Bits and bobs…

Cynara cardunculus, Tostat, July 2019

The last week has starred all kinds of weather including 20 minutes of typhoon scaled wind and massive stair rods of rain. The weather can be incredibly local, and we were very lucky as a 2km wide band passed within 500m of us and didn’t touch us. Those it touched lost trees, and even more importantly in the season, prized vegetable gardens and crops. This is the first time that the Cynara cardunculus has produced so many flowering branches- and it came through the storm unscathed. A brilliant architectural plant and a good self-seeder- you just need the space.

The rain was very welcome despite the strength and power of it, and clearly refreshed everything growing in the garden, with some roses generating a fresh small flush of flowers. With these weather outbursts, sometimes plants return that you have completely forgotten about.

Digitalis ferruginea, Tostat, July 2019

I adore the colouring of this Digitalis ferruginea. This was a surprise appearance 3 years ago, when a strange rosette of leaves started to grow which I did not associate with seed that I had sown the year before. I potted up the mysterious rosette and then planted it out, having no idea what it was. Since then, the rosette has returned each year with taller and more stately flowerspikes every year. In the bright warm early morning sunlight, the rust colouring almost hits orange- and this year with our cool, wet spring, it measures well over 1.7 metres tall. Wow.

Eryngium eburneum has been truly statuesque this year too. It is an utterly undemanding plant, and in return, you get months of the tall, bobbly, prickly flowerspikes which complement any style of planting in my view, and then, over winter, the flowing foliage forms beautiful clumps, made even more gorgeous when touched with frost. I guess all you need to give it is space- allow 1m all around the plant- and stony, well-drained soil. No pampering required.

Eryngium eburneum backlit, Tostat, July 2019

Another strange plant that I adore, but have only succeeded once with, is Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’. This can be regarded as an invasive weed in the US, but probably not here in Europe. It is undemanding, but requires very precise conditions, or in my view it does! Sun, but some shade, moist, but not wet and must be well-draining, and it prefers some cover from other plants over winter. The one that didn’t die is grown amongst a Hydrangea paniculata, Bupleurum fruticosum and Phlomis russelliana- and I never know for sure that it’s made it until the first bright-green feathery leaves poke through. It is not a powerful grower, so even after 5 years, I usually only have 2-3 spikes of it- but it is a lovely presence, a stretched bright-green feather duster of a plant which is totally vertical.

Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, July 2019

I don’t know what I have done to deserve these lovely flowering garlic scapes- but I love them, and do my best to pot them up and save them to weave in amongst other plants, like a strange extra-terrestrial that has been welcomed to the planet. You can eat them like spring onions or chives, but I want them in the garden.

Flowering garlic scapes, Tostat, July 2019

This tiny little Penstemon pinifolius is perhaps the smallest of all. I couldn’t get a plant anywhere and so I grew a small bowl of them from seed about 3 years ago- this is the first flower from that little bowl. It looks like spikes of short hair, the slimmest, stringiest leaves you can imagine which pays witness to the drought tolerance- it is very drought tolerant and needs super-sharp drainage- but it is hardy. So, only water if it looks wan.

Penstemon pinifolius, Tostat, July 2019

This is a really different Rudbeckia- Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Fire’. Tall, slim and multi-flowering, with small bright yellow and orange daisy flowers, it seems to be an easy plant. These are one year old, grown from seed last year- and I am hoping that they will clump more next year- apparently short-lived, so either I buy more seed or if I’m lucky, it will self-seed. I think that it needs more moisture than some sites suggest and not baking sun all day.

Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Fire’, Tostat, July 2019
Salvia confertiflora, Tostat, July 2019

Salvia confertiflora is flowering- more than 2 months earlier than in previous years. I think it has taken it’s cue from the scattered very hot days we have had. This is a tender Salvia, so I bring it in every winter, but the orange-red velvet tall flowerspikes are a real bonus in the garden- even more just now as the garden slows up for the hot period.

And today, I discovered more seasonal bonuses. Two Baptisia australis seedlings that have popped up in pots of Salvia, unbeknownst to me. Baptisia has been a seed disaster for me, really quite tricky, so this must be some stray seed that got recycled into some potting compost by mistake. Good mistake. And some good, tough little Achillea millefoliums that had self-seeded into the parking gravel- brilliant. Bonus tough plants for difficult areas.

Approaching Sissinghurst part 2

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Rosa ‘Meg’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Sometimes, as with Hidcote, the National Trust marketing bods go far too overboard with trying to introduce you to ‘the person’ that they have identified as the ‘key person- attractor’ for their property.  As Robin Lane Fox rather acidly remarked in a recent article about Hidcote in the FT, this can lead to patent nonsense, such as your ticket apparently being a personal invitation from Lawrence Johnston. (I can’t link to this article because of the FT paywall, but I must have found it somewhere as I don’t subscribe.)   My understanding of Lawrence Johnston is that he was an intensely private person who would probably have undergone fingernail extraction than take part in such flummery.

However, in the case of Sissinghurst, this approach is far less ridiculous.  First of all, Vita Sackville-West was herself a columnist for ‘The Guardian’ from 1946-61, and she wrote ceaselessly of her successes and failures in her own garden- so this makes Sissinghurst almost a well-kent space for gardeners.  And secondly, the Nicolson family, including the author, Adam Nicolson, her grandson and his wife, Sarah Raven, the well-known garden and food writer, live in the property and are very connected to the ways in which the house and the garden are made available to visitors.

So, I really enjoyed the feeling of intimacy and connection with Vita as a woman, a lover, a wife, a mother, a writer and a great gardener that was opened to you as a visitor at every turn.

Another great rose, perhaps selected by Vita, was looking breathtaking when we visited.  Rosa ‘Meg’ was bred in 1954 in the UK but yet seems to hail from an earlier era. A truly gorgeous apricot rose, a climber/hybrid tea, once-flowering and thereafter the odd bloom, is really worth the space in the garden.  Set against the warm brick of the Sissinghurst walls, and it prefers the warmth of a wall behind it, it was sublime.

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Rosa ‘Princess Marie’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Right above my head, a huge swag of this very pretty ivory-pink rose, was doing its best against the rain and wind.  Rosa ‘Princess Marie’ was bred in France in 1829 by Antoine A. Jacques and climbs well, although classified as a Hybrid Sempervirens.  Apparently the rose has a strong fragrance, but was too high above me to be able to tell.   Peter Beales, see the link, does describe it as a rambler.

And, finally on the rose front, I loved this little display in the entrance arch to the garden, introducing visitors to some of the roses flowering at that moment.

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Introduction to the roses in flower, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Now to other splendid plants.  There was a mouthwatering spread of absolutely beautiful opium poppies, some of which had taken a pounding in the rain the day before, but other of which had come through very well.   Somehow the rain accentuated the layers of the petals in the crimson one.

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Allium cernuum, Sissinghurst, June 2017

I loved the nodding heads of this little allium, it is commonly called ‘nodding onions’- a very pretty mauve-blue with such spirit and delicacy.  It wants full sun, well-drained soil but otherwise is not fussy it would seem, and is a good spreader, bulbs are available via Sarah Raven.

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Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’, Sissinghurst, June 2017 fresh as a daisy

Staying with the mauve theme, a clematis that would struggle with us, was looking fresh as a daisy.  Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’ was growing strongly in a corner of the White Garden if I recall correctly.  The International Clematis Society recommends HH as a star for a shady corner, so that’s quite a recommendation.

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Viburnum erubescens, Sissinghurst, June 2017

I was struck by the shining red berries on Viburnum erubescens, but we had missed the apparently gorgeous snowball-white flowers that adorn this small tree in May.  If you have the space, and a moist, semi-shady position, this would be a really attractive small tree/shrub to go for. The berries are only the second act, I would love to have seen the first.

And lastly, a plant that I had not realised I had grown, Digitalis ferruginea.  You know the way it is, a pot that loses the marker, a rosette of green, and a chance identification at le Jardin Champêtre. And then an ‘aha’…I did buy that seed once.  Such a strange and mysterious plant, I can quite see why Vita might well have chosen it, blooming out of time with other foxgloves, rusty brown flowers that have creamy centres, and a good rosette of leaves.  Easy from seed, as long as you remember you planted it!

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Digitalis ferruginea, Sissinghurst, June 2017