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

The slimmest of pickings…

Flipendula rubra and friend 717
Filipendula rubra Venusta and friend, Tostat, end July 2017

Well, actually, I’m not picking anything.  And the last couple of days have consisted of a massive electric storm, plummetting rain, and now we have boomeranged down to 17C from 37C, with grey skies and more heavy rain.  Not that I mind the rain, far from it, though it is a case of too little, too late, but at least it will reduce the death rate.  All small plants are being carefully tended and watered, not to venture into the ground until this madness is over.  But I liked this view of the Filipendula rubra Venusta, caught in morning sun a week or so ago, and thought that it looked good mingling in with the wild umbellifers.

Yesterday, the buds of the Hibiscus palustris still looked as if they were auditioning for a bondage movie, but today the first flower is out, photograph to follow if it survives this downpour.

Hibiscus palustris 817
Buds waiting on Hibiscus palustris, Tostat, August 2017

I grew this Hibiscus trionum from seed about five years ago, and it has finally made it to just over a metre tall in our poor, stony soil.  But it is beginning to look worth the effort, and it looks ridiculously green despite the dryness.  Oddly, most English sites describe it as an annual, but I have to say mine is quite definitely perennial.  Even our Maire gloomily pronounced last week that he hadn’t seen such dryness since the terrible summer of 2003, the summer when we first saw the house on our househunting visit over from Scotland.

Hibiscus trionum 817
Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, August 2017

Miscanthus sinensis Malepartus has decided to flower about a month earlier than normal and has gone straight to the silver stage.

Miscanthus Malepartus 817
Flowering already, Miscanthus sinensis Malepartus, Tostat, August 2017

The Sanguisorba menziessii clump that I moved last year is very much liking where it is- again, I suspect that there is water in small springs under this part of the garden.  But the lovely red flowerheads are quickly going over.

Sanguisorba menziesii 717
Sanguisorba menziesii, Tostat, August 2017

Vernonia crinita Mammuth 817
Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, August 2017

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ has been flattened prior to flowering this year, as the rain poured off the bending banana leaves, so there are only one or two stray flowerheads surviving.

Plumbago capensis 817
Plumbago auriculata capensis, Tostat, August 2017

Having talked about Ceratostigma last week, this week the rather more refined South African cousin, Plumbago auriculata capensis, started to flower.  In South Africa, this could grow in a lax fashion to maybe 2m high and wide, but with me, more like 1m x1m. It is definitely tender and has to come under cover at the end of autumn.  For me, the darker skyblue of the Ceratostigma willmottianum is more attractive than the paler Plumbago, but in the land of small pickings, I will take what I can get.

Hydrangea paniculata Vasterival 817
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star le Vasterival’, Tostat, August 2017

This Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star le Vasterival’ flowerhead is perhaps half the size of last year, but I am glad it kept fighting to flower, and hope it gets an easier ride next year.  it is named after another incredible plantswoman, Princess Greta Sturdza. who died in 2009.  Of Norwegian and Russian background, she married into the Moravian Sturdza family, and on moving to France in 1955, began her superb garden at Le Vasterival, near Varengeville in Normandy.  Le Vasterival still exists as a garden, not far from Le Bois des Moutiers, with more than 9,000 species and varieties of plants.  More than fifty years of skill and passion created this garden, not to be missed if you are visiting Normandy.  Among her cultivars is Hydrangea paniculata Great Star le Vasterival.

 

Hibiscus galore…

Hibiscus, it sounds so exotic. It conjures images of Lena Horne, in a sultry frock, with an impossibly large flower clamped to her head, darkness in the Everglades… and mystery.

The incomparable Lena Horne, wearing a rose actually photo credit: www.pinterest.com
The incomparable Lena Horne, wearing a rose actually
photo credit: http://www.pinterest.com

Well, my hibiscus are a bit of a mystery to me.  Today, for the first time ever, and the plant is now a tidy upright specimen of about 2 feet, my Hibiscus trionum flowered while I was washing up. Well, I saw the flower for the first time whilst washing up to be strictly accurate.  I got the seed from the RHS seed list about 5 years ago, managed to germinate only one, and put it in an average spot when it was about 6 inches high. Perhaps too soon, but I thought it would be a fast grower.  It has taken its time, however, and each year I have cleared room for it and hoped, to no avail until today.

Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, August 2015
Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, August 2015

It is a very lovely, if short-lived, thing. Apparently, the flowers only last for a day, but who cares? Exquisite porcelain white, papery petals with just a hint of pink, and at the centre, a gorgeous plummy-red stain and the long, creamy stamens stand out. It is a charmer.  There are actually quite a few buds, ready and waiting in handfuls, so the rest of this week will be filled with hibiscus flowers. Life could be a lot worse.

Hibiscus trionum buds waiting, Tostat, August 2015
Hibiscus trionum buds waiting, Tostat, August 2015

And over on the bank of the ruisseau, our water canal that runs at the back of the garden, I bought and planted in early Spring a very different Hibiscus, which has also just got going in the flower department.  I am often attracted by sale plants! And have to be strong willed to overcome the temptations of sale items. But this Spring, on the website of a good shrub nursery in the Landes, Pepinieres Côte Sud des Landes, I fell for and bought Hibiscus palustris. I was drawn to the idea of a big, brassy flowering shrub that would like sun and damp and might do battle with the usual late summer weed invaders, and Hibiscus palustris is supposed to get big and dominate.

Hibiscus palustris, Tostat, August 2015
Hibiscus palustris, Tostat, August 2015

Hibiscus palustris buds, Tostat, August 2015
Hibiscus palustris buds, Tostat, August 2015

Well, you can see that it is part of the Hibiscus family. And so far, so good. When it was planted, it was two stout stumps and a big rootball. This year it has got to about 1m high, and the flowers are not as giant as they will be, but they are certainly noticeably large.  The buds are interesting, framed by what look like thin little fingers.  And there are quite a few in waiting. So, I think it is liking where it is, and I am expecting great things for next year, maybe even the 6″ flowers that the books talk about. Okay, it’s pink, and you can have enough of pink, well, I can. But I will forgive it that, I think.