On time and sunsets…

From sunset to sunset. Not strictly true,as I took these photographs over three successive days…but, well, who’s quibbling? Week 3 of lockdown and time has taken on a surreal quality. I am never sure what day it is in the week until I take a look at a gadget, tablet or laptop, and, time itself seems to me to have stretched in quality too. With so much time to focus in on friends, family, the garden, the house as well as all the things I enjoy doing, sometimes I can feel the sense of there being no pressure to complete anything- just a sense of achievement if I move things along a little.

Normally, I am a gardener of bursts, bursts of concentration and energy which can lead to charging at things with a lot of sound and fury. This last 3 weeks, I am feeling a different pace, where the wander round the garden first thing with the green mug of tea doesn’t turn into making a list. Rather I notice that something needs doing, and I think, ” Well, that needs doing, ho-hum”. In other words, it’s the difference between noticing things and self-recrimation for not having done it yet. And some things feel as if they may never get done, shock horror, till next year even.

Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’, Tostat, March 2020

Now here is a plant that I have been ignoring. Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’ was bought in a bargain basement fervour last Spring, and, until, a week or so was a bunch of very dead looking twigs. Hooray for Spring regeneration. This is a small shrub, which will do no romping unlike most other Cornus relatives. Eventually, it should make a 0.80m clump all round, with golden foliage and fiery stems in the winter. It will get there, I have faith.

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’, fresh ruby stems, Tostat, March 2020

This plant, Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’ was bought as seed from the truly wonderful Liberto Dario, who sells his amazing collection of seed through his Facebook page. I am totally in love with this plant. A biennial, so the first year is the appearance of the gorgeous purple splodged foliage, which stayed true all winter for us, and then, in the second year, you get the ruby red stems and the deep pink flowerheads on an upright and sturdy plant. The purple splodged foliage is to be seen to be believed- in low light, it almost looks like a Star Wars plant from a distant planet. I love it so much there are three photographs- possibly a first in itself.

If you don’t know Liberto, his seed collection is phenomenal. Much of his seed material is pretty unusual, and he has a great range of seed for hot, dry situations, being based in Greece. I can’t recommend him highly enough. If you are interested, follow the link above to his Facebook page and PM him. He will then send you plant lists and you can while away hours trying to choose.

Emerging flowerhead, Tostat, March 2020
And the flowerhead opens to a dark pink, Tostat, March 2020

Meanwhile, the Epimediums have been clumping. I am not a great tidier of the old foliage, I don’t mind spotting the sprays of pretty little yellow flowers in amongst the leaves. They are so fragile-looking, but can take a fair bit of Spring weather without collapsing. I have now forgotten which Epimedium this is- but I am taking a chance at ‘Fröhnleiten’ on account of the yellow flowers.

Epimedium x perralchium ‘Fröhnleiten’, Tostat, March 2020

And here is my favourite Anemone, just demonstrating the importance of happenstance in the garden. When I first planted the three small bulbs here about six years ago, the bluebells hadn’t turned up and I hadn’t planted the Physocarpus, one of my favourite shrubs- what a great mix they make.

Anemone x fulgens Multipetala in amongst Spanish bluebells and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, March 2020

On warmer afternoons in the past week, this pretty butterfly has been very active- I am not a great butterfly buff, so my identification may be off- I stand corrected if needed.

Maybe Pararge aegeria, the Speckled Wood butterfly, enjoying Euphorbia, Tostat, March 2020

I have identified this Muscari, down below, as probably ‘Mount Hood’ but I am not sure as it is a paler blue than Mount Hood in most of the descriptions. But I promised Tony Tomeo that I would take a photograph of this sweet little white-capped Muscari- so promise delivered! By the way, it is a darker blue today, 2 days later, but I am not sure…

Muscari, possibly ‘Mount Hood’, Tostat, March 2020

And hello, here comes Osmunda regalis. This poor fern is in a place it likes, but it gets lost in the wash later in the year, so I only ever notice it when the first new leaves are powering up. Sorry!

Osmunda regalis, Tostat, March 2020

These are the first leaves on Carpinus betulus Franz Fontaine- a beautiful fastigiate beech, which I bought really tiny about 9 years ago. It had a serious accident with an animal, which reduced it by half, and I was in despair. So, even though it is only a metre and a bit high now, I am very very fond of it, and can’t wait for it to become a real tree….

Carpinus betulus ‘Franz Fontaine’, Tostat, March 2020

And here is an attempt to show you Hedera helix erecta– which, as you can see, is more of a Hedera right angle- erecta in real life. I love the tightly packed leaves on the stem, but have no idea why it has decided (both plants) to do a 90 degree turn rather than grow straight up. I think I am stuck with right-angle-itis. Mind you, it in a hot, dry spot, and seems to be perfectly happy.

Hedera helix ‘Erecta’, Tostat, March 2020

I am a newbie with vegetables but am making a nervous start this Spring. I sowed seed, under fleece, of the Pea ‘Douce Provence’ and am thrilled with my first flower…

Pea ‘Douce Provence’, Tostat, March 2020

And to demonstrate that Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane Grey’ is even more lovely before she opens, here she is.

Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane Grey’, Tostat, March 2020

And I think that’s been quite enough from me….

Tostat sunset, March 2020

Gold, green and blue…

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Sophora Sun King, Tostat, February 2019

Radio silence has lasted for more than 10 days- as we have had the most scarey, but also without a doubt enjoyable, beautiful clear, sunny days with cool nights- days that have got up to 24C by lunchtime.  And so, I have been gardening, with Andy and Jim as heavy-duty diggers and clearers, making a new border where the labyrinth was, and enlarging two established borders, as well as making a new path which completes the circuit of the house without getting muddy feet.  It has been glorious.  What luck, a friend arrives keen to help out with projects and the weather plays the part of good friend for a change.

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The extravagant beauty and construction of one of my rescued wild daffodils, Tostat, February 2019

But the self-same weather is also responsible for the reluctant decision on my part to abandon my hand-grown labyrinth in the back garden.  I trained as a meditative labyrinth facilitator as the last phase of my working and professional life before packing it all in to be retired- and I built my own 5 circuit labyrinth in the back garden, creating the definition of the path with home-grown Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’– nearly 400 of them.  So this was about 6 years ago.  Since then, the Carex has really toiled- it really is a case of summers that have lost their traditional pattern dramatically.

Fifteen years ago summers reliably worked like this- 5-6 days of warm, even hot sun- followed by 2 days of stormy rains.  In essence, we have now had 4 or maybe 5 summers of super-hot weather with no storms and very little rain.  The entire family began lobbying for the dismantling of the labyrinth two years ago- and I dug in, adding supplementary water occasionally and replacing plants.  But last year was the end of all that.  I realised that this was like a labour of Hercules- who I do not resemble in any way!

So, I am making a memory of my labyrinth into a tear-shaped border about 3m wide and 5m long, with echoes of the labyrinth path emerging from the sharp end of the tear in 3 wispy arcs of the tougher, remaining Carex.  I am trying out what I hope will be a shrub/plant mix that will take all that our summers can throw at it, without supplementary water after the first year in.  There are some Australians in the mix.  First off, Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’.  This is the brightest emerald-green you can imagine, an upright 50cm grass look-alike forming bouncy tufts.  It is frost-hardy to -10C, happy in drought and evergreen.

Also from Australia is Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’– which is a strappy 40cm plant with blue-green leaves and blue/yellow flowers in the summer, and another Dianella, Dianella tasmanica ‘Wyeena’.

Looking a bit like a galloping Phormium, I am hoping ‘Wyeena’ will make a nice, strappy presence around a small, deciduous tree that I have always wanted to grow,  Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’.  It has the most stunning coral-pink foliage in spring, settles to a beautiful gold colour for the summer and then flames up for the autumn- the photographs below are from a specimen that we planted outside the church in Tostat two summers ago.

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Early foliage, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, Tostat, early April 2018

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Going for gold, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, Tostat, May 2018

And then back in the new tear-shaped border, I am trying out Philadelphus ‘Starbright’, a new Canadian introduction with purple early foliage and good heat and drought tolerance.  And new to me is Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’ which is a dwarf form of Cornus, which I am hoping will give us a touch of gold in winter stems.

Lastly, because I can’t resist a good perennial, I am trying out two new plants, Parthenium integrifolium ‘Welldone’ and Thermopsis chinensis.  Parthenium promises to be a white umbel flowered clump to about 1.2m, which should handle heat and drought well being a native of of the US Midwest.  Thermopsis chinensis is a medium height spring pea-bush with yellow lupin style flowers, and again, should be on the tough side.  As these plants will be in battle formation to ward off the tufty old grass that made the labyrinth paths, I am thinking of laying cardboard down as a humidity protector and weed deterrent.  Just for the first year, you understand.  It won’t prevent everything from breaching the ramparts but it will give the new plantings a fighting chance.  I would use a mulch but I have other areas in greater need with more dense plantings to deal with.  This is, at least, a new area and so cardboard it will be.

Meantime, wild blue violets are everywhere that I allow them to be, and one solitary wild white violet has re-appeared as a solo plant this year.

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Wild blue violets, Tostat, February 2019

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Wild white violet, Tostat, February 2019

Photographs of the labyrinth memorial will follow even featuring cardboard.