Jazz hands in the garden…

Phygelius aequalis ‘Yellow Trumpet’ with the pink Scabiosa columbaria peeping through, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Cuttings from one garden to another is such a good and friendly way to build a garden. Here, in Oloron, I have a lovely neighbour with whom I am sharing cuttings and offshoots, and I am really enjoying her choice of plants, quite a few of whom, like Melianthus major, I failed with in Tostat as winters were sometimes both too cold and too damp.

Phygelius aequalis ‘Yellow Trumpet’ was both a seed grown plant and a cutting from me to me. I love the robustness of this plant, glossy bright green foliage whatever the conditions and these elegant cool yellow trumpets that go on for months. It is really pretty and bombproof. As it gets more substantial and clumps, it will make an almost shrub-like presence and it may well spread through running roots if it really likes you. No problem I reckon, just more plant material for friendly sharing and swapping.

Another gift to myself were some small cuttings of Monarda fistulosa. This is the only Monarda I can grow that doesn’t succumb to any mildew at all. With us, even ‘Gardenview Scarlet’ reputed to be mildew-free, is just as riddled with mildew, and this opinion comes from Bernard Lacrouts, the best plant nurseryman for miles around. I love this plant and it seems to be really enjoying the slightly shaded position, out of the hot afternoon sun, here in Oloron. Easy as pie from seed.

Monarda fistulosa, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Fancy another tall, floriferous and elegant plant that flowers like a train in July and August? I give you Alcathaea x suffrutescens ‘Parkrondell’. I took my cuttings from a village planting last summer, and now my cuttings are taller than me, and bushing out really well, and will next year be a beefy but elegant shrub. This plant is not well known at all, and it should be. Easy, undemanding, hardy and tolerating even dry conditions, it brings a ruffled elegance to the garden. I had hoped I had taken cuttings of the sister, ‘Parkfrieden’, which has cream and very pale pink flowers, but I will have to wait and see what happens with the other two plants to be sure. There is a third sister plant, ‘Parkallee’ which is entirely cream coloured. There is a bit of the hollyhock about them, but they absolutely merit being better known and grown more.

Alcathaea suffrutescens ‘Parkrondell’, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’ was a rose I gave to a good friend, who did the perfect friend-thing and grew a cutting on for me as a present for my birthday last year. I was really touched by that, and so the rose has a good position in the new barn garden, and with a slightly shaky start, has really picked up and got going. This rose has all the full beauty of an old rose, but with a slightly open centre, so that it does work for pollinators even though the flowers qre loosely double. The scent, and ok, I am not the best nose on the planet, has a warm clove type body to it, almost savoury rather than sweet, and very unusual- not ‘rosy’ in tone. The cream and butter colouring is lovely, almost apricot towards the centre. A treat.

Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

And now to some survivors of the winter and being largely abandoned in their pots…Pelargonium sidoides is a fighter of a plant, albeit on the tiny side. It has come back from being reduced to tiny sprigs by the end of winter, and is flowering hard. The flowers are strange. They are definitely pink- no two ways about it. But they should be a very dark maroon, almost black. What’s going on? In every other respect, it is sidoides….not just the fact that the seed came from a reputable source, but the foliage is dead right. Ah well.

Pelargonium sidoides, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021…..and curly foliage below….
Salvia cacaliifolia, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Salvia cacaliifolia is a stunner. Not only do you get spires and spires of gentian-blue flowers, but the triangular shaped leaves twine and curl, and if you wish, with a few bits of twiggy support, you almost have a climbing salvia on your hands. It does need winter protection, mea culpa there, but this need only be a roofed over area or a cold frame as it doesn’t need warmth as much as dry conditions. Cuttings are easy in the autumn from sideshoots, and I would have lost mine altogether if I hadn’t at least taken a cutting.

And for a strong whiff of a Moroccan desert in full sun, try the tiny but indomitable Pelargonium abrotanifolium, which is a bit of a mouthful and not the easiest name to remember. Again, dry cover in the winter is needed, but brush against these delicate, filigree leaves in the palest green, and the scent is released. It’s like a fix for the holiday you haven’t had. On top, these tiny, but memorable flowers with dark purple throats appear all summer. Could be grown anywhere in a pot as long as it has full sun, as it doesn’t grow big. Doesn’t want to be swamped by big-boy plants I reckon- another good reason for a pot.

Pelargonium abrotanifolium, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Talk about jazz hands… the Cardinal Vine has both fabulous foliage and glowing red hot flowers which flower non stop for one day only. What a show. Full sun, some moisture and a little bit of feeding to keep it powered up. I bought this in Oloron market and have twined it through a pair of metal Moroccan window shades which the previous owner kindly left us. Just for a bit of drama, you know.

Ipomoea guamoclit or Cardinal Vine, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

The summer-dry crash…

Helenium ‘Helena’, Tostat, early August 2020

This is how much of the garden looks at the moment. It is the price of sustainability and is the face of summer-dry gardening. I have never completely got used to it, but I persist in hoping that the brown aesthetic will one day please me. Actually, I feel very pained when I see plants resorting to suicide tactics to preserve their root systems- but in another sense, I am keen to keep pushing to see what plants handle it better than others and I also rationally know that they will all be back in action next year none the worse. In many ways it is my own pride that I am fighting with, more than the natural survival tactics of unwatered gardens. And in the end, I do passionately believe that watering is a criminal waste of a scarce resource. See below for 3 weeks earlier- same plant.

Helenium ‘Helena’, Tostat, mid July 2020

The terrible truth is that our summers have radically changed since we moved here almost 17 years ago. We used to have reliable cycles of brief but powerful summer storms that punctuated the heat of summer bringing heavy rain. Now, we still have storms but they are rain-free. And though temperatures have not been high until the last 3 weeks, there has not been any rain of any use since early June. We have had to dig around the septic tank to inspect it for conformity for the house sale, and the soil is dust way beyond a metre down. Vegetables being the main French gardening activity, it is the damage to the summer crops that is bothering Tostat gardeners.

Achillea ‘Cerise Queen’, Tostat, mid July 2020

But there are rays of pleasure all the same. Achillea ‘Cerise Queen’ has been way too bleached away from her normal raspberry tones by the sun, but is gratifyingly flowering away all the same. And Bupleurum fruticosum, a Mediterranean stalwart, is looking very fresh despite the drought and is much appreciated by many greedy insects.

Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, mid July 2020

So, I am going to plan a garrigue-based garden for one of the areas of garden in our, hopefully all fingers crossed, new house. This will take a stony, ignored slope about 20m by 40m and push my understanding of how to work with full sun to a new level. I have always been very supported in plant choices by the work and books of Olivier Filippi, and so he will guide me through this next year. I can learn from him.

Olivier Filippi’s garden, Loupian near Sète, October 2013

I had the luck of joining a French gardening club visit to the Filippi nursery and the private garden which he uses for experimentation. He has created a garrigue garden, which working with the soil conditions, makes a wonderful landscape of mounded shrubs and perennials punctuated by trees, both conifers and native Mediterranean tough trees. So I hope this will be my next challenge…

Filippi garden, October 2013

Back in Tostat, although they are now in a sorry state but hanging on, the hydrangeas, both paniculata and macrophylla, were looking pretty good till mid July. I am very fond of this one, though I don’t get the fragrance at all, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star Le Vasterival‘ has a fine mix of of a flowerhead.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star Le Vasterival’, Tostat, mid July 2020

Mildew is always a problem with Monardas and dry conditions. But Monarda fistulosa is your answer if you want to grow Monardas in low water situations. A gorgeous shade of lilac-pink, and standing tall at over a metre, the heat will get it in the end, but for 3 weeks or so, you can really enjoy the statuesque flowers.

Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, mid July 2020
Pelargonium abrotanifolium, Tostat, mid July 2020

So, in the dryness and the heat, the plants in pots try their best to fill the gap. New to me, and a very tiny flower no bigger than my littlest fingernail, is Pelargonium abrotanifolium. Brush against the small plant and you are almost knocked out by the pungent odour, a very medicinal experience. But the flower is a miniature sweetie.

Pelargonium sidoides, Tostat, early August 2020

Similarly tiny, is Pelargonium sidoides. It should have dark black-crimson flowers, but mine has maybe got too hot and come out dark pink. However, I grew it from seed, so I am keeping it going no matter what, and it will be on the packing list.

Nierembergia scoparia, Tostat, early August 2020

Now here is a plant that will be a good summer-dry doer, I think. Currently in a pot, so next year will tell, but I already really love the wispy, trailing foliage and especially the dark hearted pale lilac flowers which bloom in abundance. Nierembergia scoparia will get a proper road test next year.