The spirit of New Year…

Early morning rainbow, Tostat, end November 2019

It’s a New Year. Curious, isn’t it, how the cycle of the seasons is so compelling to us- we follow the patterns of changing seasons- and this time of the year is one that absolutely leads to re-examination, re-evaluation, pondering and pottering. I am an inveterate potterer, with more plans in my head than I will ever actually want to achieve. The garden in winter prompts structural thoughts because there is spareness and space where the summer and autumn plants have died back, and then, clarity emerges as growth re-appears, showing you which and what has survived, prospered and is ready for another year.

This winter, so far, apart from biblical rain and wind in November, has been quite kind to us. A few frosts, but nothing major, and my plan of over-wintering slightly tender plants in pots in the open barn has worked fine. Some plants have really surprised me- like the Leonotis leonorus which flowered even to the very tallest stem in November, living through the wind and the rain in the open barn- so I haven’t cut it back yet, it is still there at 2.5m tall, green and contented.

Some new plants have taken the weather in their stride. Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ which looked a tad weedy when a baby plant, has toughened up outside retaining the glorious red-purple of the leaves and shaking off the frost. It looks like a really sturdy plant, more useful for the tough foliage and the colour than the small flowerspikes in the summer- but I am very impressed. An easy, reliable plant from seed sown in August and kept out of the heat.

Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’, Tostat, December 2019

I had a go at another Erodium from seed in the summer. Erodium pelargoniflorum, grown from seed from Special Plants, is not going to be giant, more of a tough baby at 40cms max tall, but again, showing itself to be well able to cope with winter conditions and still look very composed. I need to find somewhere to plant them to make a drift near the front, or they will be swamped by the big guys.

Erodium pelargoniflorum, Tostat, December 2019

I adore bronze fennel. In the Latin, Foeniculum vulgare purpureum, the plants sounds as though it will be reddish-purple, but bronze is a better description. The spring growth makes a fabulous cloud of frothy bronze foliage which is indescribably romantic with roses, and it usefully covers bare legs. Normally, it would self-seed all over the shop with me, but this very dry summer left me with only a few small plants, so now I have about 50 plants grown this summer from seed. Feast or famine.

Foeniculum vulgare Purpureum, Tostat, December 2019

Santolina etrusca does get more than a bit floppy by the end of summer, but the first few months of astoundingly vibrant, fresh green, just when you need it, is worth all the flopping. Trouble-free and needing nothing, it is a good, though modest plant. From seed, the tiniest seedlings dig in and make plants. Just choose a calm day to sow the seed and then again, wait for another one to transplant the seedlings.

Santolina etrusca, Tostat, November 2019

A donated plant that needed a home, I have been amazed by the winter behaviour of this unknown sedum. I stuffed it in a pot, literally, and it is as happy as can be- with cold temperatures producing this gorgeous red colouring. I have never been that taken with sedum, but this is changing my mind.

Unknown stonecrop or Sedum, Tostat, November 2019

There will have been some casualties despite the easy ride we have had so far. I used to fret, but now I take this as another challenge- there must be a plant out there that I would like to grow which will cope and survive. Another dig in the ribs from the garden.

A very Happy Gardening Year to you….

It always seems like a good idea at the time….

I love it that Piet Oudolf, one of the world’s leading garden designers recently cheerily said of his latest work at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery in Somerset…

“…Wait one year then we see what we have done wrong…”.

I sort of imagine him saying it in a Dutch accent with a very Dutch gutteral chuckle at the end of the sentence and a broad smile on his face. That is probably my imagination in overdrive. More of Piet another time.

It’s true.  There will be plants in the garden that you get wrong because they behave differently for you, or you may, as I have often done, indulged in the rationalisation of a decision that you know, deep down, is doomed, but you talk yourself into it. Take delphiniums. I always wanted to grow them, but our Scottish garden was too damp and shady. So, for more than 2 years, I tried to grow them here in Tostat. After the first year, I knew it was a bad idea, but stubbornly persisted for another year.

But Piet has a good point. There is a humility that is kinder to yourself and your garden that accepts it when things don’t work, and there is always the silver lining of another year, another choice, another decision. And knowing is nothing to do with infallibility. I like that.

I am writing this mainly for a rest, as I have been digging out giant canna that have run amock.  Hard labour. But they have to go as now we can’t see the Gunnera which is Andy’s pride and joy. It’s a fine piece of ground, near the ruisseau, with a good stand of banana, Musa bajoo, and it deserves to be released from the grip of the rampant cannas.  The bank is gradually metamorphosing. A few years ago, I stuffed a load of things in there that I have been removing ever since…all rationalisations and thugs, the lot of them.

The bank in 2012 with the baby banana, Musa bajoo, a good stand of unknown crocosmia (still there) and some bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' also still there. The muddy ruisseau rushes by, must be Spring.
The bank in 2012 with the baby banana, Musa bajoo, a good stand of unknown crocosmia (still there) and some bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ also still there. The muddy ruisseau rushes by, must be Spring.

Andy's pride and joy, Gunnera manicata, just popping up, already a metre plus..
Andy’s pride and joy, Gunner manicata, just popping up, already a metre plus..

Andy and the Banana, post hurricane winds in July 2014 that took most of the bank down to the ground.  You can just see Rosa 'Edith Piaf' carrying on bravely, and the dratted canna clump to the far right. But not the Gunnera, hence the execution.
Andy and the Banana, post hurricane winds in July 2014 that took most of the bank down to the ground. You can just see Rosa ‘Edith Piaf’ carrying on bravely, and the dratted canna clump to the far right. But not the Gunnera, hence the execution.

So, I am enjoying my chance to think again and have another go. Whatever goes in will not top 0.90m, I have sworn on a stack of Bibles.

And the cannas will get a reprieve. They get a last chance saloon shot in some ground near the pool, which I have averted my eyes from for years. But they might as well get a go at it. Seems only fair. And they may well bloom better in a sunnier spot, so it could be a win-win.

By the way, the RHS link to information about cannas refers to them as tender perennials.  I wouldn’t swear on a stack of Bibles about this, but my experience is that they are far tougher than the RHS suggests.  Here, they have been living only a couple of inches below the soil surface with a lot of rain, and periods of freezing temperatures down to -10 at the worst.  We have lost some when it has been that cold, but not all.