Abutilons…

Abutilon pictum, old overwintering, Tostat, November 2017

I don’t remember when I first fell for abutilons big time. It’s the bell shape, the colours, the pretty, lax foliage in a maple shape- the colours maybe most of all, I am still lusting after a plant of Abutilon ‘Orange Hot Lava’ an American introduction which is taking its time to infiltrate France. Some UK nurseries have started to stock it. The abutilon is generally tougher than the Victorians thought. It’s largely South American lineage would seem to indicate a delicacy that it doesn’t usually need. If you think of it like a large dahlia, that would probably be enough to keep it going. Though if you regularly have winter night-time temperatures below -4C, the plant would be happier and safer in an open, roofed space with some wall protection.

I started out with an unknown orange one, see below. It was just a cutting and I planted it near the house, in one of our stony soil rectangles, and pretty much left it. It coped with annual fortnights of cold down to -10C, and always bounced back. The free draining conditions probably helped, so I’m not proposing those temperatures as a recipe for success anywhere! It became a rangy shrub just under 2m tall, about 1.5m wide, and it often flowered for almost 10 months of the year, with an endless supply of these soft orange flowers. It was such a staple that when we left Tostat, I forgot to take cuttings. I regret that!

Abutilon unknown orange, Tostat, January 2019

I had no luck with the red ones, an unknown cutting failed, and ‘Red Trumpet’ passed away here in Oloron in the Barn Garden after limping along for a year when we moved. Another opportunity beckons when I next bump into one…

Meantime, a beautiful Abutilon, see the top photograph, Abutilon pictum has gone from strength to strength here in Oloron, and is in its pot, underneath the collapsing banana tree, outside, but with the substantial protection of the big banana leaves giving it a bit of a duvet. I bought this as a well rooted cutting from the legendary Gill Pound in Caunes Minervois, when she did a final sale before retiring from her nursery business. It is such a good colour, deep marmelade with prominent red veining, and is still flowering now in the winter, although the cold does dim down the colour a lot. Each spring, I just prune it a fair bit, as it is leggy, and use a seaweed fertiliser diluted with water. This year I will repot it, just to give it a freshen-up. Full sun is a bit much for it here, assuming we continue in the same vein as last year, so I just bring it out a bit more from under the banana, so that it gets some but not all of the sun.

Be careful though, many nurseries offer Abutilon pictum Thompsonii, which has variegated leaves. I find them a bit sickly in colour myself, so if you like the plain green leaves, you need to find Abutilon pictum without the Thompson tag, they are a bit harder to find.

Abutilon Red Trumpet, Tostat, September 2019

Making a lightening dash to Leeds last weekend, we walked around Temple Newsam House and park. Inside the old glasshouses inside the walled garden, there were a number of good abutilons under glass, including this red one below, with a very old label just describing it, in fairly general terms, as Abutilon x hybridum ‘Light Red’. Red is such a hard colour to photograph and you have to imagine the colour as a really vibrant scarlet. Growing against wires on a wall, it was easily 3-4m high and wide, and very floriferous.

Abutilon x hybridum ‘Light Red’, Temple Newsam, Leeds, January 2023
Abutilon x hybridum ‘Light Red’, Temple Newsam, Leeds, January 2023

It reminded me of why I love them, though I prefer it as a shrub shape. But, below, is a great way to grow Abutilon megapotamicum. It loves a wall, or a structure to flop over, and has these bi-coloured ‘chinese lantern’ style flowers. It is really pretty tough, any space, any situation, barring total dry and hot sun. I have one in the Barn Garden, romping away, and a tad too enthusiastic for the wires I put up, so I am thinking of collecting it all up and draping it over a bamboo triangle or some such this Spring. And on an old photograph on my old camera from the early days of blogging, I found this photo taken in Gill Pound’s garden. It’s a full circle back to almost where I started!

Paddock Plants have a great selection in the UK. Mouthwatering. More about Gill Pound and her legacy here.

Abutilon megapotamicum, Gill Pound’s garden, Caunes Minervois, August 2016

Le Jardin Champêtre…à visiter

Looking towards the pine trees, le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, May 2021

The very first time I came across Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, I was very nearly struck by lightening. Nothing to do with Imogen and Kate, but everything to do with a sudden mad storm which hit Caunes-Minervois in the summer of 2016. There was a huge crack and a blinding flash shot to the ground a metre in front of me. Thanking my lucky stars I carried on to Gill Pound’s open day in her garden, sheltering from rain in her barn. Next door, two women had a stall of plants which was the beginning, I guess, of le Jardin Champêtre, and the two women later turned out to be Imogen and Kate. The following Spring we visited, and the rest is history.

They have built and developed a remarkable garden space, design business and nursery since then, and the land is transformed- as well as the gardens of local clients who have warmed to their style of gardening. They work with the conditions, using poor soil, rocks, gradients, and existing ingredients to make purposeful gardens that grow into the landscape rather than exist on top.

Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, the first visit, February 2017

In lockdown, I caught a free video from Garden Masterclass, in which Imogen and Kate talk about their journey to Caunes-Minervois and what inspires their approach to gardening in a tough climate. The link takes you to the main Gardening Masterclass page featuring their video and there is a youtube link you can click on. I really recommend it. Imogen and Kate talk simply and effectively about what they do, and I really enjoy the clarity of their approach and words. My own 2017 blog article about them can be found here.

Early days, looking towards the pine trees, February 2017, le Jardin Champetre, Caunes-Minervois, France

This photograph isn’t exactly taken to show the differences between 2017 and 2021, but it does give you a very good feel for how the garden space has developed in the 4 years. The photographs speak for themselves, I hope, but for me the exciting features of how they work include positioning plants so that they mirror each other, pinpoints of colour and contrast, and clever choices of shrubs and trees, assisted by strategic pruning. Below, the multi-stemmed small tree has had the canopy lifted just enough to expose the mirroring stems of the big Kniphofia just behind it.

Beautiful large Miscanthus grass clumps, and smaller Stipa tenuissima dots are lit up by small but very effective Allium and native Gladiolus byzantinus plantings.

Below, more huge clumps of Kniphofia are given the space to take their place, uncrowded by other plants or features.

Big big shrubs like the giant Genista, I think, below are paired with a trio of pencil conifers, and other small ground-hugging shrubs and perennials fill in beautifully.

Now is the time for alliums, and nothing could be finer than the deep purple heads, spotted through the garden. The simple white Allium nigrum flowers were nearly over, but I was reminded that Allium nigrum was the only Allium I managed to grow in Tostat, and I must buy some for next year

Now here is another example of simple being gorgeous. Strapping aloe flowers, backed by probably Miscanthus ‘Adagio’, nothing more nothing less.

And a favourite of mine that afternoon as we strolled in the Languedoc drizzle, was this Lavandula viridis, with the tufty top of a French style lavender with a fresh greeny-yellow point. Very pretty.

Lavandula viridis, le Jardin Champetre, May 2021

And lastly, I was really taken by this delicate pink hooded white Phlomis, which I can’t identify, but will ask about. Visit the nursery and garden if you can- this year or next. It will only get better and better. Thanks for letting us wander there, Imogen and Kate.

Lovely pink hooded white Phlomis, le Jardin Champetre, May 2017

Gardening delights in the Languedoc

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Chateau de Beaufort from the vineyards, Herault, June 2016

A great weekend with old friends in the Languedoc coincided with the annual French gardens open weekend, and so I had the chance to visit La Petite Pepiniere in Caunes Minervois, which has been run by the inspiring Gill Pound for the past 18 years.  Gill Pound is now retiring from running the nursery, whilst still maintaining her garden design work and running occasional gardening courses, but the nursery will be continued and expanded by Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton from a new site right  next to the original La Petite Pepiniere.

There were some lovely things to see, and to buy.  I really loved the shingle beachside feel of this gravel planting of grasses.

New to me was this fabulous tree, Melia azderach.  Wide, sweeping, tiered foliage with swags of violet blossoms, and the stunning matte brown bare trunk makes this tree a superb specimen for a hot, dry position, which really catches the eye.  Throwing good shade I think during summer, it would make an ideal small garden or courtyard tree.  It’s an Australian native tree, tough, drought tolerant and even handling some frost apparently.  According to Top Tropicals, it is a fast grower, reaching 15-16m in a few years with a wide canopy as you can see.   The blossom is quite gorgeous, and apparently has a strong fragrance, but, as ever, the Piasecka nose was not in operation.

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Melia azderach, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

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Melia azderach blossom, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

The garden had some beautiful flower moments too.  I really loved this jumble of flowering plants together, all mature specimens, and so making a shower of bloom and colour.

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Cistus purpurea, Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ and Phlomis fruticosa, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

I think I have identified these correctly, but what works so well is the grey, pink colouring of the Origanum which just bridges the deeper pink of the Cistus and the banana yellow of the Phlomis.

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Halimium halimifolium, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

This lemon  Halimium is so bright, it almost blinds in sunlight.  It is a stunning performer, and I would adopt Christopher Llloyd’s refusal to worry about colours together in this case.  Upright, yet also tumbling in habit, drought tolerant, it bounces back from wind, rain , hail, and pretty much everything, whilst also repeat flowering, and being frost hardy.  Not bad.

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Unknown Callistemon flower, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

As we left, this unknown Callistemon was doing a great firework impression.  Of course, there were purchases made.  When you get the chance to visit a really thoughtful collection of plants, it’s impossible to leave empty-handed.  And one of my purchases flowered today, it’s first flower, I think.  Who wouldn’t want this orange-shred delight?

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Abutilon pictum, Tostat, June 2016