How summer-dry feels…

View of the front garden, with baking sun at 0730, Tostat, July 2019

The last five days built to a ghastly crescendo of more than 40C yesterday. Human beings are finding it hard, hard to sleep even downstairs in the house and permanent darkness with shutters shut for most of the day. Today, all windows have been flung open, and rain is battering down, no hail fortunately, in splurges which are just gentle enough to penetrate the hot, dry crust of the ground. This is the first rain we have seen for 3 weeks at least, which has really tested the garden for the second time so far this summer. I have been watering the pots and any late plantings from 0700 for an hour and a half every day, but the rest has been left to handle the heat itself.

Abutilon pictum waiting, Tostat, July 2019

Some plants have just been sitting it out. Abutilon pictum is a lovely pot shrub, not hardy hence the pot, but with the most brilliant orange drop-shaped flowers. It folds it’s leaves down so that they hang straight down, which is an early sign of stress, but regular watering handles that.

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Ruby’, Tostat, July 2019

The Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Ruby’ is a wonderful thing and this year it has loved the wet, cool May and now the heat- as long as it is kept well watered in it’s pot. It is the best ever, 3 months of the huge, strappy, crimson-purple leaves which on their own are worth the price of the bulb, and then maybe 4 weeks of flowering as the flowerspikes slowly open. It can hang on, still looking good till the first cold night-time temperatures strike. This last winter I left the huge pot outside, but fleeced it well, and moved it into the protection of the pergola, which kept the worst of the winter wet off it.

Misumena vatia looking angry on Salvia ‘Mulberry Jam’, Tostat, July 2019

The heat has brought this angry-looking spider out early. Misumena vatia is a foraging spider which attacks bees and butterflies, hanging out very still in flowerheads that it can mimic in colour- bit odd then that it was in the white form on the Salvia. But maybe the colour change takes a while to activate. It is a deadly killer, as you can see from my 2018 photograph below. Wearing matching bright yellow with the flowerhead of Patrinia scabiosifolia, it is making short shrift of a hapless insect.

Same spider, Misumena vatia, new disguise on Patrinia scabiosifolia, Tostat, August 2018

I am ridiculously fond of this Hibiscus trionum which I grew from seed about 7 years ago, although it is a nothing-special-plant. But the flowers keep on coming regardless of heat and no rain, so it is not a slouch in the summer-dry department. The foliage is a healthy mid-green and you would never know that the sun was beating down on it.

Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, July 2019

Another plant which I grew from seed about the same time as the Hibiscus, is the unbeatable Bupleurum fruticosum. Not a great looker, but the olive-green leaves and structure are brilliant in the border, especially when summer heat can render other plants a tad on the floppy side. This year, I actually did a proper-gardener thing and pruned all of the Bupleurum pretty much to stumps above the ground in February. Of course, it was the right thing to do, making good, sturdy 1.25ish metre clumps, with good branching and form.

The redoubtable Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, July 2019

This tiny Linaria vulgaris is such a sweet thing. Custard yellow and cream flowers on a tiny spike, I grew these from seed a few years back and they are only slowly making little sprinkles in a hot, dry spot. I was inspired to try it after seeing a brilliant planting of it outside the Ludlow Food Centre in 2017. I am not quite there yet! But live in hope…

Linaria vulgaris, Tostat, July 2019
Linaria vulgaris and Stipa tenuissima, Ludlow Food Centre, Shropshire, June 2017
Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2019

Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’ is easy-peasy from seed and is a tough, but lovely, plant no matter what the weather. I adore the colours, the form with the golden ruffs, and the sprinkle effect that it creates in amongst other plants. A good neighbour of a plant.

Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum, Tostat, July 2019

Such pretty foliage, Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum. Feathery, ferny and upright, no slouching and a brilliant green. It may be that it is getting a little water seeping out of the pots in front of it, as it is not usually quite so robust in dry and heat.

In the heat, the Back Door view, Tostat, July 2019

The view from the Back Door is very dependent on greens, but Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ is unstoppable and fragrant no matter how hot it gets ( centre-right in the photo), Eucomis autumnalis ssp autumnalis, the Pineapple flower, is flowering away in a pot at the front, and Plectranthus argentatus offers up some silvery-green next door to the Eucomis. The big shrub, Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ if I remember correctly, will flower in a few weeks- another summer-dry star.

But for colour, the dragonflies and damselflies take the prize. Electric azure blue.

Colour in the wildlife, Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly, Tostat, July 2019

Russian roulette…

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Some of it still looks like this, Tostat, July 2017

Yes.  Some of it still looks like this, but an awful lot of it doesn’t- as in ‘toasted’.  Of course, I am the one heralding the new dawn of ‘summer-dry’ gardening, whilst at the same time bemoaning the dried out, crisp-like state of what I see in my own garden.  It just goes to show that changing the aesthetic, changing the way you see things, ain’t so easy.  In my logical, rational head, I know that everything I see roasted in front of me will re-grow next year, and that I get another year of grace to find a better balance between growing plants and weeds, between plants that thrive in hot,dry conditions and those that don’t.  But emotionally, it’s a bit on the gutting side- and that’s me indulging in British under-estimation and stiff-upper-lipness.  Humbug.  So, roll on the day that my book bought at vast expense from the US Ebay arrives, and helps me work this all out.  Should be arriving this week.

So, there is only one thing to do. Indulge in the Russian Roulette of growing new things from seed for next year- you can tell that being a glutton for punishment is a personal trait.  So, I thought I would cheer myself up by writing about what I am trying out and why, and I might finish with a couple of very cheering photos from my friend, Colin the photographer.

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Centaurea cyanara ‘Black Boy’ seeds, Tostat, July 2017

These did make me smile an hour ago.  Looking for all the world like a miniature group of upmarket shaving brushes, these tiny seeds have just gone in a tray.  A few words about growing from seed might not go amiss.  Not that I am in a position to claim expertise here, but I am improving year on year.

First off, I use trays that I buy on Ebay, sometimes they have to be smuggled in in hand luggage if the postage costs are exorbitant.  Then I use a purpose-made seed compost.  I could make my own, but getting good-sized grit is a problem here, and so I don’t.  I haven’t got a bigger tray to soak them in, so once the compost is in, I spray heftily with a mister, leave the tray for 15 minutes or so so that any excess drips out, and then I sow or sprinkle finely depending on the size of the seed.  The main thing is to make sure that the seeds have contact with the moist seed compost- so push them lightly or cover with a fine layer of aquarium grit, the only thing (very pricey!) that I have found that is fine enough for this.

Then I mist again, and leave them in a place with a constant temperature of around 20C- which works for most seeds I find.  This can be outdoors in the covered barn just now or on a bedroom windowledge if earlier or later in the year.  Then you wait, and develop your patience muscle.  Annuals might pop in a week, perennials can take much much longer and be erratic.  But the first sight of a little green something or other pushing through the grit is such a thrill.  You can tell I don’t get out much.

So what am I trying this year?  Well, the appearance of a stray Centaurea cynara ‘Black Boy’ in a strange place earlier this summer, so maybe not down to me, reminded of what a pretty thing it is.  Chiltern Seeds are one of my favourites.

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Centaurea cynara ‘Black Boy’ photo credit: http://www.graines-baumaux.fr

Also from Chiltern Seeds came Linaria vulgaris.  I think that this could really work for me, tough, undemanding sun-lover for poor soil, and I fell for it at the Ludlow Food Centre.

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Linaria vulgaris and Stipa tennuissima, Ludlow Food Centre, June 2017

I can’t quite remember why I liked the look of this, but I thought, well, why not?  Silene laciniata ‘Jack Flash’ seemed like a good idea to take over when the Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’ has finished, so for less than the price of a cuppa….from Thompson and Morgan.

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Silene laciniata ‘Jack Flash’ photo credit: http://www.saemereien.ch

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ comes from Nebraska/Missouri and is supposed to be really up for wet, cold winters and hot, humid summers- now this might mean that we don’t have enough water in the summer, but I am giving it a go.  I like it’s style, dark foliage and pale, luminous flowers.  The RHS like it for pollinators, tick.  Seed from Thompson and Morgan again.

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Penstemon digitalis ‘Huskers Red’ photo credit: http://www.crocus.co.uk

And lastly, Cephalaria gigantea– which I raved about in a recent post about Kiftsgate. I saw it amazingly upright despite fierce wind and rain, and so, although it runs the risk of being decked, I am going to try.  Of course, all of this may come to nought, but equally, I could end up with 20 good plants of each.  Let’s stay positive.

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Cephalaria gigantea, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

Leaving you with some colour….my friend Colin, the photographer, has been out and about in Gloucestershire at Cotswold Lavender.

Colin 1

Colin 2

 

Foxglove mania…

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Foxgloves, Tostat, May 2017

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Apricot pink foxgloves, Tostat, April 2015

A slightly hazy photo of the foxgloves that turned up in abundance this Spring.  It was a really good year for them, despite the dryness here they found the moist spots in a couple of places in the garden, and were statuesque for almost a month- a great bang for no bucks.  I don’t try to regulate their appearances, they just put themselves where they want to be, and most of them are the regular Digitalis purpurea, with just a dash of the exotic from some apricot foxglove seed-grown plants that I planted out.  But, in England in June, I was introduced to some more unusual varieties, which I really loved.

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Digitalis lutea, Kentchurch Court, Herefordshire, June 2017

Digitalis lutea is a very elegant thing.  About half the size of your average foxglove, so maybe less likely to be toppled in the wind, it has slim, cream-coloured trumpets more like a Penstemon flower, and it worked beautifully in this border planting partnered with the white astrantia and orange hemerocallis. A very classy thing, without being showy.

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Digitalis lanata, Thruxton Rectory, Herefordshire, June 2017

Taking cream to a clotted and Devonian level, Digitalis lanata was another foxglove new to me in a plantsman’s garden in Herefordshire that we visited as part of the ‘Gardens in the Wild’ festival in June.  The RHS link will take you to a foxglove that looks very different- no way to explain this, but the chap at Thruxton Rectory was a very serious plantsman, so perhaps he has found something unusual as a yellow form.  This lovely things is again half the size of your average foxglove, but with with more generous flowers than lutea. Very garden-worthy.

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Digitalis grandiflora, Bryan’s Ground, Shropshire, June 2017

A real giant, Digitalis grandiflora had taken a battering at Bryan’s Ground in Shropshire when we visited.  Quite a few of them were on the ground but this one was tall enough for me to look up it’s nose as it were.  A mellow yellow with red-brown speckling in the trumpets, which were generously sized with more to open up the stem.   Also, in Shropshire, I absolutely fell in love with Linaria vulgaris which had merrily self-seeded in the planting outside the Ludlow Food Centre.  It sort of counts as it was once included in the Scrophulariaceae family, and there are similarities in the flower shape.   Also called Butter and Eggs, good name, this is a great wildflower for bumblebees and many other pollinators, and, frankly, it is quite gorgeous- so I have sent for seed.

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Linaria vulgaris, Ludlow, Shropshire, June 2017

Slim, erect at about 0.3m, and completely at home amongst a clump of Stipa tennuisisma, the Linaria had sprinkled itself among the planting delightfully.

I grew Isoplexis canariensis from seed about six years ago, it is a Canary Island foxglove and pretty rare apparently in cultivation.  Of course, it was the fiery orange colouring that drew me to it, and the amazing fact that these absolutely minute seedlings would ever turn into anything so big and gorgeous.  I have them in a big deep pot as they seem to like quite moist conditions, and I overwinter them in our covered barn.  But, this year, they have really not liked our boomerang summer, from 11C to 37C in a matter of days last week for example, and so the flowering has been sporadic and sparse this year.  It may be that the plants are becoming too woody, and I have to start again, but for the moment, I will put it all down to this weird summer.  The plant grows to about 1.3 metres in height and has normally glossy deep green foliage- this year it looks far less happy.  But, as you can see from 2016, when in full throttle, it is a gorgeous thing.

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Isoplexis canariensis, Tostat, August 2016

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Isoplexis canariensis detail, Tostat, June 2017