Westering home…

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Lonicera fragrantissima, Tostat, end January 2019

I have struggled to have a ‘song in my heart’ this week, and I will continue to struggle for another whole week.  The westerlies have arrived, big, brassy, dark-skied storms fresh from the Bay of Biscay, which bring swirling dollops of rain, hail, snow if you are higher up than us, and filthy, grey skies from dawn till dusk.  The garden is sodden.  This is good for the general water table for sure.  We have had hardly any rain from the end of April last year till now, and the river Adour has been struggling to get past its own rocks.   But it is hard on the psyche.  We lived in Scotland before moving here, and we have obviously gone soft as a week of rain, or more, just brings the grumbles on.

However, plants that venture out this early are toughies, and carry on regardless.  Though as the hellebores start to flower, I do notice a real difference between my home-grown Helleborus orientalis– based plants, and those more fancy creatures that I have paid money for.  The former have broader, more jungly-looking hands of leaves and the flowers are generally tall and held securely above the foliage with fat stems.  The leaves are fantastic and last all year with us even in the hottest spot.  They really work hard for their living.  They produce masses of baby plants within a few weeks, it seems, of flowering being over, and many have to be yanked out or they would be the only plant left in the  garden.  The flowers can become a muddy pink with cross-polinating, but actually I don’t mind- though some do.  These plants are only in bud now, whereas the more exotic ones are in flower already.

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Un-named variety, double dark crimson red Hellebore, Tostat, January 2019

The more exotic-flowered hellebores that I have bought are rather different.  Their growth rate is much slower.  They are much shorter,  with smaller, brighter green hands of leaves, and the flowers remain tightly attached to the leaves almost, so they have to be lifted by hand to see the flowers.  I love doing this, but with the added rain factor, their natural droopiness has become very pronounced.  I am guessing that selection for flower power doesn’t necessarily mean that the strong, good leaves of the old ‘orientalis’ make the cut.  No matter.

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This un-named single variety hangs the flowers like plums, Tostat, January 2019
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The last of my deep crimson Hellebores, a double with frilled petals, Tostat, January 2019

I love the contrast with the creamy white varieties, especially those that are freckled.  This is only a small patch of plants under the protection of the big pine tree, and although they are not fast growers- they are slowly colonising a 2m patch.  And they really are to be looked forward to- very cheering.

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Double plus flower, with extra heavy petals on the outside and pink freckles, Tostat, January 2019
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Different again, a single flower but with a frilly, double centre tinged with yellow, and pink freckles, Tostat, January 2019

Otherwise, in the garden, flowering is in short supply.   Lonicera fragrantissima is worth its leggy, twiggy, tumbling growth for the strength of perfume from the tiny flowers that absolutely cover the branches. Winter brings out the best in this plant- and today, the damp and wind obscured the fragrance, but on a still day, you can smell it from 5 m away.

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Tiny flowers of Lonicera fragrantissima, Tostat, end January 2019

A more sightly, but also tangled and twisted, scented shrub which is only just opening up right now is Daphne odora Aureomarginata.  This year must be its 12th, I think, and buds are sprouting everywhere on it- no scent yet, but it will be gorgeous for the next 2-3 months.  This may be a slow grower but it is really worth it.  We have it close to the back door, and on a sunny March morning, it is sublime.

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Cerise-pink buds on Daphne odora Aureomarginata, Tostat, January 2019

It’s smaller cousin is also worth growing, though again, not a fast grower.  Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ flowers all year round for me- with a few pauses in the winter, but it pretty much keeps going.  Small bunches of flowers, white or pink,  smell fabulous and it likes sun, and once it has roots down, it is pretty drought-tolerant.  I think it will make a neat 1m mound, whereas the bigger cousin is more of a jumbled bush at 1.5m and not at all neat.  The buds are pink in this photograph but the flowers do come out white in the end.

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Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Tostat, January 2019

Nipped out for 20 minutes to take these photographs and now back inside, and guess what, it’s belting down with rain.

 

 

 

 

 

Playing about in Handyside Gardens…

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Meet the snakepit, Handyside Gardens, Kings Cross, London, February 2018

The other Dan Pearson project that I was keen to see in a cold London was the small, but perfectly formed, Handyside Gardens, complete with play park, which slithers between new buildings at Kings Cross to make great use of a little ribbon of land.  I have borrowed 2 photographs from Dan Pearsons own site to show what I mean, thank you Dan Pearson Studio.

Handyside 1

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Handyside Gardens, aerial view at the opening, November 5th 2013 photo credit for both images: http://www.danpearsonstudio.com

All of the planting that was up looked in great shape, especially the flowering Cornus mas hedges which thread their way through the beds and playpark.  The bright yellow open pompoms were very welcome on a cold and wintry day.

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Flowering Cornus mas, Handyside Gardens, Kings Cross, February 2018

There was fun to be had- and not only from the snake sandpit, which I loved.  Pretending to be four years old, I climbed up the slide steps to get a bit of a view, nothing quite as aerial as the Dan Pearson photographs though.

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The swings, the pergola tunnel, and, just, the snake sandpit, rocks for climbing and jumping, soft surface and planting, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

The site sits on top of Underground tunnels and so soil depth was an issue.  Raising the planting up in parts of the site, using warm coppery Corten to make raised beds, also created lots of impromptu seating possibilities, especially near the play equipment.

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The big, bold, pergola tunnel wraps around the circular play area with the sandpit, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

I loved this massive, hefty pergola, underplanted with grasses and, in summer, probably a great play thicket as well as an adult pleasure.

From the aerial photographs, you can see the sinuous, elongated tear-shapes of the beds, which reminded me of the great John Brookes, whose sinuous Modernist design for Bryanston Square, didn’t survive the return of the traditionalists.  The design drawings for this simply beautiful design can be seen in the current Garden Museum exhibition on John Brookes, a man who speaks such clear sense about design.

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John Brookes’ sinuous design for Bryanston Square, London 1965 photo credit: http://www.pinterest.com
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Raised Corten steel beds, seating, and half a small water rill, spring planting just coming through, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

Two halves of a sweeping water rill bring you towards the canal end of the Gardens, with winter planting of the stunning Bergenia purpurescens ‘Irish Crimson’ and flowering Hamemelis.  No scent, as I think it really was too cold to be able to smell anything.

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Flowering Hamamelis, not sure which, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

But that Bergenia….well, an outrageous and simply brilliant beetroot red in the little bit of sunshine that broke through.  This variety came from the Irish botanical garden at Glasnevin, was tended and raised by the great Irish gardener, Helen Dillon, who then gave it to the great Beth Chatto, and from the Chatto Nursery, it has made its way into the trade, though it is not yet widely available.  Gorgeous, and who needs flowers?

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Bergenia purpurescens ‘Irish Crimson’, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

The underplanting that had already made it out was doing a very good job, and none better than Helleborus orientalis.  Flowering starts with me around late December, continues right through to late March, and, as the plants warm up, so the flowerheads rise up on growing stalks, so that the look of the planting in early March is quite different from early January.  And the foliage lasts, with a faintly jungly look about it, pretty much right through the rest of the year.  It’s a bargain.

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Hellebores do underplanting so well, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

Race you to the snake…

 

 

 

 

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 http://www.yougrowgirl.com.

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?

Once a lavoir, on the way to becoming a place to stop and relax…

About 2 years before we came to France, Andy’s Mum gave me an enchanting book, which really inspired me to want to find ways in which gardening and design can support the development of public spaces for enjoyment. This slim little book, ‘Diary of a French Herb Garden’ by the well known cookery writer, Geraldene Holt, told the story of her restoration of an ancient potager once used by the local priest of the little village of Saint Montan in the Ariege.  The small plot was about to be taken as parking space when she asked the local Conseil if they would allow her to restore it into a public aromatic garden, staying true to the memory of priests supporting the community as the apothecary. They did, she did, and the garden remains to this day as a public space.

And as time turns around and comes around, I have been asked to think about how a village public space can be transformed into an engaging and easy to care for public space, offering time to stop and think.  This tiny little plot, by an ancient ruisseau or agricultural canal, lies just beneath a very small bridge over the ruisseau, and is bounded by walls and hedges.  But, when you step down into the plot, only 9m x 8m at its widest, it does feel as if you have stepped down into the past. The small road vanishes from view, and the rushing water, and the presence of an old upended washing stone, reminds you of how hard a woman’s life was before domestic machinery.

The lavoir from the small bridge with the upended scrubbing stone visible April 15
The lavoir from the small bridge with the upended scrubbing stone visible April 15

The telegraph pole is a bit in your face to start with, but, being wood, it begins to merge into the background.  The shopping bag is mine, with my measuring tapes and whatnot in it.

The view back to the lavoir from the other side of the bridge April 15
The view back to the lavoir from the other side of the bridge April 15

You can also see that an old kneeling stone survives so that the women would have been able to stay clean-ish themselves when bending down to do the washing.

Ancient lavoir with women doing the washing Photo credit; www.fontaine-fourches.com/
Ancient lavoir with women doing the washing
Photo credit;
http://www.fontaine-fourches.com/

So, how to make this into an enchanting space? I thought I should begin with attracting attention from the road with flowering planting that will last all year, and then also keeping the palate simple with good perennial cover that will take care of itself, and colours staying within the cream-yellow-blue range, with a flash or two of pink. I have drawn a quick isonometric sketch just to give an idea…

Lavoir isonometric Apr 15

Coming from the little road, you step onto big and small paving stones towards 2 angled slate benches underneath a pergola, shaped a bit like an open book. It will need to be a strong pergola that will support the full weight of the earliest rose, Rosa banksiae lutea, which will shower down onto the pergola in April-May. This rose will be followed by the white passionflower, Passiflora caerulea ‘Constance Elliott, which will flower till the frosts. Should be a showstopper.

This is the cream version of the rose I am planning. Rosa banksiae alba plena. Just imagine this...only creamy yellow. April 2013
This is the cream version of the rose I am planning. Rosa banksiae alba plena. Just imagine this…only creamy yellow. April 2013

Rosa banksiae is tough as old boots and thornless, all good things in a public space. Another rose, Rosa Jacqueline du Pre, will be nearby flowering white and cream later from summer into autumn, bright blue Louisiana irises will cluster at the water’s edge from June till August, and Saponaria officinalis Rosea Plena, the double form of the soapwort which was often planted near lavoirs in ancient times, will provide a good splash of pink.  Earlier in the year, Helleborus orientalis will robustly flower, leaving great foliage all year and a Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata, which we will have to wait a bit for, will scent the scene from January till March. Acanthus mollis will also fill in gaps with good greenery all year and pinkish flowers in early summer.

Let’s hope that people like the sound of it, and we all start saving plants to make it happen. With one or two purchases along the way.

Bright sparks for a slow Spring…

Well, maybe it’s not that slow. If I was a meterologist, I would probably say that and reel off statistics to prove it. But, right now, with deluging rain and winter temperatures, it all is a test of faith somehow. But, the lengthening light is helping some plants to make a show in any case. Yesterday, I bumbled out and almost fell over these…

Tulipa linifolia Mar 15

So red it hurts...Tulipa linifolia, Mar 15
So red it hurts…Tulipa linifolia, Mar 15

I had forgotten- as I am not a great list-maker- that I had bought these and actually planted them where they want to be. Species tulips are small gems, which generally prefer gravelly, well-drained conditions and then they must be left alone. Very slowly, they will clump up and come back each year, as long as you remember where they are, and don’t stick a fork through them when dormant. They withstand poor weather pretty well with their stumpy legs, and so are ideal for times of low morale, like these. Pillarbox-red doesn’t get close to the brilliance of the red. I didn’t buy these from Avon Bulbs, but I could have, and Avon Bulbs always have a stand to remember in the big tent at Chelsea. The link shows you their display which won a Gold again. And there you can see from the planting list, Tulipa Abu Hassan, which I have often read about and coveted. It’s a normal tulip, if you see what I mean, and it is quite gorgeous. And the name is enough for me!

And, whilst bumbling about outside, surely one of the finest activities in the garden, the sun came out and, for about half an hour, Spring was back. You could almost hear the energy in the garden changing. Blooming for once at the same time as the white Japanese quince, Magnolia stellata, the only magnolia I grow, had burst its buds. Looking for all the world as if a flock of tiny doves had landed in the garden, it is a delight right now. Against the papery last-year flowers of the Hydrangea quercifolia, it brings real life into the garden.

Magnolia stellata Mar 15
Magnolia stellata Mar 15

And just along from the magnolia, the big, fat, unfurling buds of the Paeonia ludlowii var lutea. This was a purchase back in Scotland from Dougal Phillip’s nursery outside Linlithgow. Which, by the way, has a really good tearoom, albeit no longer in the walled garden of Hopetoun House, soup and a cheese scone, fantastic. But back to the paeony, it was in a ‘lost and found’ section, for desperate, homeless plants that had lost their tags, and their looks temporarily. So, for £3 a total snip.

It is a stately plant. It may take some time to get going, but when it does, from the fat buds you get gorgeous papery bright yellow flowers and the most refined, dissected, bright emerald green foliage. in fact, it would win for the foliage alone.

Fat buds of Paeonia ludlowii var. lutea Mar 15
Fat buds of Paeonia ludlowii var. lutea Mar 15

And then I turned round, and the sun had backlit my rather muddy coloured deep pink hellebores, and I had to breathe out. Really lovely.

Backlit hellebores, Mar 15
Backlit hellebores, Mar 15

And now, it’s raining again!

wp-image-204″ /> So red it hurts…Tulipa linifolia, Mar 15[/caption]

Doctor, doctor, I keep talking to my plants…

It’s like this, you see. I find myself in the garden, looking closely at plants, and then I hear myself talking to them. Mostly, I am saying congratulatory or encouraging things, or passing on a compliment. Occasionally, there is the pep talk, something like ‘Now look, you’ve got all you need, so up and at it’. Actually, come to think of it, that’s got quite a parental feel about it, a bit too Critical Parent, if you remember Transactional Analysis. But there is also the serious telling-off to the last-chance saloon plant, the one that’s had two strikes and is on the last one. After which, the compost heap is the destination. I have to say, it’s taken me a while to not keep trying to save plants from the compost heap. I have learnt to admit that I change my mind about liking plants, and that is my prerogative.

No less a gardener than Vita Sackville West says so too, in 1968,

“…I feel that one of the secrets of good gardening in always to remove, ruthlessly, any plant one doesn’t like… Scrap what does not satisfy and replace it by something that will.”

And, for more moral support on this matter of liking, idea, taste and follow-through, Anne Wareham, a fiery gardener who famously hates gardening, whom I would love and dread to meet, nevertheless speaks the kind of sense I like when she says this of what a garden is,

“…A garden, designed and planted to give delight to the eye and the realisation of a fantasy about what could possibly be made with the shape of the land, with plants, with the work of the seasons and the weather. This is the point of it all and it is worth all the rest – just. I think. Maybe. Yes…”

Mind you, for all that Anne Wareham is fiery, her garden at Veddw is absolutely on my list to visit, and I love the fact that she isn’t afraid to take a tilt at accepted ‘wisdoms’…

And I came across a post from another blogger, Tepilo, who had a sharp piece entitled ‘Being ruthless in your garden’

So, these are the plants in my garden that were being talked-to this week by me…

Wild violets, Viola papilonacea, growing in the paths, March 2015. I am saying, 'You look lovely, but this is FAR enough. I will take you out..'. Apologies to Liam Neeson.
Wild violets, Viola papilonacea, growing in the paths, March 2015. I am saying, ‘You look lovely, but this is FAR enough. I will take you out..’. Apologies to Liam Neeson.
Euphorbia characias subsp.wulfenii flowers emerging, March 2015.  I am saying, 'Love the way you look as if you are praying...'
Euphorbia characias subsp.wulfenii flowers emerging, March 2015. I am saying, ‘Love the way you look as if you are praying…’
Unknown single Helleborus orientalis, white and pink March 2015. I am saying, ' Stay apart...no messing'
Unknown single Helleborus orientalis, white and pink March 2015. I am saying, ‘ Stay apart…no messing’
Iris reticulata, Feb 2015.  I am saying, 'Doing beautifully, not to self, put some more in there in the Autumn'
Iris reticulata, Feb 2015. I am saying, ‘Doing beautifully, note to self, put some more in there in the Autumn’
Euphorbia March 2015. I am saying, 'I think you're mutants, what's going on in there?'
Euphorbia March 2015. I am saying, ‘I think you’re mutants, what’s going on in there?’