One-armed gardening

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Auricula Jungfrau, Tostat, May 2019

So, the tendons are mending- but largely one-armed gardening continues as I am keen not to mess it all up again, which is probably what I did in the early Spring.  So, some parts of the garden are engaged in slugging it out with annual weeds and that nightmare called ‘Sticky Willy’ in Scotland…whilst other parts have benefitted from my rather feeble attempts with the left hand.  I have to just accept it.  Most things are in their 2nd/3rd years or older and so will eventually tower over the rubbish, which will start to wilt once the warm weather arrives.  Be stoical, I say to myself.

I bought some tiny auriculas on my last but one visit to Chelsea, which puts it at at least six years ago.  I loved them dearly outside in a little raised, stony bed in Linlithgow and they loved the coolness of it all.  Needless to say, they have toiled here- but they hang on in there and I keep them in the shade, but sometimes with less moisture than they would like.  This year,  Auricula Jungfrau has been the best- it is a pale pinky-peach colour, normally a little inside the beige range for me- but up close, they have a miniature baroque quality to them, and they look as if cherubim with nothing on should be holding them in swags.  I am rather glad that they are not cream-coloured as Barnhaven suggest in the link.

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Cerinthe yellow, Tostat, May 2019

This year, following a link on Noel Kingsbury’s new blog from Portugal, I bought seed from a lovely man called Liberto Dario.  He has a Facebook page and if you would like seed from him, message him on Facebook and he will send you the lists.  I have been really enjoying trying the seed out.  This gorgeous yellow Cerinthe was something I tried early this Spring.  It is about the same height as the blue Cerinthe, but a bit bushier in inclination and the flowers are a lot shyer.  You have to look for them under the mottled leaves, but they are so fresh and pretty with the red splodge at the top and the vibrant yellow.  They seem to be as tough as the blue, so let’s see if I can get seed from them later in the year.

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Geum Totally Tangerine, Tostat, May 2019

Poor old Totally Tangerine, I think, found last summer altogether too much, too much heat and too little rain.  By last year, my clumps of this great Geum were really big- this year they have been on a diet, but are still there.  I may consider moving them back into the shade of the Daphne in the autumn and see if that perks them up.

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Cotinus coggygria Royal Purple, Tostat, May 2019

This is the time of the year when, if it’s sunny, you need to be up either really early or getting into the evening-  the light is already almost too strong for good photographs.  But I just made it with the new foliage on Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’- vibrant ruby coloured and just flushed with dew.

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Rosa Mrs Oakley Fisher, Tostat, May 2019

There is a story to Rosa Mrs Oakley Fisher.  I bought one 30 years ago for my Mum, who was a green-fingered garden lover. I thought she would love it for the apricot flowers and the slightly 1920s form of it.  Embarassingly for her, it died on her, but she didn’t tell me till ages later. So, when I saw it again last year for sale here in France, I wanted one to remember my Mum by.  Last year, it was very unhappy and I thought it might have gone the way of the original.  But no, this year, it looks as if it has cracked it, and the slim, elegant buds are just about to burst on the next sunny day.

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Convolvulus Cneorum, Tostat, May 2019

Frost is still around. This isn’t unusual but a bit annoying.  It is one reason, as well as the one-armed situation, why my tender pots are still all clustered, albeit outdoors, near to the house at the back where they get a bit of warmth from the walls.  Just a touch of frost though gives some plants a diamond-necklace look. It certainly doesn’t bother Convolvulus cneorum at all- one of life’s tougher troopers.

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Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’, Tostat, May 2019

Here is a real surprise.  A comeback kid, that didn’t ought to have.  A too-late-in-the-season purchase last Spring, which I knew was a risk,  didn’t make it and I kicked myself-again.  But, only one small sprig, but alive neverthless, popped up, coming through the foxglove leaves to flower.  The other thing to remember about geraniums is that they really are tough- don’t give up on them.

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Rosa Alissar Princess of Phoenicia, Tostat, May 2019

Being of part-Persian stock, I bought this lovely little rose, Alissar Princess of Phoenicia, expecting it to be tough and able to cope with heat.  It has struggled a bit, but this year, in its 3rd year, may have got itself on an even keel.  The only slight disappointment is that I don’t get the rather charming colour change in the flowers from cream to pink.  This may be because it is in a sunny spot from the off, but all the same, it is pretty.

Back to the blog…

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Allium shubertii, Tostat, May 2018

It’s been a long time.  What has happened?  Lots in the garden and a really welcome pause from writing.  After all, blogging is really addictive.  There is great satisfaction in talking to yourself in a blog, working things out and deciding what matters and what doesn’t.  And, taking a pause whilst either torrential rain kept falling or we had clear spells when big works were needed, gave rise to the question ‘Why do I write a blog?’. And not that I want to go all existential on you, if you are out there!, but it is a good question.  And to my surprise, when in my mind I didn’t have a ready answer, it seemed a good time to take a break.

I don’t think that I have fully answered the question even now.  But, never mind.

So, what’s new and a surprise this half-Spring, half-winter/summer?  Allium schubertii is new to me here in Tostat.  I am really enjoying the gradual popping open of the myriad little flowerheads, and in the rain, they really do look like a collection of crown jewels.  Last year I managed to grow Plectranthus argentatus ‘Silver Shield’ from seed, and even better, I managed to over-winter them on the upstairs windowsill.  They have been surprisingly obliging.  Pruning them down to re-start them this Spring has given about 15 cuttings, which are slowly producing small buds when they can decide whether the weather is clement or not.  The original plants are now re-potted outside and coping pretty well.  In a large burst of rain the other day, they looked sparkly and silvery.

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Plectranthus argentatus ‘Silver Shield’, Tostat, May 2018

In carrying out the aforementioned big works, I stumbled across survivors from the past. Plants that I had bought for good reasons that had then become dwarfed by other things and I had forgotten that they were even there.  In the case of two Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, I had even decided to move them last year and then promptly life got in the way.  So, this year, they are out and potted up, and I will keep them in pots I think.  Although a bit on the bald side this year, so surprised are they to be liberated, I think that they will bulk up nicely into two small fastigiated sentinels that will stand either side of the back door.  The tiny blossoms, again a symptom of shock I think, will be fabulous next year when they are rejuvenated- and were pretty adorable this year even.

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Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, Tostat, May 2018

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ is now four good clumps and does a great job of looking elegant and snazzy at the same time, especially when first out next to the Spanish bluebells.  I have fallen for Geum ‘Fire Opal’, as the colour is just sensational, even more vivid than ‘TT’, but I am not going there till I have checked it out really well, as ‘TT’ is the only Geum that has ever survived more than a year here in Tostat.

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Geranium ‘Totally Tangerine’, Tostat, end April 2018

I bought Syringa laciniata small last year, and it went into the hot, dry border facing South.  Needless to say, this space has been neither hot or dry, but it will be later on, and so the extra water is a bonus for later.  The Syringa is charming, a soft lilac colour, in droopy swags with a delicate perfume, and foliage-wise, the ferny strappiness of the bright green foliage beats your regular lilac in my view.

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Syringa laciniata, Tostat, end April 2018

Spring bulbs have had a tough time- basically soaked.  Last year’s tulips which were such duds did better this year, and this year’s tulips were weird- not flowering at all mainly or flowering totally green.  But ‘Virichic’ a dud from last year came good. A sensational pink viridiflora look-alike, the petals were really contorted but the colour was lovely.

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Tulipa ‘Virichic’, Tostat, end April 2018



Ne’er cast a clout till May is out…

The rain began on Sunday and the temperature fell from a very pleasant 17c to only 3c. Spring is a cruel business sometimes- and the harshness of the return to winter temperatures in a matter of hours can catch you and the garden unawares.  But there was the bonus of rain and that can’t be knocked as we are in a bone-dry Spring this year. Some plants handle these swift changes with applomb.  Like Cistus x purpureus ‘Alan Fradd’.

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Cistus x purpureus ‘Alan Fradd’, Tostat, early April 2017

It has a crinkled look about it, and has very slowly grown from a tiny tot to a big, ranging bush of 1.2m all round.  I do nothing to it in the way of snipping or pruning, as I rather like it’s collapsible, droopy look- it’s true, I like my plants to do their thing rather than be primped up.

Another shrubby thing that is on the droopy, way-out side of the fence is Lonicera syringantha.  I think that I bought it in a bin-end sort of way, and for ages it languished unsuitably planted.  But about four years ago, I gave it a second chance and it has romped home with that chance.  True, it arches and weaves itself about but the small pink flowers smell lovely in a delicate sort of way, and it has made itself into rather a nice, front of border plant that allows lots of stardom to others behind it, but gives some nice shapes.  The flowers are tiny, and it was a miracle of evening light and no wind at all, that I managed to even get them in focus- from the rear!

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Lonicera syringantha, Tostat, early April 2017

Another arching shrub, maybe it qualifies as a small tree, which really does have centre stage presence, but only for 3 weeks- but this is such a good short run, that it really is worth it- is Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’.  You need to like glowing yellow.  But, if you do, and it is such a great refresher in Spring, this is the shrub/small tree for you.

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Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’, Tostat, early April 2017

It goes baroque on you.  Swags of glowing yellow flowers hang like expensive earrings all over it- in fact, in the rain, it is almost weighed down by it’s own blossom.  Magnificent and not well-known enough really.  Very tough, takes the cold but needs sun, and grows to maybe 3m x 3m, maybe a tad bigger in the end with us.  It needs good drainage, will handle dry and you want to place it so that the baroque glory isn’t lost or hidden by anything else.

Our wisteria flowered like a train and then packed up when we got the first rain the other week.  I know people in the UK who would love to be able to grow wisteria, and I was one of those people,  But living here now, it has to be encouraged with care.  Like honeysuckle, it moves very swiftly from being lovely to world domination, and they share the same socking great root systems which cost sweat and tears to deal with.   But, for a couple of weeks in the two places where it is allowed, it can look and smell magnificent.  What can be more lovely than eating beneath this canopy, humming with bees at the same time?  I am sorry I have no idea which wisteria it is.

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The wisteria, Tostat, mid April 2017

Moving swiftly to orange, as I love to do, and Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ has towered away in big clumps all through April and has really handled the heat and the dryness.  I am really hoping there maybe a little more to come, if the rain doesn’t batter it too much.   I adore this plant.  The colour, the fading to a golden-peach, and the stubborn bright green leaves all make it an exceptional doer.  Looking out on it right now,  it is beaten but as yet unbowed.

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Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ against the evening sun, Tostat, April 2017


Tangerine dreaming…waiting for the rain

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Papaver rupifragum, Tostat, April 2016

We have had a warm week with lots of sun, great for growing, washing and drying clothes, walking the dog, pottering.  But not so good for weeding or jobs that mean getting into the earth.  Our soil dries out so fast, and then sets hard, so there is no point in weeding beasties like dandelions or newly emerging bindweed.  It has to wait for the soil to be loose and moist.  So, today, serious amounts of rain has been promised since mid-morning, but no show yet, and so I am waiting.  So, pots can be topdressed and refreshed, tick, and tidying up done, never my favourite job, some seedlings transplanted into small pots, and so on- whilst I can also dream a bit.

I have written about this little tangerine poppy before.  Papaver rupifragum is a delight, but such a brief one, and knowing that the rain will finish it off, I took this photograph this morning, after the slender flower had already been decked by Dave the Dog on one of his rampages after wildlife.  But the colour is so bright and pure,  that you can spot it from yards away, and so that was me in my pyjamas kneeling down to look down on it.

And a few metres away, my clumps of Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ are really throwing up flowerspikes with abandon. If you’ve never thought of buying plants from the far North of Scotland, let me recommend  Tranquility Cottage Nursery on Orkney.  Their plants are first-rate, decent-sized, a good price and the delivery isn’t sky-high.  I bought 3 of these Geums from them 2 years ago, and they are in great shape, despite the heat of last summer and being in a far hotter place.  I wouldn’t put them in all-day sun with us, that would be too much, but in a spot that is more moist than most, with late afternoon sun and dappled sunshine earlier in the day, they have done fine.  I am also trying out another tangerine geum, Geum ‘Alabama Slammer’ which I bought at my great local nursery at Sanous.

Only in the early part of their second year with me, they are not so well advanced as ‘Totally Tangerine’, but I have a good vibe about them.  Similar colouring, but more ruffled, and with golden hints to them, they will get going a bit later, which helps to spread the flowering.

At the back door, not yet venturing out, maybe at the end of the month, is my small orange tree, which doesn’t fruit, but has fabulous, richly-scented waxy flowers at this time of year.  Some years, it looks a bit sad by now, but actually, this year, it is looking pretty good for having spent the winter in a cold hall next to the glass of the back door. Twining it’s way round it, is a desert climber that I grew from seed last year, Maurandya antirhiniflora, or the Snapdragon Vine.  It hasn’t flowered for me yet, but I hope it will this year.  Much though I would like the trumpet-shaped flowers to be of the magenta variety, judging from what Las Pilitas says, you can start with either magenta or blue, and then the plant will change it’s mind.  Ah well.  Whatever colour it is, is ok with me.

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Maurandya antirhiniflora twining into the orange tree, Tostat, April 2016

And back to yesterday, and my ambition to show more of the garden, here is the Pigshed View.  The pigshed, which is empty, and holds wood for chopping can be seen, but more importantly, as the rain is still promised, the blossom on the quince trees front and back in the view, and the beginning of cherry blossom in the middle, is really lovely right now.

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Pigshed View, Tostat, April 2016

New to me…..

Horrible UK election result disrupted normal service today, but the best thing to do is to talk about what’s new in the garden for this year and share what I am trying to do with these new plant friends.

Geum 'Totally Tangerine', Tostat, May 2015
Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, Tostat, May 2015

I had a go with Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ back in the early days in Tostat, but lost it as I miscalculated summer dryness, coming from Linlithgow. So, it has taken me a long while to re-consider Geums. But, this spring, in a slightly shaded part of the garden, and therefore a little more damp, I decided to try Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’. Back in 2010, I had read the great plantsman, Graham Rice, on this new Geum, and many of the American sites were talking about its enhanced ability to cope with dryness, and then I saw it in profusion at Chelsea almost every year since, so that decided me to give it a try.  I got 3 good sized plants late last summer, and so they bulked up quite a bit over the autumn, and this spring, they did literally spring into life in early April, flowering by the end of April. They waft beautifully over the box hedge, standing about 1m high to the tips of the flowers and so I really hope that they will keep coming as promised.

'Totally Tangerine' wafting over the box, end April, Tostat 2015
‘Totally Tangerine’ wafting over the box, end April, Tostat 2015

So, on the tangerine theme, I have done something never before done by me, I have planted Geum ‘Alabama Slammer’ near to ‘Totally Tangerine’. Now this might be a Geum too far, but actually, as ‘Alabama Slammer’ is half the height and, whilst in the same colour zone, has some pretty marking differences, I actually rather like the combination.  So as not to overdo it, I have also interplanted Molinia caerulea ssp. caerulea ‘Edith Dudszus’, which will provide a good contrast. I say, ‘will’ as it is only now making a re-appearance so no photo of mine to show, so I have borrowed a photo from a great nursery in the Lakes that I have bought plants from in the past, Cath’s Garden Plants near Heaves. Its dark flowers and upright green stems should make a nice frame for the Geums.

Geum 'Alabama Slammer' Tostat, May 2015
Geum ‘Alabama Slammer’ Tostat, May 2015
Molinia caerulea ssp.caerulea 'Edith Dudszus' credit:
Molinia caerulea ssp.caerulea ‘Edith Dudszus’

And, over on the other side of the path, I am trying out a new Geranium. I used to have a passion for geraniums in Linlithgow, especially the shade-loving Geranium phaeum, but moving here 11 years ago, I found it hard to find much other than the standard pink one. Now, there are many on-line nurseries that deliver great plants in great condition, such as Le Chatel des Vivaces, where I found and bought Geranium ‘Catherine Deneuve’. Like her namesake, she is a class act with elegant magenta star-shaped flowers with stamens that project like little jewels, and an upright form.  These have proved tough and sturdy so far, and I have high hopes. It’s been windy here and has blown the first flower off (!) so here is the photo from Coblands in the UK. Check her out on their site via the link- they give her a full name of Geranium psilostemon ‘Catherine Deneuve’.

Geranium 'Catherine Deneuve' credit:
Geranium ‘Catherine Deneuve’

And lastly, a plant that I haven’t dared to put outside yet, but I will soon, is new-to-me Pelargonium ‘Ardens’. It is an electric red, dark centres to the petals and the most intense colour with groups of tiny, delicate flowers. It really is this colour! Quite loose and floppy as a plant, but that may be youth, so I shall try and toughen it up with some outdoors experience if the wind stops blowing!

Pelargonium 'Ardens' Tostat May 2015
Pelargonium ‘Ardens’ Tostat May 2015