Home and away….Thalictrum meets the pyramidal orchid

Anacamptis pyramidalis, Pouylebon 65, May 2015
Anacamptis pyramidalis, Pouylebon 65, May 2015

I have to confess to not being the best wildflower spotter there is. After red campion, I wasn’t paying attention in primary school when we did flowers. My friend, Shelagh, is a proper wildflower spotter and puts me to shame. So, in an attempt to live up to Shelagh’s standards, I took a photograph of these orchids yesterday early in the morning. We weren’t flower spotting, we were actually ‘training’ for walking the Via de la Plata from Seville to Santiago in September, and so this was Week 2 of early start walking to mimic the conditions and up the kms-fitness. Near to Pouylebon, it was a lovely 15k walk and there these orchids were. Of course, having taken the photo, I then left the doglead on the ground, which meant Andy gamely offered to go back for it- we hadn’t gone that far, or serious recriminations would have been on the cards.

Back to the flowers. These are pyramidal orchids or Anacamptis pyramidalis, so prevalent on the Isle of Wight that it is the island’s official flower, but they are not omni-present here in the Pyrenees. We saw very few on the walk. Apparently, it likes chalky grassland and needs a specific fungus to be present in the soil for flowering to take place.  Just at the end of the walk, coming back towards Pouylebon, we saw a wonderful collection flowering on a chalky bank near to a ‘Fromage de Gers’ bio-farm. Sadly, we hadn’t brought cash with us or we would have dashed in and bought some cheese to celebrate seeing an abundance of the orchids. Darn.

An abundance of pyramidal orchids, Pouylebon 65, May 2015
An abundance of pyramidal orchids, Pouylebon 65, May 2015

And back home, a plant had bloomed that I love for its bluey-green clumps of aquilegia-like leaves, and then its daring, soaring, almost transparent yellow flowers that the bees absolutely go demented for. Thalictrum flavum ssp. glaucum is a bit of a mouthful, but is really worth all the time and trouble there was with tiny seeds and tweezer-transplanting three years ago, Now it has made soft clumps throughout the border, and is a delight. It has something of the Stipa gigantea about it, easy to see through, big (up to easily 2m), but airy and charming, and the insect population trebles at a stroke. Plant Delights, one of my favourite American sites, has a variety called ‘True Blue’ which I would love to see, so I will seek it out. The wonderful Beth Chatto has plants available.

It doesn’t seem to mind our dryish conditions, though it isn’t in the driest spot we have, and is utterly undemanding. It even handles galeforce wind and rain with aplomb. It would take a charging animal to bring it down. I do nothing and it does it all. Here is a full length photo of it, slightly tricky to take as it is so transparent but you can see the flowers silhouetted against the sky, I think.

Full length Thalictrum, Tostat, June 2015
Full length Thalictrum, Tostat, June 2015

And it is June already. What a shocker, How did that happen?

Lions and staircases…a miss and a hit

Leonitis leonurus, photo credit: Plant Delights Nursery
Leonitis leonurus, photo credit: Plant Delights Nursery
My Leonitis and babies, Feb 15
My Leonitis and babies, Feb 15

This is a plant I coveted for years, and then finally bought 2 years ago.  It was doing brilliantly, outdoors in the summer in a pot, growing to a statuesque metre or so, when one morning, I found it lying decapitated in the garden- all that was left was a stump.  I thought it was a goner, but the decapitation had clearly happened early that morning, big animal in the garden I suspect, and so I thought, ‘cuttings’.  I took about 8 cuttings from the broken piece, and mourned the likely death of the main plant. Not so. Not only did it make a comeback from the base, but six cuttings took as well. So, ok, no flowers last year, although one just turned up at the end of the autumn which you can see in a decayed state on my own photo above.

The plant is Leonitis Leonurus,  a stately and amazing dry garden herbaceous plant, that really does need to come indoors in the winter, but takes almost total dryness in the summer, outside in a pot in the hottest spot you can find, or planted if you have a reliably hot summer/dry winter spot. If all that works, what you get is the fantastic staired orange flowers from the Plant Delights Nursery photo at the top. I haven’t experienced that yet, but this summer I’m on, I think. It has spent winter in a dryish pot in our very chilly hall and has managed well with second hand sunlight through the back door. In fact, although it has been very cold, it is already powering up for the year, with fresh growth from the base and the tops. So, I am very excited. Orange is a passion for me, and so, although Sarah Raven (who calls it the Staircase plant) reckons it really only works as an annual, I would give it a bash indoors over winter,and you can clearly cut it down when you bring it in, which produces more basal growth. Yippee. By the way, another US nursery whose website I find really useful is Plant Delights Nursery from North Carolina. Do check it out.