour is a woodland area with water from the lozenge-shaped pool trickling through it- I am not a trillium expert as you might imagine, but the red buds rising up from silvered foliage looked magical in the partial sunlight.

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Trillium maculatum, I think, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019
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The Nutwalk, York Gate, April 2019

Looking fragile without leaves, the Nutwalk nevertheless must be pretty tough to take the Yorkshire winds, hazels can take a lot.  Underneath their slender stems, masses of brilliant red tulips had been planted.  The Spencers knew a thing or two about light in the garden- all the paths are angled to make the most of the sloping situation of the garden.  The tulips were shining like stained glass in the fractured sunlight that afternoon.

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Nut walk tulips shining in the sun, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019
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Attention to detail in path construction, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

A touch of William Morris here in the beautifully constructed path leading to the Perfect Pot at the top.  Fringed by dark and mysterious Ophiopogon planiscapus Nigrescens, the path glitters in the light, bordering the borders filled with spring and summer perennials and bulbs.  The Perfect Pot provides the focal point, simply placed on a gravel round edged with stone pavers.

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The Perfect Pot, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019
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The Herb Garden, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

Look at the precision of the topiary, and then also at the distance and perspective that the shapes create- and then think about how long-lasting this vista is.  All year round shape and interest.  I am a straggly gardener, but even I love the clarity of these shapes and also the slightly surreal atmosphere that they create.  And the Perfect Pot stars in the far distance.  More of York Gate to follow.

Seville and kick-arse angels in the spring…

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Cercis siliquastrum, Seville, March 2019

Seville was really in a ‘Carmen Miranda’ mood last weekend, as we had a wonderful 4 days in the city, basking in sunshine and with blossom bursting out all over.  The Cercis siliquastrum blossom was looking amazing- a great slap of cerise pink plastered all over bare branches.  For about ten years, I had a Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’ which makes a really beautiful small tree, about 3m all around, with the incredible blossom followed by heart-shaped glossy green leaves.  Sadly, the increasing dryness in the soil did for it, I think, and I haven’t retried.

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Pale pink tea rose, unknown, The Alcazar, Seville, March 2019

Even roses were beginning to open- it isn’t a long season with the heat and the dryness, but Rosa banksiae lutea was flowering fit to bust everywhere, draping itself artistically over walls and banks.  The green of foliage everywhere was fresh and new, and in the Palacio de las Duenas, which I visited last year when the bougainvillea was all in flower at the end of May, the lemon blossom was mingling with the ripening Seville oranges.

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Lemon blossom and oranges, Palacio de las Duenas, Seville, March 2019
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Light and shade, Palacio de la Contessa Lembrija, Seville, March 2019

Fountains and pots are essentials in the Mudejar garden, the Spanish style of borrowed ‘Arabic’ art and style which was so big in 19th century Seville. The Contessa de Lembrija went a few steps further and massively redesigned her Palace to accommodate many original, highly decorated Roman mosiacs taken from the now-famous site at Italica, outside Seville.  The ground floor of the Palace is an astounding display case for mosaics, ceramics, and many everyday objects in superb condition.   Along with Roman relics, she had a passion for ceramic tiles- and there are some fabulous rooms decorated with beautiful tiles floor to ceiling.  And pots to die for….

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Fabulous ground floor room, Palacio de la Contessa de Lembrija. Seville, March 2019
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This pot really spoke to me. Palacio de la Contessa de Lembrija, Seville, March 2019

Internal courtyards don’t all have fountains.  Simple planting and a positioned pot are all that is required to make a relaxing space.

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Beautiful soft green pot with a planting of Colocasia esculenta, Palacio de la Contessa de Lembrija, Seville, March 2019

And the same Colocasia esculenta can be seen surrounding a cream stone fountain, with no water in the Alcazar.

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Courtyard in the Alcazar, Seville, March 2019

Up in the hills beyond Italica, scrubby areas near a beautiful little church were studded with this early Iris, Iris planifolia.  For all the world, it looks like a plantain if you just see the leaves, but then up come these stubby but determined blue irises.  Fantastic.

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Iris planifolia, hills outside Seville, March 2019

And what about these kick-arse angels?  In that quiet little church, there they were.  One each side of the main aisle- no messing with them.

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Kick-arse angels- my kind of angel, outside Seville, March 2019