Living on the edge…

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Rosa Jacqueline du Pre, Tostat, August 2018

Feeling rather grumpy about my grumpiness about the scorched earth situation- and also chastened by kind comments from Australian and Californian readers basically saying that at least I can count on the fact that it will rain again…sometime.  I think that, even though I completely want to create the watering-free garden that I think we all have to embrace- I am still disturbed by the implications of my self-inflicted policy.  It all goes to show that changing our aesthetic to fully embrace sustainability is really hard and cuts to the core somehow.

Having said all of that, I am also aware that I don’t have (yet) to be an utter purist.  I can and should do what I can to garden as close to the edge of sustainability as possible.  But it’s ok to save myself with some watering as the edge moves away from me.  Watering is not to be despised.  So, I am doing some selective watering over the next few days.  I have allowed myself off the hook.  But, from the above, you can see that it has been a bit of a moral tussle.

So, to invoke cheeriness (and maybe rain!), here is what is still looking good without any help from me- though these are isolated spots in amongst a sea of brown.

I actually dug up Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ over a month ago and stuck her back into a pot, as she was looking nigh unto death.  So with a pot-watering regime, she has begun flowering again.  She is really ‘worth it’ to ape L’Oreal.

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Bouvardia ternifolia, Tostat, August 2018

Staying with the pots for a moment, Bouvardia ternifolia is looking very very happy- a true pillar-box red, tender, but can be tucked away dry in a protected spot in the winter, watered copiously in the spring, and up she comes.

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Plumbago auriculata, Tostat, August 2018

In a pot, and in semi-shade, Plumbago auriculata has just begun flowering.  On the tender side, I mistakenly left the pot out during the winter, and was pretty sure that I had killed the plant.  But, it’s always worth hanging on- and back she came in June.  Very late to get started, but looking absolutely fine.

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Cestrum elegans rubrum, Tostat, August 2018
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Fully open, Cestrum elegans rubrum, Tostat, August 2018

Cestrum elegans rubrum was a bargain-basement shrub I bought last winter.  A little on the tender side, I was feeling pretty smug about it until we hit the 2 weeks of -10C.  The shrub collapsed.  I thought it was time for an obituary notice, again.  But, two months later, signs of growth could be seen, and though a little shorter with the heat, I think that next year she will be bouncing back at 1m plus all round.  And clearly tougher than I thought.  I love those surprises.

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Rosa moschata, Tostat, August 2018

I bought Rosa moschata from Olivier Filippi‘s nursery in the Languedoc, maybe 5 years ago.  He is a serious dry-gardening expert and all his plants are worth trying especially with his advice.  I over-risked the dryness it would tolerate, and had to do yet another emergency transplant into a pot.  Note to self: This is the edge of sustainability looking at me, again.  Out of the pot, and in a new home 2 years ago against the central pillar of the outdoor barn, Rosa moschata is reaching for the roof, and is on her second flowering.  Only a dozen buds open, but the scent fills the barn- a deep old-rose scent, gorgeous.

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The unknown red Abutilon, Tostat, August 2018

Last year’s baby Abutilon ebay purchase is in the ground, only about 20 cms high, but has already flowered non-stop since late May.  Abutilons fold their leaves down like wings when they are a bit heat-stressed- but they carry on anyway.  Real troopers.

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Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ and Leycesteria formosa formosa, Tostat, August 2018

The Vernonia nearest the canal is the only one still flowering, wrapped in the arms of Leycesteria formosa– the crimson meets the purple.

And for sheer mystery and magic, this new-to-me Pennisetum, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Japonicum’ is hard to beat, close-up.  Note: In France, this plant is known as ‘Japonicum’- whilst in the UK, it is Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Foxtrot’.

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Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Japonicum’, Tostat, August 2018

Maybe I like the danger of the edge….

 

Looking back from afar….

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Molly in the mist of an October morning, Tostat, 2017

We had some misty, moisty mornings last week when Molly, the dog, and I were out for our early morning sniffs.  From here in sunny Alicante, with brilliant light shining off the sea and the sand, I was about to delete these photographs as they seemed, so, well, dull.  But in my constant battle to really come to appreciate a new aesthetic which accepts the becoming-permanent state of summer dryness and seasonal upsets, I stopped myself, and instead decided to talk about the aesthetic battle again.

In fact, these photographs are not dull.  Looking through some Oudolf images from his world-famous plantings and reading again his famous words ‘Learn to love brown’, I realise again that the perceived dullness is the product of my own battle with ‘perfection in the garden’.  A perfection that, as another great thinker and writer, Olivier Filippi, says in his book, ‘Planting Design for Dry Gardens’ has been largely created by an Anglicised ideal of garden perfection, the invention of the lawnmower and the business creation of chemical lawn control.

“…From the North of Europe to the south, and indeed in other parts of the world, the English garden model has become rooted in our collective unconscious as a symbol of happiness..”¹

Because, with the lawn, comes the rest of what makes so many British gardens so beautiful, the herbaceous borders and all the rest…only some of which is realistically attainable in a summer-dry setting.

So, I stub my toe constantly in my head in this battle between what is in my mind as the ideal and the reality of what my garden will do in my changing climate.  But, morally, it seems to me to be really important to stay in touch with this battle and to engage with it fully.  Only then can I do my bit, though my own garden and working with others, to help to create gardens and public spaces that can be beautiful within the ecological constraints of where you are.  And only by doing this, and showing this, can we hope to combat that English garden myth that is so well-rooted in our and others’ minds.

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A dewy, web-covered Miscanthus flowerhead in the mist, Tostat, October 2017
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And another one, Tostat, October 2017
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The stunning reds of Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar‘, Tostat, October 2017

¹ quoted p. 11, Olivier Filippi, Planting Design for Dry Gardens, Filbert Press 2016

Living with Phlomis all year round

I have come to really love the whole world of Phlomis.  So many great plants, especially for those of us who are drought-challenged on occasion, and, in my garden, there is a phlomis doing something all year round.  I never set out to have so many, but I adore the shapes, the foliage, the flowers and the strong scent (which even I can smell) that the summer-flowering phlomis give off when the temperatures mount.

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Frosted Phlomis russeliana leaves, Tostat, December 2015

I have often blogged about Phlomis russeliana, so I won’t repeat myself.  Suffice to say that the foliage can be a bit dog-eared in the winter if it is a wet one, but, if not, it holds up really well and the hairy leaves attract the frost quite beautifully.

Phlomis purpurea started blooming for me in February, carrying on in full flush until the end of April, and still flowering off and on even now.  It may have regretted this, as February was a very wet month, and one of the plants is having a bit of a dieback right now.  But my experience of this plant is that it does periodically take the hump, but, usually, there are newer shoots that remain alive and kicking, and so some judicious pruning will allow those to carry on.  With me, growing in a hot and sunny position in poor soil, it reaches 1.25m high and wide.  It is a very sculptural shape, making a big bowl of standing stems with the delicate colouring of the flowers as a bonus.

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Phlomis purpurea, Tostat, March 2016

The plant that started it all off for me was given to me by Professor Katherine Worth, of Royal Holloway College in London way back in the mid80s when Andy taught there.  She gave me the Phlomis variety that is probably the most commonly grown in the UK,  Phlomis fruticosa.  Against our garden fence in Surrey, it soon reached a massive 1.75m or so height and width, and made a very queenly statement in our first proper garden.  It remains evergreen all through winter, and is a truly great shrub in my view, but does need space.  I was forced to take action against ours last year, but really what I need to do is make that area a priority for next year, so that it gets the space it needs.  Hence, it looks a bit straggly in the photograph.

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Phlomis fruticosa, Tostat, May 2016

I know I did have a Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’, but I can’t talk about that as it has disappeared from the scene.  This has happened once before, so it may be telling me something.  But a tall, slender Phlomis cousin is doing very well and producing lots of little ones that I am busily potting up.  Phlomis ‘Samia’ is spectacular.  Upright, statuesque spikes with paired heart-shaped leaves are then joined by pale lilac, almost dusty brown flowers in the classic Phlomis whorled shape.  It takes a while to get going in my view, and absolutely prefers hot, sunny spots with poor soil, and no additional water than whatever turns up as rain.  It really doesn’t need good soil and would risk getting too wet in the winter which would kill it.  So I would recommend ignoring good soil requirements on many sites and in many books.

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Phlomis ‘Samia’, on the left, Tostat, early June 2016
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Phlomis ‘Samia’ close-up, Tostat, June 2015

Olivier Filippi, the topclass nurseryman and author on dry gardening, produced a hybrid bred from longifolia and fruticosa stock, and it is a superb plant.  Phlomis ‘Le Sud’ has a warmer yellow flower than fruticosa and more vivid green leaves with a hint of longifolia about them, and makes a mound just a bit more than a metre high and wide.  It is as tough as old boots but much prettier. Very drought resistant, evergreen, undemanding.

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Phlomis ‘Le Sud’, Tostat, May 2016

And another phlomis that I fell over, and am also fond of, which is, I think, going to be a little smaller in habit than ‘Le Sud’ is Phlomis longifolia var. bailanica.   It is often described as being only marginally hardy, but I would agree with Beth Smith of the Plant Heritage Devon Group.  She describes it as being hardy to -15C.  You can see her own photograph on the link which shows the longer, slimmer leaves better than mine.

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Phlomis longifolia var. bailanica, Tostat, May 2016

If you would like a more exotic tint to your foliage, you could try this.

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Phlomis x termesii, Tostat, June 2016

This tall phlomis, Phlomis x termesii, with a very upright habit, has wonderful golden-kissed felting on the young foliage, and longer, slimmer longifolia type leaves.  I bought this from Olivier Filippi’s nursery three years ago and it gets better every year.  Recently, from the new owners of La Petite Pepiniere, I bought my smallest Phlomis.  Phlomis cretica is a tot by comparison with the others, and doesn’t look much right now, but I know it will come good to make a small shrublet of about 0.5m high and wide.  It is a tiny star in the making.

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Look hard, it’s Phlomis cretica, Tostat, June 2016