Nipping round the garden with the camera…

The rain we have had this week has brought lots of things back from the  brink and encouraged others to push the boat out a bit, so I am frequently to be seen nipping round the garden with the camera.

Sphaeralcea munroana, Tostat, June 2015
Sphaeralcea munroana, Tostat, June 2015

This Sphaeralcea munroana is a lovely thing, but it isn’t at all what I expected! For a start, it should have been a crimson orange, and secondly, I was expecting it to be less drapey and more upright. But, whatever, I am actually rather fond of it. New to me this year, and picked out for its drought resistance, it is described by American sites as a ‘xeric’ plant, which means it is seriously good at drought tolerance. And, of course, as soon as I planted it, we had a soaking wet February. But it has pulled through, and is very pretty, if a sweeter pretty than I meant.  At the moment, it is trailing along the ground rather than growing upwards. But, maybe next year when it grows up a bit..

Anthemis tinctoria 'Sauce Hollandaise', Tostat, June 2015
Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollandaise’, Tostat, June 2015

There is nothing special about this plant, Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollandaise’, but, my goodness, it is a beauty. From 3 tiny pots planted 5 years ago, I have swathes of it now, and I adore it. Tough, pretty, fresh, and very happy to go without water for a while, it is a very good friend. Virtually bombproof, as Bob Brown would say, and most years, there is silvery green foliage all year round. Just deadhead to keep it going, and it will work really hard for you. I am becoming a daisy nut.

Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan', Tostat, June 2015
Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Tostat, June 2015

Another bombproof plant. You can pick up seed for Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ all over the internet for a pound or so, it germinates easily and gives you a great return. These vigorous plants were teeny weeny seedlings only a year ago, and this year, are quite splendid.  I love Echinacea, I am not so sure about some of the very gaudy doubles that are being bred right now, but you can’t beat the simplicity of ‘White Swan’. And here is a mature flower, the flower reflexes as it matures and exposes the central cone. Wow.

Reflexed Echinacea 'White Swan', Tostat, June 2015
Reflexed Echinacea ‘White Swan’, Tostat, June 2015
Knautia macedonica, Tostat, June 2015
Knautia macedonica, Tostat, June 2015

This is another really good plant. Happy in drought, probably fine in good soil if a little floppy, but wouldn’t want serious wet, it self seeds all over my gravel area and elsewhere too. Knautia macedonica is an unbeatable crimson, and wafts elegantly making a lovely haze of transparent colour. The flowers sit at the top of tall thin stems, so it almost seems to float. It will flower forever once it starts until frost cuts it down, and is totally hardy.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, Tostat, June 2015
Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, Tostat, June 2015

Oh oh, another daisy. Rudbeckia fulgida var.deamii is a very yellow daisy, maybe too Birds Custard for some, but I can take the yellow because it is another toughie.  And, though I am fond of ‘Goldsturm’ and have loads of it, I also like this one, which I grew from seed, easy as pie, and this is how they look 2 years on. It muscles it’s way past any weeds, and insists on being seen, so nothing retiring or delicate about it, right down to it’s coarse, hairy legs. But, flowering all summer, who can complain?

Bee coming in, Nepeta tuberosa, Tostat, June 2015
Bee coming in, Nepeta tuberosa, Tostat, June 2015

Warning! This is my 3rd shot at this plant, having grown it from seed twice and lost it. Nepeta tuberosa, so lovely that I will keep at it, needs razor sharp drainage and sun all year round. But if you can give it that, it will reward you with lipstick-shaped upright flower spikes, some more carmine than others, I have had carmine, almost pink, deep blue…It doesn’t last forever, but will self seed if it likes you. It also has the most strokable, velvety leaves and is very striking. Another Derry Watkins, Special Plants plant, and a right good one. Tweezer job on the seedlings so you need a steady hand.

When Shitty Bank isn’t so shitty….

The site of Shitty Bank 2003
The site of Shitty Bank 2003

This is the site of Shitty Bank when we first saw it in 2003.  There is no bank, and it’s not that…bad! Dried out as a result of a huge heatwave that hit France for a month in August 2003, but otherwise fine.  This is was where we decided to put the swimming pool that we built 3 years later, mainly because it was flat, a bit screened by a big hedge from our really nice neighbours, and it was a sun-trap.  So in it went, and with it came a massive heap of spoil, rubbish soil with huge river stones in it, and not much else.

What to do? Well, I had recently read Beth Chatto’s great book about gravel gardening…a new subject to me having previously gardened in Scotland. And so, emboldened by her experiment in gardening with what she’d got, an old carpark space, I decided to do the same with our bank of spoil. An old friend came to visit, laughed, and promptly christened it ‘Shitty Bank’. The name stuck.

Lessons learnt:

– if, like me, your ground is poor and stoney, it will take a couple of years for plants to get their feet down and really take off. So patience really is a virtue.

– don’t bother with ‘small and interesting’ plants…go for rough, tough stuff that will see off all the bindweed and other weeds, or at least sit on them. The ‘small and interesting’ things just get lost in the bigger things and don’t make it. I love Nepeta tuberosa, and did have a good clump which I grew from seed, but rain and other plants pushed it out, and now I have it in a kinder place.

– do plant beautiful and tolerant plants. Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ loves it. She started as a one-foot weakling and is now 3m high x 4m spread.  A few years ago, we had quite a wet summer and the bindweed was growing to serious strangulation point.  So, in the winter, we crawled underneath and anchored black tarpaulin material as tightly as we could around the underneath of the rose.  This has been quite effective and reduced the bindweed by about 80%. With us, this rose is in bloom for easily 10 months of the year.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' changes from deep pink to peach to yellow as the flowers age..
Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ changes from yellow to peach to deep pink as the flowers age..

– another toughie, which is now a small tree, is Vitex agnus castus, which has fabulous purple blossom in late summer.

Vitex agnus caste
Vitex agnus castus flowering amongst Eryngium agavifolium

– and I wouldn’t be without, though it doesn’t last long, I love the way the colour in the flowers fills up like a cartoon blush, and it does happily colonise everywhere….Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’.

Echinops sphaerocephalus 'Arctic Glow'
Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’

And, although like everything else in the garden, there is constant change as plants, and me, change our minds about each other, and each year brings new weather challenges, Shitty Bank does a good job and I have learnt that it survives pretty well now with one really good tidy-up of bramble, bindweed and their pals each year. And now, the plants are big enough to fend for themselves.

Small footnote: I grew my Nepeta tuberosa from seed from Derry Watkins at Special Plants, near Bath, back in 2005.  She is a fount of wisdom, and her brochure is a torture to read- you could choose everything.  Her seed is always good.  If she was down the road from me, I would be penniless.

Early Shitty Bank: Rosa sanguinea, Phlomis purpurea (pink), Stachys byzantina,  yellow Asphodeline lutea, Euphorbia characias wulfenii
Early Shitty Bank: Rosa sanguinea, Armeria maritima Dusseldorf Pride  (pink), Stachys byzantina, yellow Asphodeline lute, Euphorbia characias wulfenii