Yes…yes…yes…

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Aristea major, Tostat, May 2017

I am, almost, as excited as Meg Ryan in that famous scene….My Aristea major has flowered for the very first time, after 8 years of patience and minor cursing.  It is a very proud moment, slightly spoiled by Andy’s response of ‘Oh yes’, which didn’t pass muster as a response in my book.  The clear gentian-blue has to be seen to be believed, and on a cooler, cloudier morning, the flower spike has taken several hours to slowly open up, one flower at a time.  In fact, probably tomorrow, I will be able to see every single flower on the spike in action, which will be quite something.  The spike itself is quite a thing, easily over 1m long and tall, and stands up like a soldier on parade. No flopping going on at all.

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The other profile, at the risk of boring you, Aristea major, Tostat, May 2017

And frankly, from whichever side you look at it, it is a glorious thing, I may be circling it for quite some time!  I first came across this as I follow ‘Annie’s Annuals’ a fantastic nursery in Richmond, California, which I actually visited when we were there in 2010- terrible business visiting a fabulous nursery and being forced to come away empty-handed.  But I did buy seed and gave it a go- and here we are, eight years later.

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Detail, Aristea major, Tostat, May 2017
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Aruncus dioicus, Tostat, May 2017

And another plant that is really enjoying life is Aruncus dioicus which is jammed into the woodland type border next to the ruisseau.  Actually, you can’t see it very well, something that ought to be remedied, as this photograph was taken through the undergrowth.  Back in Scotland, I grew Aruncus dioicus ‘Kneiffii’ which is the small cousin of the bigger plant that I have. They are greatly underrated really.  Trouble-free, just give them moist, semi-shady conditions and don’t poke them, and they will slowly become a wafting, cream- coloured, ribbony-flowered plant making a really good statement in the garden.  In fact, they are so trouble-free that I had forgotten that I had it, until I saw the flowers through the rest of the planting.  This Aruncus gets to about 1.5m high and wide, the smaller ‘Kneiffii’ to only about a metre or so- and slowly.

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Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’, Tostat, May 2017

Essentially though, we are in deep drought in the garden still, with no rain forecast for the next 10 days or so at the moment.  But two years ago, I grew this lovely little Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’ from seed- with a poorish success rate, only 3 plants made it through.  But those 3 are utterly unfazed by the heat and the drought.  It makes a small, neat plant, with multiple branching flower stems from the central rosette of flattish leaves, and it is a very jolly, cheerful yellow that works really well with the baby Stipas around it.  And now in its second year, it is really digging in and growing well.  Gaillardia are especially suited to dry, hot conditions, and this has been well tested this year.  Good job.

Big things and tiny things…

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Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ seedlings, January 2017

This unprepossessing pot of three tiny seedlings has given me ridiculous amounts of joy the past weeks.  This was probably one of my madder, doomed to failure, experiments this early winter- attempting to germinate and grow seeds on sunny windowsills in the house in the winter.  And it has not been a resounding success- for obvious reasons really, light is needed and usually some warmth to persuade seeds to get going- and they have been up against it in both departments.  Some more than others- the ‘Limelight’ seedlings are in a sunnier South-facing window, whereas other trays have had warmth, but are in an East-facing window.  But I will keep the trays and see what happens as the days lengthen, keeping them just moist with misting to try and ensure that the seeds don’t rot.

On the other hand, there have been small successes, Salvia nutans got going with 4 tiny seedlings, I have since lost two but may end up with one strong one if I am lucky.  I have five decent Clematis tangutica ‘Helios’ seedlings looking pretty perky, and a handful of Penstemon barbatus var. coccineus seedlings.

These are not big returns on the numbers of seeds sown, but they have given me more pleasure, especially the ‘Limelight’ than mere maths and ROI would suggest.  This morning, Robbie Blackhall-Miles‘ article in ‘The Guardian’ really spoke to me of the joy of these very tiny messages of promise that seeds are. I would never have believed how much I adore this work with seeds- I would have thought I was too impatient to become skilled at it.  I am much better than I was, in terms of return, and I think, if anything, I am learning real patience and appreciation of the natural world from these little things.

Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ is going to be a joy, I know it.  A tender, big growing Salvia, up to 1.5m high and wide, it has chartreuse green leaves and dark, luscious purple flowers- which is one of my favourite colour combinations.  I have lusted after it for ages, but it is not available in France, and I am trying to wean myself off buying plants that come by post from other countries.  So when I saw seed advertised, I could not resist. Ebay done good, all the way from the USA.  Here is how it looks at one of my all-time favourite nurseries, Annie’s Annuals, in Richmond, California.

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Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ photo credit: http://www.anniesannuals.com

Meantime, outside, big stuff is happening.  Noticing this morning that brambles are now as prolific at hurling themselves over our wall as the roses we grow, was a turning point.  The wall bordering the garden had really become a no-go area for me, I was very adept at looking the other way.  But the bramble count was too high this morning.

And so, in moments, the decision that has been dormant was made- to remove everything in that area, get rid of all the self sown wisteria and other rubbish, and terminate a Rosa ‘Mermaid’ that was not helping the situation by harbouring all the villains in its roots.  To be fair, ‘Mermaid’ though lovely, is a terrible and dangerous thug, and was a poor choice of mine ten years ago. So phase One of site clearance took place this morning as Andy, armed with his ‘Barbie’ Stihl saw,  set about it.  The saw is good, if domestic in scale and size, but it is the ‘Barbie’ saw to us as Mr Brun, our very lumberjack-style village woodsman, disparagingly refers to it in these terms!

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The ‘Barbie’ saw in action with Andy, Tostat, January 2017
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Phase one success, ‘Barbie’ saw reclining, and Andy, Tostat, January 2017

Phase Two is planned for after the freeze- we are expecting -8C this week coming.  One or two dahlias have certainly copped it.

 

 

The story of the ‘Women’s Tree’

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Vitex agnus castus against a blue August sky, Tostat, 2016

There is a small, spreading tree which I grow on Shitty Bank next to the ruisseau.  When I planted it there 9 years ago, it probably only measured about 0.5m high.  Now, it is a magnificent, spreading, but also delicate, small tree, up to maybe 4m high and wide,  that flowers abundantly in July- September, sending strong shoots of flowersprays out at an angle from the trunk of the tree.  These lilac, mid-blue flower sprays are a magnet for bees, butterflies and other insects- almost as popular with them as the more traditional buddleia.  It copes very well with heat and dryness, but it also loves to be close to water, which is why the plant near the ruisseau is bigger and bolder than the one planted elsewhere in a drier spot.  It’s name?  Vitex agnus castus.

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Vitex in the landscape of Shitty Bank, with close neighbour, Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ and Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelturm’ in the foreground, Tostat, August 2016

But, I have always been intrigued by it’s many common names, such as ‘The Chaste Tree’, or in Germany, ‘The Monk’s Pepper Tree’.  I am indebted to Christopher Hobbs, whose site is a mine of interesting detail, but to summarise, this small tree has been used medicinally from the earliest times.  The ancients revered the small, hard, dark fruits which were taken in the form of a tincture or drink made from the more concentrated fruits or new leaves, according to Pliny.  It was used to treat women suffering from menstrual or menopausal hormone imbalance and discomfort- and, interestingly, for men who wished to calm their sexual appetites, hence the name ‘Monk’s Pepper’.  However, Christopher Hobbs quotes a well known 19th century, French herbalist, Cazin, who took the view that the treatment was more likely to arouse passions than calm them!

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An early flowering sprig, Tostat, July 2016

In the garden, it slowly opens up from tight, woolly grey buds into individual florets that last for weeks.  It’s ability to weave through other plants and not be too dominant is a big asset for the smaller garden.  It has proved very hardy with me, reliably holding on through -10C for a fortnight, for example, but I suspect that, despite liking to be close to water, it would be excessive winter wet that might make it turn up its toes.  So, free draining soil, a slope or added grit would handle that. And it has no need for rich soil, and probably, the thinner and rockier the better.  It is not a fast or showy grower, but here in Tostat, it is a stalwart of the late summer bulge when the scene can look pretty tired by August until September rains kick in.  This year has really tested that point.

A companion plant, which is not well known but should be for those of us with difficult, hot situations is Elsholtzia stauntonii.  Successfully posing as a normal shrub or shrublet, this tough plant in fact can cope with any amount of dryness and hot sun, and, with me, returns reliably on deceptively fragile looking stems each late Spring.  In fact, beware: the fragile stems can look very like a spot of couchgrass or weed, so remember where you put it!  A very good blog article on habit and with good photographs is available here at Robert Pavlis’ Garden Fundamentals.  I read about it on Annie’s Annuals emailing and grew mine from seed about 4 years ago, and in the toughest position, they are doing fine, now about 1m tall and flowering soon.   It takes it’s time to grow, but given how much harshness it can take, it has all the lush, green foliage you would expect of a woodlander.

And outside, the garden fries at 36C, the return of the Spanish plume, and no rain forecast of any note.  As for me, I am indoors.

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Elsholtzia stauntonii, flowering in September last year, Tostat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Service interruption…

I am interrupting my three-part Paris blog to post to you about what is surviving in the garden, and even looking good, despite the fact that we have had no rain for what seems like weeks.  It was a dry Spring once we got past the soaking of February, and that theme has continued.  Fortunately we have only had a few really warm or hot days, but even so, the accumulated effect is of deeply dried-out soil conditions.  Our neighbour, Odette, describes this as ‘a year of nothing’ as her superb vegetable garden buckles under the dryness.

I have, yesterday, resorted to the hosepipe, which I never otherwise use, for two newly planted areas.  Desperate times.

So what is surviving?  This Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ seems to be supremely tough.  Last year, the first year in the ground, it hung on through thick and thin, and it is powering over the conditions.  However, Leucanthemum ‘Banana Cream’, just peeping out bottom right, has mostly been terminated by the massive slug population.

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Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ with some returning Leucanthemum ‘Banana Cream’, Tostat, June 2016
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Geranium himalyense ‘Birch Double’, Tostat, June 2016

This little geranium, Geranium himalyense ‘Birch Double’ was mostly wiped out by the dryness last summer, but look, one small plant is holding on.  Possibly I did over-reach myself with planting it where I did, but well, sometimes it works.

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Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardeners World’, Tostat, June 2016

I love Lychnis, but it is a terrible pest in the self-seeding department.  However, here is Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardeners World’ which is sterile, therefore has no seed and the same gorgeous magenta flowers, but double.  I suspect that the plants are a little less robust than their more normal cousins, for whom the phrase ‘tough as old boots’ doesn’t even come close, but next year will tell.

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Sanguisorba ‘Cangshan Cranberry’, Tostat, June 2016

This lovely Sanguisorba ‘Cangshan Cranberry’ is really worth buying beyond the lovely name.  In it’s third year with me, and now a stately clump, it measures 1.5m across and 1.5m tall, growing in the slightly moister conditions near the banana.  This year, and I suspect that this is a sign of some stress, it has developed the slightly odd-looking albino striping on some of the flowers, but the foliage is doing fine for the moment.

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Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, June 2016

This plant is doing fabulously.  Introducing Monarda fistulosa, which I started off from seed last year.  Monarda has always rotted with me, too much heat and too dry, but this American native came highly recommended for a greater tolerance of drier conditions and resistance to mildew, thanks to Seedaholic. I am expecting those shaggy mophead whorls of flowers in lilac any time soon, but I am already saluting it’s general fitness.  Another survivor, as a very young plant, of our murderous housesitter, it has come back fighting with fresh, green foliage and will be a good-egg plant. I am looking forward to the flowers.

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Flowering spike of Salvia spathacea, Tostat, June 2016

This gorgeous thing has been a complete surprise.  Currently standing at about 1.5m high, this huge flowering spike is the first time my plants have flowered.  I tried this from seed about 3 years ago, tempted as I was by Annie’s Annuals’ account of scarcity in it’s native California.  It’s a very smelly Salvia spathacea, or Hummingbird Salvia.  Huge, felted leaves carry that strong (unmistakeable even to my nose) smell.  And that was all it was doing until last week.  As you can see, the spike is six layers of flowers, and so they come out slowly at different levels.  What a thing.

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Abutilon under stress, Tostat, June 2016

But mostly everything  else is trying to lie low, hoping for rain.   This abutilon has folded its leaves flat against itself in an attempt to reduce transpiration.  So, I am about to get the jungle drums out and am scanning the weather forecast.  No hope yet.

 

Seedaholic? Who, moi?

This is one of the times of the year when I experience a terrible yearning to be growing something new.  I suppose it’s the New Year talking to me, and usually, I have seed ready to go which I have bought earlier and kept, probably because it was recommended to sow it in the Spring more insistently than usual.  Last year was a bit of a horror story seed-wise. The weather was way too hot for too long, and despite copious watering and care, most seeds just don’t want to perform in those conditions.  So, returns were pretty poor. I had boasted in an earlier blog of how easy it was to grow Echinacea ‘White Swan’ from seed. Well, it is normally, if that’s a word that can be used anymore about weather.

Last year, I ate my hat time and time again.  And then again, we had a housesitter with clearly homicidal tendencies as far as seedlings go, who strenuously did not water them, maybe even at all for five weeks.   I was the one doing the Jack Nicholson ‘Here’s Johnny’ impression when I got home.

But, despite all that, and I am taking a risk here, it being only the second week in January, I think some toughies have pulled through.  I have tried once before to grow ‘Patrinia scabiosifolia’ from seed and come a cropper.  Out there, right now, are some pretty promising and doughty looking small plants with good root systems.   Patrinia is a veiling kind of tall, willowy perennial, yellow and see-through, both admirable qualities in my book.  So, I am hoping I will have a good clump of them in the new bit of the garden I am planning. It will be a rounded extension of an existing planting area which will link up with a curvy bed from the other side of the garden, making a narrowish passage way between the two.  So, more opportunity to dig up a bit more of the ho-ho lawn and plant it up, care of a plant fund set up by lovely friends who visited last summer.   So, this is not my photograph, but the photograph from ‘Special Plants’, where I bought the seed last year.

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Patrinia scabiosifolia from Special Plants credit: http://www.specialplants.net

I also love ‘Morina longifolia’ and had a good clump that just fizzled after a few years after some wet springs.  I love its candy-ice whorled flowers and the eryngium like, thistle-imitation base of spikey leaves.  Morina longifolia will take it really hard, and so this time, with 7 or 8 good looking babies in pots, I will put it in a tougher spot and see if that helps it get through periods of rain.

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Morina longifolia from Special Plants credit: http://www.specialplants.net

And I am really thrilled to say that I have managed not to kill something I have read about, and really wanted to have a go at, ‘Erogonium grande var.rubescens’.  This is a form of red buckwheat which Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, California raves about as ‘goof-proof’ and ‘deer-proof’. I don’t have a deer problem but goof-proof sounds good to me.  I have no real idea how it will do here, but it clearly likes sun and dry, so that’s good for some bits of the garden, and if it’s survival skills through this past six months are anything to go by, it will be just fine.  The baby plants look very happy and, are indeed, evergreen, another plus.

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Eriogonum grande var. rubescens from Annie’s Annuals credit: http://www.anniesannuals.com

But, as I rummage through my seed store from the fridge, I also realise that my seedaholic tendencies are in danger of running away with themselves.  There are packets and packets and packets of seed, and, yes, this week I ordered more from one of my most favourite seedsites, aptly called Seedaholic.  Go to their site, and be amazed by the generosity of their information about the seeds and their cultivation, not to mention very reasonable prices.  But just before I close, this is one of my purchases from Seedaholic only this week, a new Cosmos, ‘Cosmos bipinnatus Xanthos’.  Cosmos is another plants that everyone, bar me, grows from seed.  So, I am hoping this lovely cream-coloured one will break my curse.

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Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ from Seedaholic credit: http://www.seedaholic.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some plants do, some plants don’t…especially if you forget about them.

At least four years ago, I grew from seed three of one plant that I just adored for the clear blue flowers on slender stems that I had seen in photographs, Aristea capitata.  It is a South African native, and so, for me, it had to be a pot plant, though it is reputed to reach 2m in the wild.  It is doing very well with me, or was, until this winter, when instead of taking it into the house, I improvised a cold frame with some big old windows that we had in the barn, and put it in there with lots of other things.  Well, I think it would have been fine if I had started watering it earlier. Suffice to say, that I sort of forgot and when I checked it out, it wasn’t dead, but it wasn’t in a forgiving mood.  And it has remained thus.  Aristea capitata or Aristea major as she names it, was another Annie’s Annuals inspiration, my favourite Californian nursery, her photograph of it shows why I bothered in the first place…

Aristea major or capitata, Annie's Annuals photo credit: www.anniesannuals.com
Aristea major or capitata, Annie’s Annuals
photo credit: http://www.anniesannuals.com

Stonking great iris-like spikey leaves and then a towering flowerspike in gentian blue- what’s not to like?  Mine has almost the height, being about 1m tall without flowering (!), but I have got 3 in a pot, so, aside from asking forgiveness, I think I will repot them into their very own pots at the end of summer, and bring them into the house this time.

It’s cousin, Aristea ecklonii, which was treated to the same fate by me, good idea but too long without water, has actually recovered brilliantly, and today, flowered for the first time ever.  I was so thrilled I nearly dropped the pot.  This is not the best photograph, as there was a breeze and this is the best of about 12 efforts, but the flowers barely last a day and are very fragile, so I persisted. Though, I could have gently brought the pot into the house, I guess.  Aristea ecklonii is a smaller, more delicate plant than major, but the blue is the same brilliant gentian shade.  I am sure you get the idea!  PS. I have now inserted a much better photograph with no wind effects from the next day.

Aristea ecklonii, Tostat, June 2015
Aristea ecklonii, Tostat, June 2015

And, because I was on an Aristea roll, I also grew another smaller Aristea from seed, and by my winter’s antics, I have managed to reduce the population from 3 to 2, and a serious sulk is in place. But, I hope that Aristea inaequalis will also forgive me. Annie describes it as indestructible. Mmm..it wasn’t supposed to be a destructibility test!

In praise of the Hardy Plant Society…

This January I joined the Hardy Plant Society. Really quickly, they sent me a couple of journals and special issues magazines, and then, about a month later, I received packets of seed through the post with a very kind note saying that as I joined at the beginning of the year, I had missed the seed catalogue, and so they had made a selection for me and were enclosing them. I was really surprised and very delighted.

I had decided to join pretty much once I had made my mind up that I was not going to let the automatic renewal for the RHS go through again in the summer. To be honest, although I am sure the readership is immensely complex to serve, I find the magazine irritating and oldfashioned, and as I am here and not in the UK, the other obvious ‘gardens open’ opportunities don’t really work for me. And the HPS is a very modest £17- so there’s more dosh to put towards plants!  So, this year, my Seed Central is half filled with the HPS seeds that they sent me.

Seed Central, Tostat, May 2015
Seed Central, Tostat, May 2015

Seed Central is located in our open barn, along with the cars, the gubbins for the swimming pool, and masses of junk. It is open at one end so sometimes the seedlings do a lot of leaning, but it is a good place, cool, gets the sun in the morning, and the only downside is that if we have a West wind, it tends to whistle through the door from the back garden over the seed trays. So, you need to pick calm days for seed sowing.

An old shutter tastefully mounted on concrete blocks holds the seedlings to the right, and an nearly-dead table was revived to form the seed germination side to the left. So, though it might not meet the most exacting requirements, it works fine for me.  So, front right, you can see Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’ or Salmonella, as the great Bob Brown (good piece by Sarah Raven introducing him) of Cotswold Garden Flowers calls it. I haven’t grown this before, and it is a risk as it is clearly salmon-y ( not always my favourite) but HPS sent me the seed and so I am trying it.  Here is a photo from HPS of this Lychnis.

Lychnis chalcedonica 'Salmonea' credit: www.hardy-plant.org.uk
Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’
credit: http://www.hardy-plant.org.uk

It is salmon-y but not too much and sounds like a ‘doer’ as long as butchered.

Further in, front right, are the fingery seedlings of Calandrinia umbellata ‘Ruby Tuesday’, a Californian purslane, that I am trying. I saw a calandrinia on Annies’s Annuals a while back, and then found this variety available as seed, and it has all germinated and made good happy plantlets. It is a small, romping groundcover for hot, dry spots, and is usually treated as an annual because it may not make it through a damp winter, but I have so many that I will try it outside and also keep a few in pots indoors. it looks fabulous, tough and shocking pink…The link above takes you to Chiltern Seeds, where I bought mine, a great seed catalogue and a splendid winter read. Here is how I hope it will look…

Calandrinia umbellata 'Ruby Tuesday' credit: www.chilternseeds.co.uk
Calandrinia umbellata ‘Ruby Tuesday’
credit: http://www.chilternseeds.co.uk

And what you can’t see, because they are tiny, are nearly 80 seedlings of Panicum virgatum ‘Emerald Chief’. Great success to have succesfully got 80 thus far, but that success masks a not-so-good picture.  I am growing them because I ripped out a long lavender hedge, yes, I know, it was lovely but I had failed to prune it properly and it was in a sorry state. So, I will have a modernist tall standing row of Panicum, which I can’t possibly mess up, instead of my lavender. Cruel, but practical.  And I think it will look great, if no scent. Great seed once again from Seedaholic.

Panicum virgatum 'Emerald Chief' credit:  www.seedaholic.com
Panicum virgatum ‘Emerald Chief’
credit: http://www.seedaholic.com