Giants and troopers…

Two days of persistent rain last week. At Tostatenfleur, we finished planting up the Tostadium, our local cycle circuit, in the pouring rain, a labour of love. Otherwise, I have been venturing out to find the garden moving into gigantic mode- I have never seen the planting so tall. I love tall, as a short person I am clearly searching for world domination in plant height as I myself can’t do it! We have had hollyhocks that are easily 8 feet tall, and Centaurea gigantea that is hitting that and more. It’s not called ‘gigantea’ for nothing.

Catalpa bignoides flowering at Sombrun, June 2019

Ok, Catalpa bignoides is not a good example of what I am talking about as it will be colossal anyway, but here I am, arms fully extended, trying to ctach the huge blossoms that are so striking. If they were nearer the ground, it could compete with hibicus. Generous cream cups, with dark striations and a few golden spots- really rather gorgeous. Our friends at Sombrun kindly gave me two seedlings all potted up- with the recommendation that, in years to come, I could coppice the catalpa to keep it small and create dinner-plate sized leaves. Sounds great to me. Now I have to keep them alive to get to that point.

Cenolophium denudatum, Tostat, June 2019

In the cow-parsley stakes, but a delicate and refined competitor, is Cenolophium denudatum. I grew it from seed years ago, and I have moved it round the garden rather a lot. I need to let it consolidate growth where it is, and probably need to grow some more from seed, as it is a classy plant. Feathery foliage, green fading to cream umbels, and the insects adore it- it is a polite plant, finding ways to fit in with other plants, and reaching about 1m tall maximum.

Liriope muscari ‘Okina’, Tostat, June 2019

This Liriope muscari ‘Okina’ is new to me this year, and was quite a pricey purchase. In the Stumpery, the shady, dry spot where I grow ferns and whatnot, I have a spectacular rose that I have often talked about, Rosa ‘Marguerite, Reine d’Italie’– a carmine hybrid tea that just flowers ten months of the year in the terrible, stony, soil. Underneath it, I had tried to encourage Acanthus ‘Whitewater’ to grow. Three years showed me that it was not a happy bunny there. So, it has come out, and made way for this Liriope. It produces this pure white foliage through the older green foliage and is very distinctive, I think. No flowers yet, but it has only been in a few months. I hope that it will gradually colonise underneath the rose.

Phlomis purpurea, Tostat, June 2019

This year has been a major year for Phlomis. All adored the weird hot February, and the rain has come at precisely the right moment for Phlomis purpurea and Phlomis Samia. The latter is a slightly tricky customer, apt to die back suddenly and inexplicably, but can usually be persuaded to re-boot from the rest of the plant that stays alive. The rain has really accentuated the colouring to a vibrant, soft mauve- in the dry, it can become almost biscuit-coloured. If you have a hot spot with razor-sharp drainage, the world of Phlomis is open for you to romp in. Such a great group of plants. Phlomis Samia is just opening, so will be appearing in the next post.

Veronica longifolia, Tostat, June 2019

I have been disappointed by this plant, Veronica longifolia, in the past. I grew it from seed maybe four years ago, and I planted it hither and thither where I though it would enjoy conditions, and it has never quite hit it’s stride. But this year it is looking good- it makes a gentle mound of slightly floppy blue flowerspires- and planted close to the much taller Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelturm’ it suddenly looks sound and in the right place. Maybe it just needed the time to get settled in.

Santolina etrusca, Tostat, June 2019

Never mind the big pot with the vibrant maroon leaves in it, I am talking about the fluffy green stuff beside it. Santolina etrusca has been fantastic in it’s second year. This was a real fiddle to grow. Tiny seeds grew into microscopic seedlings, so many of them that I nearly collapsed from the effort of potting them up. All overwintered outside in the cold and wet winter, but all, remaining tiny, were planted up in various inhospitably dry, hot spots last year. This year, what a delight. Fresh, green foliage, gorgeous hospital smell, and later on, there will be tiny cream dot-flowerheads. No watering, no nothing.

Summer vengeance, rain, and surprises…

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Lilium Flore Pleno, Tostat, July 2018

Whilst we were away in England for a family wedding, summer arrived with no notice and a sense of vengeance- it was out to get us for our wet, cold spring and early summer (which wasn’t).  At least the vengeance could be felt when we got back- toasted and burnt roses, in fact, toasted and burnt was about the top and bottom of it.  We arrived back in a spectacular storm, with heavy hail hammering on the roof of our plane as it came into land.  So we were met by a garden that was toasted and burnt, also utterly decked by the rain, hail and wind.   Oh joy.

But recovery set in.  Some plants have really suffered, so this may mean that they don’t get a second life if they can’t handle the increasingly temperamental weather we seem to experience.  Roses have been a total dud this year, and one new planting has had to be rescued and potted up in the recovery ward.  The earlier lilies, Lilium regale, really hated what was on offer and turned to a mushy brown fairly swiftly.

These extravagantly coloured and shaped Lilium Flore Pleno, have arrived later than usual this year and seem to be coping just fine.  The leopard-spottiness of them is quite adorable to me, though I can see why they might not appeal across the board.  The small seeds, sitting like brown buttons, in the leaf nodes are a real bonus.  Many will germinate in the pots alongside the parent plants, and I just leave them there for a couple of years to bulk up and then plant them on.

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Romneya coulteri, Tostat, end of June 2018

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Romneya coulteri, sky-ward, Tostat, July 2018

In June, it was possible to take a photograph of Romneya coulteri straight in the eye- that astonishing fried-egg look of pure white and sunny yellow looking almost blue in the early morning light.  But three weeks later, and the whole plant has galloped away, far away from me even on a ladder.  This plant is, of course, a thug, but such a lovely one.  I am hoping that a big bush of Lonicera fragrantissima will manage it on my behalf.

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Salvia buchananii, Tostat, July 2018

This small Salvia buchananii is a delight.  Planted in the wrong place by me, and stupendously ignored for a year or two as well, it hung on.  I now realise that it is not a Salvia as per our normal understanding of Salvias.  It likes damp shade really, though it might cope in a Scottish summer just fine.  I now have it in a medium pot, and so it gets lots of water and attention- but it is really worth it, velvety sharp pink flowers, with delicate hairs making the plant look very lustrous.  Lustrous is a good word too for the deep green, shiny leaves.  A really good plant.

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Phlomis Samia and Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardener’s World’, Tostat, July 2018

Here is a very happy situation.  I love ‘Phlomis Samia’ with its big, heart-shaped leaves and tall, dusky pink flowerspikes- and there, something brilliant has happened, probably thanks to the rain.  I bought 3 small plants of Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardener’s World’ about 4 years ago.  They didn’t make it through our summer, and I really regretted that as I liked the idea of the double carmine flowers, without the species’ painfully massive self-seeding that gets out of control with me.  But here it is.  Maybe it was growing slowly all the time, hidden by the Phlomis and the rain has brought it out this year.  What a miracle.

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Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, Tostat, June 2018

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Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, Tostat, July 2018

What a difference a month makes.  This expensive, but really worth it, bulb, ‘Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy’ is one of my favourite summer events.  First, from about mid April, the big purple-red leaves make a dramatic appearance, getting larger and taller, finally reaching at least 60-75 cms long.  Deep down in the bulb, the pineapple-shaped flowers start to form in June, and by July, the flowers are towering over the leaves, nearly, and the leaves have turned a gorgeous olive-green, leaving the stage to the purple-red flowerspikes.   These then take several weeks to slowly open, small flower by small flower, so all in all you are looking at 4 months at least of great pleasure watching this terrific performance.  They are easily over-wintered in a sheltered place, and kept fairly dry, to be brought out in the Spring with a good shower of water, and possibly, re-potting.  So easy, so fabulous.

Living with Phlomis all year round

I have come to really love the whole world of Phlomis.  So many great plants, especially for those of us who are drought-challenged on occasion, and, in my garden, there is a phlomis doing something all year round.  I never set out to have so many, but I adore the shapes, the foliage, the flowers and the strong scent (which even I can smell) that the summer-flowering phlomis give off when the temperatures mount.

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Frosted Phlomis russeliana leaves, Tostat, December 2015

I have often blogged about Phlomis russeliana, so I won’t repeat myself.  Suffice to say that the foliage can be a bit dog-eared in the winter if it is a wet one, but, if not, it holds up really well and the hairy leaves attract the frost quite beautifully.

Phlomis purpurea started blooming for me in February, carrying on in full flush until the end of April, and still flowering off and on even now.  It may have regretted this, as February was a very wet month, and one of the plants is having a bit of a dieback right now.  But my experience of this plant is that it does periodically take the hump, but, usually, there are newer shoots that remain alive and kicking, and so some judicious pruning will allow those to carry on.  With me, growing in a hot and sunny position in poor soil, it reaches 1.25m high and wide.  It is a very sculptural shape, making a big bowl of standing stems with the delicate colouring of the flowers as a bonus.

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Phlomis purpurea, Tostat, March 2016

The plant that started it all off for me was given to me by Professor Katherine Worth, of Royal Holloway College in London way back in the mid80s when Andy taught there.  She gave me the Phlomis variety that is probably the most commonly grown in the UK,  Phlomis fruticosa.  Against our garden fence in Surrey, it soon reached a massive 1.75m or so height and width, and made a very queenly statement in our first proper garden.  It remains evergreen all through winter, and is a truly great shrub in my view, but does need space.  I was forced to take action against ours last year, but really what I need to do is make that area a priority for next year, so that it gets the space it needs.  Hence, it looks a bit straggly in the photograph.

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Phlomis fruticosa, Tostat, May 2016

I know I did have a Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’, but I can’t talk about that as it has disappeared from the scene.  This has happened once before, so it may be telling me something.  But a tall, slender Phlomis cousin is doing very well and producing lots of little ones that I am busily potting up.  Phlomis ‘Samia’ is spectacular.  Upright, statuesque spikes with paired heart-shaped leaves are then joined by pale lilac, almost dusty brown flowers in the classic Phlomis whorled shape.  It takes a while to get going in my view, and absolutely prefers hot, sunny spots with poor soil, and no additional water than whatever turns up as rain.  It really doesn’t need good soil and would risk getting too wet in the winter which would kill it.  So I would recommend ignoring good soil requirements on many sites and in many books.

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Phlomis ‘Samia’, on the left, Tostat, early June 2016

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Phlomis ‘Samia’ close-up, Tostat, June 2015

Olivier Filippi, the topclass nurseryman and author on dry gardening, produced a hybrid bred from longifolia and fruticosa stock, and it is a superb plant.  Phlomis ‘Le Sud’ has a warmer yellow flower than fruticosa and more vivid green leaves with a hint of longifolia about them, and makes a mound just a bit more than a metre high and wide.  It is as tough as old boots but much prettier. Very drought resistant, evergreen, undemanding.

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Phlomis ‘Le Sud’, Tostat, May 2016

And another phlomis that I fell over, and am also fond of, which is, I think, going to be a little smaller in habit than ‘Le Sud’ is Phlomis longifolia var. bailanica.   It is often described as being only marginally hardy, but I would agree with Beth Smith of the Plant Heritage Devon Group.  She describes it as being hardy to -15C.  You can see her own photograph on the link which shows the longer, slimmer leaves better than mine.

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Phlomis longifolia var. bailanica, Tostat, May 2016

If you would like a more exotic tint to your foliage, you could try this.

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Phlomis x termesii, Tostat, June 2016

This tall phlomis, Phlomis x termesii, with a very upright habit, has wonderful golden-kissed felting on the young foliage, and longer, slimmer longifolia type leaves.  I bought this from Olivier Filippi’s nursery three years ago and it gets better every year.  Recently, from the new owners of La Petite Pepiniere, I bought my smallest Phlomis.  Phlomis cretica is a tot by comparison with the others, and doesn’t look much right now, but I know it will come good to make a small shrublet of about 0.5m high and wide.  It is a tiny star in the making.

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Look hard, it’s Phlomis cretica, Tostat, June 2016