The other day, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, walking near Tostat, this plant stopped me in my tracks. A friend took a photograph which we analysed when we got home, all having decided that the leaves were anemone-like. Which they are, as it is a rare cottage garden favourite from Southern France, Anemone fulgens x Multipetala. I had never seen it before, and there it was, flowering in some longish couchgrass outside a gate, and yes, it really is this colour. Postbox red, with these fantastic fringed flowers, almost like a Japanese chrysanthemum, it sat there humbly at a modest 30ms or so high.
Searching through obscure internet references, it seems as if this fabulous plant was once a cottage garden favourite in the Southern half of France, although some sites mention that it is a bulb that enjoys winter damp, which is not what you might imagine. There are very few nurseries that appear to stock it, and of course, now is not the time to buy it, as it is in full flower. It’s dormancy period will be July onwards before the bulb starts to gear up for flowering in March and April.
So, the hunt is on. Starting with going back to where I saw it, and enquiring if I can collect some seed later on. It may well be that the house owners have no idea of what is sitting just outside their garden gate. The great Bob Brown, of Cotswold Garden Flowers fame, does give it a mention in his plant encyclopedia, and he seems pretty taken with it, too. Reliably super-hardy and early to flower, with such an arresting colour, it’s a treat not to be missed.
The rain we have had this week has brought lots of things back from the brink and encouraged others to push the boat out a bit, so I am frequently to be seen nipping round the garden with the camera.
This Sphaeralcea munroana is a lovely thing, but it isn’t at all what I expected! For a start, it should have been a crimson orange, and secondly, I was expecting it to be less drapey and more upright. But, whatever, I am actually rather fond of it. New to me this year, and picked out for its drought resistance, it is described by American sites as a ‘xeric’ plant, which means it is seriously good at drought tolerance. And, of course, as soon as I planted it, we had a soaking wet February. But it has pulled through, and is very pretty, if a sweeter pretty than I meant. At the moment, it is trailing along the ground rather than growing upwards. But, maybe next year when it grows up a bit..
There is nothing special about this plant, Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollandaise’, but, my goodness, it is a beauty. From 3 tiny pots planted 5 years ago, I have swathes of it now, and I adore it. Tough, pretty, fresh, and very happy to go without water for a while, it is a very good friend. Virtually bombproof, as Bob Brown would say, and most years, there is silvery green foliage all year round. Just deadhead to keep it going, and it will work really hard for you. I am becoming a daisy nut.
Another bombproof plant. You can pick up seed for Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ all over the internet for a pound or so, it germinates easily and gives you a great return. These vigorous plants were teeny weeny seedlings only a year ago, and this year, are quite splendid. I love Echinacea, I am not so sure about some of the very gaudy doubles that are being bred right now, but you can’t beat the simplicity of ‘White Swan’. And here is a mature flower, the flower reflexes as it matures and exposes the central cone. Wow.
This is another really good plant. Happy in drought, probably fine in good soil if a little floppy, but wouldn’t want serious wet, it self seeds all over my gravel area and elsewhere too. Knautia macedonica is an unbeatable crimson, and wafts elegantly making a lovely haze of transparent colour. The flowers sit at the top of tall thin stems, so it almost seems to float. It will flower forever once it starts until frost cuts it down, and is totally hardy.
Oh oh, another daisy. Rudbeckia fulgida var.deamii is a very yellow daisy, maybe too Birds Custard for some, but I can take the yellow because it is another toughie. And, though I am fond of ‘Goldsturm’ and have loads of it, I also like this one, which I grew from seed, easy as pie, and this is how they look 2 years on. It muscles it’s way past any weeds, and insists on being seen, so nothing retiring or delicate about it, right down to it’s coarse, hairy legs. But, flowering all summer, who can complain?
Warning! This is my 3rd shot at this plant, having grown it from seed twice and lost it. Nepeta tuberosa, so lovely that I will keep at it, needs razor sharp drainage and sun all year round. But if you can give it that, it will reward you with lipstick-shaped upright flower spikes, some more carmine than others, I have had carmine, almost pink, deep blue…It doesn’t last forever, but will self seed if it likes you. It also has the most strokable, velvety leaves and is very striking. Another Derry Watkins, Special Plants plant, and a right good one. Tweezer job on the seedlings so you need a steady hand.
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 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.
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…
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.