Time, motion and weather…

Fritillaria meleagris, Tostat, February 2020

The last two weeks we have experienced a couple of hard frosts, glorious sunshine with temperatures in the early 20s, belting rain and fog. The weather has bounced from one season to another with no compunction. The impact of the weather has troubled the garden. The fritillarias that I bought at sale price, how could such a lovely thing be on sale?, have been fooled into flowering early, and in 3 days have gone from slim, tightly bound buds to full strength. But this isn’t too serious- what makes me ponder is when plants and shrubs at the tough end of the spectrum cave in.

Two plants have done this- only two found so far. Bergenia ‘Wintermachen’, which was new to me last winter, has caved into, I suspect, our piercingly dry and relentless summer and is no more. And a small shrub that I loved, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ has also given up and it had been in the garden for three years. Think I have to up the tough stakes for entry into the garden.

The end of the path….River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

Meantime, just before Christmas, when the Adour river broke free and forced the evacuation of part of our village, we now have new vistas down by the river. The sentier de l’Adour, which winds its way down the river from Maubourguet to us and beyond, and is a favourite for walking groups and cyclists, has been washed away and we have a new bend in the river and a shingle bank where the path ended up on the other side. We also lost about 20 trees in the deluge.

Molly picks up the path, River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

This little Iris reticulata is such a gem. I planted about 6 bulbs 2 years ago, and then treated them with great neglect. They are easy to forget about, as they are tiny anyway, and die down completely in about two months. But the blue is gorgeous. I have forgotten the variety, but one bonus from our dry, hot summer is that the bulbs have been busily reproducing themselves in the heat, and so there should be more than 3-4 flowers next year in this little group.

Iris reticulata, Tostat, February 2020

Amazingly, only 3 weeks after being utterly drowned beneath the deluge and the detritus from the river, the snowdrops burst forth- but were then hit by the hot sunshine and so only lasted 2-3 weeks this winter. They are spectacular though, and adore the dappled shade of the forest and paths.

Snowdrops final blaze, River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

I love the simple purity of Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’. For my money, you can keep your doubles, those salmon-pink varieties and all the rest. This is the real McCoy. So elegant, contained, and almost Japanese in their stick-like growth and green tea-coloured buds, they really signal the beginning of Spring to me. No trouble at all as a shrub, and I just allow the sticky, angular shrub to grow as it likes in the semi-shade and relative moisture of the area beside the ruisseau or canal.

Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, Tostat, February 2020
Caught by the sun, Tostat, February 2020

And here we have Fritillaria meleagris in full purple, leopard-spotted glory. I used to have these growing under a Daphne mezereum f. alba in our garden in Scotland, and I know that these will be fine in the Spring but will not enjoy the summer, so I have them in a pot which will be later positioned in the coolest, dampest part of the garden that I can find.

Fritillaria 3 days later, Tostat, February 2020

And this small Hellebore has been taken all of three years to flower. No idea what variety it is, but the pointed green-tinged outer petals combined with the creamy rounded inner petals and the double form are a great combination. The crown of frost was a lucky find this morning.

First time flowering double cream Hellebore with a dusting of frost, Tostat, February 2020
And the inside of the Fritillaria flower is just as gorgeous, Tostat, February 2020

Seed extravaganza…

Is this a rogue Leonotis? Tostat, September 2020

Fifteen years ago when we moved to France, I was really a bit intimidated by the idea of growing perennials from seed, but now it really is my preferred way of growing plants, though I do still buy plants from time to time- when the wait is just too long. I have learnt that there is tremendous surprise and pleasure in the growing of something from scratch and I have a great emotional commitment to all my plants that I have grown myself! Sometimes there are great results and sometimes no results, dud seed- or rather probably, wrong time, wrong place, no can do. So you have to be prepared for a little Russian Roulette.

This plant grown from seed this spring is a mystery. One reader of this blog is a lovely chap called Tony Tomeo, who often leaves me interesting questions and observations, lives in Southern California and is a genuine horticulturalist- I am very pleased that he enjoys my blog and always look out for his comments. Puzzling a couple of weeks ago about this plant, he wondered if it was a monarda…he was bang on about the smaller plant, which clearly now a somewhat stunted Leonotis leonorus. To me this mystery plant is trying to channel an East European TV tower from the 1960s…and I am still at a loss. Have another go, Tony?

Conoclinum coelestinum, Tostat, September 2019

This is another new-to-me by seed plant. It used to be called ‘Eupatorium coelestinum conoclinum’, but is now just Conoclinum coelestinum– or in plain-speak, Blue Mist-Flower. I shouldn’t really be growing it as it needs a tad more water than I have in the garden, but I adore this shade of blue right at the end of summer, and it is a pretty thing in a raggy sort of way. This is the first flower on a new baby plant so the adult version will be about 1m tall with big, wide plates of blue fluff- and I will find a spot for it- as always happens.

Dendranthema weyrichii, Tostat, September 2019
Dendranthema weyrichii
Photo credit: http://www.rhs.org.uk

Grown from seed this spring, these were seriously miniscule as seedlings- but now measuring 2 handspans in the garden, and survivors of three canicule heatwaves, these plants already have a gong in my book. Dendranthema weyrichii is a tough, no-nonsense plant- in effect, a tiny chrysanthemum as shown in the RHS photo, and with a growth habit that just keeps on spreading, I think it makes a really good hot, dry groundcover plant. No flowers yet for me.

Vernonia lettermannii
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

This plant has been such a triumph that I have already sown more seed for next year which I bought from the fantastic Derry Watkins at Special Plants. She has always got interesting new plants to try, and this Vernonia lettermannii is a good’un. Growing to less than a metre, with feathery branching stems, it is close to flowering in the garden with me, but is such a wispy, almost see-through plant, that my photograph looked pathetic in comparison with Derry’s clump. The growth rate has been astounding for a perennial, and like the Dendranthema, it has come through serious heat and drought without blinking. The giant Vernonias are fabulous, but this smaller, feathery relative is such a good plant for late-summer and totally trouble-free for a dry, hot spot.

Early this morning, the tail of dying Hurricane Dorian brought us good rain- no wind, just good, serious rain for a couple of hours, and this works miracles on the exhausted garden. So, not to ignore old favourites that are also doing a good job, I love this combination of the bright, fresh blue of the Caryopteris and the soft orange of the Abutilon.

The Caryopteris is just at the limit of what it can handle in my summer-dry garden, but two out of three plants have survived this summer- probably because they have been a little sheltered from the full sun by other plants, like the Abutilon. There are many many reasons to be cheerful.

Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ with my unknown orange Abutilon, Tostat, September 2019

Catching the eye…

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Rosa Woollerton Old Hall, Ludlow, June 2017

There is a lot of recovery going on in the garden after our harsh summer- but we also have had Scottish weather the past two weeks, strong winds, heavy rain and fresh temperatures- so everything has slightly stopped in its tracks, not quite knowing what is going on.  Me included.  So, thinking back over the spring and summer, here is a mixture of plants that caught my eye and survivors in the garden.  Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’ is a creamy-yellowy-apricot rose that just seems to keep on giving.  I bought one as a gift for a friend and she has been delighted with it all summer- and apparently, it has an strong and unusual scent, which makes it a good ‘un all round.

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Jane’s pretty white geranium, Ludlow, June 2017

In my friend Jane’s garden, a lovely blue-veined white geranium, not sure which, looked glorious in late June.

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Potentilla ‘Arc en Ciel’, Ludlow, June 2017

I loved the burnished look of this Potentilla ‘Arc en ciel’ which I saw in the Ludlow Food Centre garden section.  Golden tips to the petals and a darker, ruffled centre- very pretty.

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Rosa ‘Wild Eve’, Ludlow, June 2017

Again in Jane’s garden, this sumptuous rose ‘Wild Eve’ is almost Titian-esque in habit, hanging in swags over the foliage.

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Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, Ludlow, June 2017

Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ is adorable and could be seen all over Shropshire in June. It doesn’t like Tostat- and the only Monarda that does is ‘Monarda fistulosa’ which can take some dryness without mildew.

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Jane’s garden, Ludlow, June 2017

A big investment pays off in Jane’s garden.  A great idea to create a rising range of arches creating a strong diagonal sweep over the garden.

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Rosa ‘Ginger Syllabub’, Ludlow, June 2017

Another ‘Jane’ rose, very pretty and just perfectly balanced on the acidic side of pink and peach.

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Jane’s garden, a longer view, Ludlow, June 2017

A longer view of Jane’s garden- showing the full effect of the well-positioned arches.

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Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ with the orange Abutilon behind it, Tostat, September 2017

At last, a little colour and life returns to us in Tostat- I love the orange and the blue, the blue gets deeper as the flowers mature, which makes for a great contrast with the lime-green foliage.  Such a good plant.

And, the only flowers on Geranium ‘Havana Blues’ this summer can be counted on the fingers of one hand.  But, I am rethinking some of the planting to give this good geranium a bit more cover, and hopefully, there will be more flowering next summer. Geraniums are forgiving, although you have to wait until next year.

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Geranium ‘Havana Blues’, Tostat, September 2017

 

Coming over all mauve…

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Liatris spicata, Kalimeris incisa ‘Madiva’, Monarda fistulosa, Tagetes minuta, Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Baron’ and guest wild carrot, Tostat, July 2017

This new border, which I planted up this Spring, has saved my sanity this summer- well, almost.  There must be water under here, which I never noticed before as it used to be a jumble of messy shrubs- but water there is, throughout our burning temperatures, it has looked pretty much like this.  This photo was taken yesterday after rain, so the greens are all refreshed, but the plants are in great shape.  And I adore the self-sown wild carrot, which is frothing up at the back, so I have bought a packet of Daucus carota ‘Dara’ seed to amplify this effect myself next year with any luck. Monarda fistulosa has been torched in other parts of the garden but is still looking good here.  And I will definitely be growing the annual purple millet again, it is fabulous- I may even go for broke and grow the super-tall one, Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’, which can get to 1.5m.  It is super-easy from seed and then blows itself up in purple till the frosts see it off.

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Bupleurum fruticosum, Miscanthus Strictus and Buddleia ‘Nanho Blue’, Tostat, July 2017

Here is another bit that has done really well, although the Miscanthus is about 2/3 of the normal height.  The Bupleurum fruticosum has really hit it’s stride this year and is an insect cafeteria complex all on it’s own.

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Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fuji White’, Tostat, July 2017

This plant is always a surprise, Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fuji White’.   It just soars above the rest of the planting undeterred, and is such a cool customer.  Probably at it’s best in green surroundings, I love it.  It is helped by the fact that there is running water nearby no doubt.

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Salvia ‘Didi’, Tostat, July 2017

A slightly breezy-looking Salvia ‘Didi’, only in it’s first year and so still quite small, is nevertheless quite delightful with delicate pink and light apricot colouring.

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Tiny but indomitable, Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’, Tostat, 2017

Only about 10 cms high, yet this Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’ really does work hard in very dry conditions.  I managed to grow three decent plants from a small packet of seed last year, and I have really come to appreciate this plant, and will be growing more.

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Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Sanguisorbia and a stray Rudbeckia, Tostat, July 2017

I love this combination, and it is brought to life by the stray Rudbeckia.  This is another really good shrub, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, which I planted in last year and it has gone on and on, with tawny new growth that then colours up mauve or wine-coloured.  The Sanguisorba menziesii was grown from seed about 4 years ago and is now a great big clump, which I always forget to prop up until it’s too late.

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Another little group that have come together well, I think- Gaura lindheimeri, Lychnis, Phlomis russeliana, orange Abutilon, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, Tostat, July 2017

And lastly, not out yet, but cheering me up, which has been the point of taking these photos really, (proving it’s not all burnt out there!), are the architectural buds of Hibiscus palustris….to come.

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Hibiscus palustris in bud, Tostat, July 2017

 

 

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.

 

Inspiring colour…and form

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Terra Valley, Extremadura, October 2015.  Photo credit: Sandra Child

Sometimes what you see and feel in a landscape can make you jump with joy.  This photograph, taken by a fellow Via de la Plata walker, Sandra Child, captures the moment beautifully.  The reflections are so sharp. the colour so present, that you are immediately there- in the landscape and in the picture.  I love gold and blue in combination.  Such strong and vibrant colours that together are quite brilliant.

Last year, I was experimenting with blue and a more yellow gold than in the photograph.  I wasn’t sure if I had got there, but these two colours suddenly came together in the autumn in one plant.  Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’.

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Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, Tostat, September 2015

Caught in a breath of wind that gives the photograph a romantic blur, this plant is a joy. Planted out last year when just a tiny, I wasn’t sure at all how it would cope with the extremes of temperature we had.  But it managed fine.  More than that, it bloomed profusely from September onwards until early December, and, before that, starting out as a sharp chartreuse green, the foliage softened to a beautiful gold by the end of the season. It handled dryness and heat like a pro.  Now it measures about 0.75m high and across, and should get a little bigger this year.

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Orange abutilon and Salvia ‘Waverly’, Tostat, November 2016

Just a slither along the colour spectrum is orange and blue.  This salvia, Salvia ‘Waverly’ is a fabulous plant.  They were bought as tiny little plugs in January last year from the very good ebay nursery, Eleplants, which I have bought lots from over the years.  By the end of November, the plants were all well over a metre high and wide, and covered with the striking dark calyx and contrasting pale, pale lilac flowers that you see above.  Next to the marmelade orange of the unknown abutilon, it was a treat in the garden just before winter. I have taken a risk and left the Salvias in over the winter.  They are hardy, apparently down to about -3C according to the books.  But they are well surrounded by other plants and not too far from the house, so I am chancing it.  Could be living dangerously, but they grow so fast that, if I do come a cropper, I’ll buy some more plugs and take cuttings next time.

A very good plant for a hot, dry situation that seems to shrug off winter as well, is Elsholtzia stauntonii.  I grew these from seed a couple of years ago, and last Spring they looked depressingly like dead sticks. But, no!  A couple of months later, in the hottest late Spring ever, they were shooting up and even flowered.  They will finish up this year as a tidy, leafy shrub with mint scented leaves and these charming flowerspikes of lilac pink, maybe they will get to a metre or so high and wide.  More importantly, they flower in August, which is a bonus.

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Bee on Elsholtzia stauntonii, Tostat, September 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And green is the colour…

Now that we are in a surprise period of large dollops of rain, kindly delivered towards the back end of the day, and continuing for the rest of the week, the colour green is returning to the garden. Not to the grass, still crisp and burnt, and also a large purple clematis which has been completely brule-d. Not to mention one or two other things which probably are not mortally wounded. But there are other things…

Here are two plants that I would probably never be able to grow other than in a pot with daily attention. I wouldn’t normally want to be bothered with daily attention, but there are some things that are just so beguiling that I fall for them. I grew both of these from seed from Derry Watkins at Special Plants about 3 years ago. Not one of my more successful plantings as I only got one good seedling from both sowings, but they are both really worth it.

Astilboides tabularis, Tostat,  June 2015
Astilboides tabularis, Tostat, June 2015

The colour of the new leaves on Astilboides tabularis is mouth-wateringly green, but the hairy leaves are outstanding in bright sunlight, and although it is a slow grower, I am devoted to it.  It grows steadfastly, stubbornly carrying on even if the odd slug gets in there, and when fully mature, the leaves should be much bigger, up to 1m apparently. Don’t believe the RHS.. there is nothing common about this plant. But it does need very consistent moisture, good soil and semi-shade, so hence the pot in my case. So I will just keep it, and pot on as they say.

Peltoboykinia watanabei, Tostat, June 2015
Peltoboykinia watanabei, Tostat, June 2015

This is a complete mouthful of a name- with more syllables than you can quite believe- Peltoboykinia watanabei.  The new leaves are an almost luminous green, and, like the Astilboides, it is totally hardy so I leave both plants out in their pots in the winter.  Again, it needs consistent moisture, good soil and semi-shade and will eventually make 0.75m in height and a bit wider probably. I love the palmate shape of the leaves and its doggedness. It just keeps slowly going.

Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Hint of Gold', Tostat, June 2015
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, Tostat, June 2015

This is quite the best caryopteris I have seen. I also grow ‘Worcester Gold’ which is anaemic in comparison. I bought these Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ as small plants in the early Spring, and though they have taken their time to get settled, and it is a bit too early for flowering, they have paid their way already. The foliage is an exhilarating lime-yellow-green, not a bit sickly, and it is a tough little plant, on its way to making a nice rounded boule-shape about 1m x 1m. So, I can’t wait for the flowers.  I am growing it in 2 places, one hotter than the other, and one with a lot less moisture, but actually, the plants are level-pegging, though the one in the sunnier spot has marginally better colour, so I am very hopeful that it will be a Great Success.

Acanthus 'Whitewater', Tostat, June 2015
Acanthus ‘Whitewater’, Tostat, June 2015

Now, ok, this is slightly slipping from the green theme, but it is so extraordinary that I had to put it in. Have you ever seen a plant that so closely fakes being a pool of spilt, creamy milk?  This is Acanthus ‘Whitewater’.  Now, I love Acanthus, but they really do take their time with me, and this small plant is, believe it or not, 3 years old. But it is in a harsh spot, and so I believe that it will get to the point where the rhizome is big enough for it to be out there all year, not just now and then. Eventually, it will also have candy-pink flower spikes, up to 1,5m- but that’s a way off. So I am used to the fact that it comes and goes, depending on the weather and the moisture, but it does always come back. So I hope I won’t be in a bathchair by the time it gets to flowering.

And lastly…

Begonia grandis ssp.evansiana, Tostat, June 2015
Begonia grandis ssp.evansiana, Tostat, June 2015

a begonia! I am not a begonia fan, but I love this one. Sites say that this is a hardy begonia. I think that’s a dodgy recommendation and I always overwinter it dry in its pot, just out of the weather.  Begonia grandis ssp.evansiana is like an opera coquette..all flashy red underskirts and posing, and gorgeous when backlit. Also, once it likes you, it will give you tons of tiny bulbules, which will sprout all over the place, so it has a generous nature. Mine is maybe 4 years old, and when at full height is a stunning metre and a bit.  Lovely.