The merry month of June…

Aristea major, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021

June started with the only flowerspike of Aristea major opening up to give us the shot of blue that always surprises, and giving the hoverflies a good morning snack. It can’t speak to me, but I know that the Aristea found the move unpleasant, and the wet January was not to it’s taste either. So, weekly liquid seaweed feeds seem to be cheering it up and normal growth of new leaves is resuming. It was a five year wait from sowing seed to the first flower, so I am really invested in it’s recovery.

I split this lovely yellowy-green Hakonechloa macra Naomi into five plants, which had orginally been two plants in a pot. This is a very obliging and beautiful Japanese grass, which is altogether more tolerant of sun and dryness than many sites would suggest. I think that what it needs to be super tough is to really develop the root mass to support the leaf growth, so if you have either planted it or split it, expect to keep it watered regularly for the first few months, but it will probably need very little extra water thereafter. I grew the golden variety in full sun with dry soil very successfully and one plant gradually spread to easily cover a metre over 10 years. So, of the original two plants, I now have four growing in the Barn Garden and the last piece in this lovely cracked pot.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Naomi’, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021
Isoplexis canariensis, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2021

I have seriously sinned against this plant, Isoplexis canariensis, and despite my letting it freeze outside in the pot, it has valiantly clung on this Spring, and in the walled protection of the Barn Garden, I am risking it and have planted it out into the ground. I do, however, adore the colouring- the burnt orange of the flowers, and when happy, the slightly glossy dark green foliage is quite lovely. But I saw the near cousin, Isoplexis isabelliana ‘Bella’, offered this Spring and so have one in a pot in the courtyard. So far, so good, it came as a teeny plant and is now bushing up nicely and starting to flower with the same burnt orange colouring as the shrub. ‘Bella’ looks as though she will be shorter, just over a metre, and bushier than the Canariensis, which can get leggy, and it will need some help to get through a damp winter. But for orange lovers like me, it is otherwise not at all demanding.

Andy Sturgeon used Canariensis to really good effect in his Chelsea garden of 2016- his website has some great photos of the garden.

Isoplexis isabelliana ‘Bella’, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021

This is a really lovely Penstemon that I grew for the first time last summer, Penstemon ‘Russian River’. It starts off as a misty dark grape colour almost frosted with a light patina, then romps into full-on juicy dark blue/purple as the flowers open out. Unlike some, this Penstemon stands tall and erect from the off, even before flowering. Cuttings virtually take themselves, so buy one and then propagate to have sturdy young plants for next year.

Penstemon ‘Russian River’, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021

And in theory, I should love Digiplexis. But, I have come to the conclusion that they are probably more trouble than they are worth. They don’t reliably over-winter and can be quite moody till quite late in the year, so despite the fact that the colours are really good, and the plant is bushy rather than being a very tall single spike, I won’t be rushing to find any more. Graham Rice is pretty cutting about the name alone, never mind the actual plant.

Digiplexis ‘Berry Canary’, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021
Digiplexis ‘Illumination Raspberry’, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021

I am very proud of my seed-grown Paulownia tomentosa though. For a start, a good friend now no longer with us, gave me the seed, and then 2 years later, here we are with thriving young plants. I am going to do the coppicing-thing, as no way can I handle a full-size tree, but 2m tall and dinner plate sized leaves sounds good to me. Next to it, is one of the divided ‘Naomi’ plants, which is looking a little uncertain in it’s new position, but it will come through this phase. I am confident.

Paulonia tomentosa, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021

Another remarkable survivor is Rosa ‘Lawrence Johnston’. Saved last year from a very poor choice of planting spot, this tough rose is making a great come-back, although I do wonder about the naming, as my rose looks very different from others photographed on sites. It is also pale apricot rather than yellow really, and more double than semi, but, sigh, I love it anyway.

Rosa ‘Lawrence Johnston’, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021
Nierembergia scoparia, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021

Nierembergia scoparia is a strange, loose, wiry plant which I grow in a pot in amongst other plants, so that the flowers emerge as if by magic through the undergrowth- well, that’s the theory. But the flowers are really pretty and it is far tougher than it looks, so it may go in the ground next year in a sunny, sheltered spot.

So this will be the ‘pond’- a rather grand old bassin for watering cattle will get a new life. It may need a liner as there is a slight fissure seeping water high on the side, but we are experimenting to see if this is really required. This time, a submerged pump will gently agitate the water, no Versailles effects for us, and I am thinking papyrus, and other tall stuff at one end, with a small lily, Nymphaea ‘Paul Hariot’ providing coverage and flowers.

Soon to be a small pond, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021

And here’s a surprise- to me at least, a small scale Alchemilla epipsila, which will hopefully be as pretty and long lived as the bigger Mollis, but less invasive in a small garden. It is the most adorable thing when droplets of dew or rain sparkle on the serrated edges of the leaves.

Alchemilla epipsila, Oloron Sainte Marie, June 2021

And now it’s early June…

Gertrud’s Penstemon, such a good plant, Tostat, June 2020

Where has this year gone? I cannot believe the evidence of my own eyes as I look round the garden and see that early summer arrived about 2 weeks ago. Most of the once-blooming roses are over and done with, and spring flowerers of all kinds were beaten by the last 2 weeks of 30C and no rain. But a plant that has just adored it, is my unknown Penstemon, bought 2 years ago at the lovely Jardin d’Antin, where Gertrud has a very good eye for a plant.

Isoplexis canariensis, the Lazarus of the garden, Tostat, June 2020

Years ago, I grew Isoplexis canariensis from seed and had two big pots blooming magnificently. I left them out over the winter once, bad mistake. But incredibly, last year, three small plants re-emerged from death and this year, with a guarantee of good behaviour from me, they are back. I had them kept dry but with protection in the open barn last winter, and they really liked that. Masses of water and some feed to kickstart them and they have flowered 2 months earlier than they used to. I adore the colour, and the glossy evergreen leaves are a great foil to the orange-rusty flowers.

Libertia ixioides ‘Goldfinger’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a really lovely Libertia. These plants have had a slightly chequered history with me, as I grew them successfully from seed and then planted them out in an area that was a bit too tough for them. So, out they came and went into the Mix, the massed perennial planting under the cherry tree. This slim Libertia is not a fastgrower, but it is especially good in the winter, when the orange stripes on the leaves really glow. But this is the first time they flowered, with a sprinkling of these charming white flowers- which, when woven in amongst the other perennials, charmingly catch the eye.

Nigella papilosa ‘African Bride’, Tostat, June 2020

I am a grumpy annuals grower- they aren’t really my thing, but I grew some of this Nigella that we were going to give away as ‘freebie pollinator’ plants at our Tostatenfleur event in April- but it didn’t happen because of covid-19. However, I have loved this slightly different Nigella for the drama of the petals and stamens combo. And in early morning sunshine, the stamens have a ruby glow to them. I am saving the seed for sure…

Oenethora speciosa, Tostat, June 2020

Some people hate this evening primrose, Oenethora speciosa, but the trick is to plant it in rubbish soil and full sun. Any conditions more luxurious will ensure you have a massive growth and it will run and run. And even with rubbish soil, be prepared to yank masses out. Having said that, in low light, the gorgeous shell-pink flowers, of which there hundreds every day, glow. I have been known to be snobby about it, but actually, it is a good doer in controlled conditions.

Pelargonium ‘Ardens’, Tostat, June 2020

This species Pelargonium is a delight- deep red flowers with an enticing darker splash, and needs no special treatment other than a dry winter, protected from the cold, and then watering to wake it up in the spring once frost has finished.

Punica granatum ‘Mme Legrelliae’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a great flowering shrub, which deserves to be better known really. There is nothing quite like the frilly-hankerchief look of the coral and cream flowers. It’s a non-fruiting pomegranate, but is hardy down to -15C and is very happy in not particularly great soil that is free-draining. It won’t like water round the roots in winter. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about the naming and history of the plant, a fascinating story of important, but unknown horticultural women.

Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, Tostat, June 2020

This rose, Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, which I bought with my pal Jane at Chelsea from Harkness several years ago, is a Persian descendant, and is bred for heat tolerance. It grows pretty well in a slightly damper bit of the garden. I love the early apricot-pink colouring, just a bit disappointing that it fades to what I would call a dull brick colour- but never mind. The open, single structure makes it more useful for pollinators than many roses.

Rosa ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’, Tostat, June 2020

Here is a ready-made bouquet of Rosa ‘Great Maiden’s Blush’ or ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’ here in France. It smells lovely and blooms off and on in waves all summer.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’, Tostat, June 2020

I am very fond of Rosa ‘New Dawn’– it has that perfect shell-pink, with a lot of cream in it, a bit of an ice-queen really. But the slightly angular petals appeal to me and it lasts well, flowering for about a month in a lazy droop over the garden wall.

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’, Tostat, June 2020

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’ struggles a bit with me, a bit too dry and hot for it I think, but the colour is fabulous. This photograph does not do it justice- think the deepest, richest crimson velvet, and you are almost there.

Salvia cacaliifolia, Tostat, June 2020

And now for the Battle of the Blues- won only just by Salvia cacaliifolia. This is a tender salvia, with bright light green ivy-shaped leaves, which will just about twine upwards with a little support. I have it supported by a bit of redundant barbecue grill, not yet wind-tested as a support, but it is working for the moment. The blue is deep, and electric.

Salvia patens, Tostat, June 2020

Salvia patens is just a tad lighter in tone, but scores for really big flowers. Oddly it has the same ivy-shaped leaves as cacaliifolia, but has more of a darcyii look about it.

Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’, Ludlow, June 2017

I saw this rose in Ludlow a couple of years ago, and just the year before, I bought it for a rose-loving friend in Tostat, who has just returned the favour beautifully by growing on and giving me a very good looking cutting. I missed the flowers of my new rose in the rain, so luckily had a photo from 2017. I am so looking forward to it. Thank you, H and M, very much.

Foxglove mania…

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Foxgloves, Tostat, May 2017

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Apricot pink foxgloves, Tostat, April 2015

A slightly hazy photo of the foxgloves that turned up in abundance this Spring.  It was a really good year for them, despite the dryness here they found the moist spots in a couple of places in the garden, and were statuesque for almost a month- a great bang for no bucks.  I don’t try to regulate their appearances, they just put themselves where they want to be, and most of them are the regular Digitalis purpurea, with just a dash of the exotic from some apricot foxglove seed-grown plants that I planted out.  But, in England in June, I was introduced to some more unusual varieties, which I really loved.

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Digitalis lutea, Kentchurch Court, Herefordshire, June 2017

Digitalis lutea is a very elegant thing.  About half the size of your average foxglove, so maybe less likely to be toppled in the wind, it has slim, cream-coloured trumpets more like a Penstemon flower, and it worked beautifully in this border planting partnered with the white astrantia and orange hemerocallis. A very classy thing, without being showy.

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Digitalis lanata, Thruxton Rectory, Herefordshire, June 2017

Taking cream to a clotted and Devonian level, Digitalis lanata was another foxglove new to me in a plantsman’s garden in Herefordshire that we visited as part of the ‘Gardens in the Wild’ festival in June.  The RHS link will take you to a foxglove that looks very different- no way to explain this, but the chap at Thruxton Rectory was a very serious plantsman, so perhaps he has found something unusual as a yellow form.  This lovely things is again half the size of your average foxglove, but with with more generous flowers than lutea. Very garden-worthy.

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Digitalis grandiflora, Bryan’s Ground, Shropshire, June 2017

A real giant, Digitalis grandiflora had taken a battering at Bryan’s Ground in Shropshire when we visited.  Quite a few of them were on the ground but this one was tall enough for me to look up it’s nose as it were.  A mellow yellow with red-brown speckling in the trumpets, which were generously sized with more to open up the stem.   Also, in Shropshire, I absolutely fell in love with Linaria vulgaris which had merrily self-seeded in the planting outside the Ludlow Food Centre.  It sort of counts as it was once included in the Scrophulariaceae family, and there are similarities in the flower shape.   Also called Butter and Eggs, good name, this is a great wildflower for bumblebees and many other pollinators, and, frankly, it is quite gorgeous- so I have sent for seed.

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Linaria vulgaris, Ludlow, Shropshire, June 2017

Slim, erect at about 0.3m, and completely at home amongst a clump of Stipa tennuisisma, the Linaria had sprinkled itself among the planting delightfully.

I grew Isoplexis canariensis from seed about six years ago, it is a Canary Island foxglove and pretty rare apparently in cultivation.  Of course, it was the fiery orange colouring that drew me to it, and the amazing fact that these absolutely minute seedlings would ever turn into anything so big and gorgeous.  I have them in a big deep pot as they seem to like quite moist conditions, and I overwinter them in our covered barn.  But, this year, they have really not liked our boomerang summer, from 11C to 37C in a matter of days last week for example, and so the flowering has been sporadic and sparse this year.  It may be that the plants are becoming too woody, and I have to start again, but for the moment, I will put it all down to this weird summer.  The plant grows to about 1.3 metres in height and has normally glossy deep green foliage- this year it looks far less happy.  But, as you can see from 2016, when in full throttle, it is a gorgeous thing.

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Isoplexis canariensis, Tostat, August 2016

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Isoplexis canariensis detail, Tostat, June 2017