Small pleasures and the dangers of big plans…

Double nearly black Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

January gardening is a time for small joyful discoveries, such as the first flowering Hellebore, and also for the making of dangerous big plans- usually involving purchases. The danger lies in the ‘itchy finger’ situation- feeling some sunny days, seeing some new growth and then getting carried away with Big Ideas- that are not very well thought through, but carry the reward of feeling as though something is happening! Wanting to rush into Spring long before nature is ready for it is a real risk for me, and what happens is that nature pays you back with a prolonged frost that puts you right back where you started.

So let’s stick with the joyful small discoveries. I bought these Hellebores about 5 years ago as tiny plants from the very good ebay grower, Stephen Roff. They are really good plants, especially as they don’t have the easiest ride in Tostat. They have some shade and protection from the big pine tree, and do really well as later in the year, the palmate leaves follow the flowers just as the pine tree starts sucking up most of the available moisture.

Personally, I am not a fan of the ‘tidy up your Hellebore leaves’ brigade. Yes, you do get some dark mottling on the old leaves by the Spring, but honestly, in a matter of six weeks or so, the fresh new growth will come powering through and will hide the old leaves anyhow.

Ruffled and freckled cream Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

The flowers need help being seen for the first few weeks. Then, later into February, the longer days seem to fire them up and all of a sudden, the flowers are standing tall and opening up. The freckles are adorable.

Double green tinted white Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea was one of the first plants I bought when we moved in. Now, sixteen years later, it weaves through the shrubs lining the edge of the ruisseau or canal at the bottom of the garden. It’s moment is now. New golden-pink growth catches the sunlight and will be followed soon by chartreuse flowerheads- but for me, it’s the new growth that is so pretty.

Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea, Tostat, January 2020

Another plant that looks great just now, but has never quite hit it’s stride in the garden is Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’. I have moved it for this year to another spot, to give it a second chance. Golden- yellow leaves really shine out in low sunlight, and so I am hoping it won’t just fizzle as it has done for the past seven years or so. Mind you, it has taken me this long to do something about it.

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’, Tostat, January 2020

Another plant that I had almost given up on, has come back from the brink and is looking, well, not bad. Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ is, admittedly, being a bit pushed to the limit in the Stumpery, it likes semi-shade but would probably prefer a tad more moisture. It has languished with what seemed like the same three leaves for the past four years, and I got fed up two years ago and planted an insurance-policy Aucuba japonica Crotonifolia too close to it ( you can just see in the photo). So, now, I will need to choose between what stays and what goes- guess the Aucuba will lose out. But as I have developed rather a fondness for the old spotted laurel, especially if the spots are good and strong, it won’t be long before it’s in a new home.

Grevillea juniperina ‘Canberra Gem’, Tostat, January 2020

Serious battle with the usual spring invader, the bramble, has been waged to allow Grevillea juniperina ‘Canberra Gem’ to begin flowering without being strangled. This is such a great plant, it probably flowers for almost ten out of twelve months in a hot, dry spot, and is now a grande dame of 3m across and 2m high after eleven years. I wish I could find some of the glorious yellow flowering grevilleas I came across in Australia in 2018- they seem to be slow to be introduced here and in the UK, but with climate warming, they are a trusty friend in the garden.

Grevillea alpina x rosmarinifolius ‘Goldrush’, Julie’s garden in Canberra Australia, October 2018

The Australian fires have been, and will be horrific for weeks to come. It was really sad to read about the fires attacking the Eucalypts in the Snowy Mountains just around New Year. The last two photographs were taken be me in snowy conditions only 14 months ago. I am never going to moan about the weather here in Tostat again.

Eucalypts, Snowy Mountains near Jindabyne, Australia, October 2018
Eucalypts, Snowy Mountains near Jindabyne, Australia, October 2018

Living between the micro and the macro…

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In Julie’s Canberra garden, this could be Grevillea ‘Goldrush’, October 2018

Having fulminated more on than off in the last 2 years about the basketcase that is Brexit, last year we both became French citizens.  It is very touching to become a part of a country that we have lived in for 15 years, and have made our home here.  But, the mind belongs to the UK, and particularly Scotland.  So, switching off from all the Brexit pantomime is not really an option.  And so, it occured to me this morning that life has taken on an-on-the-edge feeling of shifting uneasily between the macro big-stuff political and economic world, and the micro of the garden, daily life here, and very dull stuff like housework.

Yesterday, four Tostatenfleur volunteers, our two commune part-time employees, Sebastien and Marc, and I planted up Tostat’s version of the Promenade Planté.  Clearly, not so grand as Paris, but a good 60m stretch of roadside planting, six 6m x 3m squares of perennial and some shrub planting, interspersed with squares of seeded grass.  If you are in Tostat, you need the Route d’Escondeaux and you will find it.  The morning started out a fairly chilly 3°, but warmed up later to a very pleasant 14° in the sun.

Our only problem was cutting the special eco-bache, designed to protect the plants and impede weeds.  Fabulous though it will be, especially as it will degrade into the soil over 3 years as the plants mature- it is a pain to cut!  Meaning that only 2 of us had enough arm-power to force our cutters through it, and this made planting a bit fraught to start with.  But we made it- and as always, the jokes and ribaldry kept us all going and laughing as well as the odd, supportive toot from passing cars.  Photographs to follow in the Spring when growth gets going.

Today, with no tennis elbow amazingly, it feels really good to have finally pulled off this project, which has been 2 years in the planning, including pulling together the dossier to apply for the funding at inter-communal level, and waiting for answers, plants and the weather to allow us to proceed.  Of course, it all looks very tiny and insignificant, but you just wait for next year….

Of course, by then, whatever happens will have happened with the Brexit nonsense.  Maybe that is the only way to live on the macro-micro edge- invest in the micro to combat the effects of the macro.

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MJ and JP on their knees in the first planted square, Route d’Escondeaux, Tostat, November 2018

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Heads down, going for broke, on the last planted square, Route d’Escondeaux, Tostat, November 2018

Back to the micro….

Meantime, back in Canberra, Australia, where I spent a lovely hour talking plants with Julie, the Head Gardener of her mainly-Australian-natives garden, some stunning grevilleas were in bloom…the first photo in this post, is, I think, likely to be Grevillea ‘Goldrush’.  A recent addition to Julie’s garden, it has sensational golden flowers with just a hint of red, and seems to be a modest grower to maybe 1.5m rather than the more giant Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ which I grow and is now nearly 2m tall and wide.

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Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’, Tostat, 2017- on the old camera…

This adorable apricot Grevillea was also just coming out, as well as a very delicate pink one. Bit of a Grevillea heaven really.  They are such good and undemanding shrubs as long as you can offer some shelter, though rosmarinifolia varieties seem to me to be really tough.  The range of colours available in Australia is a revelation to those of us used only to traffic-light red.  I have searched and there are some appearing in the UK, if not France.  Burncoose offer a soft yellow Grevillea juniperina Sulphurea, which would probably be hardy enough for us to grow with ‘juniperina’ in its name.

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This apricot Grevillea was just coming out, Julie’s garden, Canberra, October 2018

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Delicate, powder-pink, more spidery, Grevillea, Julie’s garden, Canberra, October 2018

Another pretty thing in Julie’s garden was, I think, a Prostanthera, an Australian shrub from the mint family.  These are more widely available in the UK- usually making a neat, rounded shrubby shape of about 1m high and wide, sometimes with a tumbling habit.  Crocus, for example, offer as ‘an alpine mint’ Prostanthera cuneata, with pure-white flowers.

That feels better…

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Prostanthera unknown, Julie’s garden, Canberra, October 2018