Work in progress….

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Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, March 2019

Sometimes, at any time of the year, you just turn around in the garden and, wham bam, the light spotlights something and you gasp.  And the other day, I just happened to have the camera around my neck, and ‘Tiny Wine’ obliged with photogenic new foliage breaking out in a flash of early morning sunshine.  This is such a good shrub.  Not too massive, though it is now about 1.5m x 1.5m, and such a good performer.  From this glorious happy coloured foliage, the leaves darken to a plum red, small pink flowers appear later in spring, and then in the autumn the first colder nights really flame the foliage.  I love it.  I can only grow it in a damper part of the garden as it really doesn’t do dry, but I wouldn’t be without it.

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Early light, Tostat, March 2019

I yank out Euphorbia chariacas subsp. wulfennii by the handful all year round in the garden as they are such prolific seeders, but in the spring, with the citrus lemon flowers shining, they are magnificent- so the next cull can wait till they have finished flowering.  They catch the light brilliantly- see top left in the photograph.

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Kerria japonica ‘Albiflora’, Tostat, March 2019

This Kerria japonica ‘Albiflora‘ was one of my bargain basement buys last year, and looked pretty weedy till last month.  Unlike it’s bright yellow cousin, which I also have, I have been smitten by the charm of this woodlander.  It likes semi-shade, moistish conditions, which, for me, means only one place, but it seems to have settled in well.  The soft cream-coloured flowers are charming and are matched with sharp, emerald green foliage.  If it is as tough as the yellow one, it will do just fine.

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Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, frosted, Tostat, March 2019

Here was another turn-around moment this morning, catching Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ with a stunning, frosted outline.  Normally, I would have cleared the area around this little Ranunculus so that we can see it better, but this year, projects and tendons mean that it is still a bit covered with winter rubbish.  But the frosting makes the leaves sing.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, March 2019

The frost doesn’t spoil the game for this rose, Rosa banksiae lutea, which is about to flower any minute.  Unfortunately, here in Tostat village, an over-helpful gardener has pruned our lovely Banksiae in the lavoir, including removing most of the buds.  You have to prune after flowering, and allow the rose to build up old wood for next year.  Darn it.  Actually, to be honest, I don’t even really prune it, I just lop off any over-excited arching branches that get in my hair, literally.  It doesn’t need more than that.

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Gunnera manicata, Tostat, March 2019

This plant, Gunnera manicata, always makes me think of zombie hands coming through the earth in any number of trashy horror films.  It really claws its way out of the winter debris around it- no need for a helping hand from me.  Growth rate is fast, pretty soon it will be towering above me, and drinking like a fish from the canal it is planted near.  It wouldn’t stand a chance otherwise.

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A little bit of daffodil ballet, Tostat, March 2019

I am sorry that I can’t remember the variety, but no matter, I thought of a daffodil pas-de-deux, it made me smile.  This one below is definitely Narcissus ‘Thalia’, which I really love for the drama of the dark greeny blue leaves and the pure white flower.  It is almost the last to flower with us.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Tostat, March 2019

This is the first flowerhead on my clumps of Eryngium eburneum, which is such a good plant for me.  Forming big clumps of draping scissored leaves, and sending up flowerspikes to well over my height at 5 feet, it handles everything except winter wet, always looking a bit desperate by the end of winter.  But, within a few weeks, it picks itself up and gets going again.  A great sign for the year to come.

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Eryngium eburneum flowerhead, Tostat, March 2019

 

Getting to August…

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Sanguisorba menziesii, Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, with the odd touch of Verbena bonariensis, Tostat, July 2018

I have been re-planting this area over the past 2 years.  The Sanguisorba menziesii was a seed-success about 5 or 6 years ago, and likes it much better here where there is some cool in the morning and early afternoon.  The Rudbeckia was another seed-story, funny that, as this year I have drawn a complete blank with some extra Rudbeckia seed.  Common but very bonny nonetheless, the Rudbeckia fulgida var.sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ lights up the dark colouring of the Sanguisorba, and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’.

Warning: ‘Tiny Wine’ is not that tiny- heading easily towards 1.5m x 1.5 or maybe 2m in height, but it is a real 3 season-player.  Warm red Spring shoots are followed by soft pink-white flowers, and then the deep colouring starts with the leaves, which, by late autumn, glow crimson-red with colder nights.

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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’, Tostat, July 2018

Further down this stretch are two Hydrangea paniculatas- ‘Phantom’ and ‘Great Star le Vasterival’.  They have toiled a bit the last two years with dry Springs and hot summers, but have been greatly restored by the wet, cool, even cold Spring we have had this year.  They are both a creamy-white, with ‘Phantom’ having the more typical conical flowers of the Paniculata, whilst ‘Great Star le Vasterival’ has a looser, almost mop-head shape.  The ‘Phantom’ photo was taken very early one morning, hence the almost blue colouring.

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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star le Vasterival’, Tostat, August 2017
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Eryngium planum, Tostat, July 2018

Across the path, albeit fairly flattened by the heavy rain of 10 days or so ago, Eryngium planum is the bluest I have ever seen it.  I used to see this plant in bunches at markets visiting France when we were younger, and I was sure that the flowerheads were somehow dyed!  But no.  It is a fabulous, trouble-free plant given very good drainage, and in the heat, the colour is phenomenal.

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Liatris spicata ‘Alba’, Tostat, July 2018

July is the month for Liatris spicata.  I have the purple-pink one and the white, both superb and great pinpoints in the garden, giving structure and depth.  Liatris is perennial, but variably does or doesn’t make it back the following year. But the very best way to grow them is to sling in new bulbs every Spring, if you hunt for them, you can buy them really cheaply, but they give a lot for a few pence and there is a chance you will double your money the following year.

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Accidental loveliness, Liatris spicata pushing though Kalimeris incisa ‘Madiva’, Tostat, July 2018

 

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Mirabilis jalapa, Tostat, July 2018

July and into August brings back Mirabilis jalapa.  This tuberous plant is utterly unaffected by heat and dryness.  It has a lush, jungly look, and yet will grow almost anywhere as long as there is full sun.  Bob Flowerdew talks about lifting the tubers as per dahlias- but if you have free-draining soil, in my experience, try leaving it in as it comes back in the Spring even after periods of -10C with us.  It should be ludicrously easy from seed.  Ah well.

In amongst the gone-over pale blue Agapanthus, popped up this lovely white one this week.  Sometimes, gifts appear from nowhere…

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The lone white Agapanthus, Tostat, July 2018

 

 

Coming over all mauve…

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Liatris spicata, Kalimeris incisa ‘Madiva’, Monarda fistulosa, Tagetes minuta, Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Baron’ and guest wild carrot, Tostat, July 2017

This new border, which I planted up this Spring, has saved my sanity this summer- well, almost.  There must be water under here, which I never noticed before as it used to be a jumble of messy shrubs- but water there is, throughout our burning temperatures, it has looked pretty much like this.  This photo was taken yesterday after rain, so the greens are all refreshed, but the plants are in great shape.  And I adore the self-sown wild carrot, which is frothing up at the back, so I have bought a packet of Daucus carota ‘Dara’ seed to amplify this effect myself next year with any luck. Monarda fistulosa has been torched in other parts of the garden but is still looking good here.  And I will definitely be growing the annual purple millet again, it is fabulous- I may even go for broke and grow the super-tall one, Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’, which can get to 1.5m.  It is super-easy from seed and then blows itself up in purple till the frosts see it off.

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Bupleurum fruticosum, Miscanthus Strictus and Buddleia ‘Nanho Blue’, Tostat, July 2017

Here is another bit that has done really well, although the Miscanthus is about 2/3 of the normal height.  The Bupleurum fruticosum has really hit it’s stride this year and is an insect cafeteria complex all on it’s own.

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Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fuji White’, Tostat, July 2017

This plant is always a surprise, Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fuji White’.   It just soars above the rest of the planting undeterred, and is such a cool customer.  Probably at it’s best in green surroundings, I love it.  It is helped by the fact that there is running water nearby no doubt.

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Salvia ‘Didi’, Tostat, July 2017

A slightly breezy-looking Salvia ‘Didi’, only in it’s first year and so still quite small, is nevertheless quite delightful with delicate pink and light apricot colouring.

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Tiny but indomitable, Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’, Tostat, 2017

Only about 10 cms high, yet this Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’ really does work hard in very dry conditions.  I managed to grow three decent plants from a small packet of seed last year, and I have really come to appreciate this plant, and will be growing more.

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Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Sanguisorbia and a stray Rudbeckia, Tostat, July 2017

I love this combination, and it is brought to life by the stray Rudbeckia.  This is another really good shrub, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, which I planted in last year and it has gone on and on, with tawny new growth that then colours up mauve or wine-coloured.  The Sanguisorba menziesii was grown from seed about 4 years ago and is now a great big clump, which I always forget to prop up until it’s too late.

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Another little group that have come together well, I think- Gaura lindheimeri, Lychnis, Phlomis russeliana, orange Abutilon, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, Tostat, July 2017

And lastly, not out yet, but cheering me up, which has been the point of taking these photos really, (proving it’s not all burnt out there!), are the architectural buds of Hibiscus palustris….to come.

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Hibiscus palustris in bud, Tostat, July 2017

 

 

After the rain…

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Apple blossom, after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

The big snag about being away for nearly 5 weeks at this time of year?  It’s the weed world domination situation.  When we left there were, of course, small signs of the usual suspects breaking out all over the place- but 4 weeks plus of sun and rain, and whoopee, they are romping home in large numbers and are knee-high in some more pampered corners.  I am normally tranquil about weeding actually, as I take the view that I weed only a few times a year in the cooler months, and then rely on very tough plants to tower over any remaining weeds and basically smother them.  On the whole, this works, and it disturbs the soil less and I am not that garden-proud that cardiac arrest sets in if I see a dandelion.  Just as well, actually.  But I have to say that, right now, tranquility has evaporated.

Yes,  my spirit was a little shaken when I returned and met the reality of my absence face-on. What would have been a case of gradually getting on top of things early was now too little, too late- and what I needed was arm-to-arm combat.  So, that’s why I am sitting here, as it is bucketing outside, with soreness in the shoulders, wrists and the right hip- I am so right-handed in every way.  It’s been a unrelenting job for the last week and I have probably another 4-5 days to go, not to mention that one big area has a nesting blackbird with 3 babies in it, so it is on maternity leave for the moment.

But some things rise above the mundane.  Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’ is a lovely thing at the time of year, with arched branches weighed down by over-the-top custard yellow blossoms, a bit like a fuchsia on speed.   I have another one, much bigger, but it needs rescuing from a badly over-planted area by the front gate, and I need a bloke with a serious digger to move a palm tree at the same time- so this probably means next early Spring, not now. But the second Sophora, having started out as a 1 foot weakling 5 years ago is now as tall as me, and in very good shape.  It does nothing much for the rest of the year, but this Spring display is so sumptuous that it deserves a rest.

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Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’. after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

Last year, on a walk with friends, I came across a clump of the most gorgeous double, fringed anemone- and I spent months trying to find bulbs online, at vast expense- well, E30 for 3 teeny bulbs seemed a lot to me.  Once grown in many country gardens in France, Anemone x fulgens Multipetala is now really rare- probably because as it shows hardly any growth outwith the flowering season of March to end April approximately, it would be very easy to disturb and rip out thinking that nothing is there.   It is showstoppingly lovely- fringed and tousled in a brilliant red that shines.  So, I am really pleased to have a couple of flowers per bulb for the first year.  I have planted it near a Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, whose emerging foliage is a deep plum colour- a happy accident as I had forgotten the spring Physocarpus colouring.

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Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, April 2017

And, whilst our daffodils and tulips are splendid- there is something very entrancing about the tinyness and delicacy of an Epimedium.  I only have a couple of clumps in the dampest, shadiest bit of the garden.  I don’t cut the foliage to show the flowers better, it seems to me to be too much like hairdressing, and it is beguiling suddenly finding the flowers hiding themselves.  Here are the two that I have, somewhat abashed by the breeze and the heavy rain…

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Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’, Tostat, April 2017
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Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’, Tostat, April 2017