Winners and losers…

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Cornus kousa, Tostat, June 2016

This year is proving to be very confused.  This week, we have gone from 15 degrees to nearly 30 in three days, and the wind has been a bad friend as I moaned about in my last blog.  But, some plants in the garden have really enjoyed the oddities of the season, and really did their best.

I planted this Cornus kousa more than eight years ago, when I was a very serious novice in our garden.  It is definitely a bit too dry for it where it is, but as it is now more than 2.5 m high, it is probably staying.  This May, though, with our cool, wet weather, really pleased it, and I have never seen the flowers so bright and long-lasting.  They are bracts rather than flowers, but present themselves in this charming way, like a waiter bringing several plates at once.  We never quite get to the fruits as, by then, it really is too hot for it and autumn colouring passes over very swiftly, but, it is a pretty vase-shaped tree, and if our springs are going to be more volatile, it may be that my planting error will not such a miss, more of a hit.

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Cenolophium denudatum, Tostat, June 2016

I grew several plants of Cenolophium denudatum from seed about 4 years ago.  It is a beautiful umbel, offering up wide, lacey plates of flowers and pretty, dissected foliage in mid-summer. Entirely undemanding, other than moderate levels of moisture, and full sun, it makes a lovely clump about 1.2m high by 1m across in a couple of years.

I grow it over my Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ as it starts to appear just as ‘Brazen Hussy’ fades and so they are good companions.  But, my best clump was very pathetic this year, and on closer inspection this week, I think it is one of those plants that needs splitting and refreshing every 3-4 years.  It had clearly died out in the centre and was doing its best to splinter off at the sides with new, youthful growth.  Of course, I had slightly missed the boat for this year, so I dug it up anyway, split  and re-potted it, and have put the new ones in the observation ward for the next few weeks.  In fact, I’ll probably wait till next Spring and stick it back then which will give it the best chance to regroup.

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Neglected Cenolophium denudatum getting intensive care, Tostat, June 2016

The jury is out a bit on my annuals this year.  This sounds as if I am an experienced annual grower, the truth would really be the reverse.  But, with some new areas opened up in the garden, I decided that I should brave my fear of annuals and give it a go.  I loved the seedling look of Nasturtium ‘Milkmaid’.  One or two pretty cream flowers appeared, but, on the whole, the plants were not happy with our weather conditions and looked so scrofulous that I ripped them out last week.   But so far, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ is hanging on, maybe not in the best form, but not yet scrofulous, so in it stays.  The early flowering colour is a bit more yellow than I had hoped, but goes creamy as the flower matures, which I prefer.

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Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’, Tostat, June 2016

This Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ has loved our wet, windy and cool weather.  I am amazed. It has always been a bit on the mewly side, not quite doing ok, not quite fizzling, but to look at it now, you would never know.  And it has really shot up, and it is easily holding its own with the Phlomis russeliana behind it.  The brother plant has not liked his second re-location, and so he is back in a pot in intensive care for a second year, having come very close to fizzling.  I think I am just going to plant them together next year and be done with it.

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Eupatorium capillifoilium ‘Elegant Plume’, Tostat, June 2016

I am so pleased with this!  I struggle with pinks sometimes, they can be too Barbie-doll, and so-called salmony shades often look too like, let’s be plain, the after-effects of a bad night out.

But this Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’ is really delightful.  I grew it from seed last year sent to me by the Hardy Plant Society and it survived murder at the hands of our non-watering housesitter last autumn.   This year, it has come back as single 0.30 m high spikes of bright green foliage topped with this unusual combination of pinks in the flowering head.  Photographs show the flowering heads shaped as domed balls, but mine are definitely flat!

Not sure about drought tolerance, I am growing it in a dappled shade part of a new area, under a cherry tree, and so far, it is handling everything well.  I probably should have nipped off the top growth to make it more bushy, but well, never mind, bushiness will come in the future if it continues to make it.  Some people unkindly call this plant ‘Salmonella’!  I don’t agree.

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Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’, Tostat, June 2016

And, to close, one of only two Lilium regale out of ten that do not resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame…so it has been worth it!

This weekend, we are in Paris to catch the ‘Jardins d’Orient’ exhibition at the Institute du Monde Arabe.  Andy did some of the translation work for it, but I am keen to see the exhibition which will be a rare opportunity to learn about the history of Islamic gardens, and also to see the contemporary Islamic garden that has been designed specially for the exhibition by Michel Pena.  More of this to follow.

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Lilium regale, Tostat, June 2016

Pointless pottering…why it matters

I have often said, when asked ‘What were you up to today?’, this:  ‘Oh you know, pointless pottering in the garden.’  I really have to stop saying that.  There is no such thing.  Firstly, it’s when you wander round that you really notice things, and very often, it is only by breaking the routines of how and where you potter, that you actually see the bigger picture.  I think this is particularly true of me, because I am more than bit of a self-confessed plantaholic.  This means that I am often only looking at the performance and behaviour of one particular plant at a time.  Interestingly, this is how I photograph the garden too. Plant by plant.  There is a side aspect to this, that I have a camera that is not that great at bigger, wider shots, but in truth, I could do this differently than I do.  Habit, you see.

So, today, I am widening the lens just a little, living dangerously and showing you more than one plant at a time.  Combinations came to mind today, those serendipitous moments when you have introduced a new element, or in my language, stuffed another plant in, and the picture is really changed and developed.

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Acanthus mollis behind, Leycesteria Formosa ‘Golden lanterns’ just opening up on the left, and a handful of doughty, unknown cream tulips- and one fly looking for stardom, Tostat, April 2106

I could swear these tulips have moved.  I know they are very robust because I planted a cheap packet of them easily eight years ago, and they may be down to this small clump and one other, but they always turn up.  And now that the Acanthus has really taken hold, the other morning on a light, grey day was just the perfect time to catch them in a photograph with no glare.  But the tulips were definitely further left to start with.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’ in front of unknown blue Iris, 4 unknown cream peony double tulips, frothy Cenolophium denudatum, tiny glimpse of Ranunculus ficaria’Brazen Hussy’ and the box hedge replacement, Eleagnus x ebbingei dusty brown new foliage, Tostat, April 2016

In a similar cream/green combination, the addition of Narcissus ‘Thalia’ has changed this mini-scene for me.  It extends the cream and green away from the unknown, another doughty tulip returner, and as the Cenolophium is now in is third year, it too is making more of an early impact.  The frothy new foliage is a great contrast with the almost cardboard-coloured new foliage of the replacement hedge.  That was a torture, ripping out the mouldering remains of the box last August, but I think the Eleagnus will give us different vistas through the year and I am quite excited to see how well it does.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Tostat, April 2016

This Narcissus is so delicate and pretty.  Mind you, I was lying down to take this photograph as it is quite small in stature.  Note to self: buy some more and find a way of raising them up for next year.

And, whilst pottering, I looked down into the centre of the new Helleborus foetidus foliage.  And, I know that I am trying to broaden my looking, but, it is exquisite close-up and like a mysterious world unto itself.

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New foliage on Helleborus foetidus, Tostat, April 2016

So, here is what I am looking forward to in about 5 weeks, a great drift of Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ punctured later by the tall columns of Liatris scariosa ‘Alba’ which brings some definition when the Anthemis takes a breather.  And that’s a bit more of a vista.  So, now that I have noticed my monoist (is there such a word?!) tendencies, I will try and broaden the angle a bit. If nothing else, I can then remind myself that the whole is more than a sum of its parts.

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Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ in drift, Tostat, June 2015

Ranunculus, ranunculi…

Last summer, I had a real treat, courtesy of ‘Abebooks’.  Abebooks is a brilliant site for secondhand books, and is my first port of call when I want to buy anything that isn’t hot off the press.  I bought 2 Dan Pearson books and really enjoyed them both. In ‘Home Ground: Sanctuary in the City’ there was a short piece on Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’. I love the ordinary celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, and there is a spot in the garden, normally hard-baked in the summer, which is positively wet in the spring. We get a lot of rain late winter and in the spring, and there is a dip in the ground where water collects and also, probably because of a kink in the old roof, rain comes down from the roof in a spout. So it is really damp, and the native celandines pop up in a matter of weeks ít seems.

Dan Pearson caught my attention with ‘Brazen Hussy’. A great name for a sport spotted by Christopher Lloyd in his garden at Great Dixter, and being a man for bold names, ‘Brazen Hussy’ was what he chose.

Ranunculus ficaria 'Brazen Hussy' Feb 2015
Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ Feb 2015
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Ranunculus ficaria Feb 2015

So there they both are.  ‘Brazen Hussy’ is a dark bronze-leaved variety with glowing yellow petals and quite big flowers- the yellow is almost blinding and for a small plant, it really packs a punch.  I could only find this at a couple of French online nurseries at a serious price, so I bought just three small plants last autumn, and dug them in near to the house, so I wouldn’t have to go hunting for them. For a lot of the winter, they looked very soggy and unprepossessing, and then, despite our biblical rain, they responded immediately to the lengthening light in February and I could see buds forming. So the picture above is of the very first flower and you can see the number of buds still in the wings.  I know from Dan that they die down after flowering, but continue powering away at the root level, so I am planning to move a good plant of Cenolophium denudatum that I grew from seed to grow up and over them.  It will be slow to start up in the late spring, and so they will suit one another very well hopefully. I have to admit that I found a good price for ‘Brazen Hussy’ at a Belgian nursery online, so there are three more small plants on their way to help make more of a clump of them together.  I really love them.  It’s a small price for abundant cheerfulness despite the weather.

PS I forgot to mention ‘Louis the Geek’.  He writes a great blog and I am signing up for it. His piece on ‘Brazen Hussy’ is here.