The relief of rain…

Echinacea ‘White Swan’, dying embers, Tostat, August 2020

And there was rain two nights ago. Monumental lightning and thunder produced a mop bucket full of water and probably saved most of the garden. There are still many burnt and crisped plants, but the following morning, by the amazing power of nature, you could feel the whole garden standing tall again. These Echinacea ‘White Swan’ still looked spectacular caught by the early morning sun a day later, and they will stand tall until frost cuts them down.

And there are some indomitable plants. I don’t know how I missed Achillea crithmifolium for all these years until this Spring. It is such an amazing small plant, only growing to 10cms tall at the tallest, and with the nice, but not amazing, cream coloured achillea flower. The knockout features are two- one, the beautiful fine, feathery foliage which ignores everything that the weather throws at it, and secondly, the allelopathic properties of the plant. Allelopathy is a young scientific field of study examining the ways in which some plants can reduce competition from other plants by means of chemical extrusion. So the tiny but powerful Achillea crithmifolium can fight off the opposition all alone- a great boon in a gravel garden situation. A very useful Mediterranean Garden Society article can be found by following the Allelopathy link above.

Achillea crithmifolia, Tostat, August 2020

Some shrubs have just rushed to autumn or even winter states to handle the heat and the dryness. Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’ has done exactly that- and is filling the rather depleted border with a glorious shade of brilliant red.

Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’, Tostat, August 2020

Poor old Euonymus alatus ‘Compactum‘ has skipped the autumn red and gone straight to winter. Two other bushes in the garden have hung onto their foliage and we may yet get autumn colour from them, but not this one. The buds look pretty good so I reckon it will come through, albeit by going bald.

Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’, Tostat, August 2020

Strangely, a plant which I love but have always struggled to keep going, is looking fabulous. You may have noticed that I do have a thing for feathery foliage- and this Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ really goes for feathery in a big way. One could say that feathery is all it does. Normally, this plant is nearly 2m tall and so qualifies as wafty as well as feathery- but this year, it had made barely a metre.

Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, August 2020

Russelia equisetiformis has been flowering since the beginning of May non-stop. It is called ‘Goutes de sang’ in France, and you can see why, the beautiful tumbling teardrops of blood-red trumpet-shaped flowers are really stunning. The foliage is a bit like masses of green string loosely tied to green stalks, but lifted up a little, a handy breezeblock will do it, the tumbling foliage and flowers are really gorgeous. It needs to be pretty bone dry in the winter and kept away from frost. I stick it in the open barn, and that seems to work just fine. Another lovely buy from Jardin de Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois in the Languedoc.

Russelia equisetiformis, Tostat, August 2020

And so the sun set two nights ago, behind the banana and the Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ on a garden that will live to fight another day.

Sunset 2 nights ago, Tostat, August 2020

The grand tour…

Looking east towards the Mix and the green seat, Tostat, April 2020

I started this post last week. But life and death intervened. A friend died of Motor Neurone Disease in Paris, fortunately at home with her partner, and so she was with loved ones at the end. That stopped me in my tracks really. A very sad moment, especially as I watched her funeral ceremony by the internet from her flat led by her loving partner and son. So, this post is dedicated to Martine and Proinsias, in memory of some very happy times in the garden.

Young men with money used to do The Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries- jollying round Europe’s ancient antiquities and cities, it was supposed to mature a young man, give him the perspective of what his wealth could bring him in the acquisition of artworks and cultural broadening. I set myself the lockdown task of trying to do my own mini Grand Tour of the garden, trying to find new ways of looking at it, looking though it and maybe discovering new ideas about how it can be and how it is. It was a dullish day, sometimes the best way to see the garden without the sparkle that sunshine brings.

So, the first picture shows the Mix, the back of the house and the small area inspired by Nicole de Vesian with the green bench and the wind-knocked pencil conifers. The Mix is still evolving and without the stately presence of the tall Miscanthus later in the year. The mauve lilac is just breaking into blossom- a good shrub that I always forget about.

Looking west towards the ruisseau and Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’, Tostat, April 2020

This is a view that is completely new to me! The purple poplar is one of my all-time favourites for the elegance of the shape and the dark, striking foliage in early Spring. In the foreground, Hakonechloa macra aureola is just getting going, one of the few plants we brought with us from Scotland which, playing against type, adores this hot, dry position for some reason.

Looking towards the banana plantation, Gunnera manicata and Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, April 2020

Looking through the lovely old broken walls, is the banana, Andy’s beloved plant which is well on the way to becoming a small plantation, and his other great love, the Gunnera. Below, just over a broken wall, you can just see the village church tower in the distance.

The foreshortening, through the walls to the church tower, Tostat, April 2020
The New Garden, the Stumpery on the right, Tostat, April 2020

The New Garden, formed from a fallen-down barn area, has been transformed by the building of the Pond, which opens up and focuses the view behind the eucalyptus. I would love to claim credit for this wizard bit of design- but, truthfully, it would never have happened if we hadn’t gone over to a biomass boiler and had the old gas tank removed.

Looking towards the new pond, Tostat, April 2020

And here is the new pond, and you can see how it has changed and developed the view to make the garden truly wrap around the house. The shrub planted in the foreground ring of stones is an unsung hero, Euonymus alata compactus, which grows here in slightly added-to shit and stony soil in full sun, with only occasional water if it is really desperate. More on the pond building later on.

The fastigiate beech baby, the transplanted palm tree, the wildflower areas, Tostat, April 2020

The little beech is just becoming fabulous. Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’ is fastigiate and should stay almost pin thin whilst getting taller. And the transplanted palm, a bad planting mistake of mine in the first year when we brought it in a pot from Scotland, Trachycarpus fortunei is one tough customer. Funnily enough, I bought it from Ardkinglass Tree Nursery, on the shores of Loch Fyne, so it is a well-travelled palm tree.

From the pond to the house with Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ just starting, and Molly the dog rootling, Tostat, April 2020

And back we are to the front of the house, with Molly the dog and the newly planted Agave americana big baby that blocks the pond off from foot traffic. We have several agave babies all queuing up for relocation at some point. They are gorgeous but vicious.

And on a brighter evening, the path by the back door, Tostat, early April 2020

And the full circuit ends at the back door on a sunnier evening.

Rain stops play…

Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ caught in morning stormy light, Tostat, November 2019

I think it would be true to say that it has been raining now every day, lavishly, for nearly a month. We have had one or two dry mornings and evenings, but on the whole, it has rained biblically for what feels like forever. Of course, this means that Nature is making up for our incredibly dry and hot summer, and a not particularly wet spring either. But us humans are suffering a bit from cabin fever. I have now got most of my pot plants into their new space, which is the open barn (so there are fleecing implications when temperatures drop below zero), but this does mean much better light for them and also some rain drifting in when we have downpours.

One or two are still outside and will come in very shortly. I used to keep them at the back door, but the light is really not good and usually they were in bad shape by Spring- so I hope that the barn will work better. I am also sheltering some of my baby plants grown from seed this summer, as the rain would bash them up so much it would be like sending them into the ring with Mike Tyson.

My misnamed Chrysanthemum zawadskii, Tostat, November 2019

There isn’t much left standing out in the garden. I have two chrysanthemums that I grow but often miss completely because of our habit of going away in the autumn. One I thought was Chrysanthemum zawadskii, the mother plant of so many good varieties, but mine is a strong pink so I am not sure now, as most photos show zawadskii as white and upright. The word ‘floppy’ captures mine better, but when I get the chance to see it, I love the carmine pink as that colour is usually well over in the garden by autumn. Maybe I have ‘Clara Curtis’?

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2019

I love ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’. The colour is superb with golden highlights, and I grow them in pots in miserable sandy soil and barely water them- they take any amount of punishment, it seems to me. And I just leave the pot somewhere outside in the winter with just a bit of shelter so they don’t get too waterlogged.

Plectranthus ecklonii ‘Erma’ still going strong, Tostat, November 2019

This photograph is almost identical to one I took a month ago, except that the flowerhead has become even more violet and the leaves look a bit more battered. I love this plant, for the upright habit and the combination of golden- tinged foliage with the deepening violet of the flowers which last for weeks and weeks. It is not hardy so I need to bring it in soon to the open barn, but it is still so lovely that I am chancing my arm. In September, I took some semi-hard cuttings and all have rooted so another few potfuls will be possible next year. Louis the Plant Geek, a very useful blogger, waxes lyrical about ‘Erma’ here.

Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, November 2019

Another plant beloved of Louis the Plant Geek and Crug Farm, is Colquhounia coccinea– a late show-stopper that is still looking great in the garden. I have it planted in. although it can be stung badly by cold temperatures. I have been lucky so far that it has re-appeared from the base late in the Spring, but this year I have successfully grown on three good cuttings so that’s a bit of insurance. It gets a bit of shelter from the pine tree next to it, and this also reduce the rainfall directly onto it- all good for the chances of a comeback.

Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’, evening light, Tostat, November 2019

And so to the end, nearly, of the outdoor gardening year. I leave everything as it was till the Spring, the dying topgrowth protects plants at the base, though they can get a bit too much water on them as a result. But the dying embers of the garden are great for all creatures great and small that live in the habitat we borrow to garden in, so I ain’t tidying up till Spring. I swore I would never grow another tulip after losing so many bulbs in the Spring wet the last few years, but look who’s having another go…Hope springs eternal.

And Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ is simply gorgeous, the last few leaves shimmering in any light available at dawn or dusk. Hope does spring eternal.

A long way home…

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Salvia africana-lutea, Tostat, November 2018

We are back, nearly 8 weeks after we left a hot, dry, dusty Tostat in September.  Coming back is such a strange experience.  Not just the usual hoo-haa of unpacking, washing clothes and re-discovering everything that has been inadverdently moved as our lovely housesitters made the place theirs- but re-connecting with the growing garden.  It feels as if the garden’s mind of its own has taken over- my brain struggled to remember names of plants, and some had radically changed in size and power with the late October rain.  The garden has become an alien, though still vaguely familiar place.  I have walked around it almost as if I am visiting it in the past few days.  So much change, so much growth- the small gradations of change have been obliterated by not being here, and the impact of it all was somehow viscerally unexpected.

The Salvia africana-lutea was a wonderful shock.  Firstly, I had expected the flowering bracts to be more of a dusty orange, but they really are as tropical an orange as the photo above shows.  Secondly, when I left, the plant was a one-year old baby, and had toiled a bit in the dry and the heat. Now, it’s the plant equivalent of a bonny, bouncing toddler and it is looking very strong.  I just managed to grow the one seedling to adult- I never find Salvias easy from seed, but I had to try as this one is hard to find.

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Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’, Tostat, November 2018

And here was another wonderful shock.  Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’ was a new one for me this year- and I bought it mainly for its very bright green leaves with a powerful aroma, so these marvellous fat rounded bracts and buds are really an extra surprise.  It does flower late in the autumn, but this year has worked really well for it.

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Abelia grandiflora, Tostat, November 2018

I am a bit ashamed of my behaviour with this plant.  I picked it up as a bargain plant two years ago,  but it has merely existed so far in the garden and I have rather ignored it.  But, I should know that many shrubby plants take a good 2 years to get their feet down in our garden- and so it has proved with this Abelia.  But, it was very refreshing this hot, dry summer to have the Abelia grandiflora cultivar hit its stride in September with fresh, light pink blossoms and pinky-tinged leaves.

This autumn has, so far, been very calm and so the golden foliage on ‘Purple Tower’ has lasted and lasted.  This tree has also found its mojo this year and has put on really good growth no doubt with the assistance of roots having found the canal.

So the next week is about re-connecting, finding and remembering what I was doing 2 months ago, and beginning to make some plans for next year.  It’s a good time to be home.

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Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’, Tostat, November 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Going, going, gone…

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Salvia confertiflora and ‘Anthony Parker’ mingling in the hall, Tostat, November 2017

That’s it.  First big cold spell of this autumn/winter last night with a frost of -2C but the recompense is beautiful sunshine this morning. And to be honest, given all the topsy-turviness of this year weather-wise, it feels better to be having the weather we should be having at this time of the year.

So, on Sunday, much lugging of pots, pruning of things, and then fleecing of the odd pot too big to bring in took place.  Yesterday I ran round and dug up the 3 plants that had been planted in- and managed to remember to bring only two of them into the house.  Result: one very brown and unhappy Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ outside this morning.

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Salvia Mexicana ‘Limelight’, Tostat, November 2017

It had only just flowered, and possibly the flowering had saved it’s bacon.  I am so disappointed with this plant!  I should have paid attention to Louis the Plant Geek.  he says, ‘Want the excitement? Accept the dullness. No pain, no gain.’  Louis is a brilliant blogger.  In my view, he has everything.  Good pictures, great, tested in his own garden information, a witty and astringent turn of phrase- and really detailed advice.  I bow down.

The thing is with ‘Limelight’, the dullness goes on for ever- well, given that it has been outside since April, precisely 7 months.  I am not yet sure that the gain outweighs the pain. Not to mention, that ‘Limelight’ is a thirsty so-and-so, bending leaves down every day in a sort-of-Mum-wait-for-me way.  And growth was stingy to say the least.  From the opposite, more rational point of view, these 2 plants were grown from seed last winter and it thrilled me that they germinated on a sunny windowsill.  And, in the first year, perhaps I am being unduly testy about the lack of performance till now.  So, Louis’ advice is:  sink it in a 3 litre pot into the ground, as opposed to planting it which I did, then at the first frost, cut it back and overwinter in a cool place.  The last part is easy: the big hall, codename IceStationZebra, in our house.

So, I have half-frozen one plant and saved the other plant.  I shall cut both down as Louis describes and hope that over-wintering will give them more of a headstart than they had last year- and meantime, allocate 2 x 3 litre pots for them for next year.  I shan’t be mean and ditch them.

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ had made it just in time to flower.  In fact, the cooler nights have brought out the golden tints at the ends of the petals, which really brings the flowerheads alive, I think.  They can stay outside for now, and I will move them to the outside barn so they don’t get drowned in too much winter wet.

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Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2017

This little Aussie plant, Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, was planted, new to me, about this time last year, and it turned out to be pretty robust in our sunny, dry border, happily shrugging off a spell of -10C last winter.  These are the first flowers on this little plant, and I am hoping that it will slowly bulk up to make a jolly 1m wide and high mound of light green foliage, pretty in itself and then these sweet spotted-throat white flowers in little groups.

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Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, Tostat, November 2017

And this shot of the back of the garden, looking West, in the last sunshine of yesterday afternoon, is a kind of  over-and-out shot, as the leaves on Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ which are so golden in this photograph, have almost all fallen off this morning.  Another season begins.

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November 2017, Tostat.

Weather is weather…

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Hibiscus palustris, after the rain, Tostat, August 2017

I am really trying.  To accept the weather for what is is, and not rail against it.  For being too hot, for being too dry, too windy, rarely too grey but sometimes, and so on.  Monty Don says that this is the only way to garden.  But it is a hard habit to break.  So, I am trying to get even rather than angry.  Thinking of what I can do to help the garden be more bountiful in the hard, hot days of summer, and planning more tough structure to support those perennials which can make it through.

But these plants give me hope- as does the weather in the last couple of weeks- which has remembered to rain on occasion.  Dahlias have been a bit of a disaster this summer.  New bulbs that I bought have not come up at all, and everything has been on a serious go-slow.  But I am so glad that this appeared.  With a wonderfully exotic name, Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’ (whatever that means) is actually gorgeous.  Sharp, tart carmine red around the golden centre gives way to almost-black twiddled petals.  There is probably a better botanical term than ‘twiddled’ but I am sure you get my drift.

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Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’, Tostat, August 2017

Two small plants survived the beating summer of my self-grown Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Burgundy’, but they make me very happy and I will grow more.

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Gallardia x grandiflora ‘Burgundy’, Tostat, August 2017

And you can’t keep this Rudbeckia down.  It is widely used because it is such a dependable plant. It may be half the size it normally is, but it still comes back fighting. Another trait to battle is snobbery against good and dependable plants.

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Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, Tostat, August 2017

If the wind is in the right direction, the light in the right place and you don’t look too hard at the detail,  some of the garden is still quite presentable despite it all.

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Lovely disguising evening light does well if veiled through leaves, Tostat, August 2017

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Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’‘ is undeterred, Pennisetum alopecuroides and Miscanthus Malepartus, with not-yet-flowering Miscanthus Silberfeder, and a bit of artistic light drifting in, Tostat, August 2017

All change. The blog, the climate and me…

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End of the afternoon sunlight, Tostat, November 2016

It’s been almost two months since the last post. And, it is almost the end of the second year of this blog, which started out as an experiment in not boring myself, and trying out what has become a real conversation with not just me, but with readers whose responses I really enjoy and look forward to.

So, a month travelling in Ethiopia, a couple of weeks working on and running a weekend retreat here in English and French, preparing for and having our interviews for French citizenship, and having young people, ill and well, for a week or so- all that filled time and took time.  And allowed me to think about what I am doing here in this blog.

So, I have moved to my own domain platform for the blog.  You can now get to it by just typing

http://www.jardinecofriendly.com

and there will be no more irritating adverts slowing things up.  And I have tidied up the main page a wee bit, with some new photographs.

And, more importantly, I am reminding myself that what I do in my garden matters for the ecosystem as a whole, and so, my principle of using no additional water (with the possible exception of some hand-watering in hot months of the first year of growth in the case of perennials and shrubs) is uppermost in my mind as I think about climate change.  Which is really on my mind, and what is coming out of Trump Tower is very bad news indeed.  But, at almost the same time as the US elections, I watched an incredible documentary film (thank you Erica), which has both hardened my resolve and strengthened my spirit.

The film is ‘Demain’ made by the actress Melanie Laurent and colleagues- watch it, it is hard, scary and utterly fabulous.   The first time I have got beyond being simply scared about climate change- and begun to move towards really identifying what I can do myself- and with others.  Google it and you will find ways to see it.

So, what this means in terms of the garden is this:  I am even more concerned to source plants as locally as I can, to grow from seed what I can’t easily get, and to focus down on recognising that hot, dry summers and wet winters/spring are probably the pattern for the next few years.  So this means looking to research plants that thrive in areas with these conditions- notably the Mid-Western and Northern Californian areas in particular.  I recognise that I will also need to find forgiving plants that will tolerate something less drastic as well for those many inbetween days.

But meantime, there is lots to talk about from autumn trips and plans for next year, so I will step down off my plinth and simply share some photographs of what is still looking lovely in the garden, even now.

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The acer colouring is simply the best it has ever been…Tostat, November 2016

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Even the apple tree has joined in…Tostat, November 2016

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Miscanthus on the left, Berberis ‘Helmond Pillar’ looking red in the face, and Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ going buttery against the banana, Tostat, November 2016

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It won’t be the last rose, Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, November 2016