At the beginning of August, the heat and drought was so intense that, at times, it felt as if the end of the month would never come. But here we are, and for the last week or so, we have finally had some belts of rain, which have saved the bacon for the humans and the plants. And the temperatures have slid back to the late 20s to 30c which is a good deal more tolerable. So, an intense period like the last six weeks inevitably prompts garden rethinks, and I have and am having many. In between though, some little pauses have been possible to recognise lovely things happening anyway.
For example, I grew some Eryngium from seed for the first time last summer. To say that they were weedy and underdeveloped, would be too much praise! And so I shoved them out of the way, and ignored them- a well-known gardening technique. This week, I have been astonished by the fabulous blue colouring on these rather pathetic plants, and so they are having a moment, as once again, I remember my own advice about tough perennials- that they take 2 years from seed. So I should shut up. The seeds were Eryngium alpinum ‘Blue Star’ I think, but of course, I’ve lost the label.
Last year, our repurposed stone cattle trough started out life as a small pond. And oh my, we have battled the green algae. In Spring, a friend gave me some spare pond weed from his pond, and recommended buying some water lettuce, Pistia stratiotes, to help get some coverage on the water. Both gifts worked really well, in fact maybe too well! But the algae has largely retreated, we now have 9 or 10 tiny fish ( the weed must have had eggs in it) and we are really enjoying the lushness of it. The waterlily is beginning to rise up in protest at overcrowding so some water lettuce will be yanked out as the temperatures drop back more. We are learning.
Last year, I bought 3 small plants of Andropogon hallii ‘Purple Konza’, a medium height upright tough grass, for the ‘garrigue’ area at the front. Come Spring, nothing to be seen. Come July, nothing to be seen. But some time in the middle of the heat, and then spurred on by the belts of rain, two of the three plants made a re-appearance and in 0-90 mph style, they grew to 75 cms tall and started flowering. So it really is a hot summer grass and obviously, despite my fears, likes full sun and very poor conditions. The flowerheads are really distinctive. They start off at 90 degrees, a bit like an old fashioned TV aerial, gradually opening out and darkening to brown-purple as they mature.
Meantime, in the Barn Garden, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ is really enjoying itself. These came as 3 tiny cuttings from Tostat, but the afternoon shade really suits them in the Barn Garden, and though it has been very dry, they have grown really well. Tostat was too hot and exposed for them. This is a lovely moment when the flowerheads start to colour up against the vibrant foliage.
Below you see the plant equivalent of a stowaway. Begonia grandis subsp.evansiana has spent years in and out of favour with me. I loved it at the beginning, grew annoyed when it inserted itself into every pot I had in Tostat, and hoped I had left it behind. Even last year, I was faintly growling when it re-appeared, the ultimate plant stowaway. But this year, I am admitting that I rather like the way it slowly emerges, emboldened as the summer moves on, and finally flowers now just when the other pot occupants have largely given up. You have to hand it to it for staying power. And what it does do, is drape beautifully. It just need to be managed, not grumbled at.
Second year in, and Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’ is looking very photogenic in the Barn Garden. This plant is further forward in the border than the other, and is doing better, so a little bit of light moving will happen later in the Autumn to bring the second plant into the sunshine.
I planted Salvia procurrens in tough, summer-dry shade to do battle with the bindweed. This could have been a risk as this fantastic Salvia does do world-domination as a hobby. But as you can see, it is doing a pretty good job and is a very lush and insistent ground cover. In Spring, it produces masses of slim stalks with bright blue flowers on them, they don’t last long but are very pretty. I think that this is a winner, untroubled by cold, wet or dry, but definitely for shade, not sun. And to manage it? Just pull it out every now and then.