Rain stops play…

Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ caught in morning stormy light, Tostat, November 2019

I think it would be true to say that it has been raining now every day, lavishly, for nearly a month. We have had one or two dry mornings and evenings, but on the whole, it has rained biblically for what feels like forever. Of course, this means that Nature is making up for our incredibly dry and hot summer, and a not particularly wet spring either. But us humans are suffering a bit from cabin fever. I have now got most of my pot plants into their new space, which is the open barn (so there are fleecing implications when temperatures drop below zero), but this does mean much better light for them and also some rain drifting in when we have downpours.

One or two are still outside and will come in very shortly. I used to keep them at the back door, but the light is really not good and usually they were in bad shape by Spring- so I hope that the barn will work better. I am also sheltering some of my baby plants grown from seed this summer, as the rain would bash them up so much it would be like sending them into the ring with Mike Tyson.

My misnamed Chrysanthemum zawadskii, Tostat, November 2019

There isn’t much left standing out in the garden. I have two chrysanthemums that I grow but often miss completely because of our habit of going away in the autumn. One I thought was Chrysanthemum zawadskii, the mother plant of so many good varieties, but mine is a strong pink so I am not sure now, as most photos show zawadskii as white and upright. The word ‘floppy’ captures mine better, but when I get the chance to see it, I love the carmine pink as that colour is usually well over in the garden by autumn. Maybe I have ‘Clara Curtis’?

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2019

I love ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’. The colour is superb with golden highlights, and I grow them in pots in miserable sandy soil and barely water them- they take any amount of punishment, it seems to me. And I just leave the pot somewhere outside in the winter with just a bit of shelter so they don’t get too waterlogged.

Plectranthus ecklonii ‘Erma’ still going strong, Tostat, November 2019

This photograph is almost identical to one I took a month ago, except that the flowerhead has become even more violet and the leaves look a bit more battered. I love this plant, for the upright habit and the combination of golden- tinged foliage with the deepening violet of the flowers which last for weeks and weeks. It is not hardy so I need to bring it in soon to the open barn, but it is still so lovely that I am chancing my arm. In September, I took some semi-hard cuttings and all have rooted so another few potfuls will be possible next year. Louis the Plant Geek, a very useful blogger, waxes lyrical about ‘Erma’ here.

Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, November 2019

Another plant beloved of Louis the Plant Geek and Crug Farm, is Colquhounia coccinea– a late show-stopper that is still looking great in the garden. I have it planted in. although it can be stung badly by cold temperatures. I have been lucky so far that it has re-appeared from the base late in the Spring, but this year I have successfully grown on three good cuttings so that’s a bit of insurance. It gets a bit of shelter from the pine tree next to it, and this also reduce the rainfall directly onto it- all good for the chances of a comeback.

Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’, evening light, Tostat, November 2019

And so to the end, nearly, of the outdoor gardening year. I leave everything as it was till the Spring, the dying topgrowth protects plants at the base, though they can get a bit too much water on them as a result. But the dying embers of the garden are great for all creatures great and small that live in the habitat we borrow to garden in, so I ain’t tidying up till Spring. I swore I would never grow another tulip after losing so many bulbs in the Spring wet the last few years, but look who’s having another go…Hope springs eternal.

And Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ is simply gorgeous, the last few leaves shimmering in any light available at dawn or dusk. Hope does spring eternal.

Going, going, gone…

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Salvia confertiflora and ‘Anthony Parker’ mingling in the hall, Tostat, November 2017

That’s it.  First big cold spell of this autumn/winter last night with a frost of -2C but the recompense is beautiful sunshine this morning. And to be honest, given all the topsy-turviness of this year weather-wise, it feels better to be having the weather we should be having at this time of the year.

So, on Sunday, much lugging of pots, pruning of things, and then fleecing of the odd pot too big to bring in took place.  Yesterday I ran round and dug up the 3 plants that had been planted in- and managed to remember to bring only two of them into the house.  Result: one very brown and unhappy Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ outside this morning.

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Salvia Mexicana ‘Limelight’, Tostat, November 2017

It had only just flowered, and possibly the flowering had saved it’s bacon.  I am so disappointed with this plant!  I should have paid attention to Louis the Plant Geek.  he says, ‘Want the excitement? Accept the dullness. No pain, no gain.’  Louis is a brilliant blogger.  In my view, he has everything.  Good pictures, great, tested in his own garden information, a witty and astringent turn of phrase- and really detailed advice.  I bow down.

The thing is with ‘Limelight’, the dullness goes on for ever- well, given that it has been outside since April, precisely 7 months.  I am not yet sure that the gain outweighs the pain. Not to mention, that ‘Limelight’ is a thirsty so-and-so, bending leaves down every day in a sort-of-Mum-wait-for-me way.  And growth was stingy to say the least.  From the opposite, more rational point of view, these 2 plants were grown from seed last winter and it thrilled me that they germinated on a sunny windowsill.  And, in the first year, perhaps I am being unduly testy about the lack of performance till now.  So, Louis’ advice is:  sink it in a 3 litre pot into the ground, as opposed to planting it which I did, then at the first frost, cut it back and overwinter in a cool place.  The last part is easy: the big hall, codename IceStationZebra, in our house.

So, I have half-frozen one plant and saved the other plant.  I shall cut both down as Louis describes and hope that over-wintering will give them more of a headstart than they had last year- and meantime, allocate 2 x 3 litre pots for them for next year.  I shan’t be mean and ditch them.

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ had made it just in time to flower.  In fact, the cooler nights have brought out the golden tints at the ends of the petals, which really brings the flowerheads alive, I think.  They can stay outside for now, and I will move them to the outside barn so they don’t get drowned in too much winter wet.

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Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2017

This little Aussie plant, Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, was planted, new to me, about this time last year, and it turned out to be pretty robust in our sunny, dry border, happily shrugging off a spell of -10C last winter.  These are the first flowers on this little plant, and I am hoping that it will slowly bulk up to make a jolly 1m wide and high mound of light green foliage, pretty in itself and then these sweet spotted-throat white flowers in little groups.

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Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, Tostat, November 2017

And this shot of the back of the garden, looking West, in the last sunshine of yesterday afternoon, is a kind of  over-and-out shot, as the leaves on Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ which are so golden in this photograph, have almost all fallen off this morning.  Another season begins.

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November 2017, Tostat.

Gardening where you are…the nature of acceptance

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Chrysanthemum zawadski, Tostat, end November 2016

I think that I am a battler rather than an acccepter by nature. I do accept that I will never enjoy swimming or do it again, despite making myself learn at the age of 43, but I now know that I actually don’t like it- even though I probably did know that before!  In other respects, I am a battler by tendency.  So, when in response to my last blog, I got a comment from a reader in Italy, I felt her pain.  She was talking about gardening in Italy, and finding the August dead period depressing.  This dead period is exactly what happens in the Mediterranean garden, and in any garden, like mine in the last 2-3 years, which are winter-wet and summer-dry.

But I got a smart, and good, smack over the fingers from the website called summer-dry.com, which I stumbled over fortuitously.  In clear and crisp tones, Summer-Dry urges us to get wise, be sensible, live in the real world and ‘garden where we are’.  So, if where we are is summer-dry, then get with it, and discover a world of plants who thrive in cool/cold wet winters and hot-dry summers.  And the object of the site is to switch us onto that.  Absolutely gorgeous photographs taken by the Californian photographer, Saxon Holt, pepper the site and there is masses of useful information and many wise words. As part of the summer-dry project, a book has been written entitled ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry climates (of the San Francisco Bay region)’ by Nora Harlow and published by EBMUD, East Bay Municipal Utility District.  It is really expensive outside of the US, but you never know, I might find it somewhere.

The best part is the idea of changing the aesthetic.  So many of us have toiled, or toil, to make gardens that remind us of our prevailing aesthetic of garden beauty.  If we can move to an acceptance of change in the aesthetic, we can garden more successfully where we are, reduce our frustration and be kinder to the planet.  We can learn to live with the August bald patch, knowing that weeks later, the garden will be refreshed and rejuvenated.  Nothing grows when temperatures are more than 30C and nothing grows without moisture.  So, summer-dry gardening is impatient with the term ‘drought tolerant’ as being, well, inaccurate.  Summer-dry does what it says on the tin, it is dry in the summer and those plants will hang on till the conditions change. So, it is the ability to hang on, rather than be tolerant of drought, that is what we are after.

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A Californian summer-dry garden photographed by Saxon Holt credit: http://www.summer-dry.com

I like the cut of their gib, as we say.  I am following their site and learning from their words- altogether great.  If anyone reads this blog who could help me get a copy of the book, I would be ever so grateful, please get in touch.

Meantime, back in Tostat, I am looking out at the area of garden that I planted up last Spring and kept going through the summer with a spot of judicious watering, and I have a feeling of confidence about it. I had chosen the planting carefully for it’s ability to hang on without summer water, and I think next summer, it will be in good shape.  New growth has been happening in a serious way for almost all the plants- most of which I had grown from seed, and so I may be on the way with it.  Of course, nothing is guaranteed, we could get a killer winter for example, so I have taken cuttings of the Salvias, ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’, ‘Amistad’ and ‘Anthony Parker’.  The latter is still flowering and still outside in a pot, though I will bring it into the covered, but open, barn at the end of the week when colder nights are forecast.

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The still gorgeous, if touched by frost, purple calyxes of Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, November 2016

I can feel a swing coming on- planting up seed indoors, taking cuttings, tidying up pots, ripping out old friends (plants) who have become too friendly…a swing towards next year, and another set of seasons in the garden.  Come on….

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Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ just touched by frost, Tostat, November 2016

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Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’, Tostat, November 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Back from the Via de la Plata

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November grasses, Tostat 2015

We are back from our wonderful 43 days of walking the 1000k of the Via de la Plata from Seville to Santiago de Compostela. I will write something about this journey in the blog once the impressions have settled in my head, but now is too early.  Rejoining everyday life back in the village has been a strange business- perhaps because walking every day creates such a sharp, clear focus.  Everyday life is less intense.

Meanwhile, back in Tostat, there has been a real Indian summer lasting right up to last weekend when normal end of November temperatures kicked back in.  So, coming back felt a bit like the return of Rip van Winkle- warmth and sunshine just as when we left on 20th September. Meeting the garden again has been a joy.

The clumps of Miscanthus, Silberfeder and Strictus, have become statuesque in our absence. They had just begun to flower in September as we had had such a hot, dry summer.  Note to self: one too many clumps really, in danger of becoming a forest in my opinion.  So one of them will go.

I also missed the peak of the flowering of Chysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, but one tiny bunch still looked fresh, so here they are.

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Chysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2015

I am not a huge chrysanthemum fan, but this one, with burnished, tawny, orange colouring and gold tips, really appeals to me. I bought a plant about 3 years ago, and immediately split it, took cuttings and pretty much butchered it for propagation’s sake.

Last year, it should have been in really good shape, but I was lucky not to lose them with poor overwintering. I now know that it will take very low temperatures as long as it is pretty much bone-dry and nowadays I keep the plants in the open barn, which means that the only thing that they don’t get is…wet.  They seem to like this.  Cuttings take easily, and so I should be able to fill several pots this coming year.  Flowering is really late, around the end of October, even early November depending on the weather.

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Unknown orange abutilon and ‘Salvia Waverly’, Tostat, November 2015

Sometimes combinations do really work- in the end. I love this. It bowled me over when I got back.  The sharpness of the orange contrasts beautifully with the pale mauve and dark purple of the Salvia. Both these plants have astonished me.  The orange abutilon was an unidentified cutting that I bought from ebay years ago.  It was something I never quite found a home for, and so languished in a pot for years, bunged behind our pergola.

But, last year, I decided to allow it full rein, and dug it in with four tiny plugs of a Salvia new to me, ‘Waverly’.  Both have really won through against the odds.  A soaking wet February after I had planted them in, followed in May and June with baking temperatures, and then prolonged dryness for the rest of the summer meant tough conditions.  There must have been some rain whilst we were away but I know there wasn’t a deluge, though the temperatures abated to the mid20s.   Salvia ‘Waverly’ is now four immense plants, easily 1.3m each both tall and wide, and has flowered like a train.  The abutilon has recovered its aplomb and done the same. What a result.  But two Salvia ‘Waverly’ will be enough, as right now the area resembles a Salvia forest. New homes for two plants next year.

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Sphaeralcea munroana (or maybe not), Tostat, November 2015

Sphaeralcea munroana was a new plant to me this year.  I chose it for the driest and hottest part of the garden, and rather hoped it would become an upright and substantial presence.  Well, it has, but not in an upright way. The dainty pink flowers seem to keep coming no matter what, although they are small, and the serrated pale green leaves are suprisingly decorative.  This plant is definitely a tumbler, not a standing giant. Interestingly, the link above clearly describes some labelling and identification problems with this plant, so maybe I ended up with an imposter after all.  Never mind.  But, something will need to be done in the presence department, even if it has done a good job of filling in between other plants and thereby earned its keep.