Sitting back and looking…

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The New Garden, Tostat, May 2016

The weather has been truly Scottish for the past week or so.  Blowing a gale, raining heavily and cold enough to be back in a jumper- the garden has stopped in its tracks.  So, despite a good round of cursing at the conditions outside, once I had stopped moaning about it, I decided to take a good look at things.  And, once I raise my gaze from each individual plant that I am nursing along, I do actually notice that, over time, things do come together.

In the New Garden, above, for example, it has been a long wait for some things.  This year, although you can barely see it in the photograph (centre) because of the galeforce wind, Stipa gigantea has at last decided that it likes me.  The beautiful slim golden fronds now reach about 2m tall and the whole plant has occupied its space fully. This has been helped by the fact that I have been on the case ripping out intruder plants that would have crowded it too much.  I have also embraced the white lychnis and valerian – it is does look light and airy at this time of year, and the best moment for it.  Next to the Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’, not yet tall enough to have conquered the brown stems from last year, my tiny Cotinus coggyria ‘Golden Spirit’ is almost 1m high and I think will really take off next year.  I really like the massed, tumbled look of the old and new planting coming together.  And you would never know that all of it is growing in poor, stony soil.  There have been casualties over the years, but what is there is doing a good job, I think.

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View down the back path, Tostat, May 2016

The back path, by the house, is a tricky space.  Bone dry and sunny on the left hand side of the photograph, with more moist conditions on the right.  I had never used grasses before coming to France, and I am a grassaholic now.  This Miscanthus is a seedling, now fully grown, and put it itself next to the Phormium, where I had earlier planted Hemerocallis. I probably wouldn’t have gone for the tiered effect myself, but having got it, I really like it.  Mind you, I pull out armfuls of Miscanthus seedlings all year round- you can have too much of a good thing.  I always say to myself that I will get rid of the pink valerian, but instead, I will cut it down to a stump after a couple of weeks as the colour goes muddy and the growth becomes lanky.

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The Stumpery, Tostat, May 2016, Dryopteris attrata with black stems, Mahonia ‘Cabaret’ and Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’ (the King) centre front.

This small, shaded, poor, slightly damp soil area is tucked away in the elbow of two walls just opposite the New Garden.  It is my ongoing shot at a Stumpery, inspired by Biddulph Grange.  The conditions here mean that growth is of the slow and steady variety, and I pretty much leave it to do its thing.  But this year, the ferns are bulking up, and I also realised only today that a rather pretty self-seeded thing, a drooping grass under the rose, is actually Carex divulsa, the Berkeley sedge.  So, nothing at all to do with my gardening efforts, but one to be kept and treasured.  Running around between the ferns is a charming little variegated groundcover, which I am hoping will become more adventurous, Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’, and I am replanting at the front some Molinia ‘Edith Dudszus’ a black flower stemmed grass, which will get just enough sun, I hope, after being fairly boiled last summer in another part of the garden.

The thing is I have learnt is that, when you look, really look, is when you can make new decisions about how a plant is doing, and when to move it.  Today, for example, refurbishing the Labyrinth area, I made the discovery about Carex divulsa- just because I was really looking and then I checked what I thought I had seen.  So, eight more Carex divulsa are now being trialled in a hot spot to see how they do.  I love that.  Today, in the belting wind and rain, Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’ is a delight.  I fell in love with it a few years back at Chelsea for its unusual, warm mahogany red colouring and upright flowering.  And when the weather picks up tomorrow, it will look even more glorious.

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Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’, Tostat, May 2016


In praise of green….

I have a very tricky patch in the New Garden, so called because we dug it out about seven years ago from what had been the tumble-down site of a barn. There were no remnants of the barn there, but there were snakes, other living things and a lot of river rocks as well as some generally ghastly thin soil. One diagonal half sits in the shade of the open barn all year round, the sun can only make it past the walls for a very short time in high summer, and the other half roasts as it looks both South and West with no cover at all.  So, sticking with my theme of working with what I’ve got and not fighting it, it has taken a good while to make an impression on the shady half. For a very long time, the only show in town was my Rosa ‘Reine Marguerite d’Italie’ which I have discussed at length in my post on tough roses.  She does deserve a photo though.

Rosa 'Reine Marguerite d'Italie', Tostat, May 2014
Rosa ‘Reine Marguerite d’Italie’, Tostat, May 2014

But last year, I decided to try and see if I could establish some ferns, as well as a cruelly transplanted, but now doing fine, Mahonia which was already quite big.  So, last year, they all made it, through a very wet spring, a very hot and dry summer and a middling cold winter.  I bought them small, on the grounds that this always gives them a better fighting chance, especially in a pretty rubbish spot.  And I tried to select varieties that can cope with wet and dry. This spring I also added some low-lying groundcover planting, which so far is doing ok. I am aiming for a green-ness that is both resting and as lush as such a tricky corner can be. Here are the ferns coming back to life in the last couple of weeks- admittedly, it’s not so great in the winter, but as they mature, I live in hope.

Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata the King', Tostat, May 2015
Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata the King’, Tostat, May 2015

‘The King’ is a magical fern. This year, I think it might get close to a metre high and wide, and the splayed fronds have extra finger shapes on them, which make them look like something out of Tolkein. You can see this in the tallest frond in the photograph above.

Dryopteris atrata, Tostat, May 2015
Dryopteris atrata, Tostat, May 2015

Dryopteris atrata is a busy bee of a fern. Not so tall, about 0.5m high and wide, it nevertheless has an energetic presence with its upright posture, and slender but strong fronds. It wants to be noticed, and the darkness of the new growth is lovely as a contrast with the yellow-green of the foliage. I really like it.

Polystichum polyblepharum, Tostat, April 2015
Polystichum polyblepharum, Tostat, April 2015

This Polystichum is almost cuddly with its soft, fluffy new foliage. This now looks more like a normal fern, but two weeks ago, I would have almost called it ‘adorable’. It drapes beautifully from the centre and almost poses for the camera. It will make about 0.75m high and wide this year, I think.

Euonymus fortunei 'Wolong Ghost', Tostat, May 2015
Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’, Tostat, May 2015

Now, ok, this isn’t a fern, but this is one of my new groundhuggers, the strangely named Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’. Right now, it is a bit junior, but it’s looking good as you can see, threads of sliver veined slender leaves and it will weave its way around. I am sure I will be impressed.

Osmunda regalis, Tostat, May 2015
Osmunda regalis, Tostat, May 2015

And here is Osmunda regalis, which I wanted to include as it is a splendid fern, stately and refined. However, it is a bit of a cheat as it is actually growing in the shady ground by our canal or ruisseau.  It would certainly struggle round in the New Garden as it likes more lush conditions, but I love it anyway.