Small miracles….

Acanthus sennii, Oloron Sainte Marie, April 2023

Spring can sometimes be very forgiving. Over the years, I have killed off so many plants or lost them accidentally or been robbed by the weather. Being robbed by the weather has become more frequent, though it’s probably, truthfully, head to head with my own planticidal tendencies. And linked to these two reasons for death is often my refusal to play it safe. Sometimes, the idea of a plant is overwhelming and caution is thrown to the winds. And now and then rejecting caution is rewarded.

This spiky small clump, just emerging from the ground, is Acanthus sennii. An acanthus from high ground in Ethiopia. We had an amazing few weeks in Ethiopia in 2017, such a beautiful country and such warm hearted people. So that’s why I bought two of these last year. It is fairly new to France as a plant, which can mean that descriptions are way too optimistic- but I know that. I always check round the world for plant commentaries just to be sure. It also has an incredible red flowering spike, another terrible weakness of mine, anything red. Here is the photo from Beth Chatto’s nursery.

Acanthus sennii photo credit:

To complete the story, both plants were super straggly last year, but with my poor, light soil, I thought that this would not pose a problem. One of them may yet still emerge as temperatures begin to warm up steadily, but one has made it back. I am so thrilled, it’s ridiculous.

Syringa laciniata, Oloron Sainte Marie, April 2023

Syringa laciniata is a planticidal survivor. It has come back from the dead twice. In Tostat, although it is dry tolerant, I pushed it too far, and then again, here in Oloron, misled by a damper summer by far in the first year than last year, I was forced to dig it up and it went back into the recovery room. A year later, I planted it out at the very top of the front garden, with wall protection and, for me, pretty reasonable soil. And it has flowered- properly! It flowers on old wood so it will be another year before the it is out of the clutches of the past. It is a really charming lilac, as much for the ferny, feathery, bright green foliage as for the clusters of mauve flowers. Phew.

Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, Oloron Sainte Marie, April 2023

This lovely Amelanchier has also had a torrid time. I bought two very small plants, probably 10 years ago, in Tostat. They do prefer a moistish soil, so I did the best I could, but over the years, they disappeared into the emerging undergrowth and I completely forgot about them. Maybe 4 years later, I found them again. They hadn’t done much having been overwhelmed by their surroundings. I dug them up and put them into large pots at the back door where, over the next 4 years, they recovered pretty well and even began growing- some. But, the move to Oloron has been really good for them. They love the Barn Garden, the protection of the wall, and also the overhang of trees from the next garden. Strangely, they have adjusted to the dryness and were still in good shape after the roasting of last summer. This one is even pretty much in shade and it is looking fabulous. It is such a good variety. Slim, goblet-shaped growth, short lived but very pretty blossom, and then small fruits. Height-wise, mine are a bit stunted but are now growing well, each about 1.80m tall.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’, Barn Garden, Oloron Sainte Marie, April 2023

Rosa ‘New Dawn’ is an outstanding rose, drought tolerant, forgiving of most conditions and flowers later than others, and sporadically again after the first flush. These two plants were one year old cuttings from my Tostat plant when they went into the ground here in Oloron. They have done a fantastic job of almost covering the old wall behind the vegetable beds, and we have done a good job with them too, with wires and tying them in. It is quite a strong rose, only bendy when young, so tying them in is essential or they career downwards. Even I can smell the fragrance, tick, and the flowers, though not single, are a very pretty shell pink, which even works for me.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’, Tostat, May 2019

And now for more caution being thrown to the winds. I have bought another rose. I am going to plant it it in the hot, dry soil of the sunnier bit of the Barn Garden. Am I mad? Actually not. There is a very interesting, and growing category of roses being identified in Texas, which might mean that we can carry on growing roses in hotter climates. This category is called Earth Kind Roses, and the link takes you to their home page. I have bought ‘Perle d’Or’, a French bred rose from the late nineteenth century, regarded as excellent in terms of performance, and cited as an Earth Kind example. So I am going to test it out. Less caution thrown than you might have thought!

Rosa ‘Perle d’Or’ photo credit:

The peskiness of March and April…

March light line-up, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2022

That fickle March light can be amazing. This area has only been ‘in’ for a year, but, on the whole, it has done really well here with some morning sun, some late afternoon sun, and the shade and protection of the big wall. Reading left to right, there is an unknown Helleborus sternii, Salvia spathacea ( which got zapped by some frost in January and is growing out of the frost damage), Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’ which is just coming into leaf, Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Sweet Winter’ to the right with Fatsia polycarpa ‘Green Fingers’ at the far right. The Amelanchier and the Mahonia came as mature plants from Tostat pots, but the Fatsia has shot up in a year from a thin little thing to becoming an imposing plant. And the foxgloves all appeared on their own, probably as a result of us turning the earth as we planted, removing rubble andd massive river stones. Oh, and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is at the very back, a cutting from our Tostat plant.

Second March line-up, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2022

Looking further along, more illumination picks out Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’ in front of Calycanthus floridus, Muhlenbeckia in the blue pot, some winter-brown from Hakonechloa macra which takes time to get going after winter and the dull-green winter leaves of Cestrum far right. It is such an exciting time.

Syringa laciniata foliage, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2022

Well, it was exciting for a while. And then April, apart from maybe 6 sunny days, was cold, wet and grey and now early May is not doing much better. Sorry to moan about the weather, but it has really tried my patience and I ain’t no saint. Rain we have had, and here is the back garden – weeks later than the first photographs in this post.

The back Barn Garden today, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022

So, the foxgloves have loved it and are close to 2m high, but the bright red flowers of Heuchera x brizoides ‘Firefly’ give it a little buzz despite their relative size. I did have a baby Tetrapanax at the far left, but it didn’t make it, so I planted a Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ a month ago and so far, so good. The foxgloves will be enjoyed this year, and then I’ll take half of them out, plus any seedlings and plant them somewhere else next year- only because they have obscured everything else in the first photograph entirely. The other plants will need the space.

On the sunnier side of the stone path, Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ is adoring the cooler, damper conditions in Oloron, and has almost covered Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ and Salix gracilistyla ‘Mt Aso’, although you can still see the fresher green of the Salix through the Geum. I think that both look great with the Geum, but a spot of Geum thinnning might be done next year. On the wall, Rosa ‘Lawrence Johnston’ with it’s eggyolk coloured blooms is also loving the move to Oloron, and the much criticised (by me) Digiplexis, could be Illumination Raspberry, but I’m not sure, has actually come back this year and spread a bit. Only one plant did make it though out of 4 or 5 plants that went in, so I think my main beef with it remains.

The other shrub that is so glad to be in Oloron is Cestrum elegans Rubrum. This was a rescue plant at the beginning, but really struggled in Tostat, and is utterly reborn and is literally covered with bursting wine-red buds, it will be fantastic this year.

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, Salix gracilysta ‘Mt Aso’, Cestrum elegans Rubrum, Rosa ‘Lawrence Johnston’, the Barn Garden, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022
Syringa laciniata in rescue, Oloron Sainte Marie, end April 2022

Meantime, from a terrible spot in the front garden where I abandoned it last year, I have rescued the Syringa laciniata and it is in intensive care in the courtyard. It will recover, despite being a bit one-legged from dieback, and I will plant it out next year in a kinder place; I do love the ferny foliage and the pretty lilac flowers, so I hope it forgives me.

The front door of our old house has been changed over the years, and this Spring, the front window (ex front door) was being ridden out of town by a big conifer, almost reaching the roof. So we took it out, and have replanted with a really lovely columnar Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’. It is beautifully narrow, about 1m, and grows to about 6m, but has all the attributes of the bigger ones, with glossy green leaves and, cross fingers, great autumn colour.

Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022
Liquidambar foliage close-up, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022

And on one of the rare sunny days, a touch of class was provided by Tulipa ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Jan Reus’. ‘Ronaldo’ has just a hint of blue about it to my eye, whereas ‘Jan Reus’ has a warmer scarlet tint to it. The tulips are so worth it for their sheer exuberance, and this year, I will dig a trough in the front and stick them in there. You never know.

One of the sunny days in April, Tulipa ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Jan Reus’, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022

Back to the blog…

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Allium shubertii, Tostat, May 2018

It’s been a long time.  What has happened?  Lots in the garden and a really welcome pause from writing.  After all, blogging is really addictive.  There is great satisfaction in talking to yourself in a blog, working things out and deciding what matters and what doesn’t.  And, taking a pause whilst either torrential rain kept falling or we had clear spells when big works were needed, gave rise to the question ‘Why do I write a blog?’. And not that I want to go all existential on you, if you are out there!, but it is a good question.  And to my surprise, when in my mind I didn’t have a ready answer, it seemed a good time to take a break.

I don’t think that I have fully answered the question even now.  But, never mind.

So, what’s new and a surprise this half-Spring, half-winter/summer?  Allium schubertii is new to me here in Tostat.  I am really enjoying the gradual popping open of the myriad little flowerheads, and in the rain, they really do look like a collection of crown jewels.  Last year I managed to grow Plectranthus argentatus ‘Silver Shield’ from seed, and even better, I managed to over-winter them on the upstairs windowsill.  They have been surprisingly obliging.  Pruning them down to re-start them this Spring has given about 15 cuttings, which are slowly producing small buds when they can decide whether the weather is clement or not.  The original plants are now re-potted outside and coping pretty well.  In a large burst of rain the other day, they looked sparkly and silvery.

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Plectranthus argentatus ‘Silver Shield’, Tostat, May 2018

In carrying out the aforementioned big works, I stumbled across survivors from the past. Plants that I had bought for good reasons that had then become dwarfed by other things and I had forgotten that they were even there.  In the case of two Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, I had even decided to move them last year and then promptly life got in the way.  So, this year, they are out and potted up, and I will keep them in pots I think.  Although a bit on the bald side this year, so surprised are they to be liberated, I think that they will bulk up nicely into two small fastigiated sentinels that will stand either side of the back door.  The tiny blossoms, again a symptom of shock I think, will be fabulous next year when they are rejuvenated- and were pretty adorable this year even.

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Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, Tostat, May 2018

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ is now four good clumps and does a great job of looking elegant and snazzy at the same time, especially when first out next to the Spanish bluebells.  I have fallen for Geum ‘Fire Opal’, as the colour is just sensational, even more vivid than ‘TT’, but I am not going there till I have checked it out really well, as ‘TT’ is the only Geum that has ever survived more than a year here in Tostat.

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Geranium ‘Totally Tangerine’, Tostat, end April 2018

I bought Syringa laciniata small last year, and it went into the hot, dry border facing South.  Needless to say, this space has been neither hot or dry, but it will be later on, and so the extra water is a bonus for later.  The Syringa is charming, a soft lilac colour, in droopy swags with a delicate perfume, and foliage-wise, the ferny strappiness of the bright green foliage beats your regular lilac in my view.

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Syringa laciniata, Tostat, end April 2018

Spring bulbs have had a tough time- basically soaked.  Last year’s tulips which were such duds did better this year, and this year’s tulips were weird- not flowering at all mainly or flowering totally green.  But ‘Virichic’ a dud from last year came good. A sensational pink viridiflora look-alike, the petals were really contorted but the colour was lovely.

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Tulipa ‘Virichic’, Tostat, end April 2018