Lockdown spring…

First shoots on Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’ last week, Tostat, March 2020

I had almost completed a blog post about visiting the Airth Pineapple and Culross when we were in Scotland only 3 weeks ago- but within less than a week, we are in covid19 lockdown here in Tostat, and it seemed out of time and place to finish that post.

What a strange and frightening experience this all is. Today, we expect to be told that we are no longer able to walk more than 500m from our house even with documents and that this will continue for at least 2 months. We have been in daily contact with family, spread between Scotland and England and Spain, and this has been a real relief. But it is the surreal, amorphous nature of the necessary lockdown which has taken us all week to come to terms with. The village is silent. Birdsong seems to have reached operatic levels, which is wonderful, but it feels very strange. Luckily the weather has helped, warm afternoon sunshine has turned the corner on winter and you can almost hear plants growing and changing.

Anemone nemerosa this morning, Tostat, March 2020

So, it feels as if the garden needs us to buck up and get on with freeing it from winter, whilst simultanously, I am reviewing and rethinking much of what I would normally have done at this time of year. So, I am only digging up dandelions and really pervasive perennial weeds in the beds- everything else is being left. The one-armed gardening of last year taught me that annual spring weeds are killed by drought and heat by mid June, so I am thinking that I will leave them. At the very least, they will cover any bare ground until the summer perennials get going, thereby retaining soil moisture for later. I just have to get used to that itchy period before the perennials fire up, and resist messing about with the balance. In fact, I am sticking roughly to this rule pretty much everywhere in the garden. This means excessive self control has to be applied after any rain, when the pesky annual grasses pop up at a great rate.

But there are also some lovely surprises. Back in Scotland, I had a gorgeous clump of the double Anemone nemerosa- and not being able to find that here, I experimented about 10 years ago with a couple of the single wood anemone, Anemone nemerosa. They have only flowered maybe 3-4 times in 10 years, and are roughly the same size as when I planted them. So, conditions are certainly not idea for them. But when they appear, as two days ago, I am joyful, no matter what the lockdown conditions are.

Doronicum ‘Little Leo’ this morning, Tostat, March 2020

‘Little Leo’ is another tiny plant that has not really enjoyed life in Tostat, but one or two small plants are hanging on in there. My mum adored Doronicum, and so this is in memory of her.

Gunnera manicata, Tostat, March 2020

The Gunnera is already more than a metre high, courtesy of the mild winter and the recent rain and storms. You couldn’t make it up really, as it is surely a bit player in every sci-fi film going with the strange prickles on the stems and the leaves opening like hands reaching for you.

Eriostemon myoporoides last week, Tostat, March 2020

This is going to be a great plant. Eriostemon myoporoides has died for me twice, mainly because I bought baby plants and then wasn’t careful enough of them in their early lives. Mea culpa. So, a glutton for punishment, I had another go with more mature specimens. I am really impressed. This plant has thickly cuticled leaves, a little like Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’ to look at and tiny white, star-shaped flowers (allegedly smelling of gin and tonic, not yet apparent to me) in profusion in early Spring. It slowly makes a rounded shrub and will apparently grow to about 2m all round- mine is barely 0.5m all round and must be 3 years old. But it is bone-hardy, drought tolerant when established, and with time, will make a good evergreen presence in difficult areas. Works for me.

Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, March 2020

This fabulous pillar-box red Anemone x fulgens Multipetala is a Spring favourite of mine. I bought 6 bulbs for a king’s ransom about 6 years ago, and since then, the plants have gently swivelled themselves to where they want to be, underneath Physocarpus ‘Tiny Wine’ and, aware of the photo potential, right in amongst Spanish bluebells which are about to flower. I adore them for their raggly-taggly look and the fabulous colour which leaps out amongst the green of the bluebells.

Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, this morning settling into coral from lobster pink, Tostat, March 2020

I love this baby tree, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’. It is a slow grower, well, so far. But tough, it takes heat, drought, frost, wind and rain with aplomb. This is the beginning of the show, when the new foliage (see top) starts out lobster pink then moves to coral. It is such a good plant. I hope it will get going this year, it’s 3rd year in the ground- but whatever it does, it will be noticeable and I will be watching. There’s going to be a lot of watching for the next 2 months- and a good season to be doing it.

Friday in Tostat…

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Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière, Tostat, April 2019

I went out this morning and could not believe it, Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière, such a good and tough rose, had bloomed first before the normal early-riser, Rosa banksiae lutea– which obliged later this morning but loses the gong.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, April 2019

So, today there is no chilly wind and I thought I would do a Spring round-up with mainly photographs.  This lovely Anemone x fulgens ‘Multipetala’ has been blooming for more than 6 weeks and these are the best flowers so far.

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Anemone x fulgens ‘Multipetala’, Tostat, April 2019

A small plant but with a big flower, Doronicum ‘Little Leo’ is only one year old, but doing fine.

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Doronicum ‘Little Leo’, Tostat, April 2019

The quince blossom is much more fragile than the cherry or the apple- it waits tentatively in a closed state until the sun warms it up- and is so easily destroyed by wind and rain.  So far, so good.

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The quince is blooming, Cydonia oblonga, Tostat, April 2019

I have two Westringia rosmariniformis in the garden.  Both have been a little stretched by the cold weather in the last week or so, and have browned a bit at the tips, but whilst not yet big flowerers, they have started.

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Westringia rosmariniformis, Tostat, April 2019

These white Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ are new to the Stumpery this Spring, and I rather like the semi-ghostly presence that they bring, even in the sunlight.

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Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, Tostat, April 2019

Further down in the Stumpery, these Muscari ‘Mount Hood’ are in their third year, and mot minding, it would seem, the semi-shade.  I love the little white hats.

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Muscari ‘Mount Hood’, Tostat, April 2019

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Wisteria and the moment, Tostat, April 2019

Wisteria can be a plague on all your houses here, as it thugs its way to global domination.  But, right now, on the wonky pergola, it looks and smells gorgeous.

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A new view round the side of the house, Tostat, April 2019

Funny how you can discover a new view even after nearly 16 years…pots awaiting planting on the bench when tendons recover…

 

 

Pilgrim’s Progress…

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Unknown Helianthus, Tostat, September 2017

This year, with so much caramelised garden around me, I am very grateful for the bright and sunny feel that the late unknown Helianthus is offering to the garden.  I used to have massive colonies of it, but over the years, I have resisted it’s charms and turned my head away, ripping much of it out for ‘better’ plants.  But, eating quantities of humble pie, I realise that this tall, wiry tough plant has much to offer with late flowering, bright, jolly colouring and an absolutely bomb-proof manner.  So, though I wouldn’t return to the vast thickets of it that I used to have, I think it is quite fabulous as a spot-planted, intermingled plant, just dotted about and bringing general jollity.  I apologise unreservedly.

Meantime, cutting back the burnt bits and allowing for the beginnings of new growth for next year is the priority for the next few cooler days.  We have had two days of really heavy rain, which at last has penetrated more than a couple of centimetres beneath the baked crust.

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Nepeta grandiflora ‘Zinser’s Giant’ photo credit: http://www.promessedefleurs.com

And that early division of some Stachys ‘Hummelo’ that I tried out a couple of weeks back having been a great success, I similarly tackled some discounted Nepeta grandiflora ‘Zinser’s Giant’ and some Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’, and am about to do the same again for some Doronicum orientale ‘Little Leo’ that I also bought cheaply. Cross fingers for all of these.  I had one spectacular failure in the seed-growing department, and that was Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’, so when I saw the reduced plants at Promesse de fleurs, I jumped at them and hope that my brutal saw and chop tactics of early division pay off.  These are all new varieties to me, so no home-grown photographs yet.

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Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ photo credit: http://www.promessedefleurs.com

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Doronicum orientale ‘Little Leo’ photo credit: http://www.promessedefleurs.com

But the rain has enabled me to finally get going with the restoration of my lapsed Labyrinth project.  All of 3 years ago, I dug out and created the beginnings of the five-circuit labyrinth in the back garden.  It seems like aeons ago.  I used to joke that you would have to be ‘Donald Trump’ to buy plants to plant it up.  Joke has gone rather sour now.  But the essence is that I chose to plant it with Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’ which I thought would be way tough enough to cope with full sun and limited water.  The first year’s seed planting was great and produced about 75% of the plants that I needed, which was a good start.

But the second year’s seed-planting was a disaster, and in the meantime, hotter, drier summers seemed to be accelerating every year.  So, with weed invading and plants struggling, I decided to go for a change of plant, over to the tried and tested Panicum virgatum and keep the Carex that made it, but essentially continue with the Panicum.  A more mongrel look, you might say.  This year, with 130 healthy and good-looking Panicum virgatum plants at the ready, I am carrying on- after much trial and tribulation.

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The Baby Labyrinth part planted with Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’ , Tostat, July 2014

I am embarrassed to publish a photograph of how it looks right now, but I think I will be strong enough to brave the challenge in a couple of months once the Panicums have had a chance to settle in.  I think this could be a story of adversity and and not losing heart after all.