The peskiness of March and April…

March light line-up, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2022

That fickle March light can be amazing. This area has only been ‘in’ for a year, but, on the whole, it has done really well here with some morning sun, some late afternoon sun, and the shade and protection of the big wall. Reading left to right, there is an unknown Helleborus sternii, Salvia spathacea ( which got zapped by some frost in January and is growing out of the frost damage), Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’ which is just coming into leaf, Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Sweet Winter’ to the right with Fatsia polycarpa ‘Green Fingers’ at the far right. The Amelanchier and the Mahonia came as mature plants from Tostat pots, but the Fatsia has shot up in a year from a thin little thing to becoming an imposing plant. And the foxgloves all appeared on their own, probably as a result of us turning the earth as we planted, removing rubble andd massive river stones. Oh, and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is at the very back, a cutting from our Tostat plant.

Second March line-up, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2022

Looking further along, more illumination picks out Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’ in front of Calycanthus floridus, Muhlenbeckia in the blue pot, some winter-brown from Hakonechloa macra which takes time to get going after winter and the dull-green winter leaves of Cestrum far right. It is such an exciting time.

Syringa laciniata foliage, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2022

Well, it was exciting for a while. And then April, apart from maybe 6 sunny days, was cold, wet and grey and now early May is not doing much better. Sorry to moan about the weather, but it has really tried my patience and I ain’t no saint. Rain we have had, and here is the back garden – weeks later than the first photographs in this post.

The back Barn Garden today, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022

So, the foxgloves have loved it and are close to 2m high, but the bright red flowers of Heuchera x brizoides ‘Firefly’ give it a little buzz despite their relative size. I did have a baby Tetrapanax at the far left, but it didn’t make it, so I planted a Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ a month ago and so far, so good. The foxgloves will be enjoyed this year, and then I’ll take half of them out, plus any seedlings and plant them somewhere else next year- only because they have obscured everything else in the first photograph entirely. The other plants will need the space.

On the sunnier side of the stone path, Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ is adoring the cooler, damper conditions in Oloron, and has almost covered Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ and Salix gracilistyla ‘Mt Aso’, although you can still see the fresher green of the Salix through the Geum. I think that both look great with the Geum, but a spot of Geum thinnning might be done next year. On the wall, Rosa ‘Lawrence Johnston’ with it’s eggyolk coloured blooms is also loving the move to Oloron, and the much criticised (by me) Digiplexis, could be Illumination Raspberry, but I’m not sure, has actually come back this year and spread a bit. Only one plant did make it though out of 4 or 5 plants that went in, so I think my main beef with it remains.

The other shrub that is so glad to be in Oloron is Cestrum elegans Rubrum. This was a rescue plant at the beginning, but really struggled in Tostat, and is utterly reborn and is literally covered with bursting wine-red buds, it will be fantastic this year.

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, Salix gracilysta ‘Mt Aso’, Cestrum elegans Rubrum, Rosa ‘Lawrence Johnston’, the Barn Garden, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022
Syringa laciniata in rescue, Oloron Sainte Marie, end April 2022

Meantime, from a terrible spot in the front garden where I abandoned it last year, I have rescued the Syringa laciniata and it is in intensive care in the courtyard. It will recover, despite being a bit one-legged from dieback, and I will plant it out next year in a kinder place; I do love the ferny foliage and the pretty lilac flowers, so I hope it forgives me.

The front door of our old house has been changed over the years, and this Spring, the front window (ex front door) was being ridden out of town by a big conifer, almost reaching the roof. So we took it out, and have replanted with a really lovely columnar Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’. It is beautifully narrow, about 1m, and grows to about 6m, but has all the attributes of the bigger ones, with glossy green leaves and, cross fingers, great autumn colour.

Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022
Liquidambar foliage close-up, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022

And on one of the rare sunny days, a touch of class was provided by Tulipa ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Jan Reus’. ‘Ronaldo’ has just a hint of blue about it to my eye, whereas ‘Jan Reus’ has a warmer scarlet tint to it. The tulips are so worth it for their sheer exuberance, and this year, I will dig a trough in the front and stick them in there. You never know.

One of the sunny days in April, Tulipa ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Jan Reus’, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2022

New Year 2022…

The one and only flower, Dietes grandiflora, hunkering down from the cold, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

New Years Day saw me emerging from a week of isolation to prevent the family from getting Covid. We succeeded in that mission, and on venturing outside, I was thrilled to find the one and only flower of my pot of Dietes grandiflora hanging on in the cold. Maybe it mistook the Northern Hemisphere for the Southern, but whatever, I was really glad to see it. I saw many different varieties of Dietes in Australia in 2019, and wanted to try them for hardiness in a pot permanently outside. The leaves do a good job on their own, strong, slim and spikey, I like them in a pot. So, maybe next year, the plants will have sorted themselves out to flower earlier than December- but they have been absolutely fine outside, although we have had only small frosts, if at all, so far this winter.

Salvia spathacea, who would have thought it?, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

I grew this ‘Salvia spathacea’ from seed several years ago. It is a Californian native from dry woodlands , and, whilst handling full sun pretty well, I can say that semi-shade is what it really likes, and it has romped rhizomatously in the Barn Garden since planting it out last Spring. Already, it’s heading skywards so I hope it makes it, as the tiered flower spikes are spectacular when they happen. Cold doesn’t appear to bother it especially if it can get a little protection from shrub canopy or taller plants.

Mahonia eurybractea ‘Sweet Winter’, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

A slightly odd angle to this photo, but I liked the stray bit of mistletoe that popped into the picture. Mahonia eurybractea ‘Sweet Winter’ is one of the two main, non-prickly, dwarf mahonias available. The other is ‘Soft Caress’ if you are interested. These are great shrubs, fanned, cut leaves make for a dramatic, tropical look, and they don’t get much bigger than Im all round, so can easily slot into any planting to give a jungly green look all year round. The winter flowers are bright yellow and softly scented, not as perfumed as the bigger Mahonias. I have grown to love these shrubs, especially as they took a lot of punishment in our old garden in bakingly dry shade. They like the Barn Garden better and have fattened out a bit, so looking much happier here. A new semi-dwarf variety, blooming from late summer, has appeared this year called ‘Volcano’ with spectacular orange hands of flowersprays, which I am seriously coveting, but isn’t yet widely available in France…..

Mahonia ‘Volcano’…..oh yes. Photo credit http://www.crocus.co.uk

Hamamelis ‘Orange Beauty’, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

I bought this Hamamelis ‘Orange Beauty’ especially for the Barn Garden last year as a a small plant, and it has not grown much this year, but is flowering well for a small one, and so it is an investment for the future. There’s a lot to be said for growing babies on in my view- you really get to know them well, which I love. It really does look like someone has artfully draped orange peel on bare sticks, such a good colour in the winter.

Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’, Oloron Sainte Marie, New Years Day 2022

Another plant with weird timing… this rose, ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ was covered in 6-8 blooms, a bit washed out with the rain, so I thought the seedhead looked the more interesting of the two. A very happy looking bush I thought, thinking to the future….And just before Covid struck, I madly bought a bare root rose I didn’t know on the strength of an Isabel Bannerman photograph in Gardens Illustrated. ‘La Belle Sultane’ is a beauty and I couldn’t resist, she also survived 2 weeks in the post for various reasons, but is sprouting away in a large pot and seems fine.

Rosa ‘La Belle Sultane’ photographed by Isabel Bannerman, photo credit http://www.gardensillustrated.com

Happy New Year to everyone, gardeners and gardens!