August in Oloron…

Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’, Plantago major rubrifolium, Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather, with Paulownia tomentosa behind, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2021

It has been a very Scottish summer here in Oloron so far. A few very hot days, but mainly showers and a lot of low cloud- whereas on the other side of Toulouse in the Languedoc, people and plants are being cooked. But for a garden in the first summer of cultivation, this is probably what the doctor would have ordered as it is granting time for growth to take place in a relatively unstressed situation.

The Barn Garden is partially walled and also has tree presence from next door with sun cover from some very substantial trees on the other side of the wall. On planting up and rock removal, I was aiming for a super-jungly effect with a lot of architectural shapes and good foliage form. It’s not a big space but I wanted it to make a big presence and statement. So with the help of semi-mature favourites from the old Tostat garden and some purchases, I can begin to see what I was aiming at.

In the photograph above, plants from Tostat include Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, a small but slim shrub/tree, with flowers, berries, autumn colour and a good shape. It had toiled a bit in a large pot, but is now so much happier in the ground although needing a little extra water in dry periods in this first year. The Caryopteris is one of three cuttings taken last summer and is really enjoying the protection of the overhead canopy. It is just about to flower, and then you have the lovely clash of quite a bright blue with the golden green foliage. I love it.

The Pennisetum is new to me this year, the Plantago came from seed last year, and has been a fantastically good ground cover in the new garden, made even better by the vertical flowerspikes in a good, firm brown. The Eupatorium had a good outing in the last post so I won’t repeat myself, and so we come to my pollarding experiment, which is all new to me this year – Paulownia tomentosa. It is only a baby, aged 21 months, and there are 3 of these big babies to take care of. The idea being to cut them to the ground in the Spring and encourage dinner plate sized leaves and maybe 2 metres of growth- but not 40, which would be the full tree size. A nice bit of Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ can be seen on the far right, also brought from Tostat.

The big baby aged 19 months, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2021

Story so far is that I am beginning to see where I was headed, and so I try to go into the Barn Garden and stand or sit in a different place. It is so easy to see only what you have always seen and, for me, to look at individual plants rather than take a broad perspective on the whole. So I try and envisage the plants at full size that are destined to create the big shapes for the jungly feel, and overall, I think it’s doing pretty ok right now but will just need thinning out of some of the filler plants as next year goes on. It’s all fluid and I like that. Got to leave space for tinkering too…

Nearer the ground level as it were, sometimes great things happen in small ways. Salvia spathacea is a Californian sage which prefers shaded, woody areas, not what you expect. But here in the protected semi-shade, it is growing well and spreading rhizomatously, right next to the Rhamnus frangula alnifolia ‘Fine Line’ which struggled in the more exposed Tostat garden. I love it for it’s thready, feathery look and slim shape. I have also planted a ground cover sage, Salvia procurrens, which should run nicely underneath some of the bigger shrubs. It looks like a strawberry plant with bright foliage and runners, plus small blue flowers. This may prove to be an invader too far, but it’s worth a shot, we’ll see.

Salvia spathacea, Helleborus argutifolius, Rhamnus frangula alnus ‘Fine Line’, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2021

And now to some more survivors that came through me losing all the plant labels in the move. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purple Fall’ is a slightly needy grass, but so pretty. This is the first time it has flowered in the six years since I bought it, it never settled in Tostat but it is finally at home here and told me that by flowering.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purple Fall’, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2021

Today’s big surprise was realising that what I thought was a pretty hopeless hollyhock is in fact Kitaibelia vitifolia. Some time last year I bought seed of this, a tall hollyhock cousin from the Balkans, because it is tough, takes sun and poor soil and flowers in the second half of the summer, which is always specially welcome. The labels disaster struck and new things grown from seed for the first time vanished into the pot muddle which lived in the courtyard till Spring this year. Then I dusted off the survivors, mistook this (not a bad guess just askew) for a hollyhock but did plant it in a good place as it happens. So, though a little stunted by the poor treatment, it is still going strong. Roll on next year.

Kitaibelia vitifolia, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2021

My latest purchase is Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’. This is a close relative of ‘Amistad’ but apparently a tad hardier and also more compact in size. The black calyxes are fantastic, giving the blue a real shimmer of excitement, whilst the foliage is that good vibrant green of ‘Amistad’. I will find an outdoor space this winter with a little protection from winter wet and try it outdoors, with a few cuttings for insurance.

Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2021

Seeds and all that….

Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ Tostat, December 2019

Seed catalogues make great reading in January. Every gardening journalist worth their salt will be saying this to us readers as we face the fact that we can’t do very much at this time of year. I admit that my method of choosing seed doesn’t start with the seed catalogues, I come at it from the other end.

I like to start with what is new to me, interests me and might work in my testing garden of soaking wet and bone dry…. and then I look and see if I can get seed. So, it is with purple leaved tough plants that can give my soil a bit of a rest and maybe do battle with some of the weeds that I decide have no value to me. With seed you are talking about allowing growth for a good 9 months to a year before you have a plant that will make it- so some thought is required. Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ was one of last year’s picks. Not impressed for the first few months, I came home at the end of October to find very bonny- looking plants that had filled out their pots and were looking great. They still look good, even the ones I risked planting out last week before the frost came back.

Plantago major rubrifolia
Photo credit: www.jardindelasalamandre.blogspot.com

Alys Fowler woke me up to Purple Plantain. I can grow Plantain- oh yes. You might say that the grass in our back garden is easily 60% plantain in plenty of places. So why not grow the purple stuff? You can see the connecting thought between the Salvia and the Plantain. So, I bought seed from Plant World Seeds and I have about a dozen, rather tired looking baby seedlings in pots under cover outside. So, I am hoping that they will become gorgeous as the salvias did after a few months. Fingers crossed.

And now I have another one to try. Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’ which is not only purple, tick, but is also frilly-leaved. I can’t wait. Seed is on its way from Special Plants.

Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

Every year, during the winter, I grow one or two things from seed in the house. Usually, I manage about a 40% success rate. But honestly, growing seeds indoors even with managed humidity in December is a long shot and is more to do with my itchy fingers than it is to do with horticultural success. It has been a damp squib this year. I had a go at Penstemon whippleanus and Nipponanthecum nipponicum. Both have been, well, disastrous. Never mind, I will have another go at the Nipponanthecum- it’s a small, determined chrysanthemum which apparently likes sun and dry- so it’s got to be worth it.

Helleborus ‘Ushba’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

I also chose Helleborus ‘Ushba’ as seed from Special Plants. I don’t have a big number of hellebores, but I do love what I have, and ‘Ushba’ is a Helen Ballard variety, and one of her hallmarks as a breeder was managing to create varieties which hold their flowers in a more open and erect way than other varieties. I have not had a lot of success with cold germinating seeds, but I am going to try from the moment they arrive in the post. And my last seed possibility for this New Year selection is Kitaibelia vitifolia. A fast-growing Mallow with creamy-white flowers will do me nicely, thank you.

Kitaibelia vitifolia
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net