A new season…pre-autumn…

After the rain, Gossypium hirsutum flower, Tostat, September 2019

This week it has been all change. Fast forward to Autumn, or pre-Autumn if you prefer, with cooler nights and a couple of belting rainshowers. For those plants toiling under the heat, this has proved too tough a transition with many of them lying down with the effort. But for others, like my surprise of the summer, Gossypium hirsutum, it has been a real tonic. I am no Scarlett O’Hara, but I am really chuffed with my baby cotton plants. The glossy plum-coloured foliage is such a thrill in the heat, the upright stance makes such a good statement and these simply gorgeous, if short-lived, flowers keep coming. The flowers vary in colour, I don’t know whether this is to do with heat or coolness, but the flowers open a lovely cream-colour on cooler days and then heat up to the dark plum colour close to the shade of the leaves. In the heat, they go straight to plum.

Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

This Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ has hung on despite my indifference to it. I bought it precisely for the later summer flowering and the reputation for serious drought- tolerance. It has delivered on both fronts- but despite being in the garden for 4 years, this is the first year that it has really caught my attention. I think that my problem was with somewhat twiggy young growth and tiny flowers- but with maturity comes real beauty. Yes, it is still twiggy, but this is much less noticeable now, and the perfume of the flowers, and their size, has really developed- and it has given over and over this summer. So I eat my hat.

First flowers, Ageratum alitissima ‘Chocolate’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant, newly renamed from Eupatorium rugosum to Ageratum altissima Chocolate’ or even Ageratina, is a real delight. Fabulous dark plum, almost black foliage that likes shade but will take sun, likes damp but will take much drier with time- this is a plant that really grows on you. The flowers come in September, and sweet though they are, tiny and cream-coloured, the main show is the foliage. If it flags in the summer, a bucket of water now and then will keep it going. For this small effort, you get a steadily growing clump up to 1.5m of upright, structural pluminess- what more could you want?

Anemanthele lessoniana, Tostat, September 2019

Here is another lovely thing that you have to wait till September for. This used to be Stipa arundinacea and is now called Anemanthele lessoniana. I moved two big clumps two years ago, and they have taken their time to get over their resentment. But, interestingly, now being in shade and full sun, rather than constant full sun, their colouring has changed. The flowering heads are greener, more silvery-green than pinky-silver and both clumps are enjoying the slightly cooler conditions. They look wonderful and even make the washing line area look, well, dramatic.

Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, September 2019

And another lovely September entrant- Colquhounia coccinea. A buddleia cousin, so read big, bushy with fast growth once warmth starts in the late spring- with the risk of looking utterly dead before that. It rockets up, so plenty of space required and elbow-room. Then, in September, the flowerheads pop up in between the branches. Very pretty, but they can be shy so don’t miss them. It is borderline hardy for me really according to the books. But, I did my best to protect the clump with some fleece during the coldest winter nights, and then hoped for the best.

It does take a while to be willing to risk growth, but I held my nerve. Only snag? Bindweed has decided to move in. So I have seed for Tagetes minuta, which I will grow on in February indoors, and plant out next year. This has been brilliant wherever I have used it elsewhere in the garden, so I have complete confidence it will do the trick.

Erodium manescavii, Tostat, September 2019

New flowers with the rain on Erodium manescavii. Just the way, you grow something and it comes up a treat, so you sow more seed and …nothing. Never mind, I will give it one more go in the spring.

Rain on Eupatorium capillifoium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant is a bit of an oddity, but I love it. Eupatorum capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ makes a tall column of feathery green-ness and that’s it, but it is so pretty in amongst other plants and I wish I had more of it. It needs more damp than I can give it, but one of three plants has survived and make a comeback every year. I am not going to tempt fate.

Seedheads of Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Tostat, September 2019

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ is making cranberry coloured seedheads right now- I adore them, they look so bright and juicy.

Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’, Tostat, September 2019

I like Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii‘ for the emerald-green elongated leaves which are very elegant and hold the attention until the buds start coming- whoich can be as late as the end of October in my experience. But this year, we have one on show already. Don’t hold your breath- it takes an age to get from here to a flower.

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, September 2019

This Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ really is- big. 2.5 m or so in my case. It holds the back of the peninsular and outgrows Miscanthus ‘Malepartus‘- so there you are. But, it is currently horizontal on account of the rain, yet still doing purple-mauve beautifully.

Salvia ‘Amistad’ partnering Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

See? The good old Abelia.

Bits and bobs…

Cynara cardunculus, Tostat, July 2019

The last week has starred all kinds of weather including 20 minutes of typhoon scaled wind and massive stair rods of rain. The weather can be incredibly local, and we were very lucky as a 2km wide band passed within 500m of us and didn’t touch us. Those it touched lost trees, and even more importantly in the season, prized vegetable gardens and crops. This is the first time that the Cynara cardunculus has produced so many flowering branches- and it came through the storm unscathed. A brilliant architectural plant and a good self-seeder- you just need the space.

The rain was very welcome despite the strength and power of it, and clearly refreshed everything growing in the garden, with some roses generating a fresh small flush of flowers. With these weather outbursts, sometimes plants return that you have completely forgotten about.

Digitalis ferruginea, Tostat, July 2019

I adore the colouring of this Digitalis ferruginea. This was a surprise appearance 3 years ago, when a strange rosette of leaves started to grow which I did not associate with seed that I had sown the year before. I potted up the mysterious rosette and then planted it out, having no idea what it was. Since then, the rosette has returned each year with taller and more stately flowerspikes every year. In the bright warm early morning sunlight, the rust colouring almost hits orange- and this year with our cool, wet spring, it measures well over 1.7 metres tall. Wow.

Eryngium eburneum has been truly statuesque this year too. It is an utterly undemanding plant, and in return, you get months of the tall, bobbly, prickly flowerspikes which complement any style of planting in my view, and then, over winter, the flowing foliage forms beautiful clumps, made even more gorgeous when touched with frost. I guess all you need to give it is space- allow 1m all around the plant- and stony, well-drained soil. No pampering required.

Eryngium eburneum backlit, Tostat, July 2019

Another strange plant that I adore, but have only succeeded once with, is Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’. This can be regarded as an invasive weed in the US, but probably not here in Europe. It is undemanding, but requires very precise conditions, or in my view it does! Sun, but some shade, moist, but not wet and must be well-draining, and it prefers some cover from other plants over winter. The one that didn’t die is grown amongst a Hydrangea paniculata, Bupleurum fruticosum and Phlomis russelliana- and I never know for sure that it’s made it until the first bright-green feathery leaves poke through. It is not a powerful grower, so even after 5 years, I usually only have 2-3 spikes of it- but it is a lovely presence, a stretched bright-green feather duster of a plant which is totally vertical.

Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, July 2019

I don’t know what I have done to deserve these lovely flowering garlic scapes- but I love them, and do my best to pot them up and save them to weave in amongst other plants, like a strange extra-terrestrial that has been welcomed to the planet. You can eat them like spring onions or chives, but I want them in the garden.

Flowering garlic scapes, Tostat, July 2019

This tiny little Penstemon pinifolius is perhaps the smallest of all. I couldn’t get a plant anywhere and so I grew a small bowl of them from seed about 3 years ago- this is the first flower from that little bowl. It looks like spikes of short hair, the slimmest, stringiest leaves you can imagine which pays witness to the drought tolerance- it is very drought tolerant and needs super-sharp drainage- but it is hardy. So, only water if it looks wan.

Penstemon pinifolius, Tostat, July 2019

This is a really different Rudbeckia- Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Fire’. Tall, slim and multi-flowering, with small bright yellow and orange daisy flowers, it seems to be an easy plant. These are one year old, grown from seed last year- and I am hoping that they will clump more next year- apparently short-lived, so either I buy more seed or if I’m lucky, it will self-seed. I think that it needs more moisture than some sites suggest and not baking sun all day.

Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Fire’, Tostat, July 2019
Salvia confertiflora, Tostat, July 2019

Salvia confertiflora is flowering- more than 2 months earlier than in previous years. I think it has taken it’s cue from the scattered very hot days we have had. This is a tender Salvia, so I bring it in every winter, but the orange-red velvet tall flowerspikes are a real bonus in the garden- even more just now as the garden slows up for the hot period.

And today, I discovered more seasonal bonuses. Two Baptisia australis seedlings that have popped up in pots of Salvia, unbeknownst to me. Baptisia has been a seed disaster for me, really quite tricky, so this must be some stray seed that got recycled into some potting compost by mistake. Good mistake. And some good, tough little Achillea millefoliums that had self-seeded into the parking gravel- brilliant. Bonus tough plants for difficult areas.

Winners and losers…

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Cornus kousa, Tostat, June 2016

This year is proving to be very confused.  This week, we have gone from 15 degrees to nearly 30 in three days, and the wind has been a bad friend as I moaned about in my last blog.  But, some plants in the garden have really enjoyed the oddities of the season, and really did their best.

I planted this Cornus kousa more than eight years ago, when I was a very serious novice in our garden.  It is definitely a bit too dry for it where it is, but as it is now more than 2.5 m high, it is probably staying.  This May, though, with our cool, wet weather, really pleased it, and I have never seen the flowers so bright and long-lasting.  They are bracts rather than flowers, but present themselves in this charming way, like a waiter bringing several plates at once.  We never quite get to the fruits as, by then, it really is too hot for it and autumn colouring passes over very swiftly, but, it is a pretty vase-shaped tree, and if our springs are going to be more volatile, it may be that my planting error will not such a miss, more of a hit.

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Cenolophium denudatum, Tostat, June 2016

I grew several plants of Cenolophium denudatum from seed about 4 years ago.  It is a beautiful umbel, offering up wide, lacey plates of flowers and pretty, dissected foliage in mid-summer. Entirely undemanding, other than moderate levels of moisture, and full sun, it makes a lovely clump about 1.2m high by 1m across in a couple of years.

I grow it over my Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ as it starts to appear just as ‘Brazen Hussy’ fades and so they are good companions.  But, my best clump was very pathetic this year, and on closer inspection this week, I think it is one of those plants that needs splitting and refreshing every 3-4 years.  It had clearly died out in the centre and was doing its best to splinter off at the sides with new, youthful growth.  Of course, I had slightly missed the boat for this year, so I dug it up anyway, split  and re-potted it, and have put the new ones in the observation ward for the next few weeks.  In fact, I’ll probably wait till next Spring and stick it back then which will give it the best chance to regroup.

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Neglected Cenolophium denudatum getting intensive care, Tostat, June 2016

The jury is out a bit on my annuals this year.  This sounds as if I am an experienced annual grower, the truth would really be the reverse.  But, with some new areas opened up in the garden, I decided that I should brave my fear of annuals and give it a go.  I loved the seedling look of Nasturtium ‘Milkmaid’.  One or two pretty cream flowers appeared, but, on the whole, the plants were not happy with our weather conditions and looked so scrofulous that I ripped them out last week.   But so far, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ is hanging on, maybe not in the best form, but not yet scrofulous, so in it stays.  The early flowering colour is a bit more yellow than I had hoped, but goes creamy as the flower matures, which I prefer.

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Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’, Tostat, June 2016

This Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ has loved our wet, windy and cool weather.  I am amazed. It has always been a bit on the mewly side, not quite doing ok, not quite fizzling, but to look at it now, you would never know.  And it has really shot up, and it is easily holding its own with the Phlomis russeliana behind it.  The brother plant has not liked his second re-location, and so he is back in a pot in intensive care for a second year, having come very close to fizzling.  I think I am just going to plant them together next year and be done with it.

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Eupatorium capillifoilium ‘Elegant Plume’, Tostat, June 2016

I am so pleased with this!  I struggle with pinks sometimes, they can be too Barbie-doll, and so-called salmony shades often look too like, let’s be plain, the after-effects of a bad night out.

But this Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’ is really delightful.  I grew it from seed last year sent to me by the Hardy Plant Society and it survived murder at the hands of our non-watering housesitter last autumn.   This year, it has come back as single 0.30 m high spikes of bright green foliage topped with this unusual combination of pinks in the flowering head.  Photographs show the flowering heads shaped as domed balls, but mine are definitely flat!

Not sure about drought tolerance, I am growing it in a dappled shade part of a new area, under a cherry tree, and so far, it is handling everything well.  I probably should have nipped off the top growth to make it more bushy, but well, never mind, bushiness will come in the future if it continues to make it.  Some people unkindly call this plant ‘Salmonella’!  I don’t agree.

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Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’, Tostat, June 2016

And, to close, one of only two Lilium regale out of ten that do not resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame…so it has been worth it!

This weekend, we are in Paris to catch the ‘Jardins d’Orient’ exhibition at the Institute du Monde Arabe.  Andy did some of the translation work for it, but I am keen to see the exhibition which will be a rare opportunity to learn about the history of Islamic gardens, and also to see the contemporary Islamic garden that has been designed specially for the exhibition by Michel Pena.  More of this to follow.

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Lilium regale, Tostat, June 2016

I think I am a colour confused gardener…

Opium poppy self-seeded, Tostat, June 2015
Opium poppy self-seeded, Tostat, June 2015

You see, I look at this flowerhead this morning, scream with delight, fetch witnesses and the camera. and, immediately, I feel refreshed, thankful and overall delighted.  It is partly the sheer exuberance of the royal red colour, and partly the fact that the flowers have such fleeting lives, a few hours or less of wind or rain knocks them out.

It’s a self-seeded opium poppy from seed that my good friend, Jane who lives in Shropshire, gave me, and we did brilliantly with them about 3 years ago, and then hit a duff patch of soaking wet Springs which, I thought, had polished off the possibility of opium poppies in the garden.  More seed, and 2 years later, and this year, maybe the wet February and then hot 2 weeks at the end of May as a combination?, we have really enjoyed them.  Most have been pale mauve or raspberry ripple coloured, but this one is a knockout punch. Fantastic.

And then I look at the minimalist white of the only flower on my baby Gardenia jasminoides ‘Kleim’s Hardy’, which couldn’t be more simple and virginal, and all of a sudden, I love Scandinavian minimalism and dream of Ulf Nordfjell and his garden at Chelsea a few years back. Mind you, I can’t smell anything from it!  I know I don’t have the best nose, but maybe I am the only person with a non-fragrant Gardenia!

Gardenia jasminoides 'Kleim's Hardy', Tostat, June 2015
Gardenia jasminoides ‘Kleim’s Hardy’, Tostat, June 2015

Nordfjell garden, Chelsea 2009
Nordfjell garden, Chelsea 2009

I think that I just have to accept that with plant-aholism comes the split personality requirements of fabulous colour and cooling minimalism, and that my garden has touches of both, and probably all the combinations/variations in between. And in that sense, it is not a design achievement, in the same way as I would like to think of my client work.  It’s a personal garden, with what I love in it, from all parts of the colour spectrum and also suiting various different growing environments, for which experience I am very lucky. And maybe, you know, I would forever be changing, developing, trying new things, in other words, tinkering even if I did think that design was the most important thing.

Enough rumination. On with the practicalities…

Eupatorium capillifolium 'Elegant Feather', Tostat, June 2015
Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, June 2015

The thing you want to look at in the above photograph is the feathery-leaved plant, which is now in its second year in this spot. The spot is west-facing so gets a lot of heat later in the day, but is also relatively moist, as I suspect there is a spring nearby just keeping the soil on the fresh side.  We have many small springs, as we found when our plumber did some dowsing for us, the garden is peppered with them.  This plant,  which seems to really like it here, is Eupatorium capiliifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ and has a a bit of a chequered history. as often is the case, I fell in love with the ‘idea’ of the plant when I was researching planting possibilities for my design diploma, and so, when I found it at a local nursery last year, I bought first one, then another three a few months later.

The very knowledgable Bernard Lacrouts, a fantastic nursery at Sanous, just outside Vic en Bigorre, said that it wasn’t a surefire plant, often succumbing in the winter to one thing or another.  Well, two did bite the dust, and a third has been removed to a pot for hospital care till it recovers. But the original one, though slow to get going in the late Spring, is doing fine in its west-facing spot. So, a partial loss or success depending on how you look at it. But it is a very unusual and lovable plant- just these columns of vibrant green, feathery foliage, and completely upright, so it makes a good contrast with almost anything else. I daren’t move it, but I will move the planting around it and put in something more becoming next year.

Malvastrum lateritium, Tostat, June 2015
Malvastrum lateritium, Tostat, June 2015

And this was such a lovely surprise. Malvastrum lateritium is an amazingly enthusiastic ground cover plant for semi-shaded areas, I bought three small plants in the Spring, and they are all romping away, covering an area of about 1.5.m x 1.5m.  It looks a bit like a ground-creeper, but then the flowers turn out to be so exotic.  Apricot coloured with a reddish flush at the centre, so pretty and should flower till the first frosts.