The relief of rain…

Echinacea ‘White Swan’, dying embers, Tostat, August 2020

And there was rain two nights ago. Monumental lightning and thunder produced a mop bucket full of water and probably saved most of the garden. There are still many burnt and crisped plants, but the following morning, by the amazing power of nature, you could feel the whole garden standing tall again. These Echinacea ‘White Swan’ still looked spectacular caught by the early morning sun a day later, and they will stand tall until frost cuts them down.

And there are some indomitable plants. I don’t know how I missed Achillea crithmifolium for all these years until this Spring. It is such an amazing small plant, only growing to 10cms tall at the tallest, and with the nice, but not amazing, cream coloured achillea flower. The knockout features are two- one, the beautiful fine, feathery foliage which ignores everything that the weather throws at it, and secondly, the allelopathic properties of the plant. Allelopathy is a young scientific field of study examining the ways in which some plants can reduce competition from other plants by means of chemical extrusion. So the tiny but powerful Achillea crithmifolium can fight off the opposition all alone- a great boon in a gravel garden situation. A very useful Mediterranean Garden Society article can be found by following the Allelopathy link above.

Achillea crithmifolia, Tostat, August 2020

Some shrubs have just rushed to autumn or even winter states to handle the heat and the dryness. Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’ has done exactly that- and is filling the rather depleted border with a glorious shade of brilliant red.

Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’, Tostat, August 2020

Poor old Euonymus alatus ‘Compactum‘ has skipped the autumn red and gone straight to winter. Two other bushes in the garden have hung onto their foliage and we may yet get autumn colour from them, but not this one. The buds look pretty good so I reckon it will come through, albeit by going bald.

Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’, Tostat, August 2020

Strangely, a plant which I love but have always struggled to keep going, is looking fabulous. You may have noticed that I do have a thing for feathery foliage- and this Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ really goes for feathery in a big way. One could say that feathery is all it does. Normally, this plant is nearly 2m tall and so qualifies as wafty as well as feathery- but this year, it had made barely a metre.

Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, August 2020

Russelia equisetiformis has been flowering since the beginning of May non-stop. It is called ‘Goutes de sang’ in France, and you can see why, the beautiful tumbling teardrops of blood-red trumpet-shaped flowers are really stunning. The foliage is a bit like masses of green string loosely tied to green stalks, but lifted up a little, a handy breezeblock will do it, the tumbling foliage and flowers are really gorgeous. It needs to be pretty bone dry in the winter and kept away from frost. I stick it in the open barn, and that seems to work just fine. Another lovely buy from Jardin de Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois in the Languedoc.

Russelia equisetiformis, Tostat, August 2020

And so the sun set two nights ago, behind the banana and the Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ on a garden that will live to fight another day.

Sunset 2 nights ago, Tostat, August 2020

From high fashion to the ultimate simplicity…

Nicole de Vesian was a fashion designer and stylist for Hermes in Paris until she retired in the 1970s. Moving to the Luberon, she created, at La Louve, one of the most beautiful and simple gardens I have ever seen, though not yet visited. Photographs of this garden moved me immensely. The simplicity of the planting, the prevailing use of green, form and shape becoming more important than colour in the hot sun of Provence, and the economy of her approach really appealed. She used what she could find around her, buying very little, but bringing a rhythmic flow to the use of clipped shrubs and finding ways to bring the rocky, dry, hilly landscape of her garden to life.

This link to a blog by Bellis Vintage contains a link to a short clip from Monty Don’s series a couple of years ago on extraordinary gardens. Take 5 with a cup of tea and savour it.

Meanwhile, back in Tostat, I have been preparing a little homage to Nicole de Vesian. Trying to stay a little faithful to her principles of economy, I have re-used plants that fell out of favour with me elsewhere in the garden, and only bought 4 small conifers. Four more than Nicole de Vesian would have bought, but there we are. So, as you can see, in the photograph below, it is all at a very baby stage.

For height, I am using Cupressus sempervirens ‘Totem Pole’ which grows to about 5m but is quite slim, and also my re-used Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’, which is an ultra-slim pencil of box growing to about 3m, I think, but only 15cms or so wide. I had two box balls grown from tinies that we started off in Scotland, which make a big presence at the front of the seat, and I am also re-using Buxus sempervirens ‘Green Gem’ which naturally makes a ball of about 0.75m over time. Two fatter, but dwarf, conifers complete the arrangement, Chamaecyparis ‘Ellwoodii’– which might be a labelling mistake in my view, but I will take my chances. It should be about 3m high by 1m wide at full tilt. And the last is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Blue Gem’ which will be about 2 m high and wide with a soft blue tint to the greenery.

Side shot, showing Cupressus sempervirens 'Totem Pole' far left,  then Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Gem',Buxus sempervirens 'Graham Blandy', Buxus sempervirens 'Green Gem' and my Scottish Buxus sempervirens suffruticosa boxballs in front of the seat.
Side shot, showing Cupressus sempervirens ‘Totem Pole’ far left, then  Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Blue Gem’, Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’, Buxus sempervirens ‘Green Gem’ and my Scottish Buxus sempervirens suffruticosa boxballs in front of the seat.

View from the other side.  I have also re-used a Euonymus alata Compactus behind the seat, which will make a good companion all-season shrub with gorgeous autumn tints.
View from the other side. I have also re-used a Euonymus alata Compactus behind the seat, which will make a good companion all-season shrub with gorgeous autumn tints.

It will look very good in time. At the moment, viewing it alongside pictures of La Louve, it is almost embarassing. But here is a quick section sketch that I did which shows where I am going. Hang onto that.

Simple section sketch showing where I am headed....
Simple section sketch showing where I am headed….

Meantime, a really lovely blog by Kirsten Honeyman, has some beautiful photographs capturing her inspiring visit to La Louve. And Louisa Jones, the garden writer, has also written a definitive record of de Vesian and her garden called ‘Nicole de Vesian: Gardens, Modern Design in Provence’. Louisa Jones also provided some of her own photographs and comments to the Mediterranean Garden Society, follow the link for those.

I know that Judith Pilsbury, who bought La Louve from de Vesian, has sold La Louve in the last couple of years, but Parcs et Jardins still feature her as the owner on their visiting page. So, I hope this means that the current owner is continuing to make the garden available to visitors occasionally. I will have to round up a group!

And I will also square off the tops of the Chamaecyparis to develop the homage further.

PS. A great Louis the Geek blogpost on Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’ just arrived. I was hoping for something smaller! We’ll see.