Scorched earth…

Burnt echinaceas and 2 surviving Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Tostat, August 2020

It rained, 12 cms or so, yesterday evening and overnight. I felt as if I could feel it on my own skin even though I was indoors. My no-watering policy has been tested almost to the limits of my endurance, never mind the plants. Of course, the pain is caused by my playing with the edges of what the garden can take, and this summer, I have discovered more hot spots than I knew existed in nearly 17 years of gardening here. These hot spots haven’t always existed- but they are new evidence of the effects of climate heating in our part of the world. If and when we move to a new house, my garrigue garden plans are essential as I manoeuvre to find ways to grow plants that will make a garden a a good space for animals, insects, birds and humans.

So what has happened in drought tolerance that has changed in this summer? Hibiscus trionum is a pretty and tough shrub- this one I grew from seed about 12 years ago, and is now a 1.5m slim bush which has taken care of itself with no problems in previous summers. This summer burnt it, though it will shake the burn off as temperatures cool a little and with some more rain.

Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, August 2020

Phillyrea angustifolia is a tough, slow growing shrub which resembles an olive tree in leaf form and robustness. This one below was in a pot for the previous two summers, and this spring I planted it out in a mixed border. It had obviously not had enough time, even with four months or so, to get roots down enough into the soil. Not yet being very big, and my garden eyes being exhausted by all the heat and dryness, I didn’t spot it suffering in time. I think it will make it though.

Phillyrea angustifolia, Tostat, August 2020

Last month I took some photos of Plantago major rubrifolia looking beautifully ruby-coloured in the new tear-shaped border. I am so pleased with it, as the colouring has faded and the seedheads are dried to a crisp, but that plant is still here and will definitely survive.

Plantago rubrifolia, Tostat, August 2020

In the Stumpery, the ferns and persicaria have absolutely bitten the dust, the ferns will probably try for a comeback, the persicaria may not this year, but hey, Salvia spathacea, the rare Californian Salvia, grown from seed, is still green if a little bashed. I shall be overjoyed if it flowers, but that may be asking too much.

Salvia spathacea hangs on, Tostat, August 2020
Salvia spathacea flowering, Tostat, July 2016

Tagetes lemmonii has the most extraordinary smelly foliage- which even I can smell. Burnt coriander mixed with lemon gets close as a description, and my plants are slow to grow, actually needing plenty of heat to even get above ground, but the feathery foliage is pretty and green when not much else is looking so fresh and the custard-coloured marigold flowers come in October.

Tagetes lemmonnii, Tostat, August 2020

Cheating here, as these penstemons grow near a pot or in one- which I do water daily in the summer. Penstemon schoenholzeri flowers for months, scavenging water from the overflow of a scented pelargonium, and is a total joy especially when the tansy gets going. I got Tanacetum vulgare ‘Crispum’ as a small clump years ago, and it has always been very well-behaved for me. The foliage is standout in my view- fresh green all summer and beautifully frilly and ferny in appearance- and to top it all, you get the bright yellow button flowers as well.

Penstemon schoenholzeri and Tanacetum vulgare, Tostat, August 2020

This smokey purple Penstemon is a new one to me this year, and is in a pot ready for departure when we move. I have taken masses of cuttings already, as I love the cloudy coating on the buds before they flower, and the whole plant has a very upright and sturdy form. Penstemon ‘Russian River’ is splendid.

Penstemon Russian River, Tostat, August 2020

In the tear-shaped border which I made last year with an Australian emphasis celebrating our trip there 3 years ago, Dianella caerulea Cassa Blue has been a great choice. The first year was a wee bit touch-and-go, but this year, with no irrigation, it has really settled in and seems unphased by cold or drought. It is not tall, being about 50cms maybe, but the foliage is upright, clumps well and holds the blue tinge in the name really well in the second year. Tiny flowers came in our very hot spring, which will probably look a bit more impressive in later years. I like it.

Next to it, you can see the toasted foliage of Pittosporum tenuifolium Golf Ball, which is one tough customer normally, so I hope it will recover. The feathery foliage in the foreground comes from Vernonia lettermannii– a super good plant which I wrote about a few weeks back. It’s called Ironweed for a good reason.

Dianella caerulea Cassa Blue, Tostat, August 2020

In the heat, some colours really did sing. In a watered pot because it’s a tender shrub is Abutilon pictum (also known as Red Vein and Abutilon striatum), which I bought from Gill Pound in the Languedoc before she retired. What an orange…

Abutilon pictum, Tostat, August 2020

Life after confinement…

Nymphaea ‘Hermine’, Tostat, July 2020

Long while since I last wrote a blog article. A lot of life seems to have happened and I haven’t had the attention bandwidth to get to it. Having felt strangely guilty about that for a few days, this morning seemed the moment to dive in.

And we have made a surprise big decision since the end of the confinement at the beginning of June- we are moving to a small town nearer the Pyrenees and south of Pau- and therefore our house is on the market. It was a decision that we both came to- a move that we had thought we would wait five years or so to make. But something about confinement made us both feel that it was better to make the move sooner rather than later, and we astonished ourselves with the rapidity of the turnaround.

And so the garden feels different. No more planting to be done, and an interesting mixture of excitement, sadness and also distance has crept into my mind. My eye has turned to which plants are worth taking cuttings of, taking seed from, or just plain digging up and potting up to take with us when we go. Which could be anytime this year or next…so everything is being assessed and catalogued, a busy mental activity which substitutes for real gardening.

Nymphaea ‘Hermine’ has produced two flowers simultaneously- quite a feat for a plant that has only been in the new pond since the end of April. Single flowers have been coming for a while- they last a few days or less if it is hot and dry. I love the sharpness of the shape, lifting itself proudly out of the water. It is a dwarf variety, but I may not get to see the final size next year.

Dicliptera suberecta, which used to be called Jacobinia, is a great plant that will definitely be on the list to come away with us. I bought three small plants last autumn, took 2 cuttings, and all five plants have done brilliantly. They reach to about 25 cms in flower so far, with these fabulous scarlet slender trumpets, and are super drought tolerant with grey felted foliage. I am giving them some water today as we have had no rain for weeks and it is over 30C, so even they are toiling a little. If kept in very well-drained, stony soil, I reckon they would handle -7C or so, but no winter damp, so they are not as tender, I think, as many UK sites would suggest. Full sun needed.

Dicliptera suberecta, Tostat, July 2020

I grew these from seed this Spring, but owing to a cold and damp May, I never planted them out- and then there seemed not much point. But, for all that, I would grow them again, as they are just charming and easy from the off. Leonurus sibiricus, if planted properly, would make erect and steady spires with candelabras of pinky mauve flowers- and the foliage is pretty and interesting in itself. I will buy or collect seed and try again.

Leonurus sibiricus, Tostat, July 2020

On the pinky mauve front, you can’t have a more charming or floriferous medium arching shrub than Lespedeza thunbergii ssp.thunbergii Edo Shibori. Shoot describes it as wanting light sandy soil, but I think it needs a bit more beef than that, and certainly more moisture- though this may say more about our conditions here. But, the shape is elegant and easy on the eye, with the tiny pea-like flowers massed up and down the arching branches. I have cuttings, which are looking promising.

Lespedeza thunbergii ssp. thunbergii Edo Shibori, Tostat, July 2020

Pink is it. Here is a plant that arrived three years ago, died, and has now done a spectacular Lazarus act to return in fighting form this year. Another candidate for a hot, dry spot, Ononis spinosa has one downside- spikes, as the name warns us. But it’s bushy, upright and covered in pink pea-like flowers and is doing magnificently. Well done it. I love the old English name- Spiny restharrow.

Ononis spinosa, Tostat, July 2020

Staying with pink- how lovely Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ looks in the early morning sunshine- a lovely gift from a local gardening pal, merci bien Karen!

Pennisetum Karley Rose, Tostat, July 2020

And, since I am a dab hand at plantain, here is one you might want to try growing instead of ripping out. This has been a real surprise- from seed, it’s a bit slow on the uptake and looks, well, sickly for at least 6 months. While your back is turned, it seems to become turbo-charged and before you know it, it looks ready to take on the world. Here it is in the Australian-inspired bed I made two years ago, unwatered and handling drought like a pro. Not everyone might like the beetroot coloured leaves, but I do!

Plantago major Rubrifolia, Tostat, July 2020

Moving to coral…the ‘Summer Song’ rose is gorgeous, but annoying. Maybe it’s me, but the growth is spindly and very weak, so the lovely blooms get dropped downwards and they don’t last more than a day. So, I dug it up this Spring and put it in a recovery pot, and will do my best to feed it up and see if it will buck up. I hope so.

Rosa ‘Summer Song’, Tostat, July 2020

And to violet-mauve….this is the Powdery Alligator flag as it is called in the USA or Thalia dealbata to you and me. I get the powdery moniker, because, as you can see, the twisted purple flowers are shielded with a powdery grey covering and never completely open. But the real star element is the foliage. Elegant, slim paddles on thin, tall stems, give an Egyptian fresco feel to the plant. It would not look out of place in Tutankhamun’s tomb. It grows tall, up to 2m, and needs submersion in water. But what a knockout it is. It will need bringing in during the winter.

Thalia dealbata, Tostat, July 2020

Moving to deep pinky mauve, here are two Vernonias. The first I grew from seed last Spring, and it amazed me by handling drought and heat with aplomb, and then roaring back this Spring as a really good-sized clump from one tiny seedling. This year it is coming into flower now, and it is a beauty. The foliage is good too- feathery and dainty, making about 1m in height. I give you, Vernonia lettermannii. A fantastic plant.

Vernonia lettermannii, Tostat, July 2020

The big sister is Vernonia arkansana ‘Mammuth’, which is a really well known plant for dramatic height (at 2m plus) in moist conditions. I grow it here near the canal, to give it the moisture, and near the banana clump, which gives occasional shade and also topples the Vernonia when it rains. You can’t win ’em all.

Vernonia arkansana ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, July 2020

A tall, dry, sunny spot thug- but who can’t fall for aerial fried-eggs? is Romneya coulteri. Do not plant this unless you are willing/able to give it 24/7 sun and shockingly rubbish soil. That’s what it wants- plus room. It will mow down smaller plants in its path, so think stone wall to stop it or hold it in. But against a blue sky….wow.

Romneya coulteri, Tostat, July 2020

And if you are looking for a house and garden where all of these plants, and others, live…click on the link below.

https://www.abafim.com/restored-18th-century-farmhouse-ref-AF23784.html

Seeds and all that….

Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ Tostat, December 2019

Seed catalogues make great reading in January. Every gardening journalist worth their salt will be saying this to us readers as we face the fact that we can’t do very much at this time of year. I admit that my method of choosing seed doesn’t start with the seed catalogues, I come at it from the other end.

I like to start with what is new to me, interests me and might work in my testing garden of soaking wet and bone dry…. and then I look and see if I can get seed. So, it is with purple leaved tough plants that can give my soil a bit of a rest and maybe do battle with some of the weeds that I decide have no value to me. With seed you are talking about allowing growth for a good 9 months to a year before you have a plant that will make it- so some thought is required. Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ was one of last year’s picks. Not impressed for the first few months, I came home at the end of October to find very bonny- looking plants that had filled out their pots and were looking great. They still look good, even the ones I risked planting out last week before the frost came back.

Plantago major rubrifolia
Photo credit: www.jardindelasalamandre.blogspot.com

Alys Fowler woke me up to Purple Plantain. I can grow Plantain- oh yes. You might say that the grass in our back garden is easily 60% plantain in plenty of places. So why not grow the purple stuff? You can see the connecting thought between the Salvia and the Plantain. So, I bought seed from Plant World Seeds and I have about a dozen, rather tired looking baby seedlings in pots under cover outside. So, I am hoping that they will become gorgeous as the salvias did after a few months. Fingers crossed.

And now I have another one to try. Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’ which is not only purple, tick, but is also frilly-leaved. I can’t wait. Seed is on its way from Special Plants.

Plantago major ‘Purple Perversion’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

Every year, during the winter, I grow one or two things from seed in the house. Usually, I manage about a 40% success rate. But honestly, growing seeds indoors even with managed humidity in December is a long shot and is more to do with my itchy fingers than it is to do with horticultural success. It has been a damp squib this year. I had a go at Penstemon whippleanus and Nipponanthecum nipponicum. Both have been, well, disastrous. Never mind, I will have another go at the Nipponanthecum- it’s a small, determined chrysanthemum which apparently likes sun and dry- so it’s got to be worth it.

Helleborus ‘Ushba’
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

I also chose Helleborus ‘Ushba’ as seed from Special Plants. I don’t have a big number of hellebores, but I do love what I have, and ‘Ushba’ is a Helen Ballard variety, and one of her hallmarks as a breeder was managing to create varieties which hold their flowers in a more open and erect way than other varieties. I have not had a lot of success with cold germinating seeds, but I am going to try from the moment they arrive in the post. And my last seed possibility for this New Year selection is Kitaibelia vitifolia. A fast-growing Mallow with creamy-white flowers will do me nicely, thank you.

Kitaibelia vitifolia
Photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net