Seeds and all that….

Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ Tostat, December 2019

Seed catalogues make great reading in January. Every gardening journalist worth their salt will be saying this to us readers as we face the fact that we can’t do very much at this time of year. I admit that my method of choosing seed doesn’t start with the seed catalogues, I come at it from the other end.

I like to start with what is new to me, interests me and might work in my testing garden of soaking wet and bone dry…. and then I look and see if I can get seed. So, it is with purple leaved tough plants that can give my soil a bit of a rest and maybe do battle with some of the weeds that I decide have no value to me. With seed you are talking about allowing growth for a good 9 months to a year before you have a plant that will make it- so some thought is required. Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ was one of last year’s picks. Not impressed for the first few months, I came home at the end of October to find very bonny- looking plants that had filled out their pots and were looking great. They still look good, even the ones I risked planting out last week before the frost came back.

Plantago major rubrifolia
Photo credit: www.jardindelasalamandre.blogspot.com

Alys Fowler woke me up to Purple Plantain. I can grow Plantain- oh yes. You might say that the grass in our back garden is easily 60% plantain in plenty of places. So why not grow the purple stuff? You can see the connecting thought between the Salvia and the Plantain. So, I bought seed from Plant World Seeds and I have about a dozen, rather tired looking baby seedlings in pots under cover outside. So, I am hoping that they will become gorgeous as the salvias did after a few months. Fingers crossed.

And now I have another one to try. Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’ which is not only purple, tick, but is also frilly-leaved. I can’t wait. Seed is on its way from Special Plants.

Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

Every year, during the winter, I grow one or two things from seed in the house. Usually, I manage about a 40% success rate. But honestly, growing seeds indoors even with managed humidity in December is a long shot and is more to do with my itchy fingers than it is to do with horticultural success. It has been a damp squib this year. I had a go at Penstemon whippleanus and Nipponanthecum nipponicum. Both have been, well, disastrous. Never mind, I will have another go at the Nipponanthecum- it’s a small, determined chrysanthemum which apparently likes sun and dry- so it’s got to be worth it.

Helleborus ‘Ushba’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

I also chose Helleborus ‘Ushba’ as seed from Special Plants. I don’t have a big number of hellebores, but I do love what I have, and ‘Ushba’ is a Helen Ballard variety, and one of her hallmarks as a breeder was managing to create varieties which hold their flowers in a more open and erect way than other varieties. I have not had a lot of success with cold germinating seeds, but I am going to try from the moment they arrive in the post. And my last seed possibility for this New Year selection is Kitaibelia vitifolia. A fast-growing Mallow with creamy-white flowers will do me nicely, thank you.

Kitaibelia vitifolia
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

Can’t hold back, Alys

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The first, slightly frost bitten blooms on Chaenomeles speciosa Nivalis, Tostat, February 2018

Alys Fowler, a gardening writer who I always enjoy reading, urges restraint in this morning’s Guardian.  She is, of course, quite right, especially if you have heavy soil, but with my stony (mostly) stuff, I have started tidying up a bit, doing the annual cull on bramble, the dreaded honeysuckle, giant dandelions- that kind of thing. But I am only talking about going into the soil about half a fork’s depth to remove the bad boys- which I kind of need to do, because the daffodils are half way out the of the ground.  And, although this may be wishful thinking, a few warm days would bring them out good and proper.  It’s a hard life being a bulb in my garden.  When they are obviously up, even I manage not to dig them up by mistake, but they have a dangerous life if I can’t see them.  I am, however, very good at replanting them straight away, although there are always one or two that get split.

The white Japanese quince, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, is one of those plants I look forward to seeing at this time of the year.  There is a good article by James Wong on Japanese quince, though I always find him just a bit too boy-scout happy- possibly an age thing.  Back to the quince, it never fruits for us, or it may be that it has very tiny fruits that get lost in the undergrowth at the back of the border.  I inherited it in the garden when we arrived, and although it can suffer sapling invaders being so near to the ruisseau, it really draws the eye especially when everything else is brown and sodden.  The rain has been biblical so far this year.

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Moss on our stone walls, Tostat, February 2018

The sights in the garden are on the miniature side right now.  Bucketing rain, and only the odd sunny day, has fed the moss on the stone walls.  It is so green it is almost golden, and looks like the most expensive velvet fairy coat from children’s tales.  Some nice freckling has popped up on a couple of the hellebores, very dark prominent freckles and also freckles of the finest dust.  I love the surprises that you get when they mix themselves up.

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Deeply freckled Hellebore, Tostat, February 2018

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Faintly freckled Hellebore, Tostat, Fabruary 2018

And the same conditions that feed the moss, also encourages the very tiny maidenhair ferns, Adiantum raddianum I think, to have a go at establishing themselves in the nooks and crannies of the stone walls.

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Adiantum raddianum, Tostat, February 2018

Tomorrow it is promised that the rain will stop and sun will come out.

 

Like Alys….me and euphorbia

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Euphorbia myrsinites, Tostat, March 2016

I always enjoy Alys Fowler’s gardening column in ‘The Guardian’, though I am sure that she writes less frequently than before, and all of the articles are refreshed much less often than a few years back.  I am by no means such a veggie as she is, but I keep vowing to try harder.  But this week, her column concerned the ‘Euphorbia’- which was just a tiny bit spooky as I had already taken the photographs for this blog a couple of days before.

I have loved- and hated the Euphorbia over the years.  In fact, I am back in a loving moment with them right now.  This is really their best season, when the lime-green bracts sing out against bare ground and a few, brave bulbs.  The Big Daddy of them all is Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii– which was a huge delight to me when we moved from Scotland.  Willing to put itself almost anywhere in our stony, dry areas, growing like a rocket, self-seeding and being generally gorgeous in early Spring, for all these reasons I loved it.  But these were also the reasons that I came to hate it, pulling handfuls of babies out when critical mass had long been surpassed.

But, what I have come to understand is, that it does what it does and I have to maintain the population balance that I want.  It won’t do it for me, and no amount of me cursing is worth the time and effort.  I just have to roll with the punches and keep a beady eye on it.  One  of the reasons that I am back in love with it, is that it will literally put itself anywhere.

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Euphobia characias subsp.wulfenii, Tostat, March 2016

And here it has self-seeded right on a tricky, rocky corner of the New Garden, and leaning out from the wall, it catches the sunlight and is brilliantly luminous. I would never have put it there, but it looks great.  Across from it, in the dry, hot New Garden, it is verging on a takeover, but right now, makes a great repeating pattern of lime-green and yellow, when everything else is only just waking up.  I will yank some out in a few weeks before the seeds start exploding round the garden, but now they have my blessing.

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Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, Tostat, March 2016

At the top of the article is a small, but dogged Euphorbia, Euphorbia myrsinites, which creeps along the ground, in the hottest, driest spots, holding up its rosette-shaped heads just a little above the ground. I adore it.  It is so cheerful.  It needs the sun and sharply drained poor soil, but then it is as happy as Larry.  This one does not spread itself about prolifically.  I wish it did.  So you need to be careful where you step, as once broken, it takes a long time to repair itself.

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Euphorbia seguieriana, Tostat, March 2016

Euphorbia seguieriana is a modest player.  With an almost fern-like foliage, and pinky new growth, it flowers later than the big beast, wulfenii, but it slowly bulks up to about 0.60 x 0.60m. It will take the driest, sunniest spot you can give it.  I got this one very small from Beth Chatto’s nursery three years ago, and it only limped along for the first two years. So, give it time.

And my last entrant in the ‘Lovable Euphorbia’ competition would be the Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’.  In my semi-shaded damper part of the garden, it is sprinkling itself around with modest abandon at this time of year, just creeping about under the tree peonies and hydrangea.   The gorgeous copper-coloured new growth catches the sun and makes a stunning statement, while later in the year, it just blends in with whatever else is happening. This is it’s time.

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Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’, Tostat, April 2015

 

In praise of, and in surrender to, Tarraxacum officinale…

Tarraxacum officinale in a jug in our old bread oven, April 15
Tarraxacum officinale in a jug in our old bread oven, April 15

Now, suspend your disbelief, and if you look closely, you will know what these pretty flowers are.

Dandelions. For the idea of this photograph, I would like to thank ‘My French Country Garden’ on Facebook who posted an inspirational photo this week which set me thinking. I have to admit that there is one time in the year when the sunny yellowness of dandelions is quite beguiling, and that time is now.  Living in the country as we do, dandelions come with everything in great abundance. And our ‘ho-ho’ lawn, which we like but are not fanatical about, is covered with them…

Dandelion spread...April 15
Dandelion spread…April 15

And, now, in the Spring, they are so cheerful and jolly mingled in with the daisies. The recent heavy rain through March is deep in the soil and so they are in great shape.  I have had moments of great annoyance at these resiliant plants over the years, and they do get short shrift when they turn up in the gardened bits of the garden. I then wait, with an air of malevolence for a rainy day, when the soil will loosen a bit, and I can hoik them out.

But Alys Fowler has called me out on this.  She is a stern defender of the dandelion and I know why. 93 species of insects are known to visit and feed from dandelions, and many of those are crucial to garden diversity, and therefore to us as humans. Here, in France, pissenlit salad is an early summer delight, and the young tops of dandelions are the star. There’s a great recipe here, but watch out, there is a slight diuretic effect with the leaves. But then, the leaves are also stuffed full of vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as iron, potassium and zinc.  More botanical information here on ‘A Modern Herbal‘.

And, if you watch this little timelapse film, you will be beguiled, I know it.  I am resolved. I am going to live with my dandelions in the name of staying cool as a gardener, and in the name of garden diversity. And also, because they are so lovely in the Spring. I also remember the delight of ‘dandelion clocks’ as a child, and I want some to remind me of that time. But, they will be faced with my wrath when they are cheeky and turn up somewhere else. Like here…my homage to Nicole de Vesian. Harrumph.

Way too cheeky...invasion of my homage to Nicole de Vesian...! April 2105
Way too cheeky…invasion of my homage to Nicole de Vesian…! April 2105