Scorched earth…

Burnt echinaceas and 2 surviving Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Tostat, August 2020

It rained, 12 cms or so, yesterday evening and overnight. I felt as if I could feel it on my own skin even though I was indoors. My no-watering policy has been tested almost to the limits of my endurance, never mind the plants. Of course, the pain is caused by my playing with the edges of what the garden can take, and this summer, I have discovered more hot spots than I knew existed in nearly 17 years of gardening here. These hot spots haven’t always existed- but they are new evidence of the effects of climate heating in our part of the world. If and when we move to a new house, my garrigue garden plans are essential as I manoeuvre to find ways to grow plants that will make a garden a a good space for animals, insects, birds and humans.

So what has happened in drought tolerance that has changed in this summer? Hibiscus trionum is a pretty and tough shrub- this one I grew from seed about 12 years ago, and is now a 1.5m slim bush which has taken care of itself with no problems in previous summers. This summer burnt it, though it will shake the burn off as temperatures cool a little and with some more rain.

Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, August 2020

Phillyrea angustifolia is a tough, slow growing shrub which resembles an olive tree in leaf form and robustness. This one below was in a pot for the previous two summers, and this spring I planted it out in a mixed border. It had obviously not had enough time, even with four months or so, to get roots down enough into the soil. Not yet being very big, and my garden eyes being exhausted by all the heat and dryness, I didn’t spot it suffering in time. I think it will make it though.

Phillyrea angustifolia, Tostat, August 2020

Last month I took some photos of Plantago major rubrifolia looking beautifully ruby-coloured in the new tear-shaped border. I am so pleased with it, as the colouring has faded and the seedheads are dried to a crisp, but that plant is still here and will definitely survive.

Plantago rubrifolia, Tostat, August 2020

In the Stumpery, the ferns and persicaria have absolutely bitten the dust, the ferns will probably try for a comeback, the persicaria may not this year, but hey, Salvia spathacea, the rare Californian Salvia, grown from seed, is still green if a little bashed. I shall be overjoyed if it flowers, but that may be asking too much.

Salvia spathacea hangs on, Tostat, August 2020
Salvia spathacea flowering, Tostat, July 2016

Tagetes lemmonii has the most extraordinary smelly foliage- which even I can smell. Burnt coriander mixed with lemon gets close as a description, and my plants are slow to grow, actually needing plenty of heat to even get above ground, but the feathery foliage is pretty and green when not much else is looking so fresh and the custard-coloured marigold flowers come in October.

Tagetes lemmonnii, Tostat, August 2020

Cheating here, as these penstemons grow near a pot or in one- which I do water daily in the summer. Penstemon schoenholzeri flowers for months, scavenging water from the overflow of a scented pelargonium, and is a total joy especially when the tansy gets going. I got Tanacetum vulgare ‘Crispum’ as a small clump years ago, and it has always been very well-behaved for me. The foliage is standout in my view- fresh green all summer and beautifully frilly and ferny in appearance- and to top it all, you get the bright yellow button flowers as well.

Penstemon schoenholzeri and Tanacetum vulgare, Tostat, August 2020

This smokey purple Penstemon is a new one to me this year, and is in a pot ready for departure when we move. I have taken masses of cuttings already, as I love the cloudy coating on the buds before they flower, and the whole plant has a very upright and sturdy form. Penstemon ‘Russian River’ is splendid.

Penstemon Russian River, Tostat, August 2020

In the tear-shaped border which I made last year with an Australian emphasis celebrating our trip there 3 years ago, Dianella caerulea Cassa Blue has been a great choice. The first year was a wee bit touch-and-go, but this year, with no irrigation, it has really settled in and seems unphased by cold or drought. It is not tall, being about 50cms maybe, but the foliage is upright, clumps well and holds the blue tinge in the name really well in the second year. Tiny flowers came in our very hot spring, which will probably look a bit more impressive in later years. I like it.

Next to it, you can see the toasted foliage of Pittosporum tenuifolium Golf Ball, which is one tough customer normally, so I hope it will recover. The feathery foliage in the foreground comes from Vernonia lettermannii– a super good plant which I wrote about a few weeks back. It’s called Ironweed for a good reason.

Dianella caerulea Cassa Blue, Tostat, August 2020

In the heat, some colours really did sing. In a watered pot because it’s a tender shrub is Abutilon pictum (also known as Red Vein and Abutilon striatum), which I bought from Gill Pound in the Languedoc before she retired. What an orange…

Abutilon pictum, Tostat, August 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.

Cold snap…

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Hard frost with sun coming, Tostat, January 2019

Two nights now of -6C which arrived all of a sudden but at least the freezing fog has gone and we have bright, even brilliant sunshine during the day.  Our old house is not liking this, and it is back to bedsocks at night for the first time since February last year.  I may have been a bit cavalier about the frost protection- we will see when the temperatures come back up a bit next week.  But frost has its own beauty as Ali, the Mindful Gardener observed today.  Rosa LD Braithwaite has taken quite a few years to decide that she likes me, and only this year has begun to resemble a rose bush more than just a twig.  The very last rose wears the frost rather well, like a celebrity Chopard necklace.

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Rosa LD Braithwaite, Tostat, January 2019

I may end up rueing leaving Pelargonium sidoides outside- I do hope not, but I had forgotten that I had planted it in amongst two roses that I had submitted to intensive care in pots.  If this is the end, it is looking very beautiful all the same.

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Pelargonium sidoides, Tostat, January 2019

My new Australian-inspired arrivals, still in their pots, Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’ and Callistemon sieberi ‘Widdicombe Gem’ are frozen solid, but foliage still looking good.

I have had this Tanacetum vulgare ‘Crispum’ since the first year we were here- and although it is not a looker in the flowering department, I love the crinkled leaves and the greenness of it- a really vivid emerald.  Every time I think that I have lost it, it pops up somewhere else, so there is determination about this plant.  With the frost, it is clearly impersonating a low-lying conifer.

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Tanacetum vulgare ‘Crispum’, Tostat, January 2019

The night is drawing in, as my mother used to say in August in Scotland, and this cold just has to be sat out- damage to be inspected later.

 

Canberra and home…

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Canberra scene, October 2018

Canberra was an extraordinary place- specially-created as the capital city to avoid tensions between Melbourne and Sydney, with architecture from the inspired end of concrete brutalism that is pretty much all of a piece in the city centre.   This photograph taken close to the National Museum of Australia sums up the strangeness of it, the Prisoner-like hovering ball art installation, a solitary car, one person.  It was like no other capital city I have ever visited.  Healthy middle-class professionals jogging round the paths and lakes of the city centre juxtaposed with the dug-in determination of the 46 year Tent Embassy Aboriginal protest outside the old Government House- these colliding presences seemed to capture something of Australia.  A country struggling with the tensions of colonialism still.  But from a British perspective,  I felt shame for our overlord activities, and some pride that Australia shows its tensions openly- heart on sleeve.

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The Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest camp outside Old Government House, visiting schoolchildren posing for their teacher, Canberra, October 2018

There is huge pain in the Aboriginal Memorial, 200 hollow log coffins which commemorate the thousands of indigenous people who have lost their lives since 1788 in defence of their land and their ways of life.  I was deeply moved and shamed by it simultaneously.

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The Aboriginal Memorial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, October 2018

The museums are world-class and absolutely to be recommended.  Three hours was not long enough to take in the history of white settlers and indigenous loss, but history can smack you in the face and overwhelm sometimes.

Later in the afternoon, with warm golden sun shining, we visited the Australian National Botanic Gardens.  The world’s largest collection and archive of Australian flora did not disappoint- there was so much to be seen that was new and strikingly different from European flora that I was a little bedazzled.  We were yet to see the incredible flowering wattles later in our trip to the Flinders Ranges, but there were some fabulous varieties on show in the Garden, a feast of yellow.  And orange and red…without a botanical label I had no chance, and I have tried via the internet, but maybe Jane from Mudgee can help with this Banksia, as she kindly did in confirming the Grevillea robusta from the previous post.

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Unknown Banksia, Australian National Botanical Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

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This one was labelled! Banksia integrifolia subsp integrifolia, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

And three views of the simply gorgeous Dendrobium falcorostrum– I defer to the Rock Lily Man here (follow the link)- he says it all about this fabulous plant- which, if you need a short-cut, is an epiphytic orchid.  In other words, a non-parasitic plant that fastens onto other plants but is, in fact, air and water-fed- the host simply provides an anchor.

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Dendrobium falcorostrum Canb Bot 1018

Dendrobium Canb Bot 1018

I loved the starkness of the Red Centre– the part of the Gardens that re-creates the harsh, elemental conditions of central Australia.  The stunning grass clump to the left of the photograph is Triodia scariosa.

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The Red Centre Garden, Australian National Botanical Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

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Triodia scariosa detail, Red Centre Garden, Australian National Botanical Garden, Canberra, October 2018

And the postman has just knocked with my Australian- inspired parcel- my order of Callistemon sieberi ‘Widdecombe Gem’, a medium sized  frost-hardy (to about -8 hopefully) Callistemon with a lemon yellow flower, and three massive Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’– which I have just re-potted to make 8 smaller plants to over-winter.  Australian heaven.