And now it’s early June…

Gertrud’s Penstemon, such a good plant, Tostat, June 2020

Where has this year gone? I cannot believe the evidence of my own eyes as I look round the garden and see that early summer arrived about 2 weeks ago. Most of the once-blooming roses are over and done with, and spring flowerers of all kinds were beaten by the last 2 weeks of 30C and no rain. But a plant that has just adored it, is my unknown Penstemon, bought 2 years ago at the lovely Jardin d’Antin, where Gertrud has a very good eye for a plant.

Isoplexis canariensis, the Lazarus of the garden, Tostat, June 2020

Years ago, I grew Isoplexis canariensis from seed and had two big pots blooming magnificently. I left them out over the winter once, bad mistake. But incredibly, last year, three small plants re-emerged from death and this year, with a guarantee of good behaviour from me, they are back. I had them kept dry but with protection in the open barn last winter, and they really liked that. Masses of water and some feed to kickstart them and they have flowered 2 months earlier than they used to. I adore the colour, and the glossy evergreen leaves are a great foil to the orange-rusty flowers.

Libertia ixioides ‘Goldfinger’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a really lovely Libertia. These plants have had a slightly chequered history with me, as I grew them successfully from seed and then planted them out in an area that was a bit too tough for them. So, out they came and went into the Mix, the massed perennial planting under the cherry tree. This slim Libertia is not a fastgrower, but it is especially good in the winter, when the orange stripes on the leaves really glow. But this is the first time they flowered, with a sprinkling of these charming white flowers- which, when woven in amongst the other perennials, charmingly catch the eye.

Nigella papilosa ‘African Bride’, Tostat, June 2020

I am a grumpy annuals grower- they aren’t really my thing, but I grew some of this Nigella that we were going to give away as ‘freebie pollinator’ plants at our Tostatenfleur event in April- but it didn’t happen because of covid-19. However, I have loved this slightly different Nigella for the drama of the petals and stamens combo. And in early morning sunshine, the stamens have a ruby glow to them. I am saving the seed for sure…

Oenethora speciosa, Tostat, June 2020

Some people hate this evening primrose, Oenethora speciosa, but the trick is to plant it in rubbish soil and full sun. Any conditions more luxurious will ensure you have a massive growth and it will run and run. And even with rubbish soil, be prepared to yank masses out. Having said that, in low light, the gorgeous shell-pink flowers, of which there hundreds every day, glow. I have been known to be snobby about it, but actually, it is a good doer in controlled conditions.

Pelargonium ‘Ardens’, Tostat, June 2020

This species Pelargonium is a delight- deep red flowers with an enticing darker splash, and needs no special treatment other than a dry winter, protected from the cold, and then watering to wake it up in the spring once frost has finished.

Punica granatum ‘Mme Legrelliae’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a great flowering shrub, which deserves to be better known really. There is nothing quite like the frilly-hankerchief look of the coral and cream flowers. It’s a non-fruiting pomegranate, but is hardy down to -15C and is very happy in not particularly great soil that is free-draining. It won’t like water round the roots in winter. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about the naming and history of the plant, a fascinating story of important, but unknown horticultural women.

Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, Tostat, June 2020

This rose, Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, which I bought with my pal Jane at Chelsea from Harkness several years ago, is a Persian descendant, and is bred for heat tolerance. It grows pretty well in a slightly damper bit of the garden. I love the early apricot-pink colouring, just a bit disappointing that it fades to what I would call a dull brick colour- but never mind. The open, single structure makes it more useful for pollinators than many roses.

Rosa ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’, Tostat, June 2020

Here is a ready-made bouquet of Rosa ‘Great Maiden’s Blush’ or ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’ here in France. It smells lovely and blooms off and on in waves all summer.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’, Tostat, June 2020

I am very fond of Rosa ‘New Dawn’– it has that perfect shell-pink, with a lot of cream in it, a bit of an ice-queen really. But the slightly angular petals appeal to me and it lasts well, flowering for about a month in a lazy droop over the garden wall.

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’, Tostat, June 2020

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’ struggles a bit with me, a bit too dry and hot for it I think, but the colour is fabulous. This photograph does not do it justice- think the deepest, richest crimson velvet, and you are almost there.

Salvia cacaliifolia, Tostat, June 2020

And now for the Battle of the Blues- won only just by Salvia cacaliifolia. This is a tender salvia, with bright light green ivy-shaped leaves, which will just about twine upwards with a little support. I have it supported by a bit of redundant barbecue grill, not yet wind-tested as a support, but it is working for the moment. The blue is deep, and electric.

Salvia patens, Tostat, June 2020

Salvia patens is just a tad lighter in tone, but scores for really big flowers. Oddly it has the same ivy-shaped leaves as cacaliifolia, but has more of a darcyii look about it.

Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’, Ludlow, June 2017

I saw this rose in Ludlow a couple of years ago, and just the year before, I bought it for a rose-loving friend in Tostat, who has just returned the favour beautifully by growing on and giving me a very good looking cutting. I missed the flowers of my new rose in the rain, so luckily had a photo from 2017. I am so looking forward to it. Thank you, H and M, very much.

Thoughts on planting and weeding…

Verbena bonarienisis with Daucus carota, Tostat, July 2019

Forced inside by the massive heat last week, I took to reading about gardens rather than gardening. Also, I am in a reflective state about the garden at the moment as I am noticing the changes from having less ‘arm’ to do maintenance, and I am curious about how this will shape up over the summer. So, picking up Noel Kingsbury’s article about planting density, which I would ordinarily have saved for a rainy day, set me thinking. I won’t recount all the detail as you can pick this up via the link, but working backwards from his reasons as to why more dense planting makes sense made great sense to me. He posits three main reasons for dense planting:

  1. Denser planting reduces the need for weeding
  2. It increases biodiversity, providing more cover and food opportunities for essential garden wildlife
  3. More plants mean more biological activity which supports an effective ecosystem

So, possibly post-hoc rationalisation, but here is what I think is going on in ‘The Mix’ my perennials/grasses/shrub combination underneath the cherry tree at the back. A spot of analysis follows…

The Mix, Tostat, May 2019

This May photograph is a little late to qualify as Spring, but it will do. You can see the massive importance of the wafty Stipa tenuissima, the tall Allium nigrum coming through, and the pink of the Oenethora all work well together.

Just now, early July, those Alliums are still there as seedheads, but the whole look has gone up a gear in height and variation. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is sparking red through the planting, and an annual tall daisy, with many small, white flowers, which self-seeded itself last year, and has really romped this year, has taken the eye up further, whilst the Phlomis longifolia var.bailanica is giving stature with seedheads, and the grey-silver of the Helichrysum rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ (now also seen as Ozothamnus) planted 2 years ago is poking through nicely.

The Mix, Tostat, early July 2019

In mid July, the whole scene will change as Monarda fistulosa, which has just begun to open, will ripple through the scene with warm pink long-lasting flowerheads and will compete as the daisy goes over to take over as the main theme. Later, Patrinia scabiosifolia will come in at early August with electric-yellow umbels shooting through leading to Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ in September.

The first flower, Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, early July 2019

All that I have done is chosen some plants and threaded them between one another fairly closely, allowed a little room for self-seeders, and other than removing the odd dandelion or plantain, I have left it to sort itself out. What I have realised is that between me and it, we have built up a flow of plants that move into the foreground and change the dynamic as time passes- giving way to others as they go. Very little has needed to be removed, and the shrubby elements, the Phlomis bailanica, Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’, Helichrysum rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ and Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ have created the beginnings of a permanent structure as a backdrop.

The other article that continues to set me thinking was Alys Fowler’s article last week on weeding. I always like her thoughtful articles, and this year weeding has taken a back seat in Tostat. I have been surprised at how little this has bothered me, and I have learnt that I have only to wait for plants to grow up and over, thus hiding the interlopers. Then summer heat will finish most of the rest off. I just need to stay calm for the month or so in the Spring when it looks as if all is lost. I am going to go easy again on weeding next year. I adore the combination of the Verbena bonariensis and the wild carrot, Daucus carota and will welcome that back. (see top)

Where I will not go easy is my eternal battle with bindweed. But, 3 years ago, I grew and planted out Tagetes minuta all over the garden where we were under siege from bindweed. Tagetes minuta seedlings have continued to work away since them, and we have a very different garden thanks to them. I have ordered more seed for next year to bulk up the population.

Tagetes minuta still doing battle for me, Tostat, July 2019

Come rain, come shine…

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End of the evening with Stipa tenuissima, Oenethora speciosa shutting up shop, and the last of Cerinthe major ‘Kiwi Blue’ in the distance, Tostat, May 2017

This May has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and in these moments, it is hard not to become totally obsessed with the weather forecast, and then what actually happens- usually not at all as predicted.  In summary, the dry soil sun-lovers have really enjoyed themselves and other things have not, some of which have hung on in there and one or two may have bitten the dust.  This is because I don’t water.  To be precise, I do spot-water things in extremis in their first year, but after that, I don’t.  Stubborn or what, you might well say.  But I am trying to finetune the selection and growing of plants that can live here unaided, and now that there is so much variability in the weather at any time of the year, it makes you feel a bit like William Tell trying to skewer that apple with both legs bound, and from a moving platform.

One of the plants that may have crashed and burnt is one of two Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’.  Interestingly, the one that is in the ER wagon is the one in the slightly less hot spot. I so wanted to grow this plant, having chosen it years ago as part of a planting design for my diploma course- and it was the devil of a job to find it here in France.  So I was mightily pleased when I found not one but two plants last year, and planted them in the early Spring.  It is a delicate, airy columnar shrub, which is pretty undemanding and is reputed to cope with almost any conditions, especially frost.  So, I will have to see if it will perk up from the bottom or find a way of making a comeback.   Meantime, some gentle watering on occasion as it is in the ER wagon.

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Verbascum bombyciferum, where it put itself, Tostat May 2017

Some delights have also turned up. That is not to say that Verbascum bombyciferum is entirely a delight as it can plonk itself slapbang where you don’t want it, and then you have to keep beheading it as it is impossible to get out, with a giant root system that practically goes to Australia.  But it is a mighty and impressive beast when it lands where you might not know that you want it, but you discover that you always did!  With us, the first year is quite a small affair, and then, aged 1-2, the giant seems to leap fully formed out of the ground in front of your eyes.  Felted, hairy and covered in custard-yellow small flowers, it is a one-stop insect feeding station.  It keeps the form and stature right through winter until, totally dried out, it keels over and you are tempted to shout ‘Timber’.

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Assorted foxgloves in dampish soil and sun, Tostat, May 2017

Curiously, it has also been a great year for foxgloves- all self-sown and obviously selecting the parts of the garden where they stand a chance.  That is one of the lovely things about not being too rigid about what goes on where, I love being surprised by what pops up and, also, flip side of the coin, by what doesn’t pop up.  Some years, the foxgloves don’t make much of an appearance- but they always return in the end.

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Euphorbia sikkimensis, Tostat, May 2017

Now here is a survivor.  Grown from seed and fairly weedy for a couple of years, this is the year where it has broken through youth to become a real plant of substance.  I think it’s Euphorbia sikkimensis anyway.  It’s at least 5 years ago that I grew it from seed and it wasn’t a happy sowing, as not much came up, and I lost the tag.  This plant is the only survivor of three.  But it really is worth it.  It is going to make a handsome 1m tall and wide plant, with these electric yellow flower bracts that form on the top of each stem.  Unlike some, it is not a thug, in fact, I would put it in the ‘shy and retiring’ category.  It flowers much later than the rest- sometimes as late as the end of June, and it is willing to cope with the driest, sunniest spot in the garden without any visible complaint.

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Evening sun and handling no rain pretty well, Tostat, May 2017

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Clematis viticella, Aruncus dioicus and the foliage of Paeonia lutea var.ludlowii, Tostat, May 2017