Winter to summer, spring to winter. This week we have experienced all four seasons and a whole lot of rain- I am not knocking the rain at all, believe me, but I am looking forward to a little more seasonal consistency. Although, gloomily, that may not exist anymore with global warming.
In the garden now, this compact Cistus x hybridus ‘Gold Prize’ has just started to flower. I bought it 3 years ago, but it really has taken this long to settle in. I had it marked as a damp squib until very recently. I am still not quite sure how I feel about the variegation. In some lights, it can look charmingly golden- in others, a bit on the sick side. But it is a useful size, as Cistus can turn into giants with ease in our summer-hot dry climate. So, it sits well with other perennials without squashing them.
Geranium albanum was my first shot at growing geraniums from seed- which if you haven’t tried, is a test of patience above all. I love it for the dual personality- purple-veined pale white flowers which then turn a deeper pink, as you can see from the other flower in the photograph. I prefer the first incarnation I have to say, but live with the two together. It grows in a tough spot for me, underneath a small tree, and in quite a dry situation. This leads to the plant taking off into dormancy and disappearing altogether in the heat of summer, but it re-appears unabashed in Spring each year spreading a bit more.
Three years ago, I tried an experiment. Could I grow a whole area essentially from seed, or self-seeded perennials, with one or two shrubs added in? The last two years have been a waiting game, but now, I can say that I am on the way. It was only the other day when reading about the founding of the recently established Königliche Gartenakadamie opposite the stunning Botanical Garden in Dahlem, Berlin that I remembered what had been at the back of my mind as images of how I wanted the ‘mix’ bit to be. Isabelle van Groeningen works in partnership with Gabrielle Pape, the main force behind the new Königliche Gartenakadamie in Berlin- but it was Chelsea that first introduced them to me.
Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape made a Main Avenue garden at Chelsea 2007- inspired by and strongly evoking the matrix- planting style of the reknowned German plant-breeder and nurseryman, Karl Foerster. I remember that garden, not in detail, but in terms of the unusual effects it created. Using plants as singletons or pairings, the garden seemed swarming with plants, but not arranged in clumps, but as a tapestry of individuals who all seemed to get on very well one with another, almost a ‘pointilist’ garden. Back then, I was only at the beginning of my formal garden design study and it was all completely new to me. I remember being disappointed that the garden only got a silver medal.
This photograph doesn’t quite capture what I remember, the dotted planting of ones and twos of plants in a tapestry effect, but what you can see is the depth of planting and that crammed impression which I loved. My version is much more clump-formed than matrix planting in the strict sense, but I have encouraged Stipa capillata to self-seed and this has created a wafty movement at about 0.75m high, which I really like.
A key plant, which has take all of these three years to really get going, is Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’. It is a much more intense blue than the photographs suggest and sits a good half metre above the other planting- so it really reaches for the sky.
It is very wafty so I am hoping it isn’t decked by strong winds- always a possibility. For the past two months, the two self-seeders. Eschscholzia californica and Cerinthe purpurescens have behaved magnificently. Purple and orange- so good together. Noel Kingsbury has some interesting and de-bunking comments to make about getting holier-than-thou about any one way of gardening, but whatever else, closer planting helps but will not remove the need to occasionally sort out thugs and reduce competition. With the ‘mix’ I am stuffing in and also actively managing, not just the plants but also the invaders. Good news is that a spot of wild carrot is easily removed.
Lastly, I would like to remember Beth Chatto, who died last week, and a fantastic visit made to her Essex nursery eight years ago on a wet and grey day- she was a one-off. What a woman.
Sometimes you can take your plants for granted. Guided by the fickle eye that searches out the new things, the babies, and particular favourites, the old favourites or maybe usurped favourites can fade into insignificance. Perhaps it is a form of garden dysmorphia…like only seeing the things that need to be done as opposed to seeing the whole for the lovely and changing scene it is.
This week or so, with our sporadic and very kind downfalls of rain, old favourites have had the chance to re-appear in the spotlight. The rain has been kind because it has been heavy, short-lived, very little wind and no hail which had been gloomily promised by those prophets of doom, the weather-people. And even better, in between the showers, the sun has come back out, so the garden looks as if it has had a stiff drink rather than a dowsing.
Rosa ‘Blush Noisette’ has two other nom-de-plumes, ‘Maiden’s Blush’ and also, ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’ in French, which sounds faintly naughty. It is a wonderful rose, blooming no matter what for months on end, with the small roses gathering nicely in swags and drapes all over it. It can have a monstrous side, and ours has had a recent haircut to calm it down a bit, but it is a very charming rose on the whole. Not planted by me, it easily slips into the slightly ignored-old-favourite bracket, but it deserves better.
I have any amount of the red Valerian, which, depending on my mood and the colouring, stays or gets the chop regularly in the garden. I love it in dry Springs, like this one, when the colouring is a strong red and the growth upright. When we have wet Springs, it goes a rather sickly brick-red, which I hate, and flops all over the place. It brings out the dictator in me.
But the white Valerian, Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, is another story. Not anything like as promiscuous as the red, I savour every tiny bit and nurse it through tough times. It is so airy and pretty, cheap as chips and just as tasty. It makes a nice, frothy tone, and it is not unpleasant when fading, so all in all it survives the chop. And the bloody cranesbill, Geranium sanguineum, comes into the same category. It gets ripped out all the time as a control mechanism, but if treated brutally, it is a great doer, and for a hot, dry-as-a-bone place, it is perfect.
This was a fiddle from seed, Geranium albanum, but is in danger of becoming an old-favourite when only 2 years old. Lots of it came up, and so I have tried it in two very different places- under a tree, in semi-shade in dry soil, and ditto, but in moist conditions. The dry-as-a-bone set are doing really well, although they looked a bit touch and go last year. The others are fighting against a colony of annual weeds which I need to clear- and will this week while we have the rain. But what is curious, is that the flowers on the same stem are very different. One is pink and could be mistaken for your bog standard Geranium x oxonianum ‘Wargrave Pink’ which I do have plenty of already. The other is ‘Albanum’, as promised, with the fine purple veining and blue stamens. Maybe I have some naughtiness happening in my geranium population.
And this little Cistus x hybridus’Gold Prize’, has only just flowered for the first time and is still fairly tiny, but I really love it. I fell for it from a website, not always the best way to find new varieties, and last year it was truly pathetic. The yellow variegation looked ill and the whole tiny plant was a serious non-event. But Cistus can be a bit like that with me- all the plants I have which now look glorious, had a tough start. So, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, and I think it will come good as a favourite. It had better get a move on though.