August surprises…

Rudbeckia Henrik Eilers, Tostat, August 2019

August can be a cruel month. It can be the bald spot in the summer when the garden flags under the impact of heat and little rain- and if you are gardening summer-dry, as I do, with no watering except for the plants in pots, it can feel relentless. But, it is also the point in the year when midway though the month, some of the nights and early mornings begin to smell and feel different, fresher, cooler and morning dew is heavier. This can act as a real tonic to the garden, encouraging fresh growth and hot-weather plants to flower, and I love it too. Going out first thing with the all-important cup of tea becomes a pleasure again, as plants revive and try some more.

This year, Rudbeckia ‘Henrik Eilers’ has moved itself back into the border almost half a metre. Maybe it too is avoiding the sun and seeking some cover from other plants. I love the quilled petals and the straight bolt-upright growth, but deeper into the border, I am standing on a chair to capture the special shape of it, as, standing at nearly 2 metres, I am a shortarse by comparison. By contrast, Buphthalmum salicifolium has been toppled to the ground almost by the very occasional heavy rain we have had in the last 6 weeks- but it flowers away regardless on the deck.

Buphthalmum salicifolium, Tostat, August 2019

A few yards away, my recovering Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ has won it’s battle with the adorable thug that is Clerondendrum bungei, and is well clear of it in the height stakes. I love the darkness of the purple against the best feature of the Clerodendrum, in my view, which is the jewel-like remnants of the spent flowerheads. Spectacular.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ and Clerodendrum bungei, Tostat, August 2019

Smaller plants are also carrying on despite the heat, though looking a little jaded maybe. My absolute favourite Crocosmia is Crocosmia x crocosmiifolia ‘Emily McKenzie’, not as tall as ‘Lucifer’, and a lot more inclined to flop, at least for me, but the striking orange and carmine flowers bring a touch of Rita Hayworth to the garden, even if they are mostly horizontal to the ground.

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’, Tostat, August 2019

I have two Leycesteria in the garden, great shrubs in my opinion, especially because the form and the flowers keep going all summer long, looking fabulous right through to the end of autumn. The species plant, Leycesteria formosa, has strong, arching branches that make a great domed-shape in the border and has the classic dropping swags of flowers, fading to dark-red berries in the autumn. The variety, ‘Golden Lanterns’, is even better, with greeny-golden foliage contrasting well with the glossy, dark purple/red flowers which fade to bright jewel-like berries.

Leycesteria formosa, Tostat, August 2019
Leycesteria formosa ‘Golden Lanterns’, Tostat, August 2019

Now here is a puzzle. In this odd picture, you can see the smaller pot on the chair, with a narrow-leaved plant and an orange inflorescence. Next to it, is a tall, diamond-shaped leaved plant with a bud on the top. The taller plant is, or at least I thought it was Leonotis leonorus– actually I am still pretty that it is leonorus. In the pot, is a plant that I stuck in there having no idea of what it was until yesterday when the flowerspike opened up. It seems to be a smaller, more shrub-like Leonitis, maybe nepetifolia, but it has quite different leaves, slim and lanceolate, and is woody as opposed to being a green stem. Am definitely confused…anyone out there have another idea???

The two Leonitus’ side by side, Tostat, August 2019
Leonitis nepetifolia perhaps, Tostat, August 2019

Salvia ‘Ton Ter Linden’ has been a grand plant, although new to me this year. Deep blackberry-purple narrow flowers have kept coming…and the tendency to gracefully drape around the pot has been followed by upright, strong growth, so the plant has two ways of behaving- how clever of it.

Salvia Ton Ter Linden, Tostat, August 2019
Scrophularia macrantha, Tostat, August 2019

I have grown Scrophularia macrantha from seed this year. Small, but beautifully formed and I was so thrilled that I could be heard shrieking in the garden when I found the flowers on my tiny plants. I hope they make it through the winter.

Gossypium hirsutum flower bud, Tostat, August 2019

And my cotton has flowered! Unlikely that I will be harvesting cotton balls, but the Gossypium hirsutum flowers are a beautiful, if short-lived, surprise. Actually, the whole plant is a rather fine, if temporary addition to the garden, wine-red leaves and upright growth, pretty buds as if cut from paper. It won’t survive the winter and I probably won’t try to overwinter it, but just grow it again from seed next spring perhaps.

Cytoglossum hirsutum bud formation, Tostat, August 2019

Living on the edge…

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Rosa Jacqueline du Pre, Tostat, August 2018

Feeling rather grumpy about my grumpiness about the scorched earth situation- and also chastened by kind comments from Australian and Californian readers basically saying that at least I can count on the fact that it will rain again…sometime.  I think that, even though I completely want to create the watering-free garden that I think we all have to embrace- I am still disturbed by the implications of my self-inflicted policy.  It all goes to show that changing our aesthetic to fully embrace sustainability is really hard and cuts to the core somehow.

Having said all of that, I am also aware that I don’t have (yet) to be an utter purist.  I can and should do what I can to garden as close to the edge of sustainability as possible.  But it’s ok to save myself with some watering as the edge moves away from me.  Watering is not to be despised.  So, I am doing some selective watering over the next few days.  I have allowed myself off the hook.  But, from the above, you can see that it has been a bit of a moral tussle.

So, to invoke cheeriness (and maybe rain!), here is what is still looking good without any help from me- though these are isolated spots in amongst a sea of brown.

I actually dug up Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ over a month ago and stuck her back into a pot, as she was looking nigh unto death.  So with a pot-watering regime, she has begun flowering again.  She is really ‘worth it’ to ape L’Oreal.

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Bouvardia ternifolia, Tostat, August 2018

Staying with the pots for a moment, Bouvardia ternifolia is looking very very happy- a true pillar-box red, tender, but can be tucked away dry in a protected spot in the winter, watered copiously in the spring, and up she comes.

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Plumbago auriculata, Tostat, August 2018

In a pot, and in semi-shade, Plumbago auriculata has just begun flowering.  On the tender side, I mistakenly left the pot out during the winter, and was pretty sure that I had killed the plant.  But, it’s always worth hanging on- and back she came in June.  Very late to get started, but looking absolutely fine.

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Cestrum elegans rubrum, Tostat, August 2018

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Fully open, Cestrum elegans rubrum, Tostat, August 2018

Cestrum elegans rubrum was a bargain-basement shrub I bought last winter.  A little on the tender side, I was feeling pretty smug about it until we hit the 2 weeks of -10C.  The shrub collapsed.  I thought it was time for an obituary notice, again.  But, two months later, signs of growth could be seen, and though a little shorter with the heat, I think that next year she will be bouncing back at 1m plus all round.  And clearly tougher than I thought.  I love those surprises.

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Rosa moschata, Tostat, August 2018

I bought Rosa moschata from Olivier Filippi‘s nursery in the Languedoc, maybe 5 years ago.  He is a serious dry-gardening expert and all his plants are worth trying especially with his advice.  I over-risked the dryness it would tolerate, and had to do yet another emergency transplant into a pot.  Note to self: This is the edge of sustainability looking at me, again.  Out of the pot, and in a new home 2 years ago against the central pillar of the outdoor barn, Rosa moschata is reaching for the roof, and is on her second flowering.  Only a dozen buds open, but the scent fills the barn- a deep old-rose scent, gorgeous.

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The unknown red Abutilon, Tostat, August 2018

Last year’s baby Abutilon ebay purchase is in the ground, only about 20 cms high, but has already flowered non-stop since late May.  Abutilons fold their leaves down like wings when they are a bit heat-stressed- but they carry on anyway.  Real troopers.

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Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ and Leycesteria formosa formosa, Tostat, August 2018

The Vernonia nearest the canal is the only one still flowering, wrapped in the arms of Leycesteria formosa– the crimson meets the purple.

And for sheer mystery and magic, this new-to-me Pennisetum, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Japonicum’ is hard to beat, close-up.  Note: In France, this plant is known as ‘Japonicum’- whilst in the UK, it is Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Foxtrot’.

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Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Japonicum’, Tostat, August 2018

Maybe I like the danger of the edge….

 

Plants with earring potential…

Sometimes an idea enters my head and sticks…the last month or so, whilst taking photographs in the garden, I was seized by the notion that so many flowering plants would make fabulous earrings- only the flowering part I hasten to add.  And I was reminded that a book I really enjoyed, with its fusion of autobiography and gardening, sometimes painful, was ‘The Jewel Garden: A Story of Despair and Redemption’ by Monty and Sarah Don. And their life and careers together started with jewellery. There is a wonderful photo in the book of them both sporting some of their work, with Monty looking as if he was auditioning for Adam Ant. It’s very touching when you read the whole story.

So, my first contender for earring potential would be Leycesteria formosa, the summer-long flowering shrub whose flowers seem to last for months, only becoming more luscious and dark as the weeks go by.

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It is such a good, undemanding plant and graceful too, with its gently arching branches, so it does need a bit of room, and would be wasted jammed into a small space.

The second contender would be Feijoa sellowiana, the Pineapple Guava.  My plants have taken their time to flower reliably, probably more than 5 years. But now, for just a short while at the end of May, these gorgeous flowers appear. Pink slightly fleshy petals surround an electric burst of bright pink stamens with golden tips.  They certainly would have qualifed as dressy earrings in my Mum’s jewellery box.

Feijoa sellowiana, Tostat, June 2015
Feijoa sellowiana, Tostat, June 2015

And then there’s my pale orange abutilon, unknown variety, which I bought as a weenie from ebay years ago. It used to be in a pot, and this is its first year in the ground and it has been a hard year for newbies in the ground. So, it is a little subdued but will make it, I think. I love the classy droplets in pale orange, though I also lust after a variety called ‘Orange Hot Lava’. I am sure you will know why.

Pale orange abutilon, Tostat, July 2015
Pale orange abutilon, Tostat, July 2015

And then there are Fuchsias. I am not a big grower of Fuchsia, mainly because I don’t have a lot of kind shade and dampness, but in the garden I grow Fuchsia magellanica, which is really tough and comes back no matter what. The flowers are elegant, slim and pencil-like, and even better before they open fully, I think.

Fuchsia magellanica, Tostat, July 2015
Fuchsia magellanica, Tostat, July 2015

And I also have a little Fuchsia ‘Edith’ in a pot, which I bought as a plug at Chelsea last year. It has just produced the first flower, which is not quite open, but the cerise pink is quite gorgeous with the lavender underskirt.

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And, finally, despite my Carmen Miranda tendencies, the plant I would pick myself to wear as an earring would be..Eucomis autumnalis, and I would simply take the little green pineapple-bit off the top. Quite lovely.

Eucomis autumnalis, Tostat, July 2015
Eucomis autumnalis, Tostat, July 2015