Gold, green and blue…

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Sophora Sun King, Tostat, February 2019

Radio silence has lasted for more than 10 days- as we have had the most scarey, but also without a doubt enjoyable, beautiful clear, sunny days with cool nights- days that have got up to 24C by lunchtime.  And so, I have been gardening, with Andy and Jim as heavy-duty diggers and clearers, making a new border where the labyrinth was, and enlarging two established borders, as well as making a new path which completes the circuit of the house without getting muddy feet.  It has been glorious.  What luck, a friend arrives keen to help out with projects and the weather plays the part of good friend for a change.

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The extravagant beauty and construction of one of my rescued wild daffodils, Tostat, February 2019

But the self-same weather is also responsible for the reluctant decision on my part to abandon my hand-grown labyrinth in the back garden.  I trained as a meditative labyrinth facilitator as the last phase of my working and professional life before packing it all in to be retired- and I built my own 5 circuit labyrinth in the back garden, creating the definition of the path with home-grown Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’– nearly 400 of them.  So this was about 6 years ago.  Since then, the Carex has really toiled- it really is a case of summers that have lost their traditional pattern dramatically.

Fifteen years ago summers reliably worked like this- 5-6 days of warm, even hot sun- followed by 2 days of stormy rains.  In essence, we have now had 4 or maybe 5 summers of super-hot weather with no storms and very little rain.  The entire family began lobbying for the dismantling of the labyrinth two years ago- and I dug in, adding supplementary water occasionally and replacing plants.  But last year was the end of all that.  I realised that this was like a labour of Hercules- who I do not resemble in any way!

So, I am making a memory of my labyrinth into a tear-shaped border about 3m wide and 5m long, with echoes of the labyrinth path emerging from the sharp end of the tear in 3 wispy arcs of the tougher, remaining Carex.  I am trying out what I hope will be a shrub/plant mix that will take all that our summers can throw at it, without supplementary water after the first year in.  There are some Australians in the mix.  First off, Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’.  This is the brightest emerald-green you can imagine, an upright 50cm grass look-alike forming bouncy tufts.  It is frost-hardy to -10C, happy in drought and evergreen.

Also from Australia is Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’– which is a strappy 40cm plant with blue-green leaves and blue/yellow flowers in the summer, and another Dianella, Dianella tasmanica ‘Wyeena’.

Looking a bit like a galloping Phormium, I am hoping ‘Wyeena’ will make a nice, strappy presence around a small, deciduous tree that I have always wanted to grow,  Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’.  It has the most stunning coral-pink foliage in spring, settles to a beautiful gold colour for the summer and then flames up for the autumn- the photographs below are from a specimen that we planted outside the church in Tostat two summers ago.

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Early foliage, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, Tostat, early April 2018
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Going for gold, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’, Tostat, May 2018

And then back in the new tear-shaped border, I am trying out Philadelphus ‘Starbright’, a new Canadian introduction with purple early foliage and good heat and drought tolerance.  And new to me is Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’ which is a dwarf form of Cornus, which I am hoping will give us a touch of gold in winter stems.

Lastly, because I can’t resist a good perennial, I am trying out two new plants, Parthenium integrifolium ‘Welldone’ and Thermopsis chinensis.  Parthenium promises to be a white umbel flowered clump to about 1.2m, which should handle heat and drought well being a native of of the US Midwest.  Thermopsis chinensis is a medium height spring pea-bush with yellow lupin style flowers, and again, should be on the tough side.  As these plants will be in battle formation to ward off the tufty old grass that made the labyrinth paths, I am thinking of laying cardboard down as a humidity protector and weed deterrent.  Just for the first year, you understand.  It won’t prevent everything from breaching the ramparts but it will give the new plantings a fighting chance.  I would use a mulch but I have other areas in greater need with more dense plantings to deal with.  This is, at least, a new area and so cardboard it will be.

Meantime, wild blue violets are everywhere that I allow them to be, and one solitary wild white violet has re-appeared as a solo plant this year.

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Wild blue violets, Tostat, February 2019
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Wild white violet, Tostat, February 2019

Photographs of the labyrinth memorial will follow even featuring cardboard.