The spirit of New Year…

Early morning rainbow, Tostat, end November 2019

It’s a New Year. Curious, isn’t it, how the cycle of the seasons is so compelling to us- we follow the patterns of changing seasons- and this time of the year is one that absolutely leads to re-examination, re-evaluation, pondering and pottering. I am an inveterate potterer, with more plans in my head than I will ever actually want to achieve. The garden in winter prompts structural thoughts because there is spareness and space where the summer and autumn plants have died back, and then, clarity emerges as growth re-appears, showing you which and what has survived, prospered and is ready for another year.

This winter, so far, apart from biblical rain and wind in November, has been quite kind to us. A few frosts, but nothing major, and my plan of over-wintering slightly tender plants in pots in the open barn has worked fine. Some plants have really surprised me- like the Leonotis leonorus which flowered even to the very tallest stem in November, living through the wind and the rain in the open barn- so I haven’t cut it back yet, it is still there at 2.5m tall, green and contented.

Some new plants have taken the weather in their stride. Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ which looked a tad weedy when a baby plant, has toughened up outside retaining the glorious red-purple of the leaves and shaking off the frost. It looks like a really sturdy plant, more useful for the tough foliage and the colour than the small flowerspikes in the summer- but I am very impressed. An easy, reliable plant from seed sown in August and kept out of the heat.

Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’, Tostat, December 2019

I had a go at another Erodium from seed in the summer. Erodium pelargoniflorum, grown from seed from Special Plants, is not going to be giant, more of a tough baby at 40cms max tall, but again, showing itself to be well able to cope with winter conditions and still look very composed. I need to find somewhere to plant them to make a drift near the front, or they will be swamped by the big guys.

Erodium pelargoniflorum, Tostat, December 2019

I adore bronze fennel. In the Latin, Foeniculum vulgare purpureum, the plants sounds as though it will be reddish-purple, but bronze is a better description. The spring growth makes a fabulous cloud of frothy bronze foliage which is indescribably romantic with roses, and it usefully covers bare legs. Normally, it would self-seed all over the shop with me, but this very dry summer left me with only a few small plants, so now I have about 50 plants grown this summer from seed. Feast or famine.

Foeniculum vulgare Purpureum, Tostat, December 2019

Santolina etrusca does get more than a bit floppy by the end of summer, but the first few months of astoundingly vibrant, fresh green, just when you need it, is worth all the flopping. Trouble-free and needing nothing, it is a good, though modest plant. From seed, the tiniest seedlings dig in and make plants. Just choose a calm day to sow the seed and then again, wait for another one to transplant the seedlings.

Santolina etrusca, Tostat, November 2019

A donated plant that needed a home, I have been amazed by the winter behaviour of this unknown sedum. I stuffed it in a pot, literally, and it is as happy as can be- with cold temperatures producing this gorgeous red colouring. I have never been that taken with sedum, but this is changing my mind.

Unknown stonecrop or Sedum, Tostat, November 2019

There will have been some casualties despite the easy ride we have had so far. I used to fret, but now I take this as another challenge- there must be a plant out there that I would like to grow which will cope and survive. Another dig in the ribs from the garden.

A very Happy Gardening Year to you….

Lions and staircases…a miss and a hit

Leonitis leonurus, photo credit: Plant Delights Nursery
Leonitis leonurus, photo credit: Plant Delights Nursery

My Leonitis and babies, Feb 15
My Leonitis and babies, Feb 15

This is a plant I coveted for years, and then finally bought 2 years ago.  It was doing brilliantly, outdoors in the summer in a pot, growing to a statuesque metre or so, when one morning, I found it lying decapitated in the garden- all that was left was a stump.  I thought it was a goner, but the decapitation had clearly happened early that morning, big animal in the garden I suspect, and so I thought, ‘cuttings’.  I took about 8 cuttings from the broken piece, and mourned the likely death of the main plant. Not so. Not only did it make a comeback from the base, but six cuttings took as well. So, ok, no flowers last year, although one just turned up at the end of the autumn which you can see in a decayed state on my own photo above.

The plant is Leonitis Leonurus,  a stately and amazing dry garden herbaceous plant, that really does need to come indoors in the winter, but takes almost total dryness in the summer, outside in a pot in the hottest spot you can find, or planted if you have a reliably hot summer/dry winter spot. If all that works, what you get is the fantastic staired orange flowers from the Plant Delights Nursery photo at the top. I haven’t experienced that yet, but this summer I’m on, I think. It has spent winter in a dryish pot in our very chilly hall and has managed well with second hand sunlight through the back door. In fact, although it has been very cold, it is already powering up for the year, with fresh growth from the base and the tops. So, I am very excited. Orange is a passion for me, and so, although Sarah Raven (who calls it the Staircase plant) reckons it really only works as an annual, I would give it a bash indoors over winter,and you can clearly cut it down when you bring it in, which produces more basal growth. Yippee. By the way, another US nursery whose website I find really useful is Plant Delights Nursery from North Carolina. Do check it out.