June goings-on…

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The Mix, caught in early sunlight, Tostat, June 2019

At this time of year, the light becomes so bright that photography is an early morning or late evening activity. The light creeps over the house in the morning like a ranging searchlight, and the other day, it was the right place and the right time.  Standing by the Mix, my now 3 year old perennial planting with the occasional small shrub and grass, the sun spotlit the tops of the clumps of perennials, picking out the Monarda fistulosa and the Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’ as the tallest in town just yet.  This area has been a real experiment- made even more experimental this year by the one-armed bandit requirement of ‘no weeding’.  About 6 weeks ago, it looked pretty awful.  But now, with the rain and sun we have had, the perennials are powering upwards, and, unless you have a pair of binoculars, you mostly can’t see any serious weed activity.  There is a lesson here for the future.

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Papaver somniferum, from Biddy Radford, Tostat, June 2019

This has been a good year for self-seeding- another bonus for one-armed gardening.  Opium poppies, Papaver somniferum, have popped themselves all over the gravel paths and into some of the more orthodox places as well. As self-seeders, you can get years when the colours are very washed out- but this year has been loads better with good mauves and soft pinks.  The bees and insects love them- and I do, for their unfurling architecture as much as for the flowers.

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Unfurling Opium poppy and Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Tostat, June 2019

Playing with Penstemons has become a bit of an obsession.  I grew some Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ from seed the year before last, and so with the wait, this is the beginning of seeing the plant in action.  Slim, upright growth, dark beetroot colouring on the stems and leaves, and buds which are creamy-yellow.  Not yet a big player, but with potential.  I also bought some Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ a cross between ‘Husker Red’ and ‘Prairie Splendour’.  Now this is a big, beefy plant.  Strong upright, dark crimson, darker than ‘Husker Red’, stems and leaves, altogether bigger and more imposing, and then, on filigreed stems, big pale mauve flowers. So far, so very good.  Not yet tested for drought tolerance, but that will come.

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Trifolium rubens, Tostat, June 2019

Two years ago, visiting the stunning gardens at Kentchurch Court, I was seriously smitten by what seemed like giant clover flowers on speed.  It was a variety of Trifolium, and so I have been growing some from seed since last summer, and it is just about to flower.  This is the species form of Trifolium ochroleucon– more to follow.  But, I have also bought plants of two more Trifoliums, Trifolium rubens and Trifolium pannonicum ‘White Tiara’.  Both are doing well so far in their first year, seeming to cope well with the conditions- the true test will come.

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Trifolium pannonicum ‘White Tiara’, Tostat, June 2019
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Philadelphus ‘Starbright’, Tostat, June 2019

A bargain basement buy this year in the new area, still covered in cardboard, and holding its own, is a newish variety of Philadelphus called ‘Starbright’.  A recent Canadian selection, it has dark-red stems and strong, single white flowers and is very cold and drought tolerant- hence my giving it a go.

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Phlomis longifolia var. bailanica with Allium nigrum behind and a sprinkling of Dianthus cruentus, Tostat, June 2019

This has been the year of the Phlomis- all my plants have adored the weather and conditions.  Phlomis longifolia var.bailanica has doubled in size, and has emptied the custard tin over itself, with incredible Birds Custard coloured flower heads.  I am responsible only for the Phlomis and the Allium nigrum, also enjoying life- the Dianthus cruentus is self-seeded, I think from a few feet away.

Tomorrow, we are off to visit Jardin de la Poterie Hillen– this should be a lovely garden day with great patisserie as well.  Not to be knocked.  And some splendid planting, such as this extraordinary rose, Rosa ‘Pacific Dream’, photographed by my friend Martine in case I missed it….

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Rosa ‘Pacific Dream’ Jardin de la Poterie Hillen, Thermes-Magnoac 65, June 2019.  Photo credit: Martine Garcia

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration from 2007…

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The ‘mix’ bit, featuring Libertia grandiflora, self-seeded Eschscholzia, Monarda fistulosa, Gaura lindheimeri ‘Gaudi Red’, Cerinthe major ‘Kiwi Blue’, Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’, Tostat, May 2018

Three years ago, I tried an experiment.  Could I grow a whole area essentially from seed, or self-seeded perennials, with one or two shrubs added in? The last two years have been a waiting game, but now, I can say that I am on the way.  It was only the other day when reading about the founding of the recently established Königliche Gartenakadamie opposite the stunning Botanical Garden in Dahlem, Berlin that I remembered what had been at the back of my mind as images of how I wanted the ‘mix’ bit to be.  Isabelle van Groeningen works in partnership with Gabrielle Pape, the main force behind the new Königliche Gartenakadamie in Berlin- but it was Chelsea that first introduced them to me.

Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape made a Main Avenue garden at Chelsea 2007- inspired by and strongly evoking the matrix- planting style of the reknowned German plant-breeder and nurseryman, Karl Foerster.  I remember that garden, not in detail, but in terms of the unusual effects it created.  Using plants as singletons or pairings, the garden seemed swarming with plants, but not arranged in clumps, but as a tapestry of individuals who all seemed to get on very well one with another, almost a ‘pointilist’ garden.  Back then, I was only at the beginning of my formal garden design study and it was all completely new to me.  I remember being disappointed that the garden only got a silver medal.

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Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape for ‘The Telegraph’, Chelsea 2007 photo credit: http://www.telegraph.com

This photograph doesn’t quite capture what I remember, the dotted planting of ones and twos of plants in a tapestry effect, but what you can see is the depth of planting and that crammed impression which I loved.  My version is much more clump-formed than matrix planting in the strict sense, but I have encouraged Stipa capillata to self-seed and this has created a wafty movement at about 0.75m high, which I really like.

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The ‘mix’ in early April, dew on Stipa capillata veiling Cistus ‘Gold Prize’ and Libertia peregrinans in winter orange, Tostat, April 2018
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The ‘mix’ featuring Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, spikes up in blue, red spots of luminous Dianthus cruentus, Phlomis longifolia bailanica, Geranium albanum, Tostat, May 2018
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The edges of the ‘mix’, tall flowerheads of Eryngium eburneum, Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, Monarda fistulosa, Cornus kousa, Tostat, May 2018

A key plant, which has take all of these three years to really get going, is Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’.  It is a much more intense blue than the photographs suggest and sits a good half metre above the other planting- so it really reaches for the sky.

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Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, Tostat, end April 2018

It is very wafty so I am hoping it isn’t decked by strong winds- always a possibility.  For the past two months, the two self-seeders. Eschscholzia californica and Cerinthe purpurescens have behaved magnificently.  Purple and orange- so good together. Noel Kingsbury has some interesting and de-bunking comments to make about getting holier-than-thou about any one way of gardening,  but whatever else, closer planting helps but will not remove the need to occasionally sort out thugs and reduce competition.  With the ‘mix’ I am stuffing in and also actively managing, not just the plants but also the invaders.  Good news is that a spot of wild carrot is easily removed.

Lastly, I would like to remember Beth Chatto,  who died last week, and a fantastic visit made to her Essex nursery eight years ago on a wet and grey day- she was a one-off.   What a woman.

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Beth Chatto’s inspirational Gravel Garden, Essex, 2012

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.

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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.

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Dianthus cruentus, Cleve West, Chelsea 2011
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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.

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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.