How summer-dry feels…

View of the front garden, with baking sun at 0730, Tostat, July 2019

The last five days built to a ghastly crescendo of more than 40C yesterday. Human beings are finding it hard, hard to sleep even downstairs in the house and permanent darkness with shutters shut for most of the day. Today, all windows have been flung open, and rain is battering down, no hail fortunately, in splurges which are just gentle enough to penetrate the hot, dry crust of the ground. This is the first rain we have seen for 3 weeks at least, which has really tested the garden for the second time so far this summer. I have been watering the pots and any late plantings from 0700 for an hour and a half every day, but the rest has been left to handle the heat itself.

Abutilon pictum waiting, Tostat, July 2019

Some plants have just been sitting it out. Abutilon pictum is a lovely pot shrub, not hardy hence the pot, but with the most brilliant orange drop-shaped flowers. It folds it’s leaves down so that they hang straight down, which is an early sign of stress, but regular watering handles that.

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Ruby’, Tostat, July 2019

The Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Ruby’ is a wonderful thing and this year it has loved the wet, cool May and now the heat- as long as it is kept well watered in it’s pot. It is the best ever, 3 months of the huge, strappy, crimson-purple leaves which on their own are worth the price of the bulb, and then maybe 4 weeks of flowering as the flowerspikes slowly open. It can hang on, still looking good till the first cold night-time temperatures strike. This last winter I left the huge pot outside, but fleeced it well, and moved it into the protection of the pergola, which kept the worst of the winter wet off it.

Misumena vatia looking angry on Salvia ‘Mulberry Jam’, Tostat, July 2019

The heat has brought this angry-looking spider out early. Misumena vatia is a foraging spider which attacks bees and butterflies, hanging out very still in flowerheads that it can mimic in colour- bit odd then that it was in the white form on the Salvia. But maybe the colour change takes a while to activate. It is a deadly killer, as you can see from my 2018 photograph below. Wearing matching bright yellow with the flowerhead of Patrinia scabiosifolia, it is making short shrift of a hapless insect.

Same spider, Misumena vatia, new disguise on Patrinia scabiosifolia, Tostat, August 2018

I am ridiculously fond of this Hibiscus trionum which I grew from seed about 7 years ago, although it is a nothing-special-plant. But the flowers keep on coming regardless of heat and no rain, so it is not a slouch in the summer-dry department. The foliage is a healthy mid-green and you would never know that the sun was beating down on it.

Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, July 2019

Another plant which I grew from seed about the same time as the Hibiscus, is the unbeatable Bupleurum fruticosum. Not a great looker, but the olive-green leaves and structure are brilliant in the border, especially when summer heat can render other plants a tad on the floppy side. This year, I actually did a proper-gardener thing and pruned all of the Bupleurum pretty much to stumps above the ground in February. Of course, it was the right thing to do, making good, sturdy 1.25ish metre clumps, with good branching and form.

The redoubtable Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, July 2019

This tiny Linaria vulgaris is such a sweet thing. Custard yellow and cream flowers on a tiny spike, I grew these from seed a few years back and they are only slowly making little sprinkles in a hot, dry spot. I was inspired to try it after seeing a brilliant planting of it outside the Ludlow Food Centre in 2017. I am not quite there yet! But live in hope…

Linaria vulgaris, Tostat, July 2019
Linaria vulgaris and Stipa tenuissima, Ludlow Food Centre, Shropshire, June 2017
Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2019

Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’ is easy-peasy from seed and is a tough, but lovely, plant no matter what the weather. I adore the colours, the form with the golden ruffs, and the sprinkle effect that it creates in amongst other plants. A good neighbour of a plant.

Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum, Tostat, July 2019

Such pretty foliage, Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum. Feathery, ferny and upright, no slouching and a brilliant green. It may be that it is getting a little water seeping out of the pots in front of it, as it is not usually quite so robust in dry and heat.

In the heat, the Back Door view, Tostat, July 2019

The view from the Back Door is very dependent on greens, but Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ is unstoppable and fragrant no matter how hot it gets ( centre-right in the photo), Eucomis autumnalis ssp autumnalis, the Pineapple flower, is flowering away in a pot at the front, and Plectranthus argentatus offers up some silvery-green next door to the Eucomis. The big shrub, Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ if I remember correctly, will flower in a few weeks- another summer-dry star.

But for colour, the dragonflies and damselflies take the prize. Electric azure blue.

Colour in the wildlife, Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly, Tostat, July 2019

All for the price of a coffee…

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2018

I adore growing plants from seed.  Well, there can be disastrous times, like this Spring for example, or just ‘nil return’ after peering anxiously at the seedtray for what seems like ages.  But some seeds just seem to germinate generously and readily, popping up with abandon into the world.

So, it is probably best to expect a 50/50 return- but if there are 200 seeds in the packet, you could be swamped.  Two years ago, I grew 80 or so small plants of Echinacea ‘Green Wizard’ from seed, in my hubris I even sent some small plants to a friend.  Hubris it was.  This year, after our soaking and cold Spring, I have only seen one measly specimen come back in the garden.  So, I think the best approach with seeds starts with total humbleness and then thankfulness.

This Spring, I planted out about 30 plants of Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’ which I grew last autumn.  They were teeny tiny plants. but looking sturdy, and now they are bursting into flower, gorgeous yellows, orange flecks and reds, and a metre high- in fact, they are in danger from the next passing storm, so I may get round to staking them in advance.  All for the price of a coffee, and a lot of humble waiting.  Not bad.

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2018

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Helenium atumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2018

The garden is moving out of its mauve phase, with some more yellows and reds starting up.  Last year, in the height of a hot summer, I bought two abutilon babies, barely rooted, from an Ebay seller in Spain, at the price of another coffee.  One bit the dust this Spring, but the other one is doing well, with a lovely soft, dark, matte red which seems to bring out the beautiful veining that Abutilons have.  This un-named plant may be too tender to leave in the ground over the winter, so I am not going to risk it, I will dig and pot it up, along with the more cherry- red Abutilon ‘Red Trumpet’, which is also new to me this year.  These are such good plants, reliable, heat-tolerant, flowering all summer into the autumn, and I adore the bell-shaped flowers.

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Abutilon unknown, Spanish ebay, Tostat, July 2018

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More cherry-red, Abutilon ‘Red Trumpet’, Tostat, July 2018

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Heterotheca campora var glandulissima, Tostat, July 2018

This Heterotheca campora var.glandulissima, bit of a mouthful, has languished in the garden for the past 3 years, planted in the wrong place too near to a buddleia, and so has been a serious damp squib through no fault of its own.  Goodbye buddleia, and hey presto, Heterotheca is back in town.  Big, determined, fat yellow daisies with charmingly slightly reflexed petals, in a sunny yellow that is not sickly- what’s not to like?  Welcome back and apologies for the poor service you have received.

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Patrinia scabiosifolia, Tostat, July 2018

Patrinia scabiosifolia is a plant I always wanted to try.  It was on its last seed trial last year, having been a dud on two previous years.  I managed to make it to half a dozen seedlings, the wet Spring did for two of them, and then I lost the remaining four in the garden.  Lost in the sense that I planted them out as smallish plants and then couldn’t find them.  Two weeks ago, they re-emerged.  Well, they had always been there growing away but slightly obscured.  If you can imagine a yellow Verbena bonariensis, with the same electric colouring though yellow rather than purply-blue, and a less gangly plant, a little shorter, then you have a good idea of what the plant looks like.  As we speak, six seeds have germinated this year, so I may make it to a good group.  I think it prefers a slightly more fertile and moist soil than Verbena so I am not taking any chances with it, now that I have it.  Another coffee.

Actually, I prefer tea in almost all circumstances, but you get the drift.

 

 

Twiddling thumbs…

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Tulipa clusiana Lady Jane, Tostat, March 2018

How does this little tulip do it? We are talking stems the width of shoelaces, and the flowers seem so delicate, looking rather ghostly in the greyness and wet of today.  In fact, their light meter is definitely stuck at ‘sunny’.  I am astonished by the casually butch approach it is taking to our latest bout of winter.  We are back to freezing temperatures, wind and rain, even thunder, and once again, any sensible plant has just stopped in its tracks.

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Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, clumping up, Tostat, March 2018

Indoors, I have been laughing out loud at Anna Pavord’s 2010 book, ‘The Curious Gardener’.  Her deft wit and sense of humour pervades this selection of articles she wrote when gardening correspondent for ‘The Independent’.  I really did laugh at her account of Pavord family Christmases- and I love her self-effacing acceptance of gardening bloomers and disasters.  Unlike some, whose books can simply load you up with guilt-inducing instruction, she lightens all loads with her humour and likes and dislikes.

When the weather has given up annoying me for short periods, I have been out planting.  I have to, as my experimental growing perennials from seed phase has produced about a hundred small pots.  All of these have either been sitting on gravel through all the weather we have had, or some lucky ones got planted out in a spare patch to be dug up in the Spring.

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Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’, Tostat, June 2015. This clump produced about 10 plants when split.

Included in that number were some purchases last Autumn that I split and re-potted, so all in all, there is no excuse for not planting up generously.  I have been really struck by how bombproof these small plants have been.  I reckon that the death rate has been only 1-2%- which is brilliant.  The baby Echinacea pupureas were almost washed away in the rains of January and February, but all are putting on good growth although I need to top them up with a bit more compost.

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, was a great success from seed photo credit and seed supplier: http://www.seedaholic.com

So, I am having a dense planting push.  I am ignoring conventional planting distances and going for less than half the normal recommendations.  I have one area that is entirely perennials with some added structural plants- and this area, now approaching its third birthday, is looking very promising, with lots of self-seeding. All I am doing is taking out dandelions and other major pests- otherwise, I am leaving it alone.

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Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’. This split really well and easily, producing about 4-5 plants from each mother plant. photo credit: http://www.finegardening.com

In other parts of the garden, I am using this chance to really beef up the planting.  Mulching is a tricky proposition for me.  It risks flattening self-seeding, which is what I am after, and so I am trying out a slightly different approach.  Having read a short article about Thomas Rainer, an American landscape architect who is a big mover in the sustainable planting world, I then bought his book, written with Claudia West, ‘Planting in a post-Wild World’.  This is a scholarly tome, which carefully explains the building of resilient plant communities, but at the heart of it are the following principles:

  1.  Amending the soil- don’t
  2. Double digging- don’t
  3. Soil testing- do
  4. Mulching- don’t
  5. Planting cover crops- do
  6. Buying a lot of plants- do
  7. Curbside planting- do
  8. Experimenting and having fun- do

By all means read the book- it is very inspiring, but to get the gist, the Gardenista website article kickstarts all you need to know.  I am not a regular Gardenista reader, too much designery clap-trap for me, but just sometimes, it is spot-on.

So, with my small and brilliantly tough plants, I am setting out to offer them co-habitation in the hope that they will make me some resilient plant communities.  And where it is tricky to that fully, I am doing something different again.

My driest, hottest parts are actually pretty much jam-packed with plants- but even so, in  our wet Springs, I get masses of passing-through weed activity.  By that I mean, naturally occurring early season weeds, which actually mostly get burnt off or dried out by the height of summer.  So, this year, I am not going to charge about pulling them out, I am going to leave them be.  This is on the grounds that they have a role in protecting the durable plants through the winter and spring, and then, by and large, they die off.  So, as long as the balance between them, and the permanent plants stays in place- they are actually preventing the dessication and erosion of the soil by being there.

Thinking over- I am dying to get out there again!