New Year 2022…

The one and only flower, Dietes grandiflora, hunkering down from the cold, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

New Years Day saw me emerging from a week of isolation to prevent the family from getting Covid. We succeeded in that mission, and on venturing outside, I was thrilled to find the one and only flower of my pot of Dietes grandiflora hanging on in the cold. Maybe it mistook the Northern Hemisphere for the Southern, but whatever, I was really glad to see it. I saw many different varieties of Dietes in Australia in 2019, and wanted to try them for hardiness in a pot permanently outside. The leaves do a good job on their own, strong, slim and spikey, I like them in a pot. So, maybe next year, the plants will have sorted themselves out to flower earlier than December- but they have been absolutely fine outside, although we have had only small frosts, if at all, so far this winter.

Salvia spathacea, who would have thought it?, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

I grew this ‘Salvia spathacea’ from seed several years ago. It is a Californian native from dry woodlands , and, whilst handling full sun pretty well, I can say that semi-shade is what it really likes, and it has romped rhizomatously in the Barn Garden since planting it out last Spring. Already, it’s heading skywards so I hope it makes it, as the tiered flower spikes are spectacular when they happen. Cold doesn’t appear to bother it especially if it can get a little protection from shrub canopy or taller plants.

Mahonia eurybractea ‘Sweet Winter’, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

A slightly odd angle to this photo, but I liked the stray bit of mistletoe that popped into the picture. Mahonia eurybractea ‘Sweet Winter’ is one of the two main, non-prickly, dwarf mahonias available. The other is ‘Soft Caress’ if you are interested. These are great shrubs, fanned, cut leaves make for a dramatic, tropical look, and they don’t get much bigger than Im all round, so can easily slot into any planting to give a jungly green look all year round. The winter flowers are bright yellow and softly scented, not as perfumed as the bigger Mahonias. I have grown to love these shrubs, especially as they took a lot of punishment in our old garden in bakingly dry shade. They like the Barn Garden better and have fattened out a bit, so looking much happier here. A new semi-dwarf variety, blooming from late summer, has appeared this year called ‘Volcano’ with spectacular orange hands of flowersprays, which I am seriously coveting, but isn’t yet widely available in France…..

Mahonia ‘Volcano’…..oh yes. Photo credit

Hamamelis ‘Orange Beauty’, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

I bought this Hamamelis ‘Orange Beauty’ especially for the Barn Garden last year as a a small plant, and it has not grown much this year, but is flowering well for a small one, and so it is an investment for the future. There’s a lot to be said for growing babies on in my view- you really get to know them well, which I love. It really does look like someone has artfully draped orange peel on bare sticks, such a good colour in the winter.

Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

Another plant with weird timing… this rose, ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ was covered in 6-8 blooms, a bit washed out with the rain, so I thought the seedhead looked the more interesting of the two. A very happy looking bush I thought, thinking to the future….And just before Covid struck, I madly bought a bare root rose I didn’t know on the strength of an Isabel Bannerman photograph in Gardens Illustrated. ‘La Belle Sultane’ is a beauty and I couldn’t resist, she also survived 2 weeks in the post for various reasons, but is sprouting away in a large pot and seems fine.

Rosa ‘La Belle Sultane’ photographed by Isabel Bannerman, photo credit

Happy New Year to everyone, gardeners and gardens!

No, Purple tooth wort isn’t auditioning for George Lucas…

Lathraea clandestina (Purple tooth wort) Mar 15
Lathraea clandestina (Purple tooth wort) Mar 15

This will date me, but this plant could have been invented by George Lucas as barfood in that sleazy intergalactic bar that Han Solo frequented.

But it is a living thing and such a bizarre plant.  You see it in woodlands for a few weeks at this time of the year, and it’s name, Lathraea clandestina, kind of says how it likes to grow- secretly, tucked away in a crevice of a tree or amongst the roots, and it will often look as if it is a flower belonging to some other plant, so you might not realise how disguised it likes to be. And the colour is spectacular. As if someone had upended a pot of vibrant, purple crocuses.

I’m not sure if it flowers every year, but I do know where I first saw it, in the woodland near the River Adour. And that year, funnily enough as if the universe tries to help you when you need an answer, Gardens Illustrated published a short piece by Roy Lancaster about it, and there it was, identified with no effort on my part.

Lathraea clandestina close-up Mar 15
Lathraea clandestina close-up Mar 15

You can see why it is called ‘tooth wort’.  The flowers are teeth-shaped, and only colour up with this deep purple and elongate themselves as they mature. Here you can see the greyer toning of the buds in a more junior clump that I spotted this morning.

Lathraea clandestina, Mar 15. A more junior clump.
Lathraea clandestina, Mar 15. A more junior clump.

It is a root parasite which, apparently, causes no harm to the parent tree or roots, and is becoming more popular as a cultivated plant, according to Kew Gardens.  And you can buy it from Avon Bulbs, though be prepared for a bit of effort to get it established, and have some patience.

For me, I think I would rather come across it growing mysteriously than actually try and cultivate it.  It seems something intrinsically of, and for, the wild, and all the better for being where it wants to be.  But, for the colour alone, and only for a while, it is very desirable. I like to think of Han Solo biting down on a Purple Tooth Wort canape.