The bowing Hellebore…

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Hellebores, heads bowed, Tostat, January 2018

I grew lots of Helleborus Orientalis in Scotland- they loved the rich, moist soil and I loved them.  Tall flowers standing straight, and exotic-looking leaves that lasted all year, giving a jungly look to a damp Scottish garden.  Beth Chatto’s book about converting her carpark into a gravel garden inspired me to try them here, in much drier and hotter conditions in the summer, but surprisingly perhaps, not so different from Scotland in the winter and spring.  Here is a very useful blog article for more information about Hellebores and that makes them tick.  Thanks

To be honest, I have no idea what I have got growing in the garden, with one or two exceptions.  I have accumulated plants on a willy-nilly basis, lots from no-tag bin-end sales over the years, and of course, the one thing about Hellebores is that they self-seed wildly and mix it up, so the only thing that I do is to try and pull out the spindly seedlings and go for those with nice, strong-looking foliage.  I also don’t cut old leaves off.  Mainly because, even in this dark winter, the hellebores seem to race to produce flowering buds and they are all in place before I have even got round to thinking about trimming the foliage.  Actually, mine don’t seem to get too much black fungal action on them, so I live with a few dark splotches.

There are many who say, like Anne Wareham at Veddw, that the very best thing is to grow them in pots and lift them up on stands so that you don’t have to lie down to see into the flowers.

But one of their charms, in my view, is their nodding-ness.  The top photograph reminded me of a scene from Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ somehow, and below is part of the same group from a different angle. These have all inter-mingled, and it is true that not everyone likes the somewhat muzzy pink colouring that can become the only colour around.  But there is an apple-blossom freshness about this pink colouring that I am really appreciating this winter for it’s sense of optimism.

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Perhaps a bit more Orientalis in the mix here, Tostat, January 2018

I think I am fondest of the white and the dark red varieties that I have.  The single whites are almost indestructible, bearing their flowers with pride for days and days, and even when nearly over, each flower stays put.  People seem to suggest that the double varieties are less robust, and I have only a couple, but I would agree with this- and, of course, there are those who find them too frilly.  But I think that if you stay with the basic colours, and don’t opt for the new pistachio varieties for example, the straightforward double white is so classic and pretty, it’s hard to beat.

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Lovely purple freckles, Hellebore, Tostat, January 2018
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Double white hellebore, Tostat, January 2018

My Stephen Roff ( a very good ebay seller) double red hellebore, bought last year very small, has flowered, and is matched by a single with a lovely collar.  It could be that I prefer the collared single….but they are both the richest, darkest burgundy colour which is not reproduced well here in my photographs.

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More dark crimson than this, and with collared effect, Hellebore, Tostat, January 2018
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Double red Hellebore, Tostat, January 2018

Two species Hellebores that I adore are Helleborus foetidus, and also Helleborus argutiflorus Corsicus.  The latter got in with a bad crowd of Hellebores and has now mutated into a not very inspiring cross, but here it was in 2015, with the spikier leaves and the mint-green to white flowers, very simple but gorgeous.  I am going to invest in three more plants to start again.

Foetidus, often referred to as the ‘Stinking Hellebore’ doesn’t stink at all to me, and can look amazing as it rises up out of the deadness of the border.  Not yet this year, but back in 2015 on a sunny evening, the gorgeous purply-red colouring at the fringes of the petals suddenly came alight- and yes, the flowers do last for at least 2 months.

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Helleborus argutiflorus Corsicus, Tostat, March 2015
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Helleborus foetidus rising up as it does, Tostat, January 2018
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Helleborus foetidus in evening sun, Tostat, March 2015

What do you think, Tony Tomeo?

Pointless pottering…why it matters

I have often said, when asked ‘What were you up to today?’, this:  ‘Oh you know, pointless pottering in the garden.’  I really have to stop saying that.  There is no such thing.  Firstly, it’s when you wander round that you really notice things, and very often, it is only by breaking the routines of how and where you potter, that you actually see the bigger picture.  I think this is particularly true of me, because I am more than bit of a self-confessed plantaholic.  This means that I am often only looking at the performance and behaviour of one particular plant at a time.  Interestingly, this is how I photograph the garden too. Plant by plant.  There is a side aspect to this, that I have a camera that is not that great at bigger, wider shots, but in truth, I could do this differently than I do.  Habit, you see.

So, today, I am widening the lens just a little, living dangerously and showing you more than one plant at a time.  Combinations came to mind today, those serendipitous moments when you have introduced a new element, or in my language, stuffed another plant in, and the picture is really changed and developed.

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Acanthus mollis behind, Leycesteria Formosa ‘Golden lanterns’ just opening up on the left, and a handful of doughty, unknown cream tulips- and one fly looking for stardom, Tostat, April 2106

I could swear these tulips have moved.  I know they are very robust because I planted a cheap packet of them easily eight years ago, and they may be down to this small clump and one other, but they always turn up.  And now that the Acanthus has really taken hold, the other morning on a light, grey day was just the perfect time to catch them in a photograph with no glare.  But the tulips were definitely further left to start with.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’ in front of unknown blue Iris, 4 unknown cream peony double tulips, frothy Cenolophium denudatum, tiny glimpse of Ranunculus ficaria’Brazen Hussy’ and the box hedge replacement, Eleagnus x ebbingei dusty brown new foliage, Tostat, April 2016

In a similar cream/green combination, the addition of Narcissus ‘Thalia’ has changed this mini-scene for me.  It extends the cream and green away from the unknown, another doughty tulip returner, and as the Cenolophium is now in is third year, it too is making more of an early impact.  The frothy new foliage is a great contrast with the almost cardboard-coloured new foliage of the replacement hedge.  That was a torture, ripping out the mouldering remains of the box last August, but I think the Eleagnus will give us different vistas through the year and I am quite excited to see how well it does.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Tostat, April 2016

This Narcissus is so delicate and pretty.  Mind you, I was lying down to take this photograph as it is quite small in stature.  Note to self: buy some more and find a way of raising them up for next year.

And, whilst pottering, I looked down into the centre of the new Helleborus foetidus foliage.  And, I know that I am trying to broaden my looking, but, it is exquisite close-up and like a mysterious world unto itself.

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New foliage on Helleborus foetidus, Tostat, April 2016

So, here is what I am looking forward to in about 5 weeks, a great drift of Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ punctured later by the tall columns of Liatris scariosa ‘Alba’ which brings some definition when the Anthemis takes a breather.  And that’s a bit more of a vista.  So, now that I have noticed my monoist (is there such a word?!) tendencies, I will try and broaden the angle a bit. If nothing else, I can then remind myself that the whole is more than a sum of its parts.

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Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ in drift, Tostat, June 2015

Hiding from the storm…

This is a tricky time for gardeners.  Impatience can be the name of the game, as warm, sunny days are followed, as now today, with battering winds and rain.  I am sitting here looking out apprehensively as a tall pine tree, within reach of the house, twists and turns in the wind with a full canopy of leaf and branch.  Our mad dog, Dave and I, were out earlier and beat a hasty retreat when a large 15′ tree branch crashed to the ground about 5m from us.  The only good thing is that, usually with us, a storm that brews up so quickly dies down quickly, even if it is a bit dramatic in spate.  I hope the daffodils, the first ones just ready to burst buds, are supple enough to take it and bounce back.

So, the mind turns to Spring and the new plants, as well as old favourites, that I am trying this year.  I have taken a firm line with my Miscanthus seedlings, dug them out, potted some up for a plant exchange in the village in April.  The same thing has happened to a slightly over-enthusiastic clump of Hellebores, orientalis and foetidus, all of which have been potted up for the plant exchange.   I really value Helleborus foetidus for its elegant, almost tropical foliage, and the beautiful red lip on the inside of the flower, which is glorious if caught in the sun.   It is also known as the stinking hellebore, something to do with the leaves when wet- but I have never noticed this.  With me, once established, it will sprint for England, so tight management is required.

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Helleborus foetidus in evening sun, Tostat, March 2015

This year, for the first time in years, I am having a go at using shrubs properly, and have invested in some that are new to me.  Monty Python has not exactly helped the shrub- nor indeed, has the over-enthusiastic use of quite boring ones in British gardens of the 60s and 70s.  But for several years, Noel Kingsbury, who I very much like as a garden writer, has been heralding the return of the shrub- so I thought I would join him.

So, at the front of the house where I inherited some rather tired old bits of hydrangea, one of which I am keeping, I am planting 2 Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum  ‘Shoshoni’ between the windows where their width won’t get in the way of the shutters being folded back.  Here is a second cousin of ‘Shoshoni’ which I saw at the Inner Temple Garden in London last April, and really liked.

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Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariessii’ ( I think) at the Inner Temple Garden, London, April 2015

‘Shoshoni’ will, I think, be wider, flatter shaped and only about 1.5m high, ish.  But it will give a fairly classical look to the front of the house, which I don’t think wants a riot of colour, unlike what I love at the back!  My plant is currently about 20cm tall, so it will take a while, but, given the vagaries of rainfall, I think I am better off waiting with a little plant that will toughen up, than spending much more on a big one that could fail.

And, pairing up with ‘Shoshoni’ will be a couple of Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’ growing under the windows.  A small, slender, spreading deutzia, it will look very pretty there and not irritate the windows.  Now, it may be a little sunny there for the Deutzia, but there is a fair bit of rain run-off from the roof, which keeps it on the moist side of dry.  I was inspired to try this by the great blog written by Carolynn’s Shade Garden, whose selections are delectable and knowledgably written of, and photographed by Carolynn.  I don’t have a lot of shade, but she is a great reference point and thoroughly to be recommended.

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Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’ photo credit:

About 10 years ago, passing a super-cheap bag of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ bulbs at a Homebase somewhere, I bought the bag and planted them at the front of the house.  I have now mostly lifted them all to make way for the new shrubs, but it’s a blessing because, owing to the aforementioned rain run-off, these Crocosmia have spent their entire life flattened and flowering horizontally.  So, they will go to a better place in due course.  I adore Crocosmia, the colours, the fine, upright (well, except for these ones) leaves and the fact that they are totally bomb-proof.  I wish they flowered for longer with us, usually the late summer heat cooks them a bit.

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Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, just before flattening, Tostat, June 2015

I have another Crocosmia rain run-off problem which I hadn’t thought about till the last couple of years.  Underneath our beautiful and much-loved banana, well, actually nearly 2m away, I planted a stand of an unknown orangey Crocosmia, smaller than ‘Lucifer’, which I got at a plant stall locally from an old chap.  Trouble is, it only takes one big rainstorm in the summer, and the banana leaves create a Niagara Falls-type effect, pretty much flattening the Crocosmia altogether.   Here’s a snap of a really bad banana deluge after a massive storm in 2014.

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Banana and Andy, Tostat, summer 2014

So, the Crocosmia need to come out, be found a new home, and a more robust solution found.  I feel another shrub coming on…