We all need Phlomis in our lives…

Phlomis lanata ‘Pygmy’, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

I am trying out a brave and maybe foolhardy experiment in the sloping, stony and hitherto uncultivated front garden. Given that it is stony and pretty unforgiving, as well as being in full sun almost all day, I had already thought that it could offer a great opportunity to grow cuttings of many of my dry garden plants from the old garden in Tostat. So, I had originally imagined that I would tip much more gravel on top of the stony ground and plant through that, having pulled or dug out as much as I could see that I didn’t want, too many dandelions and way too much bindweed and bramble for example. But….it wasn’t possible to buy any gravel in lockdown, and so, watching the early spring passing by, I went for the Big Gamble.

What if I just planted my small plants anyway? Waiting wasn’t a good option. Firstly, plants like this get impatient in pots generally having massed fibrous root systems or tap roots, both of which want to be in the ground when young. Secondly, I thought that, as long as I didn’t let the bindweed and bramble get too boisterous, with any luck my plants would begin to bulk up this year and be in really good shape next year to dominate any existing plants without me having to wage war on their behalf.

So, in they all went, probably more than 50 small plants grown as cuttings and some new plants bought small, as well as various others kindly given to the new garden. Most were planted by pickaxe as huge numbers of river boulders, probably from surrounding walls that had fallen down, were everywhere. One plant took more than an hour to get into the ground, as 4 or 5 massive 5kg boulders had to be hand extracted by pickaxe. There was a lot of sweat and much swearing.

Phlomis lanata ‘Pygmy’, Tostat, April 2020

And 4 months later, I am quietly confident that the Big Gamble has paid off. To be completely fair, I still have quite a bit of bramble and bindweed, and a sprinkling of very mixed existing plants, such as self-sown Nigella and some flowering weeds. But I am not very bothered by them. The idea was to make a planting of plants that would respond well to the conditions, and let them manage the landscape, accepting those existing plants, whatever they are, that can co-exist. The new plants are slowly taking their place and beginning to be visible through the mix, which means that next year, the space will look very different. Some things have failed, particularly one or two of the bought plants- but my homegrown plants are gaining traction, particularly the Phlomis.

Phlomis lanata ‘Pygmy’, which flowered last Spring in Tostat, later unluckily (it is very small) was strimmed to the ground by Andy, so what came here was a seriously pygmy ‘Pygmy’. But the photo at the top of this post shows you the plant today- looking very good and seriously grown-up to the fullish height of 0.25m.

Phlomis x termessii, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

The golden Phlomis, x termessii is really looking at home. It has had a bit of a heat problem during our very dry patch of six weeks or so in Spring, but the new growth looks really great so I am looking forward to it tripling in size and flowering in April next year. Like everything else on the slope, I have only spot-watered when a plant looked to be in serious trouble, so I am ok with plants struggling a bit as this will stimulate better and deeper root growth for the future.

Phlomis boveii subsp. maroccana, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

I am really looking forward to this Phlomis boveii, it has tall, pale pink flowers in the late Spring, and is bulking up really well. Early leaves got a bit burnt by dryness in February, but the plant has recovered well and looks set for next year.

Senecio vira-vira, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Moving to a plant that was new to me, I am surprised and delighted by this funny-looking Senecio vira-vira. It is incredibly brittle, so don’t plant it anywhere where it will be knocked or bashed. I didn’t put it in the best places, but the upside of bits breaking off is that they root in water in a bright kitchen within 10 days or so, so I have generated about half a dozen new plants already. The flowers are insignificant as the foliage is the real deal, silvery white and felted, so that it looks like very touchable marble. I really like it. I think it will make a mound in the end.

Phlomis purpurea and Greek Oregano, Tostat, April 2020

I didn’t bring Phlomis purpurea. A mistake. It is a lovely thing, so I am on the hunt for one.

Eryngium eburneum, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Eryngium eburneum has had a struggle but looking at the new growth at the base of the rosette, I reckon that it has cracked it and will be back bigger and stronger next year.

Euphorbia pithyusa ‘Ponte Leccia’, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Euphorbia pithyusa ‘Ponte Leccia’ is a beautiful, elegant and refined euphorbia. It develops into a finely wafting mound which offers the same movement as a grass, with soft green fronds that blend in really well even if planted closely to other plants.

I went for broke and also wanted to try out planting Achillea crithmifolia as a protective barrier around my new acquired Rosa mutabilis. I have been reading a little about allelopathic plants, and thought that this would be an interesting experiment in miniature. So far so good, not much has got through, just a twig of bindweed which might be too butch for the Achillea to manage. We will see.

Rosa mutabilis and Achillea crithmifolia, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

The Piasecki pond…

Step 1: Thinks “Too much liner…”
Step 2: ” Maybe not, after all…”
Step 3: ” It’s quite big, going to be sat here with a hose for hours..”
Step 4: “Your turn, come on…”
Step 5: ” Still here…”
Step 6: Large stones and small ones to make a rim and a beach…rustic bench rustled up
Step 7: Planting added…and Agave americana placed

It was a great labour! Early April, liner and plants arrived despite lockdown and so it became The Weekend of the Pond. The longest part?… filling the pond with our spring water and finding/carrying all the big river stones, all hand dug from the garden over years, to make the rim and the riverbed beach through the edge of the New Garden. So, the planting round the pond is a mixture of home-grown babies and purchases, the aquatic/marginal plants will feature in the blog later as they get big enough to be photographed.

This Agave americana is the biggest of about 10 babies that have been produced, one a year practically, since a friend gave us a small Agave from their garden in the Languedoc. It is a vicious plant if you have small children and probably to be avoided in those circumstances, but the soft greeny blue of the architectural leaves is a lovely match for the eucalyptus on the other side. It does not want to be waterlogged, but in my experience, it will take down to -10C, even for a fortnight, if it is not wet at the base.

Justicia dicliptera
Photo credit: http://www.mesarbustes.fr

Justicia dicliptera, also known as Jacobinia suberecta dicliptera, is newish to me. I bought three at the end of last summer, took cuttings from two, and overwintered them outside- a risk, but so far, so good. The cuttings have done well, just in the shelter of the open barn, and the plants have regrown from the base. It makes a greeny velvety mound, about 0.5 m high and wide, with tubular orangey-red flowers in the high summer. I have the five plants in the gravel area to the right of the pond.

Yucca ‘Gold Sword’ in another part of the garden, Tostat, April 2020

Yucca Gold Sword– I love this plant. I bought a couple about 12 years ago and now have many of them as accent plants all over the garden. Tough and reliable, they handle most conditions I have, except the wettest. They will sulk for a while, with their leaves flat on the ground when moved, but given some water or rain for a few days, they will soon pick up to make a spikey presence about 1m tall and wide. I have four of them, of various sizes, planted in the stones to the right of the pond.

First flower on Anisodontea malvastroides, Tostat, April 2020

Anisodontea malvastroides is a tough, shrubby dry conditions shrub, which I hope will flower nonstop next to the pig shed, to the side of the pond. It should make a good size rapidly, to about 1.5-2m all round. The delicate pastel tones of the flowers should soothe near the water.

Phlomis lanata ‘Pygmy’, Tostat, April 2020

Phlomis lanata ‘Pygmy’ has all of the attributes of the bigger Phlomis cousins, exceptional drought tolerance, whorled flowers and grey-green leaves, but it is really tiny. I couldn’t resist it. Maximum size will be about 50cms all round. Aww….It is planted near the Agave for a ‘Little and Large’ moment.

Achillea crithmifolia, Tostat, April 2020

Achillea crithmifolia will make a short blanket of soft, frilly foliage and umbel flowers- like your normal Achillea but much shorter. I hope it will spread amongst the stony planting between the pond and the pigshed, and I will help it by ripping out the pesky sunflower relatives that plague me.

Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’
Photo credit: http://www.txsmartscape.com

Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’ is a Texan plant, and ideally suited to our hot, dry, stony terrain, I hope. It should make a good mound of about 1m all round, and be covered in these violet-purple flowers for much of the summer. I really want to see how this does with us, as it and other Texan plants with some cold tolerance could be a really good choice for us in the future.

On a good note for the garden- it’s still gently raining….