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

In the heat…

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The very first flower on home-grown Clematis tangutica ‘Helios’, with the new camera, Tostat, August 2018

A few weeks ago, The Mindful Gardener posted about buying a macro lens- with some fantastic photographs to go with it.  Not quite got the budget for that, and was also limping on with my much-loved Panasonic Lumix FX70, managing to dodge the dustspots that had started to gather at the back of the lens inside the camera.  Overnight, one night, the dustspots got serious- and there wasn’t a bit of an image that you could fudge past them with.  An attempt at microsurgery was made by Andy, but he retreated as the camera innards looked in peril, so I decided to bite the bullet and find a new-to-me camera that would shift me very slightly into a more sophisticated camera field.

I have been playing with my Nikon Coolpix P510 all week and enjoying it- whilst gradually trying to work my way through the extensive manual to the things that I want to be able to do, rather than everything that it can do- except cook my supper, apparently.  It is a much bigger and more serious looking item than my old camera, and I do feel slightly fraudulent at slinging it round my neck as if I knew what I was doing.  But it is fun.

As the heat is now in the late 30s for the next few days, I am retreating indoors and remaining there pretty much all day- I am not of a stern constitution when it comes to heat, too much sweating and pale skin- not an attractive combination!

Back in the garden, when the heat is hanging, a colour co-ordinated yellow spider has turned up on my adored Patrinia scabiosifolia.  Talk about blending in.  He should be working for MI5 or 6.

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Patrinia predator, Tostat, August 2018

And then…

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Prey arrives and is despatched swiftly

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Followed by friend …or foe…or afters…

That spider is still there, 4 days later, simply getting fatter.

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’is not enjoying the heat.  She always flowers a good month after the rest of the Crocosmia tribe, but is smaller in every way, except for the flowers which are a gorgeous jaffa orange, scarlet and yellow combination.  I think she is probably at the limit of her endurance with us, especially this summer when the heat has suddenly really cranked up, but crocosmia are incredibly tough, and will battle on almost regardless of the circumstances.

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Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora Emily McKenzie, Tostat, August 2018

Rudbeckias are part of the turning from mauve and blue to yellow and orange in the garden about this time of year.  ‘Goldsturm’ is a really good plant, especially if their golden colour can be discovered accidentally mingled amongst other plants, and if the light is just right, there really is a flash of gold.

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Rudbeckia fulgida var.sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, early morning sun, Tostat, August 2018

Another Rudbeckia that I love is Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’.  A taller (up to 2m this year), more graceful, refined fellow with multiple small, reflexed petals like quills.  I have worried in the past that I have lost this plant, as it is slowish to get going in the spring, and can easily be mistaken for a regular, annoying old Helianthus- of which I have way too many.  But, whatever is going on, except for monsoon conditions, he appears and gently spreads, drifting about through and amongst other plants.

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Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’, Tostat, August 2018

And new to me this year, but I am already smitten, is Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’ which I bought from the excellent Bernard Lacrouts at Sanous.  Multiple flowering goes on, up and down the branching upright stems, small flowers which dot about very gracefully.  The jury is out, as yet, but the signs are good for a reliable, take what weather comes, kind of plant.  The colour mutes a little in the heat, it was a bit brighter last week before the craziness started.

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Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’, Tostat, August 2018

Time to hide away indoors now.  Thank you so much to all who have commented in the last few weeks, I am sorry I haven’t replied to each one as per usual, just too much going on!  The comments are wonderful and are very much appreciated.

 

All for the price of a coffee…

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2018

I adore growing plants from seed.  Well, there can be disastrous times, like this Spring for example, or just ‘nil return’ after peering anxiously at the seedtray for what seems like ages.  But some seeds just seem to germinate generously and readily, popping up with abandon into the world.

So, it is probably best to expect a 50/50 return- but if there are 200 seeds in the packet, you could be swamped.  Two years ago, I grew 80 or so small plants of Echinacea ‘Green Wizard’ from seed, in my hubris I even sent some small plants to a friend.  Hubris it was.  This year, after our soaking and cold Spring, I have only seen one measly specimen come back in the garden.  So, I think the best approach with seeds starts with total humbleness and then thankfulness.

This Spring, I planted out about 30 plants of Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’ which I grew last autumn.  They were teeny tiny plants. but looking sturdy, and now they are bursting into flower, gorgeous yellows, orange flecks and reds, and a metre high- in fact, they are in danger from the next passing storm, so I may get round to staking them in advance.  All for the price of a coffee, and a lot of humble waiting.  Not bad.

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2018

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Helenium atumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2018

The garden is moving out of its mauve phase, with some more yellows and reds starting up.  Last year, in the height of a hot summer, I bought two abutilon babies, barely rooted, from an Ebay seller in Spain, at the price of another coffee.  One bit the dust this Spring, but the other one is doing well, with a lovely soft, dark, matte red which seems to bring out the beautiful veining that Abutilons have.  This un-named plant may be too tender to leave in the ground over the winter, so I am not going to risk it, I will dig and pot it up, along with the more cherry- red Abutilon ‘Red Trumpet’, which is also new to me this year.  These are such good plants, reliable, heat-tolerant, flowering all summer into the autumn, and I adore the bell-shaped flowers.

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Abutilon unknown, Spanish ebay, Tostat, July 2018

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More cherry-red, Abutilon ‘Red Trumpet’, Tostat, July 2018

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Heterotheca campora var glandulissima, Tostat, July 2018

This Heterotheca campora var.glandulissima, bit of a mouthful, has languished in the garden for the past 3 years, planted in the wrong place too near to a buddleia, and so has been a serious damp squib through no fault of its own.  Goodbye buddleia, and hey presto, Heterotheca is back in town.  Big, determined, fat yellow daisies with charmingly slightly reflexed petals, in a sunny yellow that is not sickly- what’s not to like?  Welcome back and apologies for the poor service you have received.

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Patrinia scabiosifolia, Tostat, July 2018

Patrinia scabiosifolia is a plant I always wanted to try.  It was on its last seed trial last year, having been a dud on two previous years.  I managed to make it to half a dozen seedlings, the wet Spring did for two of them, and then I lost the remaining four in the garden.  Lost in the sense that I planted them out as smallish plants and then couldn’t find them.  Two weeks ago, they re-emerged.  Well, they had always been there growing away but slightly obscured.  If you can imagine a yellow Verbena bonariensis, with the same electric colouring though yellow rather than purply-blue, and a less gangly plant, a little shorter, then you have a good idea of what the plant looks like.  As we speak, six seeds have germinated this year, so I may make it to a good group.  I think it prefers a slightly more fertile and moist soil than Verbena so I am not taking any chances with it, now that I have it.  Another coffee.

Actually, I prefer tea in almost all circumstances, but you get the drift.

 

 

Seedaholic? Who, moi?

This is one of the times of the year when I experience a terrible yearning to be growing something new.  I suppose it’s the New Year talking to me, and usually, I have seed ready to go which I have bought earlier and kept, probably because it was recommended to sow it in the Spring more insistently than usual.  Last year was a bit of a horror story seed-wise. The weather was way too hot for too long, and despite copious watering and care, most seeds just don’t want to perform in those conditions.  So, returns were pretty poor. I had boasted in an earlier blog of how easy it was to grow Echinacea ‘White Swan’ from seed. Well, it is normally, if that’s a word that can be used anymore about weather.

Last year, I ate my hat time and time again.  And then again, we had a housesitter with clearly homicidal tendencies as far as seedlings go, who strenuously did not water them, maybe even at all for five weeks.   I was the one doing the Jack Nicholson ‘Here’s Johnny’ impression when I got home.

But, despite all that, and I am taking a risk here, it being only the second week in January, I think some toughies have pulled through.  I have tried once before to grow ‘Patrinia scabiosifolia’ from seed and come a cropper.  Out there, right now, are some pretty promising and doughty looking small plants with good root systems.   Patrinia is a veiling kind of tall, willowy perennial, yellow and see-through, both admirable qualities in my book.  So, I am hoping I will have a good clump of them in the new bit of the garden I am planning. It will be a rounded extension of an existing planting area which will link up with a curvy bed from the other side of the garden, making a narrowish passage way between the two.  So, more opportunity to dig up a bit more of the ho-ho lawn and plant it up, care of a plant fund set up by lovely friends who visited last summer.   So, this is not my photograph, but the photograph from ‘Special Plants’, where I bought the seed last year.

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Patrinia scabiosifolia from Special Plants credit: http://www.specialplants.net

I also love ‘Morina longifolia’ and had a good clump that just fizzled after a few years after some wet springs.  I love its candy-ice whorled flowers and the eryngium like, thistle-imitation base of spikey leaves.  Morina longifolia will take it really hard, and so this time, with 7 or 8 good looking babies in pots, I will put it in a tougher spot and see if that helps it get through periods of rain.

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Morina longifolia from Special Plants credit: http://www.specialplants.net

And I am really thrilled to say that I have managed not to kill something I have read about, and really wanted to have a go at, ‘Erogonium grande var.rubescens’.  This is a form of red buckwheat which Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, California raves about as ‘goof-proof’ and ‘deer-proof’. I don’t have a deer problem but goof-proof sounds good to me.  I have no real idea how it will do here, but it clearly likes sun and dry, so that’s good for some bits of the garden, and if it’s survival skills through this past six months are anything to go by, it will be just fine.  The baby plants look very happy and, are indeed, evergreen, another plus.

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Eriogonum grande var. rubescens from Annie’s Annuals credit: http://www.anniesannuals.com

But, as I rummage through my seed store from the fridge, I also realise that my seedaholic tendencies are in danger of running away with themselves.  There are packets and packets and packets of seed, and, yes, this week I ordered more from one of my most favourite seedsites, aptly called Seedaholic.  Go to their site, and be amazed by the generosity of their information about the seeds and their cultivation, not to mention very reasonable prices.  But just before I close, this is one of my purchases from Seedaholic only this week, a new Cosmos, ‘Cosmos bipinnatus Xanthos’.  Cosmos is another plants that everyone, bar me, grows from seed.  So, I am hoping this lovely cream-coloured one will break my curse.

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Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ from Seedaholic credit: http://www.seedaholic.com