On time and sunsets…

From sunset to sunset. Not strictly true,as I took these photographs over three successive days…but, well, who’s quibbling? Week 3 of lockdown and time has taken on a surreal quality. I am never sure what day it is in the week until I take a look at a gadget, tablet or laptop, and, time itself seems to me to have stretched in quality too. With so much time to focus in on friends, family, the garden, the house as well as all the things I enjoy doing, sometimes I can feel the sense of there being no pressure to complete anything- just a sense of achievement if I move things along a little.

Normally, I am a gardener of bursts, bursts of concentration and energy which can lead to charging at things with a lot of sound and fury. This last 3 weeks, I am feeling a different pace, where the wander round the garden first thing with the green mug of tea doesn’t turn into making a list. Rather I notice that something needs doing, and I think, ” Well, that needs doing, ho-hum”. In other words, it’s the difference between noticing things and self-recrimation for not having done it yet. And some things feel as if they may never get done, shock horror, till next year even.

Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’, Tostat, March 2020

Now here is a plant that I have been ignoring. Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’ was bought in a bargain basement fervour last Spring, and, until, a week or so was a bunch of very dead looking twigs. Hooray for Spring regeneration. This is a small shrub, which will do no romping unlike most other Cornus relatives. Eventually, it should make a 0.80m clump all round, with golden foliage and fiery stems in the winter. It will get there, I have faith.

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’, fresh ruby stems, Tostat, March 2020

This plant, Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’ was bought as seed from the truly wonderful Liberto Dario, who sells his amazing collection of seed through his Facebook page. I am totally in love with this plant. A biennial, so the first year is the appearance of the gorgeous purple splodged foliage, which stayed true all winter for us, and then, in the second year, you get the ruby red stems and the deep pink flowerheads on an upright and sturdy plant. The purple splodged foliage is to be seen to be believed- in low light, it almost looks like a Star Wars plant from a distant planet. I love it so much there are three photographs- possibly a first in itself.

If you don’t know Liberto, his seed collection is phenomenal. Much of his seed material is pretty unusual, and he has a great range of seed for hot, dry situations, being based in Greece. I can’t recommend him highly enough. If you are interested, follow the link above to his Facebook page and PM him. He will then send you plant lists and you can while away hours trying to choose.

Emerging flowerhead, Tostat, March 2020
And the flowerhead opens to a dark pink, Tostat, March 2020

Meanwhile, the Epimediums have been clumping. I am not a great tidier of the old foliage, I don’t mind spotting the sprays of pretty little yellow flowers in amongst the leaves. They are so fragile-looking, but can take a fair bit of Spring weather without collapsing. I have now forgotten which Epimedium this is- but I am taking a chance at ‘Fröhnleiten’ on account of the yellow flowers.

Epimedium x perralchium ‘Fröhnleiten’, Tostat, March 2020

And here is my favourite Anemone, just demonstrating the importance of happenstance in the garden. When I first planted the three small bulbs here about six years ago, the bluebells hadn’t turned up and I hadn’t planted the Physocarpus, one of my favourite shrubs- what a great mix they make.

Anemone x fulgens Multipetala in amongst Spanish bluebells and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, March 2020

On warmer afternoons in the past week, this pretty butterfly has been very active- I am not a great butterfly buff, so my identification may be off- I stand corrected if needed.

Maybe Pararge aegeria, the Speckled Wood butterfly, enjoying Euphorbia, Tostat, March 2020

I have identified this Muscari, down below, as probably ‘Mount Hood’ but I am not sure as it is a paler blue than Mount Hood in most of the descriptions. But I promised Tony Tomeo that I would take a photograph of this sweet little white-capped Muscari- so promise delivered! By the way, it is a darker blue today, 2 days later, but I am not sure…

Muscari, possibly ‘Mount Hood’, Tostat, March 2020

And hello, here comes Osmunda regalis. This poor fern is in a place it likes, but it gets lost in the wash later in the year, so I only ever notice it when the first new leaves are powering up. Sorry!

Osmunda regalis, Tostat, March 2020

These are the first leaves on Carpinus betulus Franz Fontaine- a beautiful fastigiate beech, which I bought really tiny about 9 years ago. It had a serious accident with an animal, which reduced it by half, and I was in despair. So, even though it is only a metre and a bit high now, I am very very fond of it, and can’t wait for it to become a real tree….

Carpinus betulus ‘Franz Fontaine’, Tostat, March 2020

And here is an attempt to show you Hedera helix erecta– which, as you can see, is more of a Hedera right angle- erecta in real life. I love the tightly packed leaves on the stem, but have no idea why it has decided (both plants) to do a 90 degree turn rather than grow straight up. I think I am stuck with right-angle-itis. Mind you, it in a hot, dry spot, and seems to be perfectly happy.

Hedera helix ‘Erecta’, Tostat, March 2020

I am a newbie with vegetables but am making a nervous start this Spring. I sowed seed, under fleece, of the Pea ‘Douce Provence’ and am thrilled with my first flower…

Pea ‘Douce Provence’, Tostat, March 2020

And to demonstrate that Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane Grey’ is even more lovely before she opens, here she is.

Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane Grey’, Tostat, March 2020

And I think that’s been quite enough from me….

Tostat sunset, March 2020

Lockdown spring…

First shoots on Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’ last week, Tostat, March 2020

I had almost completed a blog post about visiting the Airth Pineapple and Culross when we were in Scotland only 3 weeks ago- but within less than a week, we are in covid19 lockdown here in Tostat, and it seemed out of time and place to finish that post.

What a strange and frightening experience this all is. Today, we expect to be told that we are no longer able to walk more than 500m from our house even with documents and that this will continue for at least 2 months. We have been in daily contact with family, spread between Scotland and England and Spain, and this has been a real relief. But it is the surreal, amorphous nature of the necessary lockdown which has taken us all week to come to terms with. The village is silent. Birdsong seems to have reached operatic levels, which is wonderful, but it feels very strange. Luckily the weather has helped, warm afternoon sunshine has turned the corner on winter and you can almost hear plants growing and changing.

Anemone nemerosa this morning, Tostat, March 2020

So, it feels as if the garden needs us to buck up and get on with freeing it from winter, whilst simultanously, I am reviewing and rethinking much of what I would normally have done at this time of year. So, I am only digging up dandelions and really pervasive perennial weeds in the beds- everything else is being left. The one-armed gardening of last year taught me that annual spring weeds are killed by drought and heat by mid June, so I am thinking that I will leave them. At the very least, they will cover any bare ground until the summer perennials get going, thereby retaining soil moisture for later. I just have to get used to that itchy period before the perennials fire up, and resist messing about with the balance. In fact, I am sticking roughly to this rule pretty much everywhere in the garden. This means excessive self control has to be applied after any rain, when the pesky annual grasses pop up at a great rate.

But there are also some lovely surprises. Back in Scotland, I had a gorgeous clump of the double Anemone nemerosa- and not being able to find that here, I experimented about 10 years ago with a couple of the single wood anemone, Anemone nemerosa. They have only flowered maybe 3-4 times in 10 years, and are roughly the same size as when I planted them. So, conditions are certainly not idea for them. But when they appear, as two days ago, I am joyful, no matter what the lockdown conditions are.

Doronicum ‘Little Leo’ this morning, Tostat, March 2020

‘Little Leo’ is another tiny plant that has not really enjoyed life in Tostat, but one or two small plants are hanging on in there. My mum adored Doronicum, and so this is in memory of her.

Gunnera manicata, Tostat, March 2020

The Gunnera is already more than a metre high, courtesy of the mild winter and the recent rain and storms. You couldn’t make it up really, as it is surely a bit player in every sci-fi film going with the strange prickles on the stems and the leaves opening like hands reaching for you.

Eriostemon myoporoides last week, Tostat, March 2020

This is going to be a great plant. Eriostemon myoporoides has died for me twice, mainly because I bought baby plants and then wasn’t careful enough of them in their early lives. Mea culpa. So, a glutton for punishment, I had another go with more mature specimens. I am really impressed. This plant has thickly cuticled leaves, a little like Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’ to look at and tiny white, star-shaped flowers (allegedly smelling of gin and tonic, not yet apparent to me) in profusion in early Spring. It slowly makes a rounded shrub and will apparently grow to about 2m all round- mine is barely 0.5m all round and must be 3 years old. But it is bone-hardy, drought tolerant when established, and with time, will make a good evergreen presence in difficult areas. Works for me.

Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, March 2020

This fabulous pillar-box red Anemone x fulgens Multipetala is a Spring favourite of mine. I bought 6 bulbs for a king’s ransom about 6 years ago, and since then, the plants have gently swivelled themselves to where they want to be, underneath Physocarpus ‘Tiny Wine’ and, aware of the photo potential, right in amongst Spanish bluebells which are about to flower. I adore them for their raggly-taggly look and the fabulous colour which leaps out amongst the green of the bluebells.

Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, this morning settling into coral from lobster pink, Tostat, March 2020

I love this baby tree, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’. It is a slow grower, well, so far. But tough, it takes heat, drought, frost, wind and rain with aplomb. This is the beginning of the show, when the new foliage (see top) starts out lobster pink then moves to coral. It is such a good plant. I hope it will get going this year, it’s 3rd year in the ground- but whatever it does, it will be noticeable and I will be watching. There’s going to be a lot of watching for the next 2 months- and a good season to be doing it.

Siberia arrives…

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Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, February 2018

We got back from our trip to Madrid and London on Saturday in sunshine and just a little warmth.  Spirits were utterly lifted and the dog very puzzled, by the screams of joy as Scotland took the Calcutta Cup- a lot of Queen-type air punching accompanied the screaming from our sitting room.  You must allow me this weakness.  I am not a fan of nationalist politics, which, in general does not end well as history tells us.  But I am just thrilled when small countries bite back.  And Scotland deserved it in every way.  My Dad would have loved it.

Meantime, Siberia was advancing…last night temperatures reached about -8C, and those parts of the garden not touched by the bright sunshine today are in a permafrost lockdown.  But those hardy perennials can take it.  The Anemone, which was a new and expensive purchase as three small corms early last Spring is sporting three flowers today, all of which were decked at first but have popped back up as their stems thaw out.  The only bulb from the winter planting in a shallow bowl of Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Barnard’ to have flowered yesterday, has remained utterly unfazed.

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Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Barnard’, Tostat, February 2018

The two rescued wild daffodils to have flowered are still lying down, but as we only have another day and a bit of these cold temperatures, I am hoping that the rest will just stay put and wait.  They come out in different shapes and sizes, as you can see.  A wide, almost peony-type flower turning up as well as a star-framed flower with internal hoops of yellow. I adore them, and look forward to the four small clumps gradually expanding in the future.

Madrid photographs beckon…to be accompanied by the Mindful Gardener’s rather delicious orange, apricot and, in my case, seeds flapjack, as no almonds in the cupboard.  Yum.

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Rescued wild daffodil, Tostat, February 2018

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Rescued wild daffodil 2, Tostat, February 2018

 

 

After the rain…

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Apple blossom, after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

The big snag about being away for nearly 5 weeks at this time of year?  It’s the weed world domination situation.  When we left there were, of course, small signs of the usual suspects breaking out all over the place- but 4 weeks plus of sun and rain, and whoopee, they are romping home in large numbers and are knee-high in some more pampered corners.  I am normally tranquil about weeding actually, as I take the view that I weed only a few times a year in the cooler months, and then rely on very tough plants to tower over any remaining weeds and basically smother them.  On the whole, this works, and it disturbs the soil less and I am not that garden-proud that cardiac arrest sets in if I see a dandelion.  Just as well, actually.  But I have to say that, right now, tranquility has evaporated.

Yes,  my spirit was a little shaken when I returned and met the reality of my absence face-on. What would have been a case of gradually getting on top of things early was now too little, too late- and what I needed was arm-to-arm combat.  So, that’s why I am sitting here, as it is bucketing outside, with soreness in the shoulders, wrists and the right hip- I am so right-handed in every way.  It’s been a unrelenting job for the last week and I have probably another 4-5 days to go, not to mention that one big area has a nesting blackbird with 3 babies in it, so it is on maternity leave for the moment.

But some things rise above the mundane.  Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’ is a lovely thing at the time of year, with arched branches weighed down by over-the-top custard yellow blossoms, a bit like a fuchsia on speed.   I have another one, much bigger, but it needs rescuing from a badly over-planted area by the front gate, and I need a bloke with a serious digger to move a palm tree at the same time- so this probably means next early Spring, not now. But the second Sophora, having started out as a 1 foot weakling 5 years ago is now as tall as me, and in very good shape.  It does nothing much for the rest of the year, but this Spring display is so sumptuous that it deserves a rest.

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Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’. after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

Last year, on a walk with friends, I came across a clump of the most gorgeous double, fringed anemone- and I spent months trying to find bulbs online, at vast expense- well, E30 for 3 teeny bulbs seemed a lot to me.  Once grown in many country gardens in France, Anemone x fulgens Multipetala is now really rare- probably because as it shows hardly any growth outwith the flowering season of March to end April approximately, it would be very easy to disturb and rip out thinking that nothing is there.   It is showstoppingly lovely- fringed and tousled in a brilliant red that shines.  So, I am really pleased to have a couple of flowers per bulb for the first year.  I have planted it near a Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, whose emerging foliage is a deep plum colour- a happy accident as I had forgotten the spring Physocarpus colouring.

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Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, April 2017

And, whilst our daffodils and tulips are splendid- there is something very entrancing about the tinyness and delicacy of an Epimedium.  I only have a couple of clumps in the dampest, shadiest bit of the garden.  I don’t cut the foliage to show the flowers better, it seems to me to be too much like hairdressing, and it is beguiling suddenly finding the flowers hiding themselves.  Here are the two that I have, somewhat abashed by the breeze and the heavy rain…

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Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’, Tostat, April 2017

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Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’, Tostat, April 2017