Mists and heat…

This week has been the week of the ‘June canicule’- in other words, serious heat. We have been lucky, half of the hot days have started with misty, damp mornings and we have not gone over 40C. Today, Sunday, it will cool back to the late 20s, which will be perfect. The misty mornings have been a relief and are rather magical, giving the garden a bit of respite from the overpowering sun.

The front garden early in the morning, Tostat, June 2019

I love this dahlia- I only have two, but this is one of them, Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’. The name is amazing, and so is the flower with furled dark blue/grey petals surrounding a brilliant golden centre. The first year, probably the bulbs were too tiny, produced nothing, but this year, the 3rd, the plant is getting into a swing with generous foliage and lots of buds. I didn’t take it in in the winter, I just left it in the pot and took my chances. Lucky me.

Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’, Tostat, June 2019

Mist and dew on bronze fennel, Tostat, June 2019

The dew has been heavy and luxurious, almost like a small shower of rain. The bronze fennel catches the dew beautifully and shines with each droplet.

Cobweb on Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’, Tostat, June 2019

The dew and damp has brought out the summer spiders, creating their connections between plants, and draping some, like the Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’ above. This is a plant that pleases more by it’s vigour and form than by the often short-lived flowerheads, but the darkly outlined cut leaves are present for a long time and work like fake thistles in the garden.

Romneya coulteri, Tostat, June 2019

Romneya coulteri is a plant with a tremendous capacity for life- as long as you plant it where it wants to be- in full sun, poor soil and don’t even think about watering it. But if you move it, it will turn up it’s toes and die- best to buy a small plant, a baby, and then let it grow in situ. It will take a year or two to flower, but then you will have beautiful glaucous greeny-blue foliage and these colossal chiffon flowers like the best Spanish fried egg, crinkly and delicious. It is a bit of a thug, hence why people do try and move them, me included. What will happen if you are lucky is that a piece will stubbornly refuse to be dug up, and next year you can start again with a new baby plant sitting where it wants to be. Give it space, or pin it back with another tough shrub, and all will be well.

Salvia ‘Ton Ter Linden’, Tostat, June 2019

This is a really fabulous Salvia, ‘Ton Ter Linden’. It is a deep purply-red, not quite captured above, and has a drapey habit, so that it could almost be called a tumbling salvia. I picked it out at our local nursery, the wonderful Bernard Lacrouts, mainly for the habit and the deep, dark colour. It is a newish variety, bred in the Netherlands, and named for the famous artist and gardener, Ton Ter Linden. He led the way, along with Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf, towards a more naturalistic style of perennial planting that is loosely called the Dutch New Wave. Another garden on the list….

Sanguisorba ‘Cangshan Cranberry’, Tostat, June 2019

In the same colour band is my almost favourite Sanguisorba, ‘Cangshan Cranberry’– and the moment when the flowerheads fill up with colour is one of my most anticipated summer moments. I don’t have it in the best place, as the massive banana behind it decks it with water when we have heavy rain, but it is the only place where it will be happy- so there we are. At nearly 1.5m it is a tall plant, but wispy and wavy, and takes a few years to bulk up- but all worth the wait. Dan Hinkley found this plant in Yunnan, China in 1996. I am so glad that he did.

Telekia speciosa, Tostat, June 2019

I love this workhorse plant. Every summer, I feel bound to try and increase the fan club membership for Telekia speciosa, as it is such a good reliable plant, and virtually unknown next to the more famous contender in the big-yellow-daisy stakes, Inula magnifica.

Salvia cacaliifolia, Tostat, June 2019

Another new Salvia! Salvia cacaliifolia has charming, triangular-shaped leaves and the bluest of blue branching flower spikes- curiously, it has no Salvia smell about it either. New to me, so I can’t offer much in the way of experience, but I am really enjoying it. It likes a little shade, but other than that, is not demanding.

Cephalaria gigantea, which has been a lovely surprise this June, has found the last week too hard for it, so it is fading fast. Celebrate it with a last photograph after early morning spider activity.

Cephalaria gigantea in the heat and the mist, Tostat, June 2019

Another reason to be happy is another surprise development. A stunningly successful germination rate 3 years ago of Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’ led to rather boastful behaviour on my part- and thence to the punishment of my hubris by the total failure of all the plants to re-appear in the Spring. Aha! Four small plants must have been hanging on in there, as this week up they popped. I am so pleased. My friend EBee will also be delighted. I adore the chocolate flower head and the golden ruff- magnificent, though not necessarily in a floral way.

Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’, Tostat, June 2019
2 days later, with golden ruff, ‘Green Wizard’, Tostat, June 2019

Baby, it’s cold outside…

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The last of the leaves on the Acer, Tostat, November 2017

The end of November still brought us beautiful, crisp, sunny days and some cold nights with frost when the silver birch looks at it’s most regal.  But it was still warm enough to garden and to keep working on the changes for next year.  It is true that there is a lovely clarity about the slightly-felled winter garden which often really helps when thinking about changes…which I always am.  It’s not about restlessness, more about continually working away as things themselves evolve, and create new possibilities.  There are always too those corners which, for some deep psychological reason, I occasionally torture myself with by leaving them to fall into decrepitude.  I am then forced to the altar of decision by the mess that I have allowed to develop.  Strange business, the mind.

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Frost on the silver birch and borrowed trees, Tostat, November 2017

But, after a few days enjoying a wintery London, I came back to a freezing mist and was slightly amazed that the car started first time in the airport carpark.  Back home, dawn the following morning, was a delight.  Light creeping into leaf shapes and cracks, dusting the top of iced plants and so, despite the fact that my usual dressing gown was supplemented by my winter parka, I rushed back into the house to get the camera and do my best with it.  Piet Oudolf is quite right, the best plants die well as well as grow well.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ just touched by the dawn light, Tostat, December 2017

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Seedheads of Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, December 2017

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Telekia speciosa, Tostat, December 2017

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Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ punctuated by the fantastic winter crowns of Phlomis russeliana, Tostat, December 2017

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Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’, with the hips of Rosa ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ behind, Tostat, December 2017

 

Looking back from afar….

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Molly in the mist of an October morning, Tostat, 2017

We had some misty, moisty mornings last week when Molly, the dog, and I were out for our early morning sniffs.  From here in sunny Alicante, with brilliant light shining off the sea and the sand, I was about to delete these photographs as they seemed, so, well, dull.  But in my constant battle to really come to appreciate a new aesthetic which accepts the becoming-permanent state of summer dryness and seasonal upsets, I stopped myself, and instead decided to talk about the aesthetic battle again.

In fact, these photographs are not dull.  Looking through some Oudolf images from his world-famous plantings and reading again his famous words ‘Learn to love brown’, I realise again that the perceived dullness is the product of my own battle with ‘perfection in the garden’.  A perfection that, as another great thinker and writer, Olivier Filippi, says in his book, ‘Planting Design for Dry Gardens’ has been largely created by an Anglicised ideal of garden perfection, the invention of the lawnmower and the business creation of chemical lawn control.

“…From the North of Europe to the south, and indeed in other parts of the world, the English garden model has become rooted in our collective unconscious as a symbol of happiness..”¹

Because, with the lawn, comes the rest of what makes so many British gardens so beautiful, the herbaceous borders and all the rest…only some of which is realistically attainable in a summer-dry setting.

So, I stub my toe constantly in my head in this battle between what is in my mind as the ideal and the reality of what my garden will do in my changing climate.  But, morally, it seems to me to be really important to stay in touch with this battle and to engage with it fully.  Only then can I do my bit, though my own garden and working with others, to help to create gardens and public spaces that can be beautiful within the ecological constraints of where you are.  And only by doing this, and showing this, can we hope to combat that English garden myth that is so well-rooted in our and others’ minds.

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A dewy, web-covered Miscanthus flowerhead in the mist, Tostat, October 2017

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And another one, Tostat, October 2017

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The stunning reds of Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar‘, Tostat, October 2017

¹ quoted p. 11, Olivier Filippi, Planting Design for Dry Gardens, Filbert Press 2016

It always seems like a good idea at the time….

I love it that Piet Oudolf, one of the world’s leading garden designers recently cheerily said of his latest work at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery in Somerset…

“…Wait one year then we see what we have done wrong…”.

I sort of imagine him saying it in a Dutch accent with a very Dutch gutteral chuckle at the end of the sentence and a broad smile on his face. That is probably my imagination in overdrive. More of Piet another time.

It’s true.  There will be plants in the garden that you get wrong because they behave differently for you, or you may, as I have often done, indulged in the rationalisation of a decision that you know, deep down, is doomed, but you talk yourself into it. Take delphiniums. I always wanted to grow them, but our Scottish garden was too damp and shady. So, for more than 2 years, I tried to grow them here in Tostat. After the first year, I knew it was a bad idea, but stubbornly persisted for another year.

But Piet has a good point. There is a humility that is kinder to yourself and your garden that accepts it when things don’t work, and there is always the silver lining of another year, another choice, another decision. And knowing is nothing to do with infallibility. I like that.

I am writing this mainly for a rest, as I have been digging out giant canna that have run amock.  Hard labour. But they have to go as now we can’t see the Gunnera which is Andy’s pride and joy. It’s a fine piece of ground, near the ruisseau, with a good stand of banana, Musa bajoo, and it deserves to be released from the grip of the rampant cannas.  The bank is gradually metamorphosing. A few years ago, I stuffed a load of things in there that I have been removing ever since…all rationalisations and thugs, the lot of them.

The bank in 2012 with the baby banana, Musa bajoo, a good stand of unknown crocosmia (still there) and some bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' also still there. The muddy ruisseau rushes by, must be Spring.
The bank in 2012 with the baby banana, Musa bajoo, a good stand of unknown crocosmia (still there) and some bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ also still there. The muddy ruisseau rushes by, must be Spring.

Andy's pride and joy, Gunnera manicata, just popping up, already a metre plus..
Andy’s pride and joy, Gunner manicata, just popping up, already a metre plus..

Andy and the Banana, post hurricane winds in July 2014 that took most of the bank down to the ground.  You can just see Rosa 'Edith Piaf' carrying on bravely, and the dratted canna clump to the far right. But not the Gunnera, hence the execution.
Andy and the Banana, post hurricane winds in July 2014 that took most of the bank down to the ground. You can just see Rosa ‘Edith Piaf’ carrying on bravely, and the dratted canna clump to the far right. But not the Gunnera, hence the execution.

So, I am enjoying my chance to think again and have another go. Whatever goes in will not top 0.90m, I have sworn on a stack of Bibles.

And the cannas will get a reprieve. They get a last chance saloon shot in some ground near the pool, which I have averted my eyes from for years. But they might as well get a go at it. Seems only fair. And they may well bloom better in a sunnier spot, so it could be a win-win.

By the way, the RHS link to information about cannas refers to them as tender perennials.  I wouldn’t swear on a stack of Bibles about this, but my experience is that they are far tougher than the RHS suggests.  Here, they have been living only a couple of inches below the soil surface with a lot of rain, and periods of freezing temperatures down to -10 at the worst.  We have lost some when it has been that cold, but not all.