Scorched earth…

Burnt echinaceas and 2 surviving Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Tostat, August 2020

It rained, 12 cms or so, yesterday evening and overnight. I felt as if I could feel it on my own skin even though I was indoors. My no-watering policy has been tested almost to the limits of my endurance, never mind the plants. Of course, the pain is caused by my playing with the edges of what the garden can take, and this summer, I have discovered more hot spots than I knew existed in nearly 17 years of gardening here. These hot spots haven’t always existed- but they are new evidence of the effects of climate heating in our part of the world. If and when we move to a new house, my garrigue garden plans are essential as I manoeuvre to find ways to grow plants that will make a garden a a good space for animals, insects, birds and humans.

So what has happened in drought tolerance that has changed in this summer? Hibiscus trionum is a pretty and tough shrub- this one I grew from seed about 12 years ago, and is now a 1.5m slim bush which has taken care of itself with no problems in previous summers. This summer burnt it, though it will shake the burn off as temperatures cool a little and with some more rain.

Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, August 2020

Phillyrea angustifolia is a tough, slow growing shrub which resembles an olive tree in leaf form and robustness. This one below was in a pot for the previous two summers, and this spring I planted it out in a mixed border. It had obviously not had enough time, even with four months or so, to get roots down enough into the soil. Not yet being very big, and my garden eyes being exhausted by all the heat and dryness, I didn’t spot it suffering in time. I think it will make it though.

Phillyrea angustifolia, Tostat, August 2020

Last month I took some photos of Plantago major rubrifolia looking beautifully ruby-coloured in the new tear-shaped border. I am so pleased with it, as the colouring has faded and the seedheads are dried to a crisp, but that plant is still here and will definitely survive.

Plantago rubrifolia, Tostat, August 2020

In the Stumpery, the ferns and persicaria have absolutely bitten the dust, the ferns will probably try for a comeback, the persicaria may not this year, but hey, Salvia spathacea, the rare Californian Salvia, grown from seed, is still green if a little bashed. I shall be overjoyed if it flowers, but that may be asking too much.

Salvia spathacea hangs on, Tostat, August 2020
Salvia spathacea flowering, Tostat, July 2016

Tagetes lemmonii has the most extraordinary smelly foliage- which even I can smell. Burnt coriander mixed with lemon gets close as a description, and my plants are slow to grow, actually needing plenty of heat to even get above ground, but the feathery foliage is pretty and green when not much else is looking so fresh and the custard-coloured marigold flowers come in October.

Tagetes lemmonnii, Tostat, August 2020

Cheating here, as these penstemons grow near a pot or in one- which I do water daily in the summer. Penstemon schoenholzeri flowers for months, scavenging water from the overflow of a scented pelargonium, and is a total joy especially when the tansy gets going. I got Tanacetum vulgare ‘Crispum’ as a small clump years ago, and it has always been very well-behaved for me. The foliage is standout in my view- fresh green all summer and beautifully frilly and ferny in appearance- and to top it all, you get the bright yellow button flowers as well.

Penstemon schoenholzeri and Tanacetum vulgare, Tostat, August 2020

This smokey purple Penstemon is a new one to me this year, and is in a pot ready for departure when we move. I have taken masses of cuttings already, as I love the cloudy coating on the buds before they flower, and the whole plant has a very upright and sturdy form. Penstemon ‘Russian River’ is splendid.

Penstemon Russian River, Tostat, August 2020

In the tear-shaped border which I made last year with an Australian emphasis celebrating our trip there 3 years ago, Dianella caerulea Cassa Blue has been a great choice. The first year was a wee bit touch-and-go, but this year, with no irrigation, it has really settled in and seems unphased by cold or drought. It is not tall, being about 50cms maybe, but the foliage is upright, clumps well and holds the blue tinge in the name really well in the second year. Tiny flowers came in our very hot spring, which will probably look a bit more impressive in later years. I like it.

Next to it, you can see the toasted foliage of Pittosporum tenuifolium Golf Ball, which is one tough customer normally, so I hope it will recover. The feathery foliage in the foreground comes from Vernonia lettermannii– a super good plant which I wrote about a few weeks back. It’s called Ironweed for a good reason.

Dianella caerulea Cassa Blue, Tostat, August 2020

In the heat, some colours really did sing. In a watered pot because it’s a tender shrub is Abutilon pictum (also known as Red Vein and Abutilon striatum), which I bought from Gill Pound in the Languedoc before she retired. What an orange…

Abutilon pictum, Tostat, August 2020

How summer-dry feels…

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

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

Abutilon pictum waiting, Tostat, July 2019

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

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Ruby’, Tostat, July 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, July 2019

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

The redoubtable Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, July 2019

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

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

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

Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum, Tostat, July 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Summer-dry or what…

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Abutilon pictum, Tostat, July 2017

Ok.  This is now the third summer in a row that exceptionally dry conditions have prevailed.  Not continuously, but in killer sections of exceptional heat and dryness rolling through from April until now, and showing no signs of abating.  In between conditions normalise a little, but the accumulating dryness builds over time.  So today, I was really thrilled to find a second hand copy of ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry of the San Francisco Bay Area’ edited by Nora Harlow and published by East Bay Municipal Utility District in 2005.

This book really triggered much of the current landscaping and garden thinking of the Bay Area, and was influential, winning the American Horticultural Society’s Book Award in that year.  So, despite paying more for the postage than the book itself, I am really looking forward to learning more about an area that could be really inspirational for me gardening in Tostat.

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Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, July 2017

Despite all, there are moments of loveliness- once your eye has adjusted to looking past the things that bug you! I grew Bupleurum fruticosum from seed about 7 years ago, and whilst not a looker in the conventional sense, the massed flower heads look fabulous at eye height and attract masses of insects. Now mature plants, they offer real presence in the garden as other plants go over, and I value their strong evergreen presence.

Echinacea purpurea is just coming through.  It is fair to say that this period, though super-dry, is also an inbetween moment in the garden anyway.  There is a pause that naturally happens in the summer, and we are in it.  But, Echinacea and Rudbeckia are arriving soon, thank goodness.

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Echinacea purpurea, Tostat, July 2017

This is the first year the Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ has flowered- last year, bulb strength was being built with leaf production- but now we have flower spikes and leaves- a great display, but with us, it’s got to be grown in a pot so you can manage the watering levels required.  They are thirsty when in the middle of flowerspike production and it’s true, you want the spikes to last as they are quite magnificent.

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Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy, Tostat, July 2017

Abutilon ‘Pictum’ just at the top of the page, is another shrub that does best in a pot, not so much from the water point of view, but more from the over-wintering needed.  ‘Pictum’ like all the Abutilons with the wider-open bell-shaped flowers, needs not to be frost-nipped, so I lug it under cover in the winter, just to give it enough protection to make it.  ‘Mesopotamicum’ and an unknown orange abutilon are just that bit tougher, the toughness give-away being the more shrouded, longer-line flowers as below.  Personally, I am lusting after ‘Ashford Red’, of which more later…

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Unknown orange abutilon suffering a bit last summer, Tostat, July 2016

And the slightly mad- not-to everyone’s-taste Lilium ‘Flore Pleno’ is carrying on regardless.  And I love it for it’s slightly shambolic Rita-Hayworth quality.  It cheers me up.

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Lilium ‘Flore Pleno’, Tostat, July 2017

Gallery of positives

It’s another of those days, when, despite real excitement at the prospect of a woman US President, the news has been mostly about ghastly events around the world, especially in Syria.  So, to buck up, I decided to go outside and take a photograph of what’s looking good in the garden, despite hot temperatures and no rain.  Enough moaning, I said.

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Unknown crocosmia blooming beautifully in the bucket I stuffed it in and never re-planted, Tostat, July 2016

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Artichoke flower, nearly-O Flower of Scotland, Tostat, July 2016

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It’s the dark chocolate that does it, Dahlia ‘Twynings after Eight’, Tostat, July 2017

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Dianthus amurensis ‘Siberian Blues’ growing where it is hottest and driest, Tostat, July 2016

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It only lasts a day or so, Hedychium gardnerianum, Tostat, July 2016

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New to me this year, and so pretty, the Australian Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’, Tostat, July 2016

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Abutilon pictum close-up, Tostat, July 2017

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So tiny, and so fabulous, Pelargonium x ardens, Tostat, July 2016

 

Gardening delights in the Languedoc

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Chateau de Beaufort from the vineyards, Herault, June 2016

A great weekend with old friends in the Languedoc coincided with the annual French gardens open weekend, and so I had the chance to visit La Petite Pepiniere in Caunes Minervois, which has been run by the inspiring Gill Pound for the past 18 years.  Gill Pound is now retiring from running the nursery, whilst still maintaining her garden design work and running occasional gardening courses, but the nursery will be continued and expanded by Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton from a new site right  next to the original La Petite Pepiniere.

There were some lovely things to see, and to buy.  I really loved the shingle beachside feel of this gravel planting of grasses.

New to me was this fabulous tree, Melia azderach.  Wide, sweeping, tiered foliage with swags of violet blossoms, and the stunning matte brown bare trunk makes this tree a superb specimen for a hot, dry position, which really catches the eye.  Throwing good shade I think during summer, it would make an ideal small garden or courtyard tree.  It’s an Australian native tree, tough, drought tolerant and even handling some frost apparently.  According to Top Tropicals, it is a fast grower, reaching 15-16m in a few years with a wide canopy as you can see.   The blossom is quite gorgeous, and apparently has a strong fragrance, but, as ever, the Piasecka nose was not in operation.

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Melia azderach, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

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Melia azderach blossom, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

The garden had some beautiful flower moments too.  I really loved this jumble of flowering plants together, all mature specimens, and so making a shower of bloom and colour.

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Cistus purpurea, Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ and Phlomis fruticosa, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

I think I have identified these correctly, but what works so well is the grey, pink colouring of the Origanum which just bridges the deeper pink of the Cistus and the banana yellow of the Phlomis.

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Halimium halimifolium, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

This lemon  Halimium is so bright, it almost blinds in sunlight.  It is a stunning performer, and I would adopt Christopher Llloyd’s refusal to worry about colours together in this case.  Upright, yet also tumbling in habit, drought tolerant, it bounces back from wind, rain , hail, and pretty much everything, whilst also repeat flowering, and being frost hardy.  Not bad.

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Unknown Callistemon flower, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

As we left, this unknown Callistemon was doing a great firework impression.  Of course, there were purchases made.  When you get the chance to visit a really thoughtful collection of plants, it’s impossible to leave empty-handed.  And one of my purchases flowered today, it’s first flower, I think.  Who wouldn’t want this orange-shred delight?

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Abutilon pictum, Tostat, June 2016