Work in progress….

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Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, March 2019

Sometimes, at any time of the year, you just turn around in the garden and, wham bam, the light spotlights something and you gasp.  And the other day, I just happened to have the camera around my neck, and ‘Tiny Wine’ obliged with photogenic new foliage breaking out in a flash of early morning sunshine.  This is such a good shrub.  Not too massive, though it is now about 1.5m x 1.5m, and such a good performer.  From this glorious happy coloured foliage, the leaves darken to a plum red, small pink flowers appear later in spring, and then in the autumn the first colder nights really flame the foliage.  I love it.  I can only grow it in a damper part of the garden as it really doesn’t do dry, but I wouldn’t be without it.

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Early light, Tostat, March 2019

I yank out Euphorbia chariacas subsp. wulfennii by the handful all year round in the garden as they are such prolific seeders, but in the spring, with the citrus lemon flowers shining, they are magnificent- so the next cull can wait till they have finished flowering.  They catch the light brilliantly- see top left in the photograph.

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Kerria japonica ‘Albiflora’, Tostat, March 2019

This Kerria japonica ‘Albiflora‘ was one of my bargain basement buys last year, and looked pretty weedy till last month.  Unlike it’s bright yellow cousin, which I also have, I have been smitten by the charm of this woodlander.  It likes semi-shade, moistish conditions, which, for me, means only one place, but it seems to have settled in well.  The soft cream-coloured flowers are charming and are matched with sharp, emerald green foliage.  If it is as tough as the yellow one, it will do just fine.

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Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, frosted, Tostat, March 2019

Here was another turn-around moment this morning, catching Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ with a stunning, frosted outline.  Normally, I would have cleared the area around this little Ranunculus so that we can see it better, but this year, projects and tendons mean that it is still a bit covered with winter rubbish.  But the frosting makes the leaves sing.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, March 2019

The frost doesn’t spoil the game for this rose, Rosa banksiae lutea, which is about to flower any minute.  Unfortunately, here in Tostat village, an over-helpful gardener has pruned our lovely Banksiae in the lavoir, including removing most of the buds.  You have to prune after flowering, and allow the rose to build up old wood for next year.  Darn it.  Actually, to be honest, I don’t even really prune it, I just lop off any over-excited arching branches that get in my hair, literally.  It doesn’t need more than that.

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Gunnera manicata, Tostat, March 2019

This plant, Gunnera manicata, always makes me think of zombie hands coming through the earth in any number of trashy horror films.  It really claws its way out of the winter debris around it- no need for a helping hand from me.  Growth rate is fast, pretty soon it will be towering above me, and drinking like a fish from the canal it is planted near.  It wouldn’t stand a chance otherwise.

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A little bit of daffodil ballet, Tostat, March 2019

I am sorry that I can’t remember the variety, but no matter, I thought of a daffodil pas-de-deux, it made me smile.  This one below is definitely Narcissus ‘Thalia’, which I really love for the drama of the dark greeny blue leaves and the pure white flower.  It is almost the last to flower with us.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Tostat, March 2019

This is the first flowerhead on my clumps of Eryngium eburneum, which is such a good plant for me.  Forming big clumps of draping scissored leaves, and sending up flowerspikes to well over my height at 5 feet, it handles everything except winter wet, always looking a bit desperate by the end of winter.  But, within a few weeks, it picks itself up and gets going again.  A great sign for the year to come.

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Eryngium eburneum flowerhead, Tostat, March 2019


It always seems like a good idea at the time….

I love it that Piet Oudolf, one of the world’s leading garden designers recently cheerily said of his latest work at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery in Somerset…

“…Wait one year then we see what we have done wrong…”.

I sort of imagine him saying it in a Dutch accent with a very Dutch gutteral chuckle at the end of the sentence and a broad smile on his face. That is probably my imagination in overdrive. More of Piet another time.

It’s true.  There will be plants in the garden that you get wrong because they behave differently for you, or you may, as I have often done, indulged in the rationalisation of a decision that you know, deep down, is doomed, but you talk yourself into it. Take delphiniums. I always wanted to grow them, but our Scottish garden was too damp and shady. So, for more than 2 years, I tried to grow them here in Tostat. After the first year, I knew it was a bad idea, but stubbornly persisted for another year.

But Piet has a good point. There is a humility that is kinder to yourself and your garden that accepts it when things don’t work, and there is always the silver lining of another year, another choice, another decision. And knowing is nothing to do with infallibility. I like that.

I am writing this mainly for a rest, as I have been digging out giant canna that have run amock.  Hard labour. But they have to go as now we can’t see the Gunnera which is Andy’s pride and joy. It’s a fine piece of ground, near the ruisseau, with a good stand of banana, Musa bajoo, and it deserves to be released from the grip of the rampant cannas.  The bank is gradually metamorphosing. A few years ago, I stuffed a load of things in there that I have been removing ever since…all rationalisations and thugs, the lot of them.

The bank in 2012 with the baby banana, Musa bajoo, a good stand of unknown crocosmia (still there) and some bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' also still there. The muddy ruisseau rushes by, must be Spring.
The bank in 2012 with the baby banana, Musa bajoo, a good stand of unknown crocosmia (still there) and some bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ also still there. The muddy ruisseau rushes by, must be Spring.
Andy's pride and joy, Gunnera manicata, just popping up, already a metre plus..
Andy’s pride and joy, Gunner manicata, just popping up, already a metre plus..
Andy and the Banana, post hurricane winds in July 2014 that took most of the bank down to the ground.  You can just see Rosa 'Edith Piaf' carrying on bravely, and the dratted canna clump to the far right. But not the Gunnera, hence the execution.
Andy and the Banana, post hurricane winds in July 2014 that took most of the bank down to the ground. You can just see Rosa ‘Edith Piaf’ carrying on bravely, and the dratted canna clump to the far right. But not the Gunnera, hence the execution.

So, I am enjoying my chance to think again and have another go. Whatever goes in will not top 0.90m, I have sworn on a stack of Bibles.

And the cannas will get a reprieve. They get a last chance saloon shot in some ground near the pool, which I have averted my eyes from for years. But they might as well get a go at it. Seems only fair. And they may well bloom better in a sunnier spot, so it could be a win-win.

By the way, the RHS link to information about cannas refers to them as tender perennials.  I wouldn’t swear on a stack of Bibles about this, but my experience is that they are far tougher than the RHS suggests.  Here, they have been living only a couple of inches below the soil surface with a lot of rain, and periods of freezing temperatures down to -10 at the worst.  We have lost some when it has been that cold, but not all.

Winterbourne House: a garden visit

I visited Winterbourne House last June in a rainstorm- one with serious rain, requiring numerous dashes for cover. It was part of a day in Birmingham which was sort of accidental, but Winterbourne was really worth the afternoon. The House itself is a fascinating story of family philanthropy and vision in late nineteenth century industrial Birmingham, and the garden is a charming example of gardening in that period. It has a wonderful and immense Victorian rockery, a Lutyens-style massive pergola, an Oriental Valley with gunnera as it should be, and some charming border planting. The garden holds the National Collection of Anthemis and Iris unguicularis.  I have never seen massed plantings of Anthemis and I was there at just the right time, it woke me up to anthemis and summer daisies in general.

The massive Lutyens-style pergola just after rainburst
The massive Lutyens-style pergola just after a rainburst

The planting round the pergola was looking really bedragged, no surprise given the rain, but it all needed a bit more oomph to match the big, chunky pergola supports.

Dark and light...
Dark and light…

I loved this view through the purple beech leaves. Nothing complicated, just a relaxed clump of white Veronicas, but a really good contrast with the beech.

Gunnera manicata, running wild..
Gunnera manicata, running wild..

And in the Oriental Valley, a Japanese style bridge was almost besieged by the magnificent Gunnera manicata running wild in the rain.  These Gunnera must have topped 3m, absolutely colossal.

Some of the National Collection of Anthemis seen through Dierama...
Some of the National Collection of Anthemis seen through Dierama…
Sheer joy...anthemis en masse
Sheer joy…anthemis en masse