Rain does well…

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Phormium tenax flowers, Tostat, June 2018

This Phormium, now pretty big at more than 1.5m wide and high, came with us from Scotland fourteen years ago, and has never flowered before.  There was a point to all that rain we had.  That is the only reason I can think of for it suddenly springing to life in this way.  The flowers are really attractive, like big comma-shapes reaching for the sky.  The spikes have arranged to meet each other, in a very companionable way, which looks spectacular against the wide sky.

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From a distance and against the early morning sky, Tostat, June 2018

Forget the roses this year- largely beaten and drowned by rain and storm.  But other things have loved the strange weather.  I loved the look of Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’ in May, despite the soaking conditions.  I grew these from seed last autumn, and was pretty doubtful about their weediness when I planted them out in March.  But I have eaten my hat.  These plants have adored the weather and have flowered non-stop since late April.

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Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’ with Ozothamnus ‘Silver Jubilee’, Tostat, May 2018

Here they are today, just caught by the early sun, which has turned them more of a cherry-red colour.  What a bargain for a packet of seed and they may have flopped a bit but have largely held their own.

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‘Black Ball’ today, Tostat, June 2018

Kniphofia ‘Timothy’ has had a rather vagrant existence in the garden.  Never quite settling and several moves later, I split all the clumps and had another go at finding them a home.  They have adored the rain, and are in great shape, even flowering much earlier than usual, and also flowering well.  It’s a bit of a mystery to me why they are so moody here, as it seems to me we should get on really well.  Maybe they want to stay put, and I should let them.

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Kniphofia ‘Timothy’ pairing up nicely with Cornus kousa, Tostat, June 2018

In the stumpery, where the ferns and shade-lovers have likewise enjoyed the wet, but now are longing for some warmth I think, a fairly new introduction of Mahonia is looking splendid.  With an impossibly long name, Mahonia eurybracteata subsp.ganpinenesis ‘Soft Caress’ is totally different from almost every other Mahonia.  The clue is in the name.  No spikey bits or prickles, just soft green foliage draped beautifully around a central stem.  Mine is about 2 years old, so only a baby really, but I adore the gentle effect it creates amongst the ferns and, yes, a touch of bindweed grows at the back.  ‘Soft Caress’ hasn’t flowered yet, maybe next year.

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Mahonia eurybracteata subsp.ganpinensis ‘Soft Caress’, Tostat, June 2018

In the re-vamped and re-planted dry areas, I planted a new groundcover perennial this Spring, Ononis spinosa.  Looked a bit dull at the outset in February, and, coming back from Spain 2 weeks ago, it had been totally submerged in triffid-like weed growth, which I swear wasn’t even visible before we left.  So, post-hacking, the plants have re-emerged and I am really pleased with them so far. I say that because their real strength should show through in dry conditions rather than what we have had.  Nevertheless, sprawling nicely to form a loose clump about 0.80cms all round, and currently flowering with small pink pea-flowers, they look promising.  More on them later in the summer.

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Ononis spinosa, Tostat, June 2018

Two plant companions that have not enjoyed the two dry springs we have had, have been very happy with life in Tostat this year.  I always rave about Telekia speciosa.  Tall, stately, custard-yellow daisies that last for ages in the garden, with huge vivid green leaves at their feet- it is a great plant, and easy from seed.  Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ was one of my bargain-basement purchases years ago, and is now a striking 2m high and across- and in very fine fettle.  I love cream and green.

Rain scores well for plants- if not humans.

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Telekia speciosa and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, Tostat, June 2018

Me and the Assistant Gardener…

 

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The Assistant Gardener resting in the grit bucket, Tostat, May 2018

I am really delighted that the sun has been shining in Scotland, where the Assistant Gardener normally lives, but am pig sick that we are back to 8 degrees and pouring, cold rain and wind for the last 4 days.  I can’t quite believe it, as it had looked as though we were beginning to emerge from a very wintery spring. I try not to moan, but usually don’t succeed.

Still, last week before all this came upon us, the Assistant Gardener volunteered herself into that role and we smashed our way into a much neglected part of the garden- the area in front of the pig shed and adjacent to the sunken gas tank.  It is actually more promising than that description sounds.  But, as the southern outpost of the New Garden, the area which we cleared of snakes and bramble to have a go at making a garden out of the naturally rocky, stony soil and not much else, it merits more work to it.

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New Garden, Tostat, May 2015

This is a bit of a Terminator section.  I have lost more plants than I can bear to remember in taking a long time to understand how to manage a hot, dry, stony garden area which, in the winter, is bleak, cold and half-wet.  What I have learned the hard way is:  that, unless you are an Olympian gardener with muscles to show for it, this area will defeat you unless you can accept a balance between deliberately cultivated plants and naturally arriving plants aka weeds.  So, the last few years have been about building that balance.  The existing planting is mature and so can take a few invaders without complaint- the difficulty arises in getting to that point of mature balance.  And knowing that the balance will need intervention on a big scale in late Spring when the invaders are settling in nicely and can be uprooted when the ha-ha soil is damp.

2015 shows what I was trying to do.  Much of this still remains though bigger and tougher, but in this very wet winter I did lose a super-big and lovely Halimium, leaning out over the gravel in 2015.  Last year, I laid a plastic cover down on the area to combat some of the invaders, and this was largely successful.  So, the Assistant Gardener and I set to, with the new set of hopefuls that I had auditioned for this tricky area. They included:

a dwarf pomegranate, Punicum granatum ‘Nana’, for its glossy green leaves, gorgeous singing-red flowers, and general toughness

Ononis spinosa, a tough dry-soil ground cover

Achillea nobilis, another tough dry-soil running plant

Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, a fantastic Salvia, sadly not really winter-hardy despite what some say, but it flowers like a train, is a gorgeous deep blue, and I dig it up and stick it in a pot for over-wintering.  It can be huge!

Euphorbia pithyusa ‘Ponte Leccia’, new to me, one of the smaller euphorbias flowering later in June..

and Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, Verbena bonariensis, Echinacea purpurea, some repurposed bits of Sisyrinchium striatum and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ where the soil is just a tad better.

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Linking the new planting (to the right) with the established stuff, New garden, Tostat, May 2018
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The New Garden planting, pig shed to the rear, Tostat, May 2018
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The New Garden, a long view, pre-planting with plastic still in place, May 2018

We did a good job.  Clearing the ground happened,  the plants went in, and they will have benefitted from the 4 days of rain, even though I moan.  The Assistant Gardener learnt that you bang the plant on the bottom while it is in the pot, not when you have already taken it out.  I was a little slow with instructions.  And so now we keep an eye on it all for the first year and then after that, it’s all on its own.

Must get round to trimming off the brown bits.