Scorched earth…

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Poilanthes tuberosa ‘The Pearl’, Tostat, August 2018

This is proving to be a very hard summer.  We are now in the 7th week or so of temperatures 90% of the time in the C30s, and with maybe 20mm of rain in that time.  It is a terrible test for my ‘no watering’ policy- in which I have endeavoured to find and grow plants that will survive by themselves with what nature provides.  It is now far too late for any panicky watering, which I have considered, as the ground is so hard and dry that genuine and very long-lasting gentle rain will be the only way to recover the situation.  I have made one or two exceptions for plants that were newly planted in the cold June we had, but otherwise, I am waiting to see what will happen.  Can I be accused of being reckless?  Maybe…

The plants in the pots are being watered- which takes about an hour and a half everyday.  Thank goodness for the expanding hose!  Not to mention the agricultural canal and the underground water sources that we can pump water out of…

But the potted plants are also feeling the strain of the heat.  Poilanthes tuberosa ‘The Pearl’ which has a simply gorgeous perfume, like warm baked custard with a hint of the exotic, has produced only one flowerspike from 3 pots.  It is the most beautiful thing too, but simply not in the mood for flowering at all.

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Poilanthes tuberosa ‘The Pearl’, all out, Tostat, August 2018

The potted Salvias are also on the fed-up side.  Even with watering.  I have just moved into survival mode, keeping them alive till we at last cool down.  I have taken 2 newish roses out and re-potted them, which has revived them somewhat- and my new Aspidistra plants are in deep shade in the cool, in pots.

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The very first flower on home-grown Clematis tangutica ‘Helios’, with the new camera, Tostat, August 2018

With watering three times a day from the squeezy bottle, or, when bigger, the small watering can, seed production has not, amazingly, been too bad.  I keep them in the open barn, so they get 3-4 hours of angled sunlight, and then shade- and I have really had to be on it to keep them all going.  But successes (for the moment) include Alogyne hakeifolia, a lovely Hibiscus relative which I fell in love with in Spain, Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’ has romped away from seed to small plant in 4 weeks, Heuchera cylindrica ‘Greenfinch’ and x brizoides ‘Firefly’ have done the same though they are tiny plants in comparison, Clematis tangutica ‘Helios’ and a lovely load of hollyhock seed from my friends in Winchcombe, are coming up beautifully.  Other plants I shan’t name, for fear of incurring the hubris curse.

From this, you can see that I am looking all the time at toughness in plants, mostly to do with drought resilience- but I own that this period is straining my willingness to live happily with brown.

Changing tack, the stunning Hibiscus palustris is very happy, right by the canal with roots certainly reaching the water.  The huge, chiffon paper flowers look fabulous with some backlighting, and although it can be invasive, it is not looking that way so far here.  Perhaps it knows not to wander far from the water.

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Hibiscus palustris, Tostat, August 2018
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Precision engineering, Hibiscus palustris in bud, Tostat, August 2018

So, looking ahead, we have maybe 5 mm rain offered to us this week, but nothing more.  I know that plants will come back from this, but I am feeling as if my policy has hit a murderous phase.


In the heat…

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The very first flower on home-grown Clematis tangutica ‘Helios’, with the new camera, Tostat, August 2018

A few weeks ago, The Mindful Gardener posted about buying a macro lens- with some fantastic photographs to go with it.  Not quite got the budget for that, and was also limping on with my much-loved Panasonic Lumix FX70, managing to dodge the dustspots that had started to gather at the back of the lens inside the camera.  Overnight, one night, the dustspots got serious- and there wasn’t a bit of an image that you could fudge past them with.  An attempt at microsurgery was made by Andy, but he retreated as the camera innards looked in peril, so I decided to bite the bullet and find a new-to-me camera that would shift me very slightly into a more sophisticated camera field.

I have been playing with my Nikon Coolpix P510 all week and enjoying it- whilst gradually trying to work my way through the extensive manual to the things that I want to be able to do, rather than everything that it can do- except cook my supper, apparently.  It is a much bigger and more serious looking item than my old camera, and I do feel slightly fraudulent at slinging it round my neck as if I knew what I was doing.  But it is fun.

As the heat is now in the late 30s for the next few days, I am retreating indoors and remaining there pretty much all day- I am not of a stern constitution when it comes to heat, too much sweating and pale skin- not an attractive combination!

Back in the garden, when the heat is hanging, a colour co-ordinated yellow spider has turned up on my adored Patrinia scabiosifolia.  Talk about blending in.  He should be working for MI5 or 6.

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Patrinia predator, Tostat, August 2018

And then…

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Prey arrives and is despatched swiftly
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Followed by friend …or foe…or afters…

That spider is still there, 4 days later, simply getting fatter.

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’is not enjoying the heat.  She always flowers a good month after the rest of the Crocosmia tribe, but is smaller in every way, except for the flowers which are a gorgeous jaffa orange, scarlet and yellow combination.  I think she is probably at the limit of her endurance with us, especially this summer when the heat has suddenly really cranked up, but crocosmia are incredibly tough, and will battle on almost regardless of the circumstances.

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Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora Emily McKenzie, Tostat, August 2018

Rudbeckias are part of the turning from mauve and blue to yellow and orange in the garden about this time of year.  ‘Goldsturm’ is a really good plant, especially if their golden colour can be discovered accidentally mingled amongst other plants, and if the light is just right, there really is a flash of gold.

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Rudbeckia fulgida var.sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, early morning sun, Tostat, August 2018

Another Rudbeckia that I love is Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’.  A taller (up to 2m this year), more graceful, refined fellow with multiple small, reflexed petals like quills.  I have worried in the past that I have lost this plant, as it is slowish to get going in the spring, and can easily be mistaken for a regular, annoying old Helianthus- of which I have way too many.  But, whatever is going on, except for monsoon conditions, he appears and gently spreads, drifting about through and amongst other plants.

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Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’, Tostat, August 2018

And new to me this year, but I am already smitten, is Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’ which I bought from the excellent Bernard Lacrouts at Sanous.  Multiple flowering goes on, up and down the branching upright stems, small flowers which dot about very gracefully.  The jury is out, as yet, but the signs are good for a reliable, take what weather comes, kind of plant.  The colour mutes a little in the heat, it was a bit brighter last week before the craziness started.

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Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’, Tostat, August 2018

Time to hide away indoors now.  Thank you so much to all who have commented in the last few weeks, I am sorry I haven’t replied to each one as per usual, just too much going on!  The comments are wonderful and are very much appreciated.


Big things and tiny things…

Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ seedlings, January 2017

This unprepossessing pot of three tiny seedlings has given me ridiculous amounts of joy the past weeks.  This was probably one of my madder, doomed to failure, experiments this early winter- attempting to germinate and grow seeds on sunny windowsills in the house in the winter.  And it has not been a resounding success- for obvious reasons really, light is needed and usually some warmth to persuade seeds to get going- and they have been up against it in both departments.  Some more than others- the ‘Limelight’ seedlings are in a sunnier South-facing window, whereas other trays have had warmth, but are in an East-facing window.  But I will keep the trays and see what happens as the days lengthen, keeping them just moist with misting to try and ensure that the seeds don’t rot.

On the other hand, there have been small successes, Salvia nutans got going with 4 tiny seedlings, I have since lost two but may end up with one strong one if I am lucky.  I have five decent Clematis tangutica ‘Helios’ seedlings looking pretty perky, and a handful of Penstemon barbatus var. coccineus seedlings.

These are not big returns on the numbers of seeds sown, but they have given me more pleasure, especially the ‘Limelight’ than mere maths and ROI would suggest.  This morning, Robbie Blackhall-Miles‘ article in ‘The Guardian’ really spoke to me of the joy of these very tiny messages of promise that seeds are. I would never have believed how much I adore this work with seeds- I would have thought I was too impatient to become skilled at it.  I am much better than I was, in terms of return, and I think, if anything, I am learning real patience and appreciation of the natural world from these little things.

Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ is going to be a joy, I know it.  A tender, big growing Salvia, up to 1.5m high and wide, it has chartreuse green leaves and dark, luscious purple flowers- which is one of my favourite colour combinations.  I have lusted after it for ages, but it is not available in France, and I am trying to wean myself off buying plants that come by post from other countries.  So when I saw seed advertised, I could not resist. Ebay done good, all the way from the USA.  Here is how it looks at one of my all-time favourite nurseries, Annie’s Annuals, in Richmond, California.

Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ photo credit:

Meantime, outside, big stuff is happening.  Noticing this morning that brambles are now as prolific at hurling themselves over our wall as the roses we grow, was a turning point.  The wall bordering the garden had really become a no-go area for me, I was very adept at looking the other way.  But the bramble count was too high this morning.

And so, in moments, the decision that has been dormant was made- to remove everything in that area, get rid of all the self sown wisteria and other rubbish, and terminate a Rosa ‘Mermaid’ that was not helping the situation by harbouring all the villains in its roots.  To be fair, ‘Mermaid’ though lovely, is a terrible and dangerous thug, and was a poor choice of mine ten years ago. So phase One of site clearance took place this morning as Andy, armed with his ‘Barbie’ Stihl saw,  set about it.  The saw is good, if domestic in scale and size, but it is the ‘Barbie’ saw to us as Mr Brun, our very lumberjack-style village woodsman, disparagingly refers to it in these terms!

The ‘Barbie’ saw in action with Andy, Tostat, January 2017
Phase one success, ‘Barbie’ saw reclining, and Andy, Tostat, January 2017

Phase Two is planned for after the freeze- we are expecting -8C this week coming.  One or two dahlias have certainly copped it.