Mists and heat…

This week has been the week of the ‘June canicule’- in other words, serious heat. We have been lucky, half of the hot days have started with misty, damp mornings and we have not gone over 40C. Today, Sunday, it will cool back to the late 20s, which will be perfect. The misty mornings have been a relief and are rather magical, giving the garden a bit of respite from the overpowering sun.

The front garden early in the morning, Tostat, June 2019

I love this dahlia- I only have two, but this is one of them, Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’. The name is amazing, and so is the flower with furled dark blue/grey petals surrounding a brilliant golden centre. The first year, probably the bulbs were too tiny, produced nothing, but this year, the 3rd, the plant is getting into a swing with generous foliage and lots of buds. I didn’t take it in in the winter, I just left it in the pot and took my chances. Lucky me.

Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’, Tostat, June 2019

Mist and dew on bronze fennel, Tostat, June 2019

The dew has been heavy and luxurious, almost like a small shower of rain. The bronze fennel catches the dew beautifully and shines with each droplet.

Cobweb on Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’, Tostat, June 2019

The dew and damp has brought out the summer spiders, creating their connections between plants, and draping some, like the Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’ above. This is a plant that pleases more by it’s vigour and form than by the often short-lived flowerheads, but the darkly outlined cut leaves are present for a long time and work like fake thistles in the garden.

Romneya coulteri, Tostat, June 2019

Romneya coulteri is a plant with a tremendous capacity for life- as long as you plant it where it wants to be- in full sun, poor soil and don’t even think about watering it. But if you move it, it will turn up it’s toes and die- best to buy a small plant, a baby, and then let it grow in situ. It will take a year or two to flower, but then you will have beautiful glaucous greeny-blue foliage and these colossal chiffon flowers like the best Spanish fried egg, crinkly and delicious. It is a bit of a thug, hence why people do try and move them, me included. What will happen if you are lucky is that a piece will stubbornly refuse to be dug up, and next year you can start again with a new baby plant sitting where it wants to be. Give it space, or pin it back with another tough shrub, and all will be well.

Salvia ‘Ton Ter Linden’, Tostat, June 2019

This is a really fabulous Salvia, ‘Ton Ter Linden’. It is a deep purply-red, not quite captured above, and has a drapey habit, so that it could almost be called a tumbling salvia. I picked it out at our local nursery, the wonderful Bernard Lacrouts, mainly for the habit and the deep, dark colour. It is a newish variety, bred in the Netherlands, and named for the famous artist and gardener, Ton Ter Linden. He led the way, along with Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf, towards a more naturalistic style of perennial planting that is loosely called the Dutch New Wave. Another garden on the list….

Sanguisorba ‘Cangshan Cranberry’, Tostat, June 2019

In the same colour band is my almost favourite Sanguisorba, ‘Cangshan Cranberry’– and the moment when the flowerheads fill up with colour is one of my most anticipated summer moments. I don’t have it in the best place, as the massive banana behind it decks it with water when we have heavy rain, but it is the only place where it will be happy- so there we are. At nearly 1.5m it is a tall plant, but wispy and wavy, and takes a few years to bulk up- but all worth the wait. Dan Hinkley found this plant in Yunnan, China in 1996. I am so glad that he did.

Telekia speciosa, Tostat, June 2019

I love this workhorse plant. Every summer, I feel bound to try and increase the fan club membership for Telekia speciosa, as it is such a good reliable plant, and virtually unknown next to the more famous contender in the big-yellow-daisy stakes, Inula magnifica.

Salvia cacaliifolia, Tostat, June 2019

Another new Salvia! Salvia cacaliifolia has charming, triangular-shaped leaves and the bluest of blue branching flower spikes- curiously, it has no Salvia smell about it either. New to me, so I can’t offer much in the way of experience, but I am really enjoying it. It likes a little shade, but other than that, is not demanding.

Cephalaria gigantea, which has been a lovely surprise this June, has found the last week too hard for it, so it is fading fast. Celebrate it with a last photograph after early morning spider activity.

Cephalaria gigantea in the heat and the mist, Tostat, June 2019

Another reason to be happy is another surprise development. A stunningly successful germination rate 3 years ago of Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’ led to rather boastful behaviour on my part- and thence to the punishment of my hubris by the total failure of all the plants to re-appear in the Spring. Aha! Four small plants must have been hanging on in there, as this week up they popped. I am so pleased. My friend EBee will also be delighted. I adore the chocolate flower head and the golden ruff- magnificent, though not necessarily in a floral way.

Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’, Tostat, June 2019
2 days later, with golden ruff, ‘Green Wizard’, Tostat, June 2019

Parties and droughts…

It’s been a while!  We hosted a mad and wonderful week of nonsense, great fun and friendship for friends from all over the world, culminating in inviting 62 people to a sitdown meal and dancing in the garden. This madness and fun could not have been achieved without the very hard work of many friends who cooked, carted tables and chairs, washed up and all the rest…But oh, the joy when naievity (ours) (Question: how hard can it be to do this? Answer, quite hard!) is matched by great help from good friends.

And, meantime the garden was gently crisping in the heat with temperatures well into the 30s every day (except the party, what a miracle) and no rain to speak of for a month.  Things were only just holding on with some watering for those plants that went in this year. The tougher birds from previous years moreorless pulled through on their own.  So, this gave the chance to try out something I had been meaning to experiment with- using a bottomless pot.  I read about this in an article by Bunny Guinness some while ago. Now, admittedly, she was mainly talking about small spaces and veggies, but I thought that it might really work where I had a bit of a pre-party problem.

We have a cheap, not very attractive, (but it will be when clothed in green) concrete arch that links the swimming pool area to the New Garden. I had grown 2 very happy Clematis flammula there, until something about this Spring, perhaps the very wet month just when they were waking up, killed them off. Left with tons of brown stick, I decided to stick in a honeysuckle baby, Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana‘, and a new Passiflora Caerula. For once, I bought a decent sized one in a 3l pot, and decided to bash the bottom out of a bigger pot, and use that to install the Passiflora, so that it had really good compost going into the poor soil from the bottomless pot, and also room to develop a good, deep root system to deal with the hot situation.  Then I mostly forgot about it, the party and whatnot…and it is actually doing really well. I did remember to give it a couple of really deep waterings with a full can, but other than that, it is already marching over the arch and will do the job by next year. Thank you, Bunny.

The last 2 nights we have had downpours of the monsoon variety so I am pretty confident we will have made it through the worst of the dryness. But, some things have been performing terrifically despite all my neglect and the conditions…This Echinops, Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’, has been a real doer as in most summers, I love it for the way in which it fills with colour gradually as if it were starring in a cartoon. It grows and puts it itself into the driest, poorest conditions but won’t cope with competition.

Echinops sphaerocephalus 'Arctic Glow', Tostat, July 2015.  Filling with colour like a cartoon plant...
Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’, Tostat, July 2015. Filling with colour like a cartoon plant…

I bought these lily blubs, Lilium Flore Pleno,  for pot planting last year in an absent moment and was a bit shocked when it turned into a very Mills and Boon type flower. But now, I am very taken with the shock of the tiger orange, and love it for its full-blown tackiness. No shrinking violet, this.

Lilium Flore Pleno, Tostat, July 2015...A touch of the Rita Hayworths...
Lilium Flore Pleno, Tostat, July 2015…A touch of the Rita Hayworths…

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ as the name suggests, is very tall. Maybe 2 and a bit metres for me. It likes some sun, but not too much and reliable moisture, so I grow it by the ruisseau, which accounts for it being in such a pristine state despite the month long drought. It doesn’t need staking and is completely hassle-free, making a good, solid clump.

Vernonia crinita 'Mammuth', Tostat, July 2015
Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, July 2015

I bought this sanguisorba from Groenstraat 13, a very good nursery by post in Belgium. Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Cangshan Cranberry’ is a recent Dan Hinckley introduction from Yunnan, and is now in its 2nd summer with me, and really getting into its stride. It grows tall, to about 1.5m, and once old enough, will hold itself very well against weather even though it seems so delicate. The burgundy flowerheads are gorgeous, and do that lovely thing of bobbing in any breeze. The foliage is delicate and attractive too.

Sanguisorba officinalis 'Cangshan Cranberry', Tostat, July 2015
Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Cangshan Cranberry’, Tostat, July 2015

When Shitty Bank isn’t so shitty….

The site of Shitty Bank 2003
The site of Shitty Bank 2003

This is the site of Shitty Bank when we first saw it in 2003.  There is no bank, and it’s not that…bad! Dried out as a result of a huge heatwave that hit France for a month in August 2003, but otherwise fine.  This is was where we decided to put the swimming pool that we built 3 years later, mainly because it was flat, a bit screened by a big hedge from our really nice neighbours, and it was a sun-trap.  So in it went, and with it came a massive heap of spoil, rubbish soil with huge river stones in it, and not much else.

What to do? Well, I had recently read Beth Chatto’s great book about gravel gardening…a new subject to me having previously gardened in Scotland. And so, emboldened by her experiment in gardening with what she’d got, an old carpark space, I decided to do the same with our bank of spoil. An old friend came to visit, laughed, and promptly christened it ‘Shitty Bank’. The name stuck.

Lessons learnt:

– if, like me, your ground is poor and stoney, it will take a couple of years for plants to get their feet down and really take off. So patience really is a virtue.

– don’t bother with ‘small and interesting’ plants…go for rough, tough stuff that will see off all the bindweed and other weeds, or at least sit on them. The ‘small and interesting’ things just get lost in the bigger things and don’t make it. I love Nepeta tuberosa, and did have a good clump which I grew from seed, but rain and other plants pushed it out, and now I have it in a kinder place.

– do plant beautiful and tolerant plants. Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ loves it. She started as a one-foot weakling and is now 3m high x 4m spread.  A few years ago, we had quite a wet summer and the bindweed was growing to serious strangulation point.  So, in the winter, we crawled underneath and anchored black tarpaulin material as tightly as we could around the underneath of the rose.  This has been quite effective and reduced the bindweed by about 80%. With us, this rose is in bloom for easily 10 months of the year.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' changes from deep pink to peach to yellow as the flowers age..
Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ changes from yellow to peach to deep pink as the flowers age..

– another toughie, which is now a small tree, is Vitex agnus castus, which has fabulous purple blossom in late summer.

Vitex agnus caste
Vitex agnus castus flowering amongst Eryngium agavifolium

– and I wouldn’t be without, though it doesn’t last long, I love the way the colour in the flowers fills up like a cartoon blush, and it does happily colonise everywhere….Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’.

Echinops sphaerocephalus 'Arctic Glow'
Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’

And, although like everything else in the garden, there is constant change as plants, and me, change our minds about each other, and each year brings new weather challenges, Shitty Bank does a good job and I have learnt that it survives pretty well now with one really good tidy-up of bramble, bindweed and their pals each year. And now, the plants are big enough to fend for themselves.

Small footnote: I grew my Nepeta tuberosa from seed from Derry Watkins at Special Plants, near Bath, back in 2005.  She is a fount of wisdom, and her brochure is a torture to read- you could choose everything.  Her seed is always good.  If she was down the road from me, I would be penniless.

Early Shitty Bank: Rosa sanguinea, Phlomis purpurea (pink), Stachys byzantina,  yellow Asphodeline lutea, Euphorbia characias wulfenii
Early Shitty Bank: Rosa sanguinea, Armeria maritima Dusseldorf Pride  (pink), Stachys byzantina, yellow Asphodeline lute, Euphorbia characias wulfenii