Service interruption…

I am interrupting my three-part Paris blog to post to you about what is surviving in the garden, and even looking good, despite the fact that we have had no rain for what seems like weeks.  It was a dry Spring once we got past the soaking of February, and that theme has continued.  Fortunately we have only had a few really warm or hot days, but even so, the accumulated effect is of deeply dried-out soil conditions.  Our neighbour, Odette, describes this as ‘a year of nothing’ as her superb vegetable garden buckles under the dryness.

I have, yesterday, resorted to the hosepipe, which I never otherwise use, for two newly planted areas.  Desperate times.

So what is surviving?  This Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ seems to be supremely tough.  Last year, the first year in the ground, it hung on through thick and thin, and it is powering over the conditions.  However, Leucanthemum ‘Banana Cream’, just peeping out bottom right, has mostly been terminated by the massive slug population.

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Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ with some returning Leucanthemum ‘Banana Cream’, Tostat, June 2016
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Geranium himalyense ‘Birch Double’, Tostat, June 2016

This little geranium, Geranium himalyense ‘Birch Double’ was mostly wiped out by the dryness last summer, but look, one small plant is holding on.  Possibly I did over-reach myself with planting it where I did, but well, sometimes it works.

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Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardeners World’, Tostat, June 2016

I love Lychnis, but it is a terrible pest in the self-seeding department.  However, here is Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardeners World’ which is sterile, therefore has no seed and the same gorgeous magenta flowers, but double.  I suspect that the plants are a little less robust than their more normal cousins, for whom the phrase ‘tough as old boots’ doesn’t even come close, but next year will tell.

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Sanguisorba ‘Cangshan Cranberry’, Tostat, June 2016

This lovely Sanguisorba ‘Cangshan Cranberry’ is really worth buying beyond the lovely name.  In it’s third year with me, and now a stately clump, it measures 1.5m across and 1.5m tall, growing in the slightly moister conditions near the banana.  This year, and I suspect that this is a sign of some stress, it has developed the slightly odd-looking albino striping on some of the flowers, but the foliage is doing fine for the moment.

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Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, June 2016

This plant is doing fabulously.  Introducing Monarda fistulosa, which I started off from seed last year.  Monarda has always rotted with me, too much heat and too dry, but this American native came highly recommended for a greater tolerance of drier conditions and resistance to mildew, thanks to Seedaholic. I am expecting those shaggy mophead whorls of flowers in lilac any time soon, but I am already saluting it’s general fitness.  Another survivor, as a very young plant, of our murderous housesitter, it has come back fighting with fresh, green foliage and will be a good-egg plant. I am looking forward to the flowers.

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Flowering spike of Salvia spathacea, Tostat, June 2016

This gorgeous thing has been a complete surprise.  Currently standing at about 1.5m high, this huge flowering spike is the first time my plants have flowered.  I tried this from seed about 3 years ago, tempted as I was by Annie’s Annuals’ account of scarcity in it’s native California.  It’s a very smelly Salvia spathacea, or Hummingbird Salvia.  Huge, felted leaves carry that strong (unmistakeable even to my nose) smell.  And that was all it was doing until last week.  As you can see, the spike is six layers of flowers, and so they come out slowly at different levels.  What a thing.

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Abutilon under stress, Tostat, June 2016

But mostly everything  else is trying to lie low, hoping for rain.   This abutilon has folded its leaves flat against itself in an attempt to reduce transpiration.  So, I am about to get the jungle drums out and am scanning the weather forecast.  No hope yet.


In a state of adoration…

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Leucanthemum ‘Banana Cream’ after a shower, Tostat, June 2015

I am in a state of adoration about Yellow.  I adore all of it, from Bird’s Custard yellow which hovers on egg yolk orange, right though to the most delicate cream, which hovers on white.  I used to be like this about red, and whilst it remains a favourite, I have succumbed utterly to Yellow.  I dream about it especially at this time of year, when there isn’t much about yet…daffodils and Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’ are yet to open.  Last year was my first with Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’ and I liked it so much that, rather late in the spring season, I bought 3 more very tiny plants.  I had given them up for dead until last week, when first two of them popped through, and then, this week, so did the third one.  They are tougher than I thought.

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Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’, Tostat, March 2015

There is something about yellow that spells warmth, coothiness, comfort, fun and excitement.  Last year, I brought together some clumps of Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ that I had scattered in various locations- and made a big drift of them, paired up with slightly later flowering upright white Liatris scariosa.  They really did look good.  It was fresh, invigorating and really cheered you up.

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Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’, Tostat, June 2015

At the egg yolk end of yellow, is Coreopsis ‘Grandiflora’, which really is quite big, nearly a metre tall and a spreader, I reckon.  It is a tad floppy, so needs staking to really keep those great big double flowers upright, but it flowers freely all summer whatever the weather, and though the more orangey tint to the yellow maybe makes it a bit of a harder sell with other colours, it’s worth it for it’s energy and flowerpower.

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Coreopsis ‘Grandiflora’, Tostat, July 2015

A very much more obliging and discreet yellow is another great plant, which I grew from seed but really only appreciated last year in it’s second year.  It is an evergreen, tough as old boots perennial, Bupleurum fruticosum, and it is such a good plant for dry, poor soil spots with sun.  It will take any amount of dryness and any amount of sun.  With it’s slightly reddened stout stems, olive-green waxy leaves and very upright stance, it holds it’s own in the border, and provides really good structure and oomph at about a metre and a bit high. It needs no attention at all, and then, late in the summer, these delicate umbels in a calmer shade of yellow appear, which are a magnet for insects of all kinds.  It isn’t flashy and it only does what it does, but it will take any punishment.  Even wetter spots won’t put it off, as long as there is some dryness in the growing season.  I am really looking forward to it’s obliging progress this year.

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Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, August 2015

At the lemon end of yellow, is a plant that I bought about six years ago as a tiny at which point it was one of the Halimium clan.  Renamed pretty much everywhere now as Cistus atriplicifolius, it is a sun and dry lover, enjoying the largely stoney conditions in the New Garden, and though it doesn’t bloom for long, and may not repeat flower, it is delightful in full throttle.  Trouble-free, perfect for difficult hotspots, it requires nothing and just performs.

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Cistus atriplicifolius, Tostat, June 2015

And it just goes to show, you can never have too much yellow.  I love the height, well over 1.5m, and the delicate, quilled flowers of Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’.  It is not a spreader, but just beautifully wafts above the reat of the border in summer breezes.  It looks just great with an unknown perennial sunflower that escaped one of my purges earlier in the year.  The warmth of these colours is toasting me, on a grey, cold and wet day in Tostat!

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Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ coping with an unknown perennial sunflower, Tostat, August 2015

My magic roundabout in Tostat….part 1

By a curious set of coincidences, I am now designing and working on my first…roundabout!  Our roundabout in Tostat is a strange, haricot bean shape on the main road through the village, close to the school and the boulangerie, and actually if you are standing on it, you meet more people than you do in any other location.  We used to have a very noble pin parasol, which was huge and very stately, but in the July gales last year, it came to the ground, and for a while, was lying there like a wrecked ship.  Once taken away, the pine-less roundabout seemed very sad and abandoned, and so, all sorts of discussions took place about ‘What was to be done?’.

Cutting to the chase, in the end, I was asked if I had any ideas. I was very honoured and delighted to be asked. And I did have some ideas.  I have to confess to a horror of much municipal planting, consisting of a riot of colours and shapes, usually mostly annuals. And so I checked that that wasn’t what was wanted, and then went ahead.  I had in mind turning the haricot shape into a space with trees, grasses offering shape and all year round interest, and shrubs, with some perennials that would evoke a semi-natural landscape. A calming place, with informal elegance and a simple colour palette of green, blue, yellow and white.  And the remaining grass being allowed not to be Wimbledon.   The practical considerations were that there is no money to spend really, and the three part-time gardeners have lots to do, so minutely tending annuals is not on.

The roundabout is north-south facing, with no cover and full sun all the time. So whatever went in had to be chosen for being seriously tough and self-managing.  So, multi-stemmed white birches were my starting point, three of them, Betula verracosa,  straddling the shape to provide interest from any angle of approach.  Trios of Genista ‘Porlock’ which I love for its vibrant green foliage and sharp yellow flowers in spring, followed by Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ for lime-yellow foliage and blue flowers later in summer, and Ceanothus griseus ‘Yankee Point‘ to ramble in the middle and cover the pin parasol ground-down stump. For all sorts of reasons, we were in a hurry to get the job done, and so ‘Yankee Point’ was subbed by Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var.repens which we could get locally.  The caryopteris is coming from Belgium, as are the grasses, Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’, which will form semi-circular bracelets around the birches. And for a bit of flambuoyance, there will  be two large Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’ and some groupings of Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Banana Cream’. And maybe some scattered bulb plantings of hyacinths, though the jury is out on that one right now.

And we have started. I say, ‘we’, but all the hard work is being done by Marc, Damien and Sebastien, and today was suddenly warm again, so hacking through the remnants of the old planting and preparing the space for the new, was hot work. I mainly stand around, trying to be encouraging with offers of coffee and bottled water, which seems to slightly mystify but also amuse them. And we are constantly being asked about what’s going on, and it’s turning into a very social space!

Sebastien, Marc and Damien l-r in front of one of the newly planted birches, Tostat May 2015
Sebastien, Marc and Damien l-r in front of one of the newly planted birches, Tostat May 2015

Of course, we are ‘not hiding’ 3 large lamp-posts, 3 road signs and a water hydrant thing for the firemen, so that is partly why there is a lot of ‘weaving’ in the planting, and the area in front of the hydrant can’t be blocked either. Nor, ideally, would we be planting now just as summer approaches, but the hydrant will come in handy and help the team keep the trees especially well-watered for the summer months.

And so many people have helped and encouraged…here are two of them narrowly missing Sebastien rushing to the truck.

Damien with Monique and Andy, Friends of the Tostat Roundabout, May 2105
Damien with Monique and Andy, Friends of the Tostat Roundabout, May 2105

And so it’s hard at it, with the rest of the planting happening tomorrow and next week, and some extra plants are to be weaved in, as we have them at the workshop, and they need to be used.  So, a bit more imaginative wiggling to be done, without losing the simplicity of the colour and plant range.

Digging...Tostat May 2015
Digging…Tostat May 2015

I love it.