Surprises and purges…

Looking south yesterday in early sunshine, Tostat, February 2020

Early sunshine this week is just beginning to catch the turn into Spring. The greens that were a bit fatigued are beginning to perk up and the quality of the light is warming up just a bit. Looking south yesterday, while I am not yet doing my minimalist tidying up, of which more later, I could just detect the whiff of Spring coming.

In one of the planted squares near the back door, last year’s from-seed- Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’ is looking really good. I chose it because I have a bit of a thing about dark foliage, and the glossiness of theses leaves which have come through blistering heat and dryness, a soaking November, and now a mildish winter is picked up beautifully in the morning light. For such a lovely plant, and dead easy to grow from seed so don’t pay good money for plants in pots despite my link above, the name ‘Chedglow’ is a bit of a clunker in my view.

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’, Tostat, February 2020

And not far away in the same square, is a Spring favourite of mine, Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’. Now there’s a name that works! A smallish plant but it does slowly clump up, and when the golden lemon flowers open, the contrast is quite lovely.

Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, Tostat, February 2020

I really hate big irises. It’s not that other people can’t make them look wonderful, but with me, they are nothing but a problem, not liking an often damp spring, and providing safe havens for seriously annoying weeds that I don’t want. So I have annihilated them pretty much from the garden. However, the very early Iris reticulata is another story. Tiny, but very animated, I grow them in various places round the garden just to create a tiny surprise at this time of year, and I have some in a low basin that I can put where I like. This lovely dark one pops up under clumps of Eryngium eburneum, whose long, strappy leaves are a bit on the dormant side right now- which makes just enough sun to tempt the Iris to flower.

Unknown Iris reticulatat, Tostat, February 2020

This has been the best year for Daphne odora aureomarginata. It bursts into flower before any new foliage has got going, and this year, the bees and insects visiting have created a turbine sound effect at the back door on warmer days. But Daphne can be a bit temperamental. This large one was bought about 15 years ago by me as a tiny stripling, but I have another one which, at least 8 years after planting, is still barely 20cms x 20cms and looks deeply miserable

The path at the back door, Tostat, February 2020

I can forgive Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii anything at this time of year. Later, this will be a year of the purge to reduce my expanding population a tad, but now they have free rein. The praying heads are just fabulous, especially when draped nicely with dew, and the chartreuse flowerheads that follow are a welcome punch of colour that outdoes any daffodil.

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, Tostat, Feburary 2020

Talking of purges, Andy did a massive hack in Shitty Bank. This is the part of the garden that is no more than the poor, stony spoil from the swimming pool installation chucked up to make a mound by the ruisseau. Whatever grows here has to be super tough and many plants have died along the way. This year we are experimenting with making great heaps of cutback material and leaving them to cover difficult areas, to see if we can regain control where brambles have got dug in. So, amongst the shortly-to-be-stately Eryngium eburneum clumps, Grevillea rosmarinfolia and a mean Yucca, here are the heaps of cutback. Let’s see.

Shitty Bank, Tostat, February 2020

A great delight last year was growing this lovely Yellow cerinthe from seed. And as ever with cerinthe, if it likes you, it has self-seeded beautifully and these are the first flowers.

Yellow cerinthe in the dew, Tostat, February 2020

I don’t purge any wildlife, and try my best to let it all in, come what may. But I draw the line at the Pine processionary caterpillar. An evil little kritter, which forms up into dangerously charming lines and sets off following its leader all over the garden. They are poisonous to humans and other animals, and I have yet to find a good reason for their existence. Petrol and matches on the spot before they start roaming is the only answer. These ones have all been torched.

Finishing on a cheerier note, two new Hellebores flowered for the first time today, and are a very elegant addition to the fold, see below. And they are such a good and all-round player, the Hellebore. Clothing the bare legs of Rosa ‘Fantin-Latour right now, the jungly Orientalis foliage will stay good and green right through the winter. The danger of a few blotchy bits can be over-exaggerated I reckon.

Time, motion and weather…

Fritillaria meleagris, Tostat, February 2020

The last two weeks we have experienced a couple of hard frosts, glorious sunshine with temperatures in the early 20s, belting rain and fog. The weather has bounced from one season to another with no compunction. The impact of the weather has troubled the garden. The fritillarias that I bought at sale price, how could such a lovely thing be on sale?, have been fooled into flowering early, and in 3 days have gone from slim, tightly bound buds to full strength. But this isn’t too serious- what makes me ponder is when plants and shrubs at the tough end of the spectrum cave in.

Two plants have done this- only two found so far. Bergenia ‘Wintermachen’, which was new to me last winter, has caved into, I suspect, our piercingly dry and relentless summer and is no more. And a small shrub that I loved, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ has also given up and it had been in the garden for three years. Think I have to up the tough stakes for entry into the garden.

The end of the path….River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

Meantime, just before Christmas, when the Adour river broke free and forced the evacuation of part of our village, we now have new vistas down by the river. The sentier de l’Adour, which winds its way down the river from Maubourguet to us and beyond, and is a favourite for walking groups and cyclists, has been washed away and we have a new bend in the river and a shingle bank where the path ended up on the other side. We also lost about 20 trees in the deluge.

Molly picks up the path, River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

This little Iris reticulata is such a gem. I planted about 6 bulbs 2 years ago, and then treated them with great neglect. They are easy to forget about, as they are tiny anyway, and die down completely in about two months. But the blue is gorgeous. I have forgotten the variety, but one bonus from our dry, hot summer is that the bulbs have been busily reproducing themselves in the heat, and so there should be more than 3-4 flowers next year in this little group.

Iris reticulata, Tostat, February 2020

Amazingly, only 3 weeks after being utterly drowned beneath the deluge and the detritus from the river, the snowdrops burst forth- but were then hit by the hot sunshine and so only lasted 2-3 weeks this winter. They are spectacular though, and adore the dappled shade of the forest and paths.

Snowdrops final blaze, River Adour, Tostat, February 2020

I love the simple purity of Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’. For my money, you can keep your doubles, those salmon-pink varieties and all the rest. This is the real McCoy. So elegant, contained, and almost Japanese in their stick-like growth and green tea-coloured buds, they really signal the beginning of Spring to me. No trouble at all as a shrub, and I just allow the sticky, angular shrub to grow as it likes in the semi-shade and relative moisture of the area beside the ruisseau or canal.

Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, Tostat, February 2020
Caught by the sun, Tostat, February 2020

And here we have Fritillaria meleagris in full purple, leopard-spotted glory. I used to have these growing under a Daphne mezereum f. alba in our garden in Scotland, and I know that these will be fine in the Spring but will not enjoy the summer, so I have them in a pot which will be later positioned in the coolest, dampest part of the garden that I can find.

Fritillaria 3 days later, Tostat, February 2020

And this small Hellebore has been taken all of three years to flower. No idea what variety it is, but the pointed green-tinged outer petals combined with the creamy rounded inner petals and the double form are a great combination. The crown of frost was a lucky find this morning.

First time flowering double cream Hellebore with a dusting of frost, Tostat, February 2020
And the inside of the Fritillaria flower is just as gorgeous, Tostat, February 2020

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?’