Approaching Sissinghurst part 2

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Rosa ‘Meg’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Sometimes, as with Hidcote, the National Trust marketing bods go far too overboard with trying to introduce you to ‘the person’ that they have identified as the ‘key person- attractor’ for their property.  As Robin Lane Fox rather acidly remarked in a recent article about Hidcote in the FT, this can lead to patent nonsense, such as your ticket apparently being a personal invitation from Lawrence Johnston. (I can’t link to this article because of the FT paywall, but I must have found it somewhere as I don’t subscribe.)   My understanding of Lawrence Johnston is that he was an intensely private person who would probably have undergone fingernail extraction than take part in such flummery.

However, in the case of Sissinghurst, this approach is far less ridiculous.  First of all, Vita Sackville-West was herself a columnist for ‘The Guardian’ from 1946-61, and she wrote ceaselessly of her successes and failures in her own garden- so this makes Sissinghurst almost a well-kent space for gardeners.  And secondly, the Nicolson family, including the author, Adam Nicolson, her grandson and his wife, Sarah Raven, the well-known garden and food writer, live in the property and are very connected to the ways in which the house and the garden are made available to visitors.

So, I really enjoyed the feeling of intimacy and connection with Vita as a woman, a lover, a wife, a mother, a writer and a great gardener that was opened to you as a visitor at every turn.

Another great rose, perhaps selected by Vita, was looking breathtaking when we visited.  Rosa ‘Meg’ was bred in 1954 in the UK but yet seems to hail from an earlier era. A truly gorgeous apricot rose, a climber/hybrid tea, once-flowering and thereafter the odd bloom, is really worth the space in the garden.  Set against the warm brick of the Sissinghurst walls, and it prefers the warmth of a wall behind it, it was sublime.

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Rosa ‘Princess Marie’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Right above my head, a huge swag of this very pretty ivory-pink rose, was doing its best against the rain and wind.  Rosa ‘Princess Marie’ was bred in France in 1829 by Antoine A. Jacques and climbs well, although classified as a Hybrid Sempervirens.  Apparently the rose has a strong fragrance, but was too high above me to be able to tell.   Peter Beales, see the link, does describe it as a rambler.

And, finally on the rose front, I loved this little display in the entrance arch to the garden, introducing visitors to some of the roses flowering at that moment.

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Introduction to the roses in flower, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Now to other splendid plants.  There was a mouthwatering spread of absolutely beautiful opium poppies, some of which had taken a pounding in the rain the day before, but other of which had come through very well.   Somehow the rain accentuated the layers of the petals in the crimson one.

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Allium cernuum, Sissinghurst, June 2017

I loved the nodding heads of this little allium, it is commonly called ‘nodding onions’- a very pretty mauve-blue with such spirit and delicacy.  It wants full sun, well-drained soil but otherwise is not fussy it would seem, and is a good spreader, bulbs are available via Sarah Raven.

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Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’, Sissinghurst, June 2017 fresh as a daisy

Staying with the mauve theme, a clematis that would struggle with us, was looking fresh as a daisy.  Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’ was growing strongly in a corner of the White Garden if I recall correctly.  The International Clematis Society recommends HH as a star for a shady corner, so that’s quite a recommendation.

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Viburnum erubescens, Sissinghurst, June 2017

I was struck by the shining red berries on Viburnum erubescens, but we had missed the apparently gorgeous snowball-white flowers that adorn this small tree in May.  If you have the space, and a moist, semi-shady position, this would be a really attractive small tree/shrub to go for. The berries are only the second act, I would love to have seen the first.

And lastly, a plant that I had not realised I had grown, Digitalis ferruginea.  You know the way it is, a pot that loses the marker, a rosette of green, and a chance identification at le Jardin Champêtre. And then an ‘aha’…I did buy that seed once.  Such a strange and mysterious plant, I can quite see why Vita might well have chosen it, blooming out of time with other foxgloves, rusty brown flowers that have creamy centres, and a good rosette of leaves.  Easy from seed, as long as you remember you planted it!

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Digitalis ferruginea, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Le Jardin Champêtre…great nursery, great story…

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Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ backstaged by Berkheya purpurea ‘Zulu Warrior’ and fronted by Dorycnium ‘Frejorgues’, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, late March 2017 Photo credit and thanks: Le Jardin Champêtre
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Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Barnard’ nestling in amongst the grasses, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, February 2017
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Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, late March 2017  Photo credit and thanks: Le Jardin Champêtre

If you are over in Minervois, this nursery should be on your list of places to visit.  I visited accidently last summer just as the nursery was opening for business, and since then, have been back again for a growingly-beautiful demonstration garden and evolving space with, this year, a new potager and more to come.  As well as that, Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, are developing a growing range of beautiful and tough perennials, grasses and shrubs for people and wildlife in a Mediterranean climate. All in all, good reasons for heading over to Caunes-Minervois and finding out more.

I was very intrigued by what I saw- not only from a plant selection point of view, but also, in the year of Brexit, I was curious as to why two young Englishwomen would choose to make a life in South West France right now, and to find out more about their experience of setting up a business here.

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The taller spires of Miscanthus ‘Adagio’ glow, even on a dull day in February. Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, February 2017

Imogen and Kate are both professional horticulturalists with strong connections to France, but their journey to Caunes-Minervois has been one of happy accident and serendipity.  Kate says,

‘I studied French and used to work in Paris but hadn’t planned to live in France again. Imogen had always wanted to live in France, having visited Normandy at age 11 and loved everything French; no-one in the Midlands was wearing white trainers, skinny jeans and scarves, or having cous-cous parties! ‘

France drew them both to it.

‘We initially came to France on a sabbatical year. Imogen was Head Gardener at Pensthorpe in North Norfolk, quite a dry, bright climate, and wanted to learn more about Mediterranean plants. I had recently retrained in horticulture and wanted to expand my plant and gardening knowledge. Our first garden was just minutes from the Roscoff ferry, the Jardin exotique de Roscoff, but most of the year was spent going West to East along the South of France and just into Italy to work at the Hanbury Botanical Gardens.’

Travelling through France West to East led to them discovering Caunes-Minervois, and the garden and nursery, ‘La Petite Pepiniere’ which was established and run by Gill Pound.  Imogen and Kate had the chance to take over the specialist nursery business from Gill, who still lives next door, and they both decided not to return to the UK, but to commit to a life in Caunes-Minervois.  Planting up for the first time onsite in the Spring of 2016 was the beginning of ‘Le Jardin Champêtre’.

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Even in February, plants are shooting up, Le Jardin Champêtre, February 2017
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And greening up only 5 weeks later, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, late March 2017 Photo credit and thanks: Le Jardin Champêtre

As Kate says,

‘The style of our garden is sort of Dutch new wave mixed with Mediterranean garrigue. The movement of grasses is key to the feel of the garden, which consists of layers of planting: low ground-covers, bulbs, medium height shrubs, tall perennials and trees. The taller grasses and other plants provide shade during the heat of summer, and we’ve dug out basins to capture rain water and watering, which allows us to grow a wider variety of plants. ‘

The demonstration garden and potager will continue to evolve, and they have already scheduled a range of events throughout the year, to introduce people to their style of gardening and their approach to gardening naturally without chemicals.   More about their approach and their passion for gardens as spaces for beauty, relaxation and the environment in a second part to this post.

Here they are: get down there and meet them….

19 bis avenue de la Montagne noire, 11160, Caunes-Minervois, France.Tel. 0780433262 (France) or email: lejardinchampetre@gmail.com

By appointment *all year* & every Saturday 10-5 from March to October.

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Imogen in action and Kate lifting Melianthus, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, February 2017

 

 

Small things do you good…

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Tostat looking South to the Pyrenees, February 2017

Like coming back across the fields with Molly the dog late this afternoon, and noticing the light on the snow in the distance, and hints of green appearing in the fields if not yet in the trees.  Also, looking down the river Adour this afternoon, which is replenished by the recent rain, and not just a pebble-run as it has been most of the winter, I thought to myself how very lucky I am to live here- I am often prone to thinking this when I contemplate a visit to a city!  Not that I don’t really enjoy the hustle and bustle, but it can be too strong a contrast sometimes.

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The river Adour this afternoon, February 2017

Back in the woods around Tostat, we have some wonderful swathes of snowdrops, they seem really glorious this year, maybe because they made us wait till about 3 weeks ago to put in an appearance.

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Tostat woods, Februar7 2017

Back in the garden, continuing the big attack on my congested border by the wall, Andy was hacking away at a long-past-best Phlomis fruticosa, more dratted wisteria adopting guerilla tactics behind it, and some Kerria japonica, which is also getting the order of the boot.  I love the yellow pompoms but that is all it does- not enough for me to continue to love it.  It has been a neglected spot, and one of those parts of the garden I have been avoiding- not any more.  The soil is actually quite good as there is some spring activity which keeps it from being bone-dry,  and although technically North-facing and with our boundary wall behind it, it actually gets a lot of sun in the morning catching it coming in from the East and then again in the mid to later afternoon.  So, it will be a good place, I think, for plants that don’t need it to be boiling and bone-dry.

So, I am going to thread some grasses through it, beginning with Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Red Head’ and then moving on to a new-to-me Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’.  In some ways, I need more Miscanthus like a hole in the head, but this variety is so gorgeous, golden and upright and not tall, maybe just over a metre, and so I will man up for the seedlings.  More about this grass when I get a chance to blog more about ‘Le Jardin Champêtre’ in Caunes-Minervois, which was where I saw it for the first time a couple of weeks back.  Yes, I have got it so bad that an order went in pretty much immediately.

Then I have a lovely rose that survived my attempt to over-test its drought tolerance, Rosa ‘Alissar Princess of Phoenicia’, which spent last summer recuperating and is now back on song.  And in amongst that will be a new perennial for me, Kalimeris incisa ‘Madiva’.  This should have masses of light lilac daisies all summer and should not behave like sprinting Asters, which have almost been eradicated from the garden.  I am also going to try out my Abutilon megapotamicum drifting in arches over the heads of these plants, as I think I will be able to persuade it to do that with a bit of judicious plant support here and there.

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Rosa Allissar, Princess of Phoenicia, Tostat, August 2016
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Kalimeris incisa ‘Madiva’ photo credit: http://www.promessedefleurs.com
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Chinese lanterns of Abutilon megapotamicum, Gill Pound’s garden, Caune-Minervois, June 2016

So we will see.  And the last delight?  Seedlings coming up of Colutea x media upstairs.  It was on ‘last strike or out’ stage after I have lost two previous small plants.  But these seedlings look really strong, so maybe they will make it.

 

 

 

 

 

Smells of spring….

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First flowers on Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, Tostat, February 2017

First day of cold wind, but sun, after the big storm Marcel passed over us at the weekend. The sun has brought the buds out on the Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata‘ just outside the back door, and the strong, deep scent is on the wind.  This bush is now about 1.5m x 1.5m, having started out life as a 10cm twiglet about 12 years ago.  It is a slow grower and takes all the heat of summer with its waxy, cream-lined leaves in a sharp green.  It is in a spot that gets some afternoon shade in the summer and is not utterly bone-dry, but I do think that it is a tougher customer than many UK sites suggest.  The flowers keep coming from now until the end of March or even a little longer, and when they are warmed by sun, the scent is gorgeous.  I have planted another twiglet of it across the way from the big plant, but it is only 20 or so cms high as yet- best to leave it to grow away and then be surprised when it suddenly seems to appear one spring in the future.

Today I was planting out the plants I bought at Kate Dumbleton and Imogen Checketts nursery, ‘Le Jardin Champêtre’  in Caunes-Minervois, about 3.5 hours drive from us.  I hope to do another blog post when I have had a chance to interview them, I am really interested in their approach to gardens and plants, and impressed with their feistiness in setting up here in Occitanie, the new name for our big region of Languedoc-Rousillon-Midi-Pyrenees.  So more of their story anon.

I bought Phlomis Chrysophylla, the golden-leaved sage of Jerusalem.  I adore Phlomis and have several, including another golden-leaved one, called Phlomis x termessii.  The golden-ness comes with the summer growth, and it likes razor-sharp drainage and full sun.  Right now, a junior, but it will make a good, rounded shrub of Im all round, maybe by the end of this year.

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Phlomis chrysophylla, Tostat, February 2017

Another cistus- but they are such good plants and I haven’t got masses of them, so why not?  This one is Cistus heterophyllus, which will probably get to 1.5m all round in the end.  I find that the growth accelerates as the roots finally make it through the stony soil, and this might take 2 years or more.  But, a pretty pink flowerer, and really reliable.  Some say that they are short-lived, but I have not found this.  Grow them hard and tough, and ignore them seems to work fine for me.

Salvia leucophylla was another purchase.  I am becoming a bit of a Salvia nut, and so the chance to buy one that I hadn’t come across anywhere else was too tempting.  This one is a Californian native, but from altitude, so it can handle more chill than some others.  We will see.  I’ve put it into the dry, stony, south-facing border, which has thrown off our month of -5C–7C with reasonable aplomb.  It should make a 1.5m round shrub, with light bluey-purple flowers in early to midsummer. The leaves have a felted texture and looked great today in the sun, even in February.

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Salvia leucophylla, Tostat, February 2017

And, lastly, because the smell of the crushed leaves, even in winter, is so evocative of a hot, dry summer, I bought Origanum syriacum.  This is the herb that Ottolenghi uses in his za’atar mix, and is the wild oregano, staple of Lebanese and Palestinian cooking.  The brilliant Millenium Seed Bank Partnership at Kew, has conserved seed as it is now endangered in the Lebanon. You can see from the link the importance of their work and how to help them to save seeds, and, even species outright.  It is still at the back door while I try to choose the best place to plant it, near enough to pick and smell, and dry and stony enough for it to be happy.

So many portents of the summer to come in these four junior plants- I love that.