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.

A new season…pre-autumn…

After the rain, Gossypium hirsutum flower, Tostat, September 2019

This week it has been all change. Fast forward to Autumn, or pre-Autumn if you prefer, with cooler nights and a couple of belting rainshowers. For those plants toiling under the heat, this has proved too tough a transition with many of them lying down with the effort. But for others, like my surprise of the summer, Gossypium hirsutum, it has been a real tonic. I am no Scarlett O’Hara, but I am really chuffed with my baby cotton plants. The glossy plum-coloured foliage is such a thrill in the heat, the upright stance makes such a good statement and these simply gorgeous, if short-lived, flowers keep coming. The flowers vary in colour, I don’t know whether this is to do with heat or coolness, but the flowers open a lovely cream-colour on cooler days and then heat up to the dark plum colour close to the shade of the leaves. In the heat, they go straight to plum.

Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

This Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ has hung on despite my indifference to it. I bought it precisely for the later summer flowering and the reputation for serious drought- tolerance. It has delivered on both fronts- but despite being in the garden for 4 years, this is the first year that it has really caught my attention. I think that my problem was with somewhat twiggy young growth and tiny flowers- but with maturity comes real beauty. Yes, it is still twiggy, but this is much less noticeable now, and the perfume of the flowers, and their size, has really developed- and it has given over and over this summer. So I eat my hat.

First flowers, Ageratum alitissima ‘Chocolate’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant, newly renamed from Eupatorium rugosum to Ageratum altissima Chocolate’ or even Ageratina, is a real delight. Fabulous dark plum, almost black foliage that likes shade but will take sun, likes damp but will take much drier with time- this is a plant that really grows on you. The flowers come in September, and sweet though they are, tiny and cream-coloured, the main show is the foliage. If it flags in the summer, a bucket of water now and then will keep it going. For this small effort, you get a steadily growing clump up to 1.5m of upright, structural pluminess- what more could you want?

Anemanthele lessoniana, Tostat, September 2019

Here is another lovely thing that you have to wait till September for. This used to be Stipa arundinacea and is now called Anemanthele lessoniana. I moved two big clumps two years ago, and they have taken their time to get over their resentment. But, interestingly, now being in shade and full sun, rather than constant full sun, their colouring has changed. The flowering heads are greener, more silvery-green than pinky-silver and both clumps are enjoying the slightly cooler conditions. They look wonderful and even make the washing line area look, well, dramatic.

Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, September 2019

And another lovely September entrant- Colquhounia coccinea. A buddleia cousin, so read big, bushy with fast growth once warmth starts in the late spring- with the risk of looking utterly dead before that. It rockets up, so plenty of space required and elbow-room. Then, in September, the flowerheads pop up in between the branches. Very pretty, but they can be shy so don’t miss them. It is borderline hardy for me really according to the books. But, I did my best to protect the clump with some fleece during the coldest winter nights, and then hoped for the best.

It does take a while to be willing to risk growth, but I held my nerve. Only snag? Bindweed has decided to move in. So I have seed for Tagetes minuta, which I will grow on in February indoors, and plant out next year. This has been brilliant wherever I have used it elsewhere in the garden, so I have complete confidence it will do the trick.

Erodium manescavii, Tostat, September 2019

New flowers with the rain on Erodium manescavii. Just the way, you grow something and it comes up a treat, so you sow more seed and …nothing. Never mind, I will give it one more go in the spring.

Rain on Eupatorium capillifoium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant is a bit of an oddity, but I love it. Eupatorum capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ makes a tall column of feathery green-ness and that’s it, but it is so pretty in amongst other plants and I wish I had more of it. It needs more damp than I can give it, but one of three plants has survived and make a comeback every year. I am not going to tempt fate.

Seedheads of Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Tostat, September 2019

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ is making cranberry coloured seedheads right now- I adore them, they look so bright and juicy.

Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’, Tostat, September 2019

I like Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii‘ for the emerald-green elongated leaves which are very elegant and hold the attention until the buds start coming- whoich can be as late as the end of October in my experience. But this year, we have one on show already. Don’t hold your breath- it takes an age to get from here to a flower.

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, September 2019

This Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ really is- big. 2.5 m or so in my case. It holds the back of the peninsular and outgrows Miscanthus ‘Malepartus‘- so there you are. But, it is currently horizontal on account of the rain, yet still doing purple-mauve beautifully.

Salvia ‘Amistad’ partnering Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

See? The good old Abelia.

Here and there…

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Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, December 2018

Since we came back about 4 weeks ago, we have had only tiny frosts and some really warm, up to 20C, days.  It seems quite weird to be looking at flowering shrubs and plants that have been flowering non-stop since mid October and still are.  Colquhounia coccinea was a new addition in early Spring this year.  The link takes you to Louis the Plant Geek, who is also in love with this shrub. A bit of a risk as it is not reliably hardy, probably not to -10C which is my normal benchmark for hardiness- but I thought I would try it, keep an eye on it, plant against a southerly wall though facing North, and be prepared to dash out with the fleece as soon as it flags.  It is quite a big beast, already nearly 2m tall and about 1.5m wide, so no chance of a pot-solution.  So we will see, but right now it is flowering beautifully and we have warmish forecasts for the next week.

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Colquhounia coccinea detail, Tostat, December 2018

From the detailed photograph, you can see that it has felted stems, and certainly the growth pattern is very similar to a buddleia.  The colours are sensational, stacked on each stem so the bush is covered with flowers- really unexpected so close to winter.

I have some salvias that I am very fond of, that grow really big at the very end of the flowering season, and this year I am risking them staying in the ground and having the fleece to hand.  Once they get touched by the frost, I will cut them back to half the size to protect them from wind and then get fleecing.  Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’ won’t make it through without all this help, and it may not be enough, so I am planning on sprouting some cuttings in a jar of water tomorrow.  Same goes for Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’.  Both plants can easily reach 2m x 2m, so pots just get too heavy and unwieldy.

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Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, December 2018

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Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’, Tostat, December 2018

Other than that, I am waging early winter war on my blasted Michaelmas daisies.  I have no idea what variety they are, and you might think that they have been sent to torment me.  They were here in the garden when we arrived, and, mistakenly thinking that they were rather bonny, I spread them about a bit.  In Scotland, they were quite mild-mannered, but here in France, they are no respecters of decency at all.  They will burrow under, swamp from the sides and generally bully, any other plant that you care to name.  Getting them out, or trying to, is usually a Spring ritual- but this year I thought I would hit them while they are still standing and, even though I won’t 100% succeed, I will throw my best at them.

Back in Australia, picking up on the sensational colour-theme, there were so many incredible plants to be found, although I haven’t been able to identify all of them.  Here are some of my favourites to warm up early winter for us all.

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Erythrina x sykesii, Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, October 2018

This coral tree, Erythrina x sykesii, was a knock-out flowering against a brilliant blue sky in Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens. The oldest specimen in cultivation is actually in the Australian National Botanical Gardens in Canberra, where it has been growing for over a hundred years, but somehow, I missed it there.

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Erythrina x sykesii detail, Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, October 2018

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Acacia havilandiorum, Australian National Botanical Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Raining golden bobbles, this was one of the showiest wattles that we saw in the whole trip.  The slender, curving leaves encase the flowers- and the flower colour is exactly that brilliant yellow as in the photograph.

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Golden Grevillea, variety unknown, Grafton, NSW, October 2018

This very fine Grevillea was draping itself gracefully over a garden wall in Grafton, New South Wales.  It could be Grevillea robusta…perhaps.  if it is, it has an AGM from the RHS and is surprisingly hardy, down to about -8C, and is recommended for xeric gardens.  But topping out at 22m or so, makes it a big choice for most of us gardening in more ordinary circumstances.  But doesn’t that colour make you glad that it exists?