Seeds…

Romneya coulteri, Thruxton Rectory, Herefordshire, June 2017

Having the much bigger garden in Tostat got me into seed. We had so much space to fill, and slowly but surely, I got a bit better at it as the years went by. I learnt to use the heat that we get to advantage, and how not to drown my chances with over-watering. I haven’t grown much from seed here in Oloron yet, but this summer I wanted to remedy rookie errors I made last year- namely starting seed too late, and the silliest of all, labelling seedlings wrongly!

I adore what I call the ‘fried egg plant’, Romneya coulteri, which I grew in a daft place in Tostat but it liked it, so there it stayed. It chooses and you obey, it’s that kind of plant. But wouldn’t you welcome these giant flowers often on 2m stems telling you what to do? It’s a plant dominatrix. It hates being moved, so don’t bother trying. The hottest, driest spot in full sun that you have will do it just fine, and it needs nothing else, except space, so don’t crowd it into a busy herbaceous border. I bought some seed this summer in Oloron and have failed utterly to achieve germination, so I will end up buying a new plant.

One of the best plants ever that you can grow from seed is any kind of Cerinthe. Unfairly sometimes called the ‘shrimp plant’ because the flowerhead kind of curls over, like a shrimp?, but anyway, cerinthe is a brilliant plant. It grows almost immediately from seed planted, and if you don’t sow straight into the ground, pot it up when it only has the first pair of leaves, because the root system grows like a train, and even at that size, you will need a good sized 9cms plus pot. I love the yellow form, see below in Tostat in spring 2019, and it will self-seed wherever you have it. You can refresh the plants a couple of years later by chucking in some more seed. This year I have grown Cerinthe retorta from seed that I bought in 2020 from the amazing Liberto Dario and had kept in the fridge. Retorta has a cream and violet flower, so I have high hopes for some great plants in the Spring.

Yellow Cerinthe, Tostat, April 2019

Back in 2011, I fell in love with Dianthus cruentus after seeing it sprinkled all over Cleve West’s Chelsea garden. Read my back story on this here. I grew it from seed, thank you the wonderful Special Plants, but stupidly didn’t take plants with me when we moved. So, last summer, I ordered some seed and managed to germinate them and develop the teeny plants that this special Dianthus starts out as. Or so I thought….

Dianthus cruentus, Tostat, May 2016

I had also bought some seed of Lavandula viridis, which I had seen in the another superb nursery in the Languedoc, le Jardin Champetre. The back story of this visit is here. Lavander has always escaped me- what do I do wrong? But after years trying, I tried again with Lavandula viridis. To cut a long story short, I wrongly labelled 2 batches of seedlings, and instead of Dianthus cruentus, I ended up with Lavandula viridis. So damn, but wey hey, I grew some Lavandula from seed- at last. The strange thing to also confess is that I have been randomly checking on these small plants for weeks, noticing that they were really enjoying our very hot weather, but it was only today that the penny dropped. Durr. And to cap it all, the other wrongly labelled seedlings turned out to be Dianthus carthusianorum. Ah well.

Lavandula viridis with Cephelaria gigantea at the back, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2022

The only other plant that I started out last year from seed was Kniphofia citrina. The thing about growing bulbous plants from seed is that you need to hold your nerve and allow time to pass. Two months ago, pots of what looked like feeble green strings depressed me, but, today, the transformation has begun with the hot weather we have had. Clearly identifiable young strong plants have taken the place of the feeble green strings, so next year we should be in business with proper plants. GIve it two years.

Kniphofia citrina, photo credit: Special Plants Nursery, http://www.specialplants.net

Another failure last year was sowing seed too late of this glorious plant with a very long name, Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra ‘Bleeding Hearts’. This was a shame. But this year, I have done another sowing and have 14 good little seedlings. Jimi Blake was the inspiration for this choice. I defy you to watch his little clip and not want to plant this plant, seed available from Special Plants for those of you in the UK, but not for those of us in the EU sadly.

Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra ‘Bleeding Hearts’ photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

And lastly, in this run of hits and failures, here is a new plant that is doing really well. I adore it’s rather strong, even I can smell it, sort of camphor and nutmeg smell, and the adorable tiny white flowers. I am not 100% sure that this is ‘Lillian Pottinger’ but it is a good guess.

Pelargonium ‘Lilian Pottinger’ maybe, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2022

Flowering at last is another complicatedly named plant, Salvia chamelaeagnea, which requires care when typing. A solid small shrubby Salvia, with short, stubby leaves, and then these, by comparison, big blue flowers with a very arched throat. Dry, stony soil, not too much water and it grows slowly but firmly. Slow but firm, the motto for my garden? I think so.

Salvia chamelaeagnea, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2022

Le Jardin Champêtre…à visiter

Looking towards the pine trees, le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, May 2021

The very first time I came across Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, I was very nearly struck by lightening. Nothing to do with Imogen and Kate, but everything to do with a sudden mad storm which hit Caunes-Minervois in the summer of 2016. There was a huge crack and a blinding flash shot to the ground a metre in front of me. Thanking my lucky stars I carried on to Gill Pound’s open day in her garden, sheltering from rain in her barn. Next door, two women had a stall of plants which was the beginning, I guess, of le Jardin Champêtre, and the two women later turned out to be Imogen and Kate. The following Spring we visited, and the rest is history.

They have built and developed a remarkable garden space, design business and nursery since then, and the land is transformed- as well as the gardens of local clients who have warmed to their style of gardening. They work with the conditions, using poor soil, rocks, gradients, and existing ingredients to make purposeful gardens that grow into the landscape rather than exist on top.

Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, the first visit, February 2017

In lockdown, I caught a free video from Garden Masterclass, in which Imogen and Kate talk about their journey to Caunes-Minervois and what inspires their approach to gardening in a tough climate. The link takes you to the main Gardening Masterclass page featuring their video and there is a youtube link you can click on. I really recommend it. Imogen and Kate talk simply and effectively about what they do, and I really enjoy the clarity of their approach and words. My own 2017 blog article about them can be found here.

Early days, looking towards the pine trees, February 2017, le Jardin Champetre, Caunes-Minervois, France

This photograph isn’t exactly taken to show the differences between 2017 and 2021, but it does give you a very good feel for how the garden space has developed in the 4 years. The photographs speak for themselves, I hope, but for me the exciting features of how they work include positioning plants so that they mirror each other, pinpoints of colour and contrast, and clever choices of shrubs and trees, assisted by strategic pruning. Below, the multi-stemmed small tree has had the canopy lifted just enough to expose the mirroring stems of the big Kniphofia just behind it.

Beautiful large Miscanthus grass clumps, and smaller Stipa tenuissima dots are lit up by small but very effective Allium and native Gladiolus byzantinus plantings.

Below, more huge clumps of Kniphofia are given the space to take their place, uncrowded by other plants or features.

Big big shrubs like the giant Genista, I think, below are paired with a trio of pencil conifers, and other small ground-hugging shrubs and perennials fill in beautifully.

Now is the time for alliums, and nothing could be finer than the deep purple heads, spotted through the garden. The simple white Allium nigrum flowers were nearly over, but I was reminded that Allium nigrum was the only Allium I managed to grow in Tostat, and I must buy some for next year

Now here is another example of simple being gorgeous. Strapping aloe flowers, backed by probably Miscanthus ‘Adagio’, nothing more nothing less.

And a favourite of mine that afternoon as we strolled in the Languedoc drizzle, was this Lavandula viridis, with the tufty top of a French style lavender with a fresh greeny-yellow point. Very pretty.

Lavandula viridis, le Jardin Champetre, May 2021

And lastly, I was really taken by this delicate pink hooded white Phlomis, which I can’t identify, but will ask about. Visit the nursery and garden if you can- this year or next. It will only get better and better. Thanks for letting us wander there, Imogen and Kate.

Lovely pink hooded white Phlomis, le Jardin Champetre, May 2017