Winter to summer, spring to winter. This week we have experienced all four seasons and a whole lot of rain- I am not knocking the rain at all, believe me, but I am looking forward to a little more seasonal consistency. Although, gloomily, that may not exist anymore with global warming.
In the garden now, this compact Cistus x hybridus ‘Gold Prize’ has just started to flower. I bought it 3 years ago, but it really has taken this long to settle in. I had it marked as a damp squib until very recently. I am still not quite sure how I feel about the variegation. In some lights, it can look charmingly golden- in others, a bit on the sick side. But it is a useful size, as Cistus can turn into giants with ease in our summer-hot dry climate. So, it sits well with other perennials without squashing them.
Geranium albanum was my first shot at growing geraniums from seed- which if you haven’t tried, is a test of patience above all. I love it for the dual personality- purple-veined pale white flowers which then turn a deeper pink, as you can see from the other flower in the photograph. I prefer the first incarnation I have to say, but live with the two together. It grows in a tough spot for me, underneath a small tree, and in quite a dry situation. This leads to the plant taking off into dormancy and disappearing altogether in the heat of summer, but it re-appears unabashed in Spring each year spreading a bit more.
Sometimes you can take your plants for granted. Guided by the fickle eye that searches out the new things, the babies, and particular favourites, the old favourites or maybe usurped favourites can fade into insignificance. Perhaps it is a form of garden dysmorphia…like only seeing the things that need to be done as opposed to seeing the whole for the lovely and changing scene it is.
This week or so, with our sporadic and very kind downfalls of rain, old favourites have had the chance to re-appear in the spotlight. The rain has been kind because it has been heavy, short-lived, very little wind and no hail which had been gloomily promised by those prophets of doom, the weather-people. And even better, in between the showers, the sun has come back out, so the garden looks as if it has had a stiff drink rather than a dowsing.
Rosa ‘Blush Noisette’ has two other nom-de-plumes, ‘Maiden’s Blush’ and also, ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’ in French, which sounds faintly naughty. It is a wonderful rose, blooming no matter what for months on end, with the small roses gathering nicely in swags and drapes all over it. It can have a monstrous side, and ours has had a recent haircut to calm it down a bit, but it is a very charming rose on the whole. Not planted by me, it easily slips into the slightly ignored-old-favourite bracket, but it deserves better.
I have any amount of the red Valerian, which, depending on my mood and the colouring, stays or gets the chop regularly in the garden. I love it in dry Springs, like this one, when the colouring is a strong red and the growth upright. When we have wet Springs, it goes a rather sickly brick-red, which I hate, and flops all over the place. It brings out the dictator in me.
But the white Valerian, Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, is another story. Not anything like as promiscuous as the red, I savour every tiny bit and nurse it through tough times. It is so airy and pretty, cheap as chips and just as tasty. It makes a nice, frothy tone, and it is not unpleasant when fading, so all in all it survives the chop. And the bloody cranesbill, Geranium sanguineum, comes into the same category. It gets ripped out all the time as a control mechanism, but if treated brutally, it is a great doer, and for a hot, dry-as-a-bone place, it is perfect.
This was a fiddle from seed, Geranium albanum, but is in danger of becoming an old-favourite when only 2 years old. Lots of it came up, and so I have tried it in two very different places- under a tree, in semi-shade in dry soil, and ditto, but in moist conditions. The dry-as-a-bone set are doing really well, although they looked a bit touch and go last year. The others are fighting against a colony of annual weeds which I need to clear- and will this week while we have the rain. But what is curious, is that the flowers on the same stem are very different. One is pink and could be mistaken for your bog standard Geranium x oxonianum ‘Wargrave Pink’ which I do have plenty of already. The other is ‘Albanum’, as promised, with the fine purple veining and blue stamens. Maybe I have some naughtiness happening in my geranium population.
And this little Cistus x hybridus’Gold Prize’, has only just flowered for the first time and is still fairly tiny, but I really love it. I fell for it from a website, not always the best way to find new varieties, and last year it was truly pathetic. The yellow variegation looked ill and the whole tiny plant was a serious non-event. But Cistus can be a bit like that with me- all the plants I have which now look glorious, had a tough start. So, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, and I think it will come good as a favourite. It had better get a move on though.
Finally, it has rained. Sunday night was a wakeful one. Lightning dancing around in the sky, very little thunder, and steady-Eddie rain all night…and all day Monday, with a few breaks. Since then, we have had continuing really heavy downpours. This is the right way round for us. It had got so dry that heavy rain at the front end would have just bounced off the soil and smashed plants up. So, the softly-softly start has meant that the heavier rain has also gone in, without too much destruction at all. The first day looked impressively damp, but on digging lightly with a trowel, bone-dryness was only an inch below the surface. Today, Wednesday, and yesterday inbetween showers, I actually got quite a bit done as this week temperatures are only just at 20º, so things that have been banking up in the hospital area can finally be planted out.
This is a great success! I have been waiting for the lilac flowers of Monarda fistulosa to appear, and they popped out in the middle of all the rain, and remained unbattered. I am so pleased with this. This plant is the biggest one that I have from the collection I planted out in the spring, but it is a very commendable 0.5m wide and about 0.40m high. Which I reckon is pretty good going given the weird and variable spring and summer weather we have had. Best thing is, that it is clearly a tough customer, so I am hoping for better and bigger as the summer progresses.
In the front garden, I have been able to plant our my small plants of Panicum virgatum ‘Emerald Chief’. I lost a few over the winter, and though they have not been deliriously happy in their pots for the past few weeks, I wanted to hang on for more clement conditions, and so now, they have their reward and are in the ground. I am part-lining the front driveway with them, to make a good, interesting, upright edge to the grass and give the driveway some definition. This was the area where I had originally planted lavender when we arrived, but having failed to prune it properly, and old wood-itis having set in, I ripped them out last year and planted Panicum seed. ‘Emerald Chief’ is very green as the name suggests, should reach about 1.2m high when flowering with deep pink flowerheads and good yellow colouring in the autumn.
Just coming out is a plant that is very little bother, and so I tend to forget about it, until suddenly I see a flower. Through the rain this morning, from the kitchen window, I could just see the flash of white. Utterly upright, slender and delicate, yet tough, the Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fuji White’ or Balloon Flower ( you can see why) is a good doer, and enjoys the more moist moment of the last few days. This year is probably it’s eighth birthday, and it just pushes it ‘s way through the other plants with ease, and then tops out at just over a metre high.
It has been a battle royal with snails and slugs this year, as they have loved the lower temperatures so much that they have not been deterred by the dryness. I have several Dahlia corpses that may not make it this year. But ‘Twynings After Eight’, after a bad start, has come good with 2 out of 3 tubers making good, healthy plants. What an attrition rate, though. And this is despite planting them in pots on gravel, and away from other slug/snail favourites. Clearly, my snail/slug population possesses Olympian qualities. I love the coolness of the single, white flower against the dark foliage, and can even cope with it turning faintly pink as it ages.
Making an appearance for only a couple of days before being demolished by the rain sadly, was a favourite of mine by the stream-side. Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’ is usually a lovely thing, which I forgive for bring sherbert-pink. This year, the pink mophead which is so pretty when the many tiny buds are forming, only lasted for a couple of days. But it is a great plant, spreading itself in single-stem formation through other plants, almost like a watchtower, as it is tall, maybe 1.5m high.
A new plant that has gone in this week is Cistus x hybridus ‘Gold Prize’. I love sharp yellow and lime-green colour combinations and so fell for this low, ground-hugging Cistus, which will flower next Spring, but meantime, do a good spreading job where I want it. Right now, it is not looking at it’s most distinguished, but I think it will be tough enough to fill a space where a cotton lavender has mostly pegged it.