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.

A small miracle…

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Aristea ecklonii, Tostat, May 2017

This little spray of irridescent blue flowers only measures about 15cms from the ground and has only these four buds/flowers on it, but it delights me.  I grew from seed about 7 years ago, three varieties of Aristea- Aristea ecklonii, Aristea major and Aristea inaequalis. The first has stumbled on in a pot, coming under cover for the winter and to stay dryish, the second has grown immense with huge straps of leaves like a Phormium (more later about this one) and the last I nearly killed the winter before last and so have only one slightly mournful specimen at the moment.

So ecklonii has come good, as it did last year.  The flowers only appear in the sunlight and shut themselves when the sky clouds over- and the whole scale of it is ‘freesia-size’, and of course, the slightest puff of wind and it bobs about- hence the slight wobble.  But the colour is quite fabulous- a true, sky-blue and it really shines out.

So, the big sister, Aristea major has done exceptionally well in the leaf department- but nothing else, till now.  In fact, it had a hard winter. I had it fleeced up, but some wind shook the fleecing a little free, and our hard frost nights (-10C) ravaged the leaves.  So, last month, I re-potted it into a massive pot, as it is a big plant- cut off all the black, frosted foliage, which gave it a severe haircut, and hoped for the best.  Only a couple of new leaves have begun growing, but wowee, no fewer than five flowerspikes!  I am truly thrilled.  They came well-disguised, wrapped inside emerging leaves with only a small maternity bump that I didn’t notice for a while.  So, I am waiting, like an expectant parent outside the labour ward. So far, they look like grey wheathusks.

Other things romping away and causing great delight…

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Anchusa italica ‘Dropmore’, Tostat, May 2017

I grew this Anchusa italica ‘Dropmore’ from seed 2 years ago, and as ever, with most perennials, you are paying forward for the flowers, but here it is.  Tall, despite the drought, at nearly eye-level with me, and the same sort of irridescent blue that the Aristea offers, but in a big, slightly floppy, way.  I think it will go from strength to strength.

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That little flash of red, the tiny but mighty Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’, Tostat, May 2017

Good old standards here,  the Stachys byzantina at its best, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ and Centranthus ruber, but that little flash of red that really does sparkle is my new Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’.  I adore it.

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Rosa ‘Alissar Princess of Phoenicia’, Tostat, May 2017

The very first rose this year on this rose, Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’.  It has not had an easy time.  First, I cut it back to smuggle it back in hand luggage from Chelsea 2013, then I planted it for 2 years in a very dry spot which it really couldn’t cope with, then I potted it up in intensive care last summer and lastly, this Spring, it finally got the home it deserves.  A re-developed section with plenty of sun, but also, a little shade and moister soil, and it looks in great shape.  Phew.  It is a gorgeous thing.

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Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’ with good backing, Tostat, May 2017

But maybe my favourite rose is this one, Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’ for its robustness, and above all, the colour, a mahogany red unlike any other, almost burnished at the tips of the petals.  I planted it without thinking sort of in front of this Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’– which I love.  And they love each other, I think.

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Zantedeschia aethiopia, Tostat, May 2017

This Zantedeschia aethiopia pops up naturally in any shady spot with me.  I really love the horn shape of the flowers and the glossy leaves.  The only problem is that the flowers become waste-bins for any garden bits flying around in the air- still, you couldn’t have a nicer bin really.

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!