Cleve West and that dianthus

There are moments when plants grab your heart.  It might be a colour, a form, foliage but something reaches out and grabs you. And so it was when I saw Dianthus cruentus in Cleve West’s Best in Show garden in 2011. And I wasn’t the only one, within days all plants available in the UK had been snapped up, and it took 2 years for seed stocks to build up enough to satisfy demand.  So I had to wait.  Sometimes, when you have to wait, the urge to have that plant passes or wanes or is replaced by, fickleness of it all, another must-have that presents itself.  But not so with Dianthus cruentus.

Dianthus cruentus May 2015
Dianthus cruentus, Tostat, May 2015..and my hand.

Having waited, in a slightly pig headed way, I bought seed and planted it in late summer 2014.  The tiniest seedlings you will ever see appeared and only seemed to grow by the smallest amount.  But, by March last year, small as they were, I had a hunch that they would be better in the sharply drained, stony, sunny position that they love, than sitting in my semi-shaded open barn.  So I planted them out, with stick markers, feeling as if I was performing some kind of micro-surgery.

From the garden point of view, what are it’s merits?  A tufty, grassy bottom is not much to write home about, and it isn’t big, and though it might spread, nothing yet on that front. No, it truly is the colour- which is an electric red, just as Verbena bonariensis is an electric purple.  It is so electric that only 2 or 3 plants light up a planting, in fact, dotted about, they are like little red neons.

Which is exactly how Cleve West used them, only a handful of plants, but they shot through his already superb planting and electrified it.  Of course, I loved all the rest too, the tumbled pillars and the wild, hot climate planting, as if you had just stumbled upon some Roman ruins abandoned somewhere in North Africa.

West 1
Dianthus cruentus, Cleve West, Chelsea 2011
West 2
Longer view of Dianthus cruentus, Cleve West, Chelsea 2011

Back to the merits of the case.  The plant is tough, only a wet, shady spot would deter it, I think.  Totally hardy, coping with ease with bone-dry conditions, it just really flowers only in late spring/early summer for a few weeks, that is the only serious downside. So, if you want that ruby colour, but without the electricity, throughout the summer, you could mingle it with Knautia macedonica, a bit taller and flowering non-stop, just watch out for the self-seeding Knautia as it does do global.

Knautia macedonica 2 615
Knautia macedonica, Tostat, June 2015

I adore them both.  By the way, I would beg to disagree with Crocus about the soil conditions required.  I would say, stony, poor, dry and impoverished rather than rich. And this year?  The small plants are already the size of one fist or two, and are looking great.  Last year’s seedlings are in the micro-surgery stage but will go in the ground soon.  Can’t wait.

 

 

 

Patience is a virtue…growing plants from seed

…and not one that I classically take to, being of the busy bee variety of person. There was a very irritating book, that I don’t remember the title of, which I read as a child, and I remember wanting to stab the character, a girl called Patience, with a fork. But, probably what turned me from just being an enthusiastic gardener with not a lot of time ( you know, 3 small children, full time job) to being a total nut, was the experience of finally obeying the instructions and successfully growing plants from seed.

It is a job for the patient, especially if you are growing perennials and shrubs from seed, as you do have to put in a long wait for the final outcome. Of course, once you get there, you are busy patting yourself on the back for growing 30 whatever they are for about £5, including the compost.

So, I thought I would share with you some of the successes that I have had in growing from seed. And I am choosing plants that give out in more ways than one, often great foliage and then superb flowers. I often pay homage to Derry Watkins, and my first plant was one of my first seeds from her.  Here it is, right now, in my garden, and the size of these leaves has to be seen, easily 12″ long and 8″ across..

Telekia speciosa leaves, Tostat, May 2015
Telekia speciosa leaves, Tostat, May 2015

they are spectacular.  It is Telekia speciosa.  And the best bit is that in July-ish, enormous yellow daises are produced on 2m stalks, which last right through till Autumn and beyond, as the seedheads brown up but make a great skeleton in the winter. I absolutely love them.  I planted them where Derry suggested, moist-ish, not far from the canal or ruisseau. But since then, they have brought themselves right to the front of my partly shaded woodland area, so that they have put themselves right into the sun and away from the moisture. And they also seem fine.  Here are the flowers from two years ago- as they age, they copy Echinacea and the big centre goes chocolate-brown, another little virtue. From seed to flower, I think probably a 2 year wait.

Telekia speciosa, Tostat, August 2013
Telekia speciosa, Tostat, August 2013

And now for something smaller and discreet. I also bought this from Derry. It is Libertia procera.  Of this, Derry says, plant in dry sun. Well, for me, they also work well in not bone-dry sun, but she is right in that the flowers are bigger and better on the plants in my bone-dry spot.  In fact, this week, caught at quite a jaunty angle, I thought they looked almost Japanese, a delicate spray of white, see below…

Libertia procera, Tostat, May 2015
Libertia procera, Tostat, May 2015

the slight breeze accounts for the faint wobble.  The foliage is grass-like, a bit like Sisyrinchium, and stands up straight and defiant all year round, making a clump about 1m tall and 0.25m wide.  So it is a good companion for other, more floppy flowerers giving some welcome punctuation.  Easy from seed, but probably more than 2 years wait for the flowers. For me, I think it was 4 years wait, and although they don’t last long, they are very decorative.

Sideritus syriaca, Tostat, May 2015
Sideritus syriaca, Tostat, May 2015

Quite often, I’ll see a plant I like the look of somewhere on the net, discover I can’t buy it in France, and then I spend an enjoyable hour scouring the internet for seeds. Sometimes off and on, for weeks, I confess.  So it was with Sideritus syriaca, which I first saw on Annie’s Annuals weekly email.  It is a mountain plant, from Greece and Crete, from which a refreshing anti-oxidant tea can be made. I haven’t tried that yet, but I really love the plant. Low-lying, a bit like Stachys with woolly-ish leaves, for me it is a ground-hugger.

Now, it may be that as it grows it will stand up more as in Annie’s photo in the link.  But, this is the second year and it has produced flowers! Result. It was one of those tweezer jobs to deal with the seedlings, I don’t literally use tweezers, it’s more to illustrate the tinyness. But, this year, they have really put on the beef and are 10 times as big as they were at their biggest last year. Yes, it’s for hot and dry, throw in stony and it will be utterly at home. I am pretty sure I got seed on ebay. It is always worth looking there.

And for my last plant, here is also my hand in the picture which shows how tiny it still is in Year 2. Dianthus cruentus, sometimes called the Blood Pink, is going to be a stunner next year. Already, the tweezer scale plantlings are producing flowers and have grown, so you wait. The colour is really hard to reproduce. It is an electric red, rather as Verbena bonariensis is an electric mauve. So the colour is very intense and looks a bit too safe in my photograph.

Dianthus cruentus, Tostat, May 2015..and my hand.
Dianthus cruentus, Tostat, May 2015..and my hand.

Here is where I saw it and was entranced.

Spot Dianthus cruentus. Cleve West, Best in Show, Chelsea 2011.
Spot Dianthus cruentus. Cleve West, Best in Show, Chelsea 2011.

Again, the colour is not as it is. But this small plant was a highlight of this beautiful show garden. After Cleve West and his Best in Show Garden in 2011, Dianthus cruentus plants were in limited stock and disappeared from shelves all over the UK. It was only a couple of years later that you could buy seed easily. Derry Watkins now has it in her seedlist, see the link on the plant name above. Again, it prefers hot, dry, stony…but full sun and handfuls of gravel when you plant it would probably do the trick. Enough already.