Don’t sit under a banana leaf..

Narcissus Geranium, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2022

I love Spring bulbs, especially daffodils and tulips. But I seem to be unable to get them to rebloom a second time, admittedly that is more a tulip problem than a daffodil. So, every year I slightly grit my teeth at the throw away money needed to plant up a few old zinc basins- but then, when it comes to the moment, I love watching them gradually fatten up, and of course, the colours are wonderful. So, because I just pick the bulbs I like the look of, I can never remember what I’ve planted and have to go back and check the order. This Narcissus Geranium is simply gorgeous. Huge fat buds give way to branching flowerheads with orange centres, as for fragrance, there is a slight sweet fragrance, but that could just be my nose. If we had big storms, the weight of the heads might cause a problem, but, for now they are simply lovely. And it’s an heirloom narcissus, so pre-1930 from the Netherlands- don’t you love a bit of history?

Pelargonium quercifolium, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2022

This Pelargonium quercifolium is a really tough customer and it always flowers really early for me, and carries on for months. It has a woody, aromatic scent to the robust leaves, and grows into a firm bushy shape which can get to 75 cms easily. This year, I kept it fairly dry and close to the wall of the house, so it was protected from heavy rainfall and weather, but not covered. It was totally fine. My friend from Tostat who gave me a piece from her garden has it in the ground in a courtyard setting, and it pops back every year bigger and better. So, a sheltered UK setting, kept fairly dry and it will be fine.

Heuchera ‘Caramel’, Tostat, June 2019

And here we come to the title of this piece- don’t sit under a banana leaf. But first, a small preamble on the subject of heucheras in general. Until about 3 years ago, I was definitely in the snobby stable of thinking that heucheras were not for me, too highly coloured, and in my opinion not doing very much for the money. But, strike a light, I was converted. Visiting a garden that potted up dark and golden heucheras in big pots in a shady position struck me dumb. They looked sensational, vigorous, with so many leaves vying for attention. I was sold. I bought 2, ‘Caramel’ and ‘Obsidian’, and I grew ‘Firefly’ from seed. Such seed, so many plants produced, and I even brought 6 or so with me to Oloron. So, ‘Caramel’ looked really strong and happy in a dark blue pot, sheltering under the banana for a little sun protection.

Last week, I wandered over there, because we had cut the banana back as usual, and ‘Caramel’ was looking very sad in the pot. No wonder. All the root had gone and although small roots were re-growing, it looked as though the 8 plants had either rotted away in the wet from too much direct banana leaf down pour or something had literally eaten them away. You could lift the plants out with your little finger as they were barely attached. Now your Heuchera is a robust plant, and so 4 hours later, after a good soaking and removal of all dead bits, they are in temporary accommodation till I am sure that they are re-rooted, but so far so good, and I think they will make it.

My main suspect is banana downpour.

Summer hotch-potch…

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

My Aberdeen granny was a true Scottish granny, in the Nina Conti sense- but with a bit more of an ‘ahem’ about her, if you know what I mean and a sizable dose of general disapproval. But she made the best fried haddock, Scottish tablet, Stovies and, of course, what she termed ‘Hotch-Potch’, a soup which would have kept an army marching for days. So, in her memory, this post is a hotch-potch, a mixture of what’s going on in the garden right now.

I don’t know if the off-on, mainly cool with rain, summer that we are having is typical as this is our first one here, but if it is, it’s a second-chance saloon for me as I may be able to grow all the plants that I loved which couldn’t handle the dry and heat of our Tostat garden.

And today, another of my Alcathaea cuttings came into flower, and hallelujah, it was the variety I wanted all along, ‘Parkfrieden’. I love the cool cream of the main colouring, but then you have the sizzle of the raspberry-coloured stamens which really cuts the cream beautifully into something a bit more racey. They took a battering in a couple of super heavy rainbursts that we had this week, so this tells me that next year, I would do better to cut them down a bit more in the spring to make them bush out more rather than try for the Tower of Pisa prize.

Abutilon pictum, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Abutilon pictum is another plant that is enjoying life much more in the semi-shade of the big banana in the courtyard. Any rain is delivered fast down the banana leaves into the pot, tick, and the whole plant is looking tip top. The simmering orange flowers look mysteriously out from the foliage. I love it.

Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

I so tried with Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ in Tostat, and with one of three plants left, I had it in the most reliably moist and protected part of the garden, but to no avail. But here in the walled shelter of the Barn Garden, it is loving it and has happily produced good looking side shoots. There is a tiny flower but the main show is this shimmering pillar of soft, feathery green which sits in amongst other plants so easily. Hooray.

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Rosy’, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Probably about 5 years ago, I bought 3 bulbs of Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Rosy’ and those bulbs have been in this large blue pot ever since. Probably I should have carefully dug them out and separated them, as I suspect that there are now more than 9 bulbs in there, and it is jampacked. So that will need to happen next year, as the flowerspikes are now tumbling over one another for space and took a bashing in the rain that we have had, so are now pretty much horizontal. Never mind, the delicate surgery can be done next Spring, and we can start all over again. To be honest, fabulous though the flowerspikes are, for me the real deal is the gorgeous beetroot coloured foliage which, coupled with the flowerspikes, gives a great 7 months return on the bulbs.

Hibiscus moscheutos, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

‘Put this near a tap’ said Bernard Lacrouts, from whom I bought this plant last month. It will grow big and is thirsty, maybe a couple of metres high and wide, so a bigger pot will be required, but for now it is content with producing these satellite dish flowers every 24 hours. They are huge, easily 6 cms across, and are unforgettable. Now that satellite dishes have come into my mind, I am a little distracted by that thought, but whatever, who wants subtlety all the time?

Pelargonium quercifolium, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

Now this plant has subtlety, though not in the scent department, with a strong, foxy smell from these lovely, crinkled oak-like leaves with a maroon spodge on them. The foliage is upright and strong, and the flowers are really charming, with coral stamens. I was so lucky with this cutting. I had forgotten about this plant until literally the morning we left, when I dashed out and cut a piece, which amazingly took and is a sturdy plant now. I will bring it under cover, though still outside, as it can take a bit of cold but not winter wet.

Salvia chamelaeagnea, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

This Salvia chamelaeagnea is new to me, bought from le Jardin de Champêtre, in Caunes-Minervois. It has tight, bushy leaves in a bright green, and so is quite unSalvia-like to look at. Again, it has a strong woody smell when you crush the leaves, and the bi-coloured flowers in soft blue and yellow are a lovely surprise. It doesn’t look hardy but it is. So here goes.

Salvia coccinea ‘Summer Jewels Pink’, Oloron Sainte Marie, July 2021

And this lovely coral and cream Salvia coccinea ‘Summer Jewels Pink’, which is easy to grow from seed, though I bought these from a lovely lady selling bio produce in the market, has been flowering like a train for the past three weeks. Vast amounts of seed seem to be produced, so I’ll try with my own seed before maybe buying any. And this is a terrific annual plant to grow.

Seeds and cuttings…

Pelargonium quercifolium
Pelargonium quercifolium Photo credit: http://fjpower.forumgratuit.org

This is a stunning plant.  A mystery pelargonium until today, when, what with the continuing freezing fog, I brought it in, took cuttings and then had a bash at identifying it and got it on the button- Pelargonium quercifolium.   A friend gave me a piece way back in our hot, relentless summer, which I potted up with no real hope of it rooting.  But it did.  It grows straight and tall, no flopping, and it should have small pinky-mauve splashed flowers at the end of autumn roughly.  I adore the rough, crinkle-cut leaves with the maroon splash in the centre as well as the strangely medicinal scent of the leaves when crushed.

In its native South Africa, it would make a handsome shrub of about 1.5m by 1,5m- it won’t be so big here, I don’t think.  According to the sites I have read it is frost-tender.  I think it will be tougher than that, as it was showing no signs of panic after 4-5 days of freezing fog- but I won’t chance it now that I have nailed the identification.  There is a  bred variety,  ‘Royal Oak’, which has favoured flower production with bigger flowers and lower growth, but I fancy sticking with my donated plant.  I am hoping to have it sprinkled all over the hotter, dryer parts of the garden in a couple of years, adding real style with its sophisticated leaves and proud bearing.  And it will have to be trialled in the ground over winter, with a spot of insurance fleece.

In Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, there were many delights, of which more another time especially if the fog continues- but here was something which really caught my eye as a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland plant, and it was to be found, oddly enough, on the edges of the Childrens Garden.  It is an ornamental asparagus, Asparagus densiflorus Myersii.  I have bought seed for the variety, ‘Mazeppa’, which seems exactly the same but a little smaller at 60-90 cms.  It should be ok in the ground here but with some protection if we get below -7C, so I will chance it in the hotter, drier bits of the garden.  I am on a hotter, drier mission, you can tell.  Seed to be sown end of the month indoors.

Asparagus densiflorus Myersii Melb Bot 1018
Asparagus densiflorus Myersii, Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, October 2018

Another welcome surprise last year was the come-back of a plant that I was sure I had lost.  Nestled amongst tall companions, and in the damper bit of the garden, I had planted three small Eupatorium coelestinum a couple of years ago.  They vanished without trace, or so I thought.  They re-appeared in August roughly, immediately recognisable for their powder-blue powder-puff flowerheads, which was the reason for me buying them in the first place.  Since then they have undergone a name-change and are now identified as Conoclinium coelestinum, but I bet you will you will still find them under the old Eupatorium label, as per the link.  Here is a link to a University of Arkansas article that explains the change of name- Eupatorium had become too much of a dumping ground apparently.

Eupatorium coelestinum Tagetes miniata 918
Conoclinium (Eupatorium) coelestinum, Tostat, August 2018

I really love it- such a great colour and presence, though it is true that nothing much happens until the flowers appear.  I am going to try for volume from seed.

You can tell I am itching to get started. Got to wait though…bit more daylight needed and then I can crack on with seed sowing indoors for a sustainable temperature.

Happy New Year!