A place in the sun…and the shade.

The sunny side of the New Garden,  Tostat, end May 2015
The sunny side of the New Garden, Tostat, end May 2015

We seemed to leap fully formed from the chilly, wet weather of the Chelsea Flower Show week into high summer temperatures, up to 36C on Friday last week. This has been a bit of a shock for plants and people, with not a drop of rain for nearly 3 weeks. I am of the feeble pale Scottish skin variety and so wilt easily in hot sunshine, and so do quite a few plants. But, not here in the New Garden. This was the garden Andy and I made about 6 years ago on the site of an old barn, using the rubbish stoney soil that is here, only removing about 599 massive river boulders by hand, you can see the odd one in the distance in the photograph above.

Taking the view that I should absolutely try and make the most of what is here, and it is hot as well as stoney, I have tried to choose plants that really are tough, and in the most part, this has worked with one or two exceptions.  So, at the end of May, it was looking really good, so good that I didn’t notice that my Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’, which had been great in the spring with its cerise-pink flowers on bare stems, was toiling badly. To rub it in, here is a photograph of it flowering in 2013, it is a beauty.

Cercis chinensis 'Avondale' Tostat 2013
Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’ Tostat 2013

Sadly now, finally having reached nearly 1.75m in height as it is a slow grower, it is looking very miserable and the few leaves it has, normally heart-shaped, glossy and vibrant green, look very dead. I am not sure what has happened, but I think I will cut it back in the autumn and just see if it will regenerate. I suspect that this is unlikely as we are hitting hot summer now, but I will try.

However, although the Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ that you can see on the left in the top photograph is looking a bit crispy at the edges, other things are in their stride. I love Halimium, though now renamed as Cistus atriplicifolius. I bought this from Pepiniere Filippi in the Languedoc, of whom I have blogged, and it is a miracle flowerer in the summer, off and on for months. It hates wet, and so our conditions are mostly perfect for it, even in the winter when we can get lots of rain.

Cistus atriplicifolius, New Garden, Tostat, June 2015
Cistus atriplicifolius, New Garden, Tostat, June 2015

The strong sunshine this morning seems to make it almost gleam. Sometimes plants are drained by sunshine, not this Cistus, it seems to charge the colour up even more. It grows to about 1m x 1.5m and is quite sprawly in habit, but I like the fact that it drapes itself onto the gravel.

Callistemon 'Little John', New Garden, Tostat, June 2015- and friend..
Callistemon ‘Little John’, New Garden, Tostat, June 2015- and friend..

This Callistemon has been in the garden from the beginning, but has not come into its own until this year. The flowers are fat and vibrant this year, and it will be worth its space!  I think it’s ‘Little John’ but, honestly, I have forgotten and lost the tag. Nestling next to it is a little weed flower that crops up sparsely in the New Garden, I don’t know what it is exactly, but I love the pale lemon colour of the flowers and it’s not a pest, so it’s given special status to remain. I think it looks amazing just placed next to the Callistemon. It obviously knew. ‘This is my best side, Mr de Mille.’

Punica granatum 'Legrelliae' New Garden, Tostat, June 2015
Punica granatum ‘Legrelliae’ New Garden, Tostat, June 2015

This non-fruiting pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Legrelliae’ has been slow with me, but the conditions are tough, so must be patient. The flowers are quite gorgeous, like a crumpled paper napkin edged in cream, and there are a few more of them this year despite the heat.

Funnily enough, on the shady side, where I have ferns and other shade-lovers coping fairly gamely with the dryness, this morning the light really drew them out of themselves.

Dryopteris attrata with self seeded verbascum muscling in, New Garden, Tostat, June 2015
Dryopteris attrata with self seeded verbascum muscling in, New Garden, Tostat, June 2015

The fact that a self-seeded verbascum has turned up next to the Dryopteris attrata fern shows how dry it is, even in the shade, but this year is the 3rd year for the ferns and this looks to be payback time. When the conditions are tough, the main job is just to get plants through their first 2 years and then, mostly, they are ok on their own. The only care they have had has been the odd bucket of water when the going got tough, so they have been pretty independent.

And last seen at the beginning of May in the blog looking all fluffy and furry, Polystichum polyblepharum is settling into a very lovely stride, making graceful arcs with its fronds in the sunshine, with the beginnnings of Andy’s stumpery look (which is new) and just a few petals from Rosa ‘Reine Marguerite d’Italie’ lying on the ground giving a confetti- look.

Polystichum polyblepharum, New Garden, Tostat, June 2015
Polystichum polyblepharum, New Garden, Tostat, June 2015

In praise of green….

I have a very tricky patch in the New Garden, so called because we dug it out about seven years ago from what had been the tumble-down site of a barn. There were no remnants of the barn there, but there were snakes, other living things and a lot of river rocks as well as some generally ghastly thin soil. One diagonal half sits in the shade of the open barn all year round, the sun can only make it past the walls for a very short time in high summer, and the other half roasts as it looks both South and West with no cover at all.  So, sticking with my theme of working with what I’ve got and not fighting it, it has taken a good while to make an impression on the shady half. For a very long time, the only show in town was my Rosa ‘Reine Marguerite d’Italie’ which I have discussed at length in my post on tough roses.  She does deserve a photo though.

Rosa 'Reine Marguerite d'Italie', Tostat, May 2014
Rosa ‘Reine Marguerite d’Italie’, Tostat, May 2014

But last year, I decided to try and see if I could establish some ferns, as well as a cruelly transplanted, but now doing fine, Mahonia which was already quite big.  So, last year, they all made it, through a very wet spring, a very hot and dry summer and a middling cold winter.  I bought them small, on the grounds that this always gives them a better fighting chance, especially in a pretty rubbish spot.  And I tried to select varieties that can cope with wet and dry. This spring I also added some low-lying groundcover planting, which so far is doing ok. I am aiming for a green-ness that is both resting and as lush as such a tricky corner can be. Here are the ferns coming back to life in the last couple of weeks- admittedly, it’s not so great in the winter, but as they mature, I live in hope.

Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata the King', Tostat, May 2015
Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata the King’, Tostat, May 2015

‘The King’ is a magical fern. This year, I think it might get close to a metre high and wide, and the splayed fronds have extra finger shapes on them, which make them look like something out of Tolkein. You can see this in the tallest frond in the photograph above.

Dryopteris atrata, Tostat, May 2015
Dryopteris atrata, Tostat, May 2015

Dryopteris atrata is a busy bee of a fern. Not so tall, about 0.5m high and wide, it nevertheless has an energetic presence with its upright posture, and slender but strong fronds. It wants to be noticed, and the darkness of the new growth is lovely as a contrast with the yellow-green of the foliage. I really like it.

Polystichum polyblepharum, Tostat, April 2015
Polystichum polyblepharum, Tostat, April 2015

This Polystichum is almost cuddly with its soft, fluffy new foliage. This now looks more like a normal fern, but two weeks ago, I would have almost called it ‘adorable’. It drapes beautifully from the centre and almost poses for the camera. It will make about 0.75m high and wide this year, I think.

Euonymus fortunei 'Wolong Ghost', Tostat, May 2015
Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’, Tostat, May 2015

Now, ok, this isn’t a fern, but this is one of my new groundhuggers, the strangely named Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’. Right now, it is a bit junior, but it’s looking good as you can see, threads of sliver veined slender leaves and it will weave its way around. I am sure I will be impressed.

Osmunda regalis, Tostat, May 2015
Osmunda regalis, Tostat, May 2015

And here is Osmunda regalis, which I wanted to include as it is a splendid fern, stately and refined. However, it is a bit of a cheat as it is actually growing in the shady ground by our canal or ruisseau.  It would certainly struggle round in the New Garden as it likes more lush conditions, but I love it anyway.