A very chilly olive…

Snowy olive, February 2023, Oloron Sainte Marie

Winter returned good and proper at the weekend and for most of this coming week, and, rare, for Oloron, we had a good dusting of snow yesterday. The temperatures have been so volatile that I think the spring bulbs are stopped in their tracks until they have good experiential evidence of spring being on the way. But, I was really pleased to see all these baby Allium nigrums growing in amongst the clumps that I planted on the stony, ‘garrigue’ slope at the front. I think that I planted about 80 bulbs in groupings up and down the slope in the early winter of 2021, and probably 95% of them came good and flowered in May last year. After May, the slope was pretty much baked right up to October, But this seems to have really suited the Alliums.

Heavens knows why I didn’t take a photo last year, but here’s one from 2019 in Tostat. It is the simplest and, I think, the purest of all, white heads with emerging green seedheads as the flowering goes over, so though they may only be in flower for 3 weeks or so, the green heads remain until felled by weather. They are not expensive so lavish drifts are available to all! And if they reproduce as much as they seem to have this year, I will be joyfully awash with them, hooray.

Allium nigrum, Tostat, May 2019
Allium nigrum babies, February 2023, Oloron Sainte Marie

A first timer to flowering, my pretty small Cornus Mas, now a good Im tall and wide having been planted as a stick 2 years ago, has flowered on bare stems last week. There is a scent, but my nose not being the greatest, I didn’t catch it really. The brilliant yellow flowers may be small, but they will pack a punch in years to come.

First flowers ever, Cornus mas, February 2023, Oloron Sainte Marie

This photograph below is what inspired me to plant my one very small Cornus mas. This big planting of Cornus mas in the garden of The Pineapple, was so incredible that sunny day three years ago. I’ll have to wait a bit.

Massed Cornus mas planting in flower, the Pineapple, Scotland, February 2020

And here, whilst on the subject of Cornus mas, is the variegated form. The leaves are almost ghostly and make a fantastic effect cut through bright light. I have a suspicion too that the variegated form needs a good deal more moisture, so lusting after it is probably a dud idea. However, the regular form is actually really tough and drought tolerant, as evidenced by the fact that it is coping really well with the front slope.

Cornus mas Variegata, Greenbank Garden, Glasgow, May 2019

On the ground level of the front slope, I have many Euphorbias, but this one, Euphorbia rigida, is a real favourite. It needs the sharpest drainage possible and then it creeps along the ground and will eventually start sitting up more to form a small bush. Yellow is the colour.

Euphorbia rigida, February 2023, Oloron Sainte Marie

I am really pleased with my two Medicargo arborea, each now standing a good metre high and beginning to fill out. They have what I would call a firm presence in the’garrigue’ garden because they remain green and upright regardless of the heat and drought. And I am a bit surprised that they have each produced one or two bright custard-coloured flowers despite the cold. I think the bit of rain that we finally had last week probably kicked them into action. It’s a pea relative as you can see.

First flowers on Medicargo arborea, February 2023, Oloron Sainte Marie

One of the saddest things I did when we moved was to fail to properly protect my Plectranthus ‘Erma’ which I had grown from seed. I have never yet been able to find seed again, though I routinely look for it throughout Europe online. Last summer, though, I bought cuttings of Plectranthus zuluensis from an Etsy seller in Hungary, which amazingly rooted and filled out a terracotta trough. This winter, I brought it into the house and it is cheerfully flowering away in the sitting room window. The buds are brilliant, like a multi-headed arrow, and the soft blue flowers are small but quite lovely.

Plectranthus zuluensis bud, February 2023, Oloron Sainte Marie
Plectranthus zuluensis flower, February 2023, Oloron Sainte Marie

Sometimes the light is just right and I am there with the camera. So, below, from left to right is, a pruned down Caryopteris ‘Hint of Gold‘, a clump of spikey Dianella ‘Little Rev’, a couple of Helleborus sternii, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’, Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’, and more Dianella ‘Little Rev’.

Barn Garden in the winter light, February 2023, Oloron Sainte Marie

Nostalgia at Greenbank Garden, Glasgow…

Glasgow GB Euphorbia Griff 0519
Euphorbia griffithii, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

Last month, whilst in Scotland, I visited Greenbank Garden in Glasgow- well, right on the very edge of Glasgow really, nestled amongst the slivers of farmland that separate Newton Mearns from Clarkston.  This is a National Trust Scotland property, a small but perfectly formed mid 18th century mansion house (not open) and the grounds that surround it, including a walled garden, other garden areas and woodland spaces that beguile you into thinking you are in the countryside.  Intended to offer inspiration to home gardeners, the NTS have retained a relaxed, non-modish style of planting- reminiscent of Scottish country houses in the 1950s almost.

I have very fond memories of this garden.  Nearly 30 years ago, we lived nearby, renting a tiny, damp cottage in Waterfoot Row, and visiting Greenbank became a bit like popping next door.  I remember pushing the pram up the country road with my eldest daughter as a baby- and so it was fun to revisit it with her last month, especially as she is developing a real love of gardening, growing and plants.

So, here are some of the plants, trees and shrubs that caught my eye on a cool but sunny day in Glasgow in May.  I loved the soft red of this Chaenomeles x superba ‘Knapp Hill Scarlet’, and it enjoys the cool, damper conditions of Scotland.  A Victorian introduction, it is perfectly chosen for an historic garden.

Glasgow GB Chaenomeles x superba Knap Hill Scarlet 0519
Chaenomeles x superba ‘Knapp Hill Scarlet’, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

This Cornus mas Variegata was just breaking open the cool, white new foliage, which will deepen in tone a little and develop green and cream tints in the summer.  I didn’t know this small tree, but it sounds like my kind of tough customer, with the added bonus of yellow spring blossom which forms small, hard fruit in the autumn.  It makes great fruit jelly apparently.  Not for full sun, but otherwise tough.  It goes on the list for the future.

Glasgow GB Cornus mas variegata 0519
Cornus mas Variegata, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

This magnificent magnolia is perfect for Scotland.  Flowering as late as mid-summer, Magnolia wilsonii probably avoids any sneaky last minute frosts, and the flowers are spectacular, being the purest white like crumpled linen, with dark red centres.  I have only seen this tree twice, here at Greenbank and also at Dawyck Botanical Gardens- and it is one to stand under and savour.  It was brought back from China in 1904 by the famous plant hunter, Ernest Henry (Chinese) Wilson– hence the name.

Glasgow GB Magnolia wilsonnii 0519
Magnolia wilsonnii, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

Me and conifers don’t mix well.  I love tall, slim conifers for their Italian look, and Scots Pine for their drama and beauty in the landscape, but otherwise, I am not a great fan.  But, at Greenbank, there were a couple of surprises that made me eat my hat.  I have had to research the beautiful cones and growth below, as I had no idea what this plant was. I am pretty sure that this is Abies balsamea nana from some hard internet trawling.  I was drawn to it for the drama of the dark, upright cones, almost purple in colour, and the pale-green contrasting needles of the new growth.  Perfect for Scotland, it is a a low-growing dwarf of the big version, liking semi-shade and acidic soil.

Glasgow GB cones 0519
Abies balsamea nana, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

Sir Isaac Newton liked his crabapples.  This tree was propagated from a baby Malus that came from the very Malus that grew in Newton’s garden.  So, whilst it may not be the most unusual plant ever, it carries some real history.

Glasgow GB Newton Malus domestica graft propogated 0519
Malus domestica, propagated from Sir Isaac Newton’s tree, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

I obviously can’t grow Rodgersia in Tostat.  I did try though.  One tiny sprig hangs on and pops up every year, only to give up a few weeks later.  The sun and shade on the burnished leaves of this Rodgersia podophylla caught my eye- gorgeous.

Glasgow GB Rodgersia 0519
Rodgersia podophylla, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

I am successful with some hardy geraniums.  I haven’t tried Geranium ‘renardii’ or any of its offshoots, but the clean purple striation was lovely, as well as the star-shaped separation of the petals- a pretty stylish customer, I thought.  It needs more moisture, I think, than I can guarantee it with my no-watering policy.

Glasgow GB Geranium 0519
Geranium renardii, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

Glasgow GB Salix 0519
Salix lanata, Greenbank Gardens, Glasgow, May 2019

This little Salix lanata really charmed me.  The soft, fluffiness of the catkins, with their bold, upright stance, and the felted leaves was a lovely combination.

And the next day we tackled urban gardening using fabric pots, and recycled wood and stones.  It was a lovely thing to be a helper.

Glasgow gardening 0519
Gardening in Langside, Glasgow, May 2019