The slimmest of pickings…

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Filipendula rubra Venusta and friend, Tostat, end July 2017

Well, actually, I’m not picking anything.  And the last couple of days have consisted of a massive electric storm, plummetting rain, and now we have boomeranged down to 17C from 37C, with grey skies and more heavy rain.  Not that I mind the rain, far from it, though it is a case of too little, too late, but at least it will reduce the death rate.  All small plants are being carefully tended and watered, not to venture into the ground until this madness is over.  But I liked this view of the Filipendula rubra Venusta, caught in morning sun a week or so ago, and thought that it looked good mingling in with the wild umbellifers.

Yesterday, the buds of the Hibiscus palustris still looked as if they were auditioning for a bondage movie, but today the first flower is out, photograph to follow if it survives this downpour.

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Buds waiting on Hibiscus palustris, Tostat, August 2017

I grew this Hibiscus trionum from seed about five years ago, and it has finally made it to just over a metre tall in our poor, stony soil.  But it is beginning to look worth the effort, and it looks ridiculously green despite the dryness.  Oddly, most English sites describe it as an annual, but I have to say mine is quite definitely perennial.  Even our Maire gloomily pronounced last week that he hadn’t seen such dryness since the terrible summer of 2003, the summer when we first saw the house on our househunting visit over from Scotland.

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Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, August 2017

Miscanthus sinensis Malepartus has decided to flower about a month earlier than normal and has gone straight to the silver stage.

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Flowering already, Miscanthus sinensis Malepartus, Tostat, August 2017

The Sanguisorba menziessii clump that I moved last year is very much liking where it is- again, I suspect that there is water in small springs under this part of the garden.  But the lovely red flowerheads are quickly going over.

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Sanguisorba menziesii, Tostat, August 2017
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Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, August 2017

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ has been flattened prior to flowering this year, as the rain poured off the bending banana leaves, so there are only one or two stray flowerheads surviving.

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Plumbago auriculata capensis, Tostat, August 2017

Having talked about Ceratostigma last week, this week the rather more refined South African cousin, Plumbago auriculata capensis, started to flower.  In South Africa, this could grow in a lax fashion to maybe 2m high and wide, but with me, more like 1m x1m. It is definitely tender and has to come under cover at the end of autumn.  For me, the darker skyblue of the Ceratostigma willmottianum is more attractive than the paler Plumbago, but in the land of small pickings, I will take what I can get.

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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star le Vasterival’, Tostat, August 2017

This Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star le Vasterival’ flowerhead is perhaps half the size of last year, but I am glad it kept fighting to flower, and hope it gets an easier ride next year.  it is named after another incredible plantswoman, Princess Greta Sturdza. who died in 2009.  Of Norwegian and Russian background, she married into the Moravian Sturdza family, and on moving to France in 1955, began her superb garden at Le Vasterival, near Varengeville in Normandy.  Le Vasterival still exists as a garden, not far from Le Bois des Moutiers, with more than 9,000 species and varieties of plants.  More than fifty years of skill and passion created this garden, not to be missed if you are visiting Normandy.  Among her cultivars is Hydrangea paniculata Great Star le Vasterival.


Karl and the Grasses

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Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’, Tostat, December 2015

It was too cold, shady and wet in my Scottish garden to try out tall grasses, and, truth to be told, I was slightly scared that they would overpower the garden- and me!  But 11 years later, in Tostat, I have many different grasses planted throughout the garden, and I adore them, come winter, spring or summer.

In our warmer climate, at least in the summer, Miscanthus can be a vigorous self-seeder, which, I read, is less likely in the UK.  In my experience, the plants take quite a while to settle in, maybe up to 3 years or more, and self-seeding isn’t an issue till maybe 5 years on from planting.  But to be honest, they are easy to spot as babies once you acclimatise your eyes to the slender tufts, and then they are easily hoiked out if you don’t want them there.  So, for my money, not a problem.

We have some great German nurserymen to thank for many of the varieties we grow.  Karl Foerster, the great early 20th century nurseryman, who ended his life as the only supplier of perennials in East Germany, bred one of the best ornamental grasses there is- Calamagrostris acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.

I grow this here and it is one of my favourites, but to my shock, I realised I didn’t have a decent photograph of it.  So, what you see below, is how it looks today, slightly tatty, but you can maybe see that it is a delicate grass, very upright, with very slim, fine flowering stalks and leaves, in a delicate green, which is now winter brown.  In fact, Calamagrostris ‘Karl Foerster’ doesn’t appear to self-seed at all, and I have had it in the garden for well over eight years.  Leaning across the photograph is the much fatter seedhead of a Miscanthus, so at least you can see the difference!

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Calamagrostris acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Tostat, December 2015

Miscanthus, as a genus, is a star, and one I find very hard to resist. My absolute favourite workhorse Miscanthus is ‘Silberfeder‘.  Tall, pretty much vertical despite summer storms, it creates tall accents without drowning out smaller players, and the movement in the breeze is captivating.  When it flowers, the flowers emerge as bronze-pink and are enchanting against light.  Tough as nails, it will be a little fed up with extended winter wet, but has survived every rainy Spring with aplomb here.  Hans Simon, another famous German nurseryman bred ‘Silberfeder’ in 1955′.

‘Malepartus’ has struggled a little for me, unusually for a Miscanthus, but here it is, earlier in the summer, adding real pzazz to perennial sunflowers.  ‘Malepartus’ was the work of another great German nurseryman, Ernst Pagels, working a little after Karl Foerster.  He was keen to introduce Miscanthus varieties that would bloom earlier than Autumn, and would therefore extend the use of ornamental grasses in Northern gardens.  ‘Malepartus’ flowers more than 6 weeks earlier than my other Miscanthus- you can see how it looked in early August this year below.

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Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’, Tostat, August 2015

For one of the most stunning displays of grasses, visit Sussex Prairies, just outside Henfield, in Sussex.  I was blown away by my visit there.  Grasses are planted and designed to allow you to experience walking through them and amongst them, and the accompanying perennial planting is stunning. Here are a couple of photographs of my visit there in 2013. Persicaria orientalis, now that’s something I want to try…what’s not to like? Six feet tall, great big tobacco-like leaves and pink tassels?  And what’s more, Mary Keen likes it.


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Kniphofia uvaria punching through Deschampsia, I think, with Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, another thank you to Karl Foerster, Sussex Prairies, September 2013
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Pink Miscanthus flowers picking up the pink of Persicaria orientalis, Sussex Prairies, September 2013