A new season…pre-autumn…

After the rain, Gossypium hirsutum flower, Tostat, September 2019

This week it has been all change. Fast forward to Autumn, or pre-Autumn if you prefer, with cooler nights and a couple of belting rainshowers. For those plants toiling under the heat, this has proved too tough a transition with many of them lying down with the effort. But for others, like my surprise of the summer, Gossypium hirsutum, it has been a real tonic. I am no Scarlett O’Hara, but I am really chuffed with my baby cotton plants. The glossy plum-coloured foliage is such a thrill in the heat, the upright stance makes such a good statement and these simply gorgeous, if short-lived, flowers keep coming. The flowers vary in colour, I don’t know whether this is to do with heat or coolness, but the flowers open a lovely cream-colour on cooler days and then heat up to the dark plum colour close to the shade of the leaves. In the heat, they go straight to plum.

Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

This Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ has hung on despite my indifference to it. I bought it precisely for the later summer flowering and the reputation for serious drought- tolerance. It has delivered on both fronts- but despite being in the garden for 4 years, this is the first year that it has really caught my attention. I think that my problem was with somewhat twiggy young growth and tiny flowers- but with maturity comes real beauty. Yes, it is still twiggy, but this is much less noticeable now, and the perfume of the flowers, and their size, has really developed- and it has given over and over this summer. So I eat my hat.

First flowers, Ageratum alitissima ‘Chocolate’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant, newly renamed from Eupatorium rugosum to Ageratum altissima Chocolate’ or even Ageratina, is a real delight. Fabulous dark plum, almost black foliage that likes shade but will take sun, likes damp but will take much drier with time- this is a plant that really grows on you. The flowers come in September, and sweet though they are, tiny and cream-coloured, the main show is the foliage. If it flags in the summer, a bucket of water now and then will keep it going. For this small effort, you get a steadily growing clump up to 1.5m of upright, structural pluminess- what more could you want?

Anemanthele lessoniana, Tostat, September 2019

Here is another lovely thing that you have to wait till September for. This used to be Stipa arundinacea and is now called Anemanthele lessoniana. I moved two big clumps two years ago, and they have taken their time to get over their resentment. But, interestingly, now being in shade and full sun, rather than constant full sun, their colouring has changed. The flowering heads are greener, more silvery-green than pinky-silver and both clumps are enjoying the slightly cooler conditions. They look wonderful and even make the washing line area look, well, dramatic.

Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, September 2019

And another lovely September entrant- Colquhounia coccinea. A buddleia cousin, so read big, bushy with fast growth once warmth starts in the late spring- with the risk of looking utterly dead before that. It rockets up, so plenty of space required and elbow-room. Then, in September, the flowerheads pop up in between the branches. Very pretty, but they can be shy so don’t miss them. It is borderline hardy for me really according to the books. But, I did my best to protect the clump with some fleece during the coldest winter nights, and then hoped for the best.

It does take a while to be willing to risk growth, but I held my nerve. Only snag? Bindweed has decided to move in. So I have seed for Tagetes minuta, which I will grow on in February indoors, and plant out next year. This has been brilliant wherever I have used it elsewhere in the garden, so I have complete confidence it will do the trick.

Erodium manescavii, Tostat, September 2019

New flowers with the rain on Erodium manescavii. Just the way, you grow something and it comes up a treat, so you sow more seed and …nothing. Never mind, I will give it one more go in the spring.

Rain on Eupatorium capillifoium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant is a bit of an oddity, but I love it. Eupatorum capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ makes a tall column of feathery green-ness and that’s it, but it is so pretty in amongst other plants and I wish I had more of it. It needs more damp than I can give it, but one of three plants has survived and make a comeback every year. I am not going to tempt fate.

Seedheads of Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Tostat, September 2019

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ is making cranberry coloured seedheads right now- I adore them, they look so bright and juicy.

Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’, Tostat, September 2019

I like Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii‘ for the emerald-green elongated leaves which are very elegant and hold the attention until the buds start coming- whoich can be as late as the end of October in my experience. But this year, we have one on show already. Don’t hold your breath- it takes an age to get from here to a flower.

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, September 2019

This Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ really is- big. 2.5 m or so in my case. It holds the back of the peninsular and outgrows Miscanthus ‘Malepartus‘- so there you are. But, it is currently horizontal on account of the rain, yet still doing purple-mauve beautifully.

Salvia ‘Amistad’ partnering Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

See? The good old Abelia.

August surprises…

Rudbeckia Henrik Eilers, Tostat, August 2019

August can be a cruel month. It can be the bald spot in the summer when the garden flags under the impact of heat and little rain- and if you are gardening summer-dry, as I do, with no watering except for the plants in pots, it can feel relentless. But, it is also the point in the year when midway though the month, some of the nights and early mornings begin to smell and feel different, fresher, cooler and morning dew is heavier. This can act as a real tonic to the garden, encouraging fresh growth and hot-weather plants to flower, and I love it too. Going out first thing with the all-important cup of tea becomes a pleasure again, as plants revive and try some more.

This year, Rudbeckia ‘Henrik Eilers’ has moved itself back into the border almost half a metre. Maybe it too is avoiding the sun and seeking some cover from other plants. I love the quilled petals and the straight bolt-upright growth, but deeper into the border, I am standing on a chair to capture the special shape of it, as, standing at nearly 2 metres, I am a shortarse by comparison. By contrast, Buphthalmum salicifolium has been toppled to the ground almost by the very occasional heavy rain we have had in the last 6 weeks- but it flowers away regardless on the deck.

Buphthalmum salicifolium, Tostat, August 2019

A few yards away, my recovering Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ has won it’s battle with the adorable thug that is Clerondendrum bungei, and is well clear of it in the height stakes. I love the darkness of the purple against the best feature of the Clerodendrum, in my view, which is the jewel-like remnants of the spent flowerheads. Spectacular.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ and Clerodendrum bungei, Tostat, August 2019

Smaller plants are also carrying on despite the heat, though looking a little jaded maybe. My absolute favourite Crocosmia is Crocosmia x crocosmiifolia ‘Emily McKenzie’, not as tall as ‘Lucifer’, and a lot more inclined to flop, at least for me, but the striking orange and carmine flowers bring a touch of Rita Hayworth to the garden, even if they are mostly horizontal to the ground.

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’, Tostat, August 2019

I have two Leycesteria in the garden, great shrubs in my opinion, especially because the form and the flowers keep going all summer long, looking fabulous right through to the end of autumn. The species plant, Leycesteria formosa, has strong, arching branches that make a great domed-shape in the border and has the classic dropping swags of flowers, fading to dark-red berries in the autumn. The variety, ‘Golden Lanterns’, is even better, with greeny-golden foliage contrasting well with the glossy, dark purple/red flowers which fade to bright jewel-like berries.

Leycesteria formosa, Tostat, August 2019
Leycesteria formosa ‘Golden Lanterns’, Tostat, August 2019

Now here is a puzzle. In this odd picture, you can see the smaller pot on the chair, with a narrow-leaved plant and an orange inflorescence. Next to it, is a tall, diamond-shaped leaved plant with a bud on the top. The taller plant is, or at least I thought it was Leonotis leonorus– actually I am still pretty that it is leonorus. In the pot, is a plant that I stuck in there having no idea of what it was until yesterday when the flowerspike opened up. It seems to be a smaller, more shrub-like Leonitis, maybe nepetifolia, but it has quite different leaves, slim and lanceolate, and is woody as opposed to being a green stem. Am definitely confused…anyone out there have another idea???

The two Leonitus’ side by side, Tostat, August 2019
Leonitis nepetifolia perhaps, Tostat, August 2019

Salvia ‘Ton Ter Linden’ has been a grand plant, although new to me this year. Deep blackberry-purple narrow flowers have kept coming…and the tendency to gracefully drape around the pot has been followed by upright, strong growth, so the plant has two ways of behaving- how clever of it.

Salvia Ton Ter Linden, Tostat, August 2019
Scrophularia macrantha, Tostat, August 2019

I have grown Scrophularia macrantha from seed this year. Small, but beautifully formed and I was so thrilled that I could be heard shrieking in the garden when I found the flowers on my tiny plants. I hope they make it through the winter.

Gossypium hirsutum flower bud, Tostat, August 2019

And my cotton has flowered! Unlikely that I will be harvesting cotton balls, but the Gossypium hirsutum flowers are a beautiful, if short-lived, surprise. Actually, the whole plant is a rather fine, if temporary addition to the garden, wine-red leaves and upright growth, pretty buds as if cut from paper. It won’t survive the winter and I probably won’t try to overwinter it, but just grow it again from seed next spring perhaps.

Cytoglossum hirsutum bud formation, Tostat, August 2019