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
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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’
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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….

The grand tour…

Looking east towards the Mix and the green seat, Tostat, April 2020

I started this post last week. But life and death intervened. A friend died of Motor Neurone Disease in Paris, fortunately at home with her partner, and so she was with loved ones at the end. That stopped me in my tracks really. A very sad moment, especially as I watched her funeral ceremony by the internet from her flat led by her loving partner and son. So, this post is dedicated to Martine and Proinsias, in memory of some very happy times in the garden.

Young men with money used to do The Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries- jollying round Europe’s ancient antiquities and cities, it was supposed to mature a young man, give him the perspective of what his wealth could bring him in the acquisition of artworks and cultural broadening. I set myself the lockdown task of trying to do my own mini Grand Tour of the garden, trying to find new ways of looking at it, looking though it and maybe discovering new ideas about how it can be and how it is. It was a dullish day, sometimes the best way to see the garden without the sparkle that sunshine brings.

So, the first picture shows the Mix, the back of the house and the small area inspired by Nicole de Vesian with the green bench and the wind-knocked pencil conifers. The Mix is still evolving and without the stately presence of the tall Miscanthus later in the year. The mauve lilac is just breaking into blossom- a good shrub that I always forget about.

Looking west towards the ruisseau and Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’, Tostat, April 2020

This is a view that is completely new to me! The purple poplar is one of my all-time favourites for the elegance of the shape and the dark, striking foliage in early Spring. In the foreground, Hakonechloa macra aureola is just getting going, one of the few plants we brought with us from Scotland which, playing against type, adores this hot, dry position for some reason.

Looking towards the banana plantation, Gunnera manicata and Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, April 2020

Looking through the lovely old broken walls, is the banana, Andy’s beloved plant which is well on the way to becoming a small plantation, and his other great love, the Gunnera. Below, just over a broken wall, you can just see the village church tower in the distance.

The foreshortening, through the walls to the church tower, Tostat, April 2020
The New Garden, the Stumpery on the right, Tostat, April 2020

The New Garden, formed from a fallen-down barn area, has been transformed by the building of the Pond, which opens up and focuses the view behind the eucalyptus. I would love to claim credit for this wizard bit of design- but, truthfully, it would never have happened if we hadn’t gone over to a biomass boiler and had the old gas tank removed.

Looking towards the new pond, Tostat, April 2020

And here is the new pond, and you can see how it has changed and developed the view to make the garden truly wrap around the house. The shrub planted in the foreground ring of stones is an unsung hero, Euonymus alata compactus, which grows here in slightly added-to shit and stony soil in full sun, with only occasional water if it is really desperate. More on the pond building later on.

The fastigiate beech baby, the transplanted palm tree, the wildflower areas, Tostat, April 2020

The little beech is just becoming fabulous. Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’ is fastigiate and should stay almost pin thin whilst getting taller. And the transplanted palm, a bad planting mistake of mine in the first year when we brought it in a pot from Scotland, Trachycarpus fortunei is one tough customer. Funnily enough, I bought it from Ardkinglass Tree Nursery, on the shores of Loch Fyne, so it is a well-travelled palm tree.

From the pond to the house with Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ just starting, and Molly the dog rootling, Tostat, April 2020

And back we are to the front of the house, with Molly the dog and the newly planted Agave americana big baby that blocks the pond off from foot traffic. We have several agave babies all queuing up for relocation at some point. They are gorgeous but vicious.

And on a brighter evening, the path by the back door, Tostat, early April 2020

And the full circuit ends at the back door on a sunnier evening.

Patrick Blanc’s wall garden

What could a tropical plant specialist possibly come up with that would accommodate a wall 200m long and 4 stories high, which faces North and is only a stone’s throw from the River Seine- lovely in the summer but with roaring winds in the winter?  Well, I would imagine that many people asked that question of Patrick Blanc in 2005 when he began work on the vast Vertical Garden, Mur Végétal, part of the Musée du Quai Branly.  I have watched Vertical Gardens on the telly, Gardener’s World Live did one in Birmingham one year, I think, and I have been less than impressed.  Plants hanging from pockets in a jumble accompanied by over-enthusiastic voice-overs.  Ouch.

But Patrick Blanc is the real deal. Take a look at the richness and density of the planting below.

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Fatsia, heuchera and the rest performing at the Musée du Quai Branly, designed by Patrick Blanc, Paris, February 2016

Now, this is February, on a cold and grey day, so just like our own gardens, it would be churlish to expect a vertical wall to look totally fabulous, so there are some bare patches, see below.

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Ok, some bare patches, but I love the travelling iris (?) which recurs in other photos, Paris, February 2016

and here, a plant that you would not expect,

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And a euphorbia doing just fine, with a good lean, Paris, February 2016

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Bergenia hanging on in there, waiting for Spring, Paris, February 2016

There are many more brilliant photos on his own site which give much more detail than I could achieve.  But I can tell you that we stood outside, walking up and down on the little traffic island in the centre of 4 lanes of traffic, looking at it, talking about it, photographing it, identifying plants or trying to, for about 20 minutes.  He is very clear about his technique for planting, and, in case you want to give it a go, I have quoted it here

“…On a load-bearing wall or structure is placed a metal frame that supports a PVC plate 10 millimetres (0.39 in) thick, on which are stapled two layers of polyamide felt each 3 millimetres (0.12 in) thick. These layers mimic cliff-growing mosses and support the roots of many plants. A network of pipes controlled by valves provides a nutrient solution containing dissolved minerals needed for plant growth. The felt is soaked by capillary action with this nutrient solution, which flows down the wall by gravity. The roots of the plants take up the nutrients they need, and excess water is collected at the bottom of the wall by a gutter, before being re-injected into the network of pipes: the system works in a closed circuit. Plants are chosen for their ability to grow on this type of environment and depending on available light…”

It is top-notch technical as you can see, and nothing is left to chance except for the effects of the elements in the case of an outside wall.

But, here in Tostat, and I really wasn’t sure about this, Andy took 4 baby agaves and posted them into the wall of our New Garden.  No closed system technology for us, just some compost and the experience of someone who said that they had tried it.  After the driest summer we have had in 11 years, they are still there, battered but unbowed.  Here they are as they were in late Spring last year.  The theory is that they are facing South for warmth, tick, and they will absorb humidity through the leaves without needing water at the roots, though we did water occasionally last year.  So, when they make it through this soaking wet weather we are having, I will be eating hats.

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Baby Agave Americana posted into our wall, Tostat, May 2015

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And another one….Tostat, May 2015

Going out with a bang…the century plant that doesn’t live up to it’s name

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Agave americana, Fuente de Cantos, Extremadura, Spain, October 2015

One of the most astonishing natural sights on the Via de la Plata. Arriving, hot and tired from the walk that day, we sat on a bar terrace with a couple of nice, cold glasses, and there it was. So tall that I almost missed the top of it with the camera.  Agave americana, sometimes called the century plant, reaches an impressive height when flowering. The link to the Eden Project page above gives 9m as the likely maximum flowering height, and I would say that the one we saw was in that ballpark.  As you can see, it had been clipped and trimmed to maximise the impression of height and protect customers from the very sharp leaf spikes.  That night there was a massive storm, but it was still standing in the morning.

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Flowerheads, Agave americana, October 2015

The flowerheads, when they are at their best, are bright yellow and striking- in my photograph, you can see that they have almost gone over.  The whole plant dies after flowering, having consumed vast amounts of energy to produce the inflorescence. It was once thought that the Agave americana flowered only once a century, hence the name, but we now know that a more likely lifespan is around 30 years.  It grows slowly and is mainly propagated by rhizomatous offsets that congregate around the parent plant as it grows.

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Agave americana, El Real de la Jara, Andalucia, Spain, September 2015

The agave’s favourite landscape. Hilly, rough, stony and poor, the agave will rapidly colonise an area if allowed to.  The sap of the plant can be harvested to form agave syrup, the heart of the plant can also be eaten and baked- it is a member of the asparagus family. There are numerous medical uses for the plant, stored as dried material in Central America. The link above takes you to the ‘Plants for a Future’ website, one of my favourites, covering ecology, sustainability and plant use knowledge.

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Agave americana, rhizomatous offsets clustering by the dead parent plant, September 2015

And now for something completely different.

Campsis radicans Merida October 2015
Campsis radicans, Merida, October 2015

On a rest day in the incredible, and unknown to us, city of Merida, we visited the outstanding Roman amphitheatre site- one of many superb and surprising Roman ruins in the city. There, twined around a Roman pillar, was the eye-catching Campsis radicans or Trumpet Vine. It is a thing of beauty. And growing in the hot dust of Merida, perhaps it is unlikely to indulge it’s thuggish tendencies to muscle in and go for world domination. The Merida plant had wonderful flame striations of orange cutting through the red, which really took my eye.

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Campsis radicans, Merida, October 2015.

In Tostat, I have planted a close relative, Campsis x tagliabuana ‘Madame Galen’, and for a while, I thought I should give up gardening as it seemed to grow like a weed for anyone else in Tostat except me. But now, some years later, it is doing fine, though obstinately flowering on the road-side of the wall rather than our side.  Stubbornness seems to be a feature of Trumpet Vine!

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Campsis x tagliabuana ‘Madame Galen’, Tostat, June 2015