New and old surprises…

Aristea ecklonii, resting temporarily in a trough, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2021

We are nearly at mid-May, and yet, despite some warm days, the season so far has been so dry and latterly cold, that it feels as if everything is only now beginning to trust the conditions enough to get going. I grew Aristea ecklonnii from seed probably 7 years ago now, and it has never quite found it’s stride- till now. I am astounded by it. It’s in the same pot, no extra anything except for a very wet January, and it has loved it here. Maybe all it wanted was to be against a wall and more in the shade than before. Compared with previous years, it is looking positively baroque and commanding attention and notice. Which I am giving it, with a lot of congratulatory pep-talk every morning. The blue is as close to a gentian blue as a non-gentian can get, and the flowerstalks reach out to 80 cms either side of the plant. Even without the flowers opening, it was looking splendid. I keep it outside all the time so I think it is a tad hardier than the link site suggests.

So pretty close up…

I had never come across Dietes grandiflora until we saw it growing all over Brisbane and in botanical gardens in the Australian Spring of 2018. So, spotting the bulbs for sale was an offer not to resist. I am a sucker for tall, thin, striking plant shapes, and in an Iris-alike sort of way, that’s what happens until the flowers come.

Dietes grandiflora, new to me and Oloron, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2021

And when the flowers arrive, I am hoping for this….or something similar. This close cousin was flowering fabulously in Sydney in October 2018.

Dietes robinsonia, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

In the same vein, though with fatter, stumpier leaves, is this Bulbine frutescens ‘Medicus’ which is in a twinned position across from the Dietes pot. Three baby plants are so far doing fine. Like the Aloe, the stumpy fat leaves are apparently good for healing abrasions on the skin. But whatever the medicinal qualities are, I love orangey yellow and so it is already scoring highly in my view.

Bulbine frutescens ‘Medicus’, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2021
Helleborus x sternii ‘Pewter’, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2021

With little belief that I would be successful, I sowed some seed for this beautiful Helleborus x sternii ‘Pewter’ in the late summer of 2019. Some while later, 4 tiny plants came through and made it to the small plant stage- one found a new home in Glasgow with the Assistant Gardener, and three came to Oloron- and wow, they look happy. it is a lovely variety with almost translucent or even pearlescent foliage with small teeth and finely pointed ends. Delicate veining and red stems just add a little pzazz. Well worth the wait. And they have quadrupled in size since I planted them out in late February.

Physocarpus ‘Panthers’, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2021

This is a new Physocarpus to me, but guess what, it has the darkest purple, almost black crinkled foliage, and it grows to be a nice, slim column- even though it looks rather fatter in the link photograph. I grew Physocarpus ‘Tiny Wine’ in Tostat, and grew to love it for its toughness, the stunning foliage in the Spring and Autumn and for being a really handsome shrub. Cuttings didn’t seem to take, but, luckily, the last one did and I have a strong small plant ready for planting out next year. So, ‘Panthers’ has a lot to live up to.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, stunning spring foliage, Tostat, April 2020
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ and Plantago major Rubrifolia, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2021

This limey-green Caryopteris x clanonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ was one of those reliable small shrubs that, in theory, should have done really well in Tostat. In my view, though, it was just on the limit of dryness tolerance that it could take, and so, often struggled with my no-watering policy. Here, in Oloron, I am trying again with a good sized cutting plant that I brought. It’s in the back barn garden, in a semi-shaded position, and so I am crossing my fingers. The brightness and vivacity of the foliage is the key for me, but if it flowers, which would be a good sign in late summer, the deep blue flowers are a gorgeous contrast with the foliage. Chumming up with the Caryopteris is a real star perennial, grown from seed, and such a good and tough performer- and it’s a plantain, that plant you pull out in your garden. Well, give in and grow this beautiful green and maroon plant, it will colonise any space with any soil in pretty much any position and looks superb. I give you Plantago major Rubrifolia. In my case, I bought seed through the post from the wonderful Derry Watkins at Special Plants. No more thanks to Brexit.

An incredible storm with the full thunder and lightening show, plus huge rain and twirling winds hit us last night with more to come this week. Maybe I give up with the rain dancing.

The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney

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Walking through the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

These gardens are so perfectly located- right in the heart of Sydney, a few minutes walk from all the big views of the Opera House and the Harbour.  We were walking through, rather than visiting, but there were so many fabulous plants and trees to be seen, that I was frequently dawdling and photographing- and we did have time for a quick much-needed cup of tea in the tearoom, near the shop, which also got a fly-through.  So, what follows is not a studied look at the botanical offerings, but rather what we saw as we walked through, but none the worse for that.

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Actinotis helianthi, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

This Actinotis helianthi positively sparkled with shimmering grey foliage, and these spikey, upright white daisy flowers.  It is a Sydney area native.

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Alloxylon flammeum, Red Silky Oak, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

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Better photograph from Brisbane, Alloxylon flammeum, Red Silky Oak, October 2018

Alloxylon flammeum is a stunning medium-sized tree, with all of the Australian chutzpah that native shrubs seem to have- dazzling colour, spidery form and good tree-shape.  In the wild, this tree would be much taller and is becoming endangered.  The world would be a poorer place without it.

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Calliandra, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

Another flowering tree with chutzpah, Calliandra, no labelling help other than the species name, is astoundingly from the pea family.  These powderpuff flowers are wonderful, fine and delicate, but make an astounding show to European eyes.

This magnificent clump of Candelabra Aloe was just beside the ladies loo and the Shop.  It was the best clump that we saw in the whole garden, and perfectly positioned for a close-up, even if it did look as if I was stalking someone into the loo.

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Candelabra Aloe, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

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Detail of candelabra Aloe, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

More often seen as a yellow cultivar apparently, this Aloe ‘Southern Cross’ was definitely labelled as such.

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Aloe Southern Cross, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

Dietes robinsoniana comes from the Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, and this particular Dietes is not only stately and tall, but has the most lavish flowers of the genus.  It was collected in 1869 on Lord Howe Island by Charles Moore, the Director of the Botanical Gardens in Sydney,

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Dietes robinsoniana, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

Melbourne had the flame-red Erythrina x sykesii that we saw later , but Sydney had Erythrina latissima– perhaps a less flambuoyant tree, but nonetheless very striking.  The flowerheads are smaller and a paler red heading coppery-brown colour, and the leaves appear after flowering.

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Erythrina latissima, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

I am almost certain that this rather gorgeous, golden-yellow centred creamy white flower comes from a Michelia, a shrub closely related to the Magnolia.  But no label!

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Unknown Michelia, I think, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

This was a very cheery plant- Isopogon anemonifolius.  This was a junior plant, it is closely related to the Grevillea family and will make a wide shrub of 2m or so.  You can see the family connection in the pinnate leaves and the flower shape.

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Isopogon anemonifolius, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

And at the end of my Sydney photo pile, I think that this is a cousin of the very first plant in this post, but I will stand corrected by any more knowledgable folk.  I’d lay money on it being an Alloxylon, possibly pinnatum.

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Another Alloxylon, maybe pinnatum, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018