After the rain…

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Apple blossom, after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

The big snag about being away for nearly 5 weeks at this time of year?  It’s the weed world domination situation.  When we left there were, of course, small signs of the usual suspects breaking out all over the place- but 4 weeks plus of sun and rain, and whoopee, they are romping home in large numbers and are knee-high in some more pampered corners.  I am normally tranquil about weeding actually, as I take the view that I weed only a few times a year in the cooler months, and then rely on very tough plants to tower over any remaining weeds and basically smother them.  On the whole, this works, and it disturbs the soil less and I am not that garden-proud that cardiac arrest sets in if I see a dandelion.  Just as well, actually.  But I have to say that, right now, tranquility has evaporated.

Yes,  my spirit was a little shaken when I returned and met the reality of my absence face-on. What would have been a case of gradually getting on top of things early was now too little, too late- and what I needed was arm-to-arm combat.  So, that’s why I am sitting here, as it is bucketing outside, with soreness in the shoulders, wrists and the right hip- I am so right-handed in every way.  It’s been a unrelenting job for the last week and I have probably another 4-5 days to go, not to mention that one big area has a nesting blackbird with 3 babies in it, so it is on maternity leave for the moment.

But some things rise above the mundane.  Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’ is a lovely thing at the time of year, with arched branches weighed down by over-the-top custard yellow blossoms, a bit like a fuchsia on speed.   I have another one, much bigger, but it needs rescuing from a badly over-planted area by the front gate, and I need a bloke with a serious digger to move a palm tree at the same time- so this probably means next early Spring, not now. But the second Sophora, having started out as a 1 foot weakling 5 years ago is now as tall as me, and in very good shape.  It does nothing much for the rest of the year, but this Spring display is so sumptuous that it deserves a rest.

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Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’. after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

Last year, on a walk with friends, I came across a clump of the most gorgeous double, fringed anemone- and I spent months trying to find bulbs online, at vast expense- well, E30 for 3 teeny bulbs seemed a lot to me.  Once grown in many country gardens in France, Anemone x fulgens Multipetala is now really rare- probably because as it shows hardly any growth outwith the flowering season of March to end April approximately, it would be very easy to disturb and rip out thinking that nothing is there.   It is showstoppingly lovely- fringed and tousled in a brilliant red that shines.  So, I am really pleased to have a couple of flowers per bulb for the first year.  I have planted it near a Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, whose emerging foliage is a deep plum colour- a happy accident as I had forgotten the spring Physocarpus colouring.

Anemone multifugens
Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, April 2017

And, whilst our daffodils and tulips are splendid- there is something very entrancing about the tinyness and delicacy of an Epimedium.  I only have a couple of clumps in the dampest, shadiest bit of the garden.  I don’t cut the foliage to show the flowers better, it seems to me to be too much like hairdressing, and it is beguiling suddenly finding the flowers hiding themselves.  Here are the two that I have, somewhat abashed by the breeze and the heavy rain…

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Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’, Tostat, April 2017
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Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’, Tostat, April 2017

From the tiny to the golden…more great workhorses

Today, Easter Sunday, we have had a beautiful afternoon, just a little breeze, and good sunshine that brought out all the sometimes-hidden corners of the garden.  And it seemed a good idea to showcase a trio of workhorse plants that I enjoy especially at this time of year.

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' April 15
Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ April 15
The flowers on Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' grow on delicate sprays Apr 15
The flowers on Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ grow on delicate sprays Apr 15

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’  is at the very tiny end of the workhorse spectrum. The heart-shaped leaves slowly make a pleasing mass in dry shade or woodland edge, and the sprays of flowers wiggle their way through the leaves in order to be seen.  Close-up they are incredibly delicate, cream with yellow, and they really do look like the tiny flower jewels that Faberge made for the Russian nobility last century.  Easily missed, so some people like to trim the leaves back a bit, but I prefer just to be observant and find them.  ‘Sulphureum’ flowers first for me in the Spring, I also have Epimedium. x purralchium ‘Frohnleiten’ and x. Warleyense, but these come a little later. The excellent Carolyn of Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Pennsylvania has a great post on epimedium with some gorgeous varieties.

New shoot of Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea' April 15
New shoot of Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ April 15

Euphorbia amygloides Purpurea 2 Apr 15

Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ is such a great plant. I think I bought a plant about 8 years ago, and now it wanders about in my woodland, shady, and in summer quite dry, area turning up in a bright and colourful way all over the place. It’s no bother, wear a pair of gloves as the milky sap is a skin irritant, and just pull it out wherever you don’t want it.  I used to grow the big characias Euphorbia, but that has driven me crazy with self-seeding in our stony soil, so this wood spurge is the perfect pal. Andy Byfield in the ‘Guardian’ does a good run-down on other varieties.  Val Bourne is quoted on the Crocus page, see the link, as loving it for bringing’ warmth and zing’, I agree.

Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold' April 15
Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’ April 15

Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’ is just like the photo- a glorious golden yellow and is spectacular in the Spring. But, for me, maybe not for you, all Acanthus take more than a few years to get going. I first bought a couple of small Acanthus Mollis in the first year of gardening here, and it is only in the last couple of years that they have really begun to deliver in big clumps. ‘Hollard’s Gold’ has been in the semi-shady bit for about 5 years, and entirely disappeared from view for at least 3 of those years. So, I had it down as a weedy thing that had been messed with by breeding. I was a bit harsh! It is now clumping up nicely, and whilst it has taken some patience to wait for it, I love the colour at this time of year and so am forgiving and generous to it. John Hoyland, a very good plantsman, has a good piece on Acanthus, but has closed his Pioneer Plants nursery, in Hertfordshire where I once bought some Cirsium. He has a great website, with the title ‘Mad with Joy’, and it is going on to my list of sites and blogs to stay in touch with.  He used to garden at the other end of the Pyrenees. I love that.