And now it’s early June…

Gertrud’s Penstemon, such a good plant, Tostat, June 2020

Where has this year gone? I cannot believe the evidence of my own eyes as I look round the garden and see that early summer arrived about 2 weeks ago. Most of the once-blooming roses are over and done with, and spring flowerers of all kinds were beaten by the last 2 weeks of 30C and no rain. But a plant that has just adored it, is my unknown Penstemon, bought 2 years ago at the lovely Jardin d’Antin, where Gertrud has a very good eye for a plant.

Isoplexis canariensis, the Lazarus of the garden, Tostat, June 2020

Years ago, I grew Isoplexis canariensis from seed and had two big pots blooming magnificently. I left them out over the winter once, bad mistake. But incredibly, last year, three small plants re-emerged from death and this year, with a guarantee of good behaviour from me, they are back. I had them kept dry but with protection in the open barn last winter, and they really liked that. Masses of water and some feed to kickstart them and they have flowered 2 months earlier than they used to. I adore the colour, and the glossy evergreen leaves are a great foil to the orange-rusty flowers.

Libertia ixioides ‘Goldfinger’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a really lovely Libertia. These plants have had a slightly chequered history with me, as I grew them successfully from seed and then planted them out in an area that was a bit too tough for them. So, out they came and went into the Mix, the massed perennial planting under the cherry tree. This slim Libertia is not a fastgrower, but it is especially good in the winter, when the orange stripes on the leaves really glow. But this is the first time they flowered, with a sprinkling of these charming white flowers- which, when woven in amongst the other perennials, charmingly catch the eye.

Nigella papilosa ‘African Bride’, Tostat, June 2020

I am a grumpy annuals grower- they aren’t really my thing, but I grew some of this Nigella that we were going to give away as ‘freebie pollinator’ plants at our Tostatenfleur event in April- but it didn’t happen because of covid-19. However, I have loved this slightly different Nigella for the drama of the petals and stamens combo. And in early morning sunshine, the stamens have a ruby glow to them. I am saving the seed for sure…

Oenethora speciosa, Tostat, June 2020

Some people hate this evening primrose, Oenethora speciosa, but the trick is to plant it in rubbish soil and full sun. Any conditions more luxurious will ensure you have a massive growth and it will run and run. And even with rubbish soil, be prepared to yank masses out. Having said that, in low light, the gorgeous shell-pink flowers, of which there hundreds every day, glow. I have been known to be snobby about it, but actually, it is a good doer in controlled conditions.

Pelargonium ‘Ardens’, Tostat, June 2020

This species Pelargonium is a delight- deep red flowers with an enticing darker splash, and needs no special treatment other than a dry winter, protected from the cold, and then watering to wake it up in the spring once frost has finished.

Punica granatum ‘Mme Legrelliae’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a great flowering shrub, which deserves to be better known really. There is nothing quite like the frilly-hankerchief look of the coral and cream flowers. It’s a non-fruiting pomegranate, but is hardy down to -15C and is very happy in not particularly great soil that is free-draining. It won’t like water round the roots in winter. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about the naming and history of the plant, a fascinating story of important, but unknown horticultural women.

Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, Tostat, June 2020

This rose, Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, which I bought with my pal Jane at Chelsea from Harkness several years ago, is a Persian descendant, and is bred for heat tolerance. It grows pretty well in a slightly damper bit of the garden. I love the early apricot-pink colouring, just a bit disappointing that it fades to what I would call a dull brick colour- but never mind. The open, single structure makes it more useful for pollinators than many roses.

Rosa ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’, Tostat, June 2020

Here is a ready-made bouquet of Rosa ‘Great Maiden’s Blush’ or ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’ here in France. It smells lovely and blooms off and on in waves all summer.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’, Tostat, June 2020

I am very fond of Rosa ‘New Dawn’– it has that perfect shell-pink, with a lot of cream in it, a bit of an ice-queen really. But the slightly angular petals appeal to me and it lasts well, flowering for about a month in a lazy droop over the garden wall.

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’, Tostat, June 2020

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’ struggles a bit with me, a bit too dry and hot for it I think, but the colour is fabulous. This photograph does not do it justice- think the deepest, richest crimson velvet, and you are almost there.

Salvia cacaliifolia, Tostat, June 2020

And now for the Battle of the Blues- won only just by Salvia cacaliifolia. This is a tender salvia, with bright light green ivy-shaped leaves, which will just about twine upwards with a little support. I have it supported by a bit of redundant barbecue grill, not yet wind-tested as a support, but it is working for the moment. The blue is deep, and electric.

Salvia patens, Tostat, June 2020

Salvia patens is just a tad lighter in tone, but scores for really big flowers. Oddly it has the same ivy-shaped leaves as cacaliifolia, but has more of a darcyii look about it.

Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’, Ludlow, June 2017

I saw this rose in Ludlow a couple of years ago, and just the year before, I bought it for a rose-loving friend in Tostat, who has just returned the favour beautifully by growing on and giving me a very good looking cutting. I missed the flowers of my new rose in the rain, so luckily had a photo from 2017. I am so looking forward to it. Thank you, H and M, very much.

Who was Madame Legrelle? A fragmented, detective story…

Punica granatum 'Legrelliae', Tostat, August 2015
Punica granatum ‘Legrelliae’, Tostat, August 2015

Spotting new flowers on my non-fruiting Pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Legrelliae’, I was doodling about on the internet trying to find out more about it’s name.  I bought it as ‘Legrelliae’ but it is often named as ‘Madame Legrelle’, and this internet browsing led me, on a hot day, to the beginnings of a detective story.  A blog intrigued me more, with mention of a Madame Caroline Legrelle d’Hanis and her gardener, Francois Veervoot, from Antwerp winning medals and exhibiting in London in 1866.  So, here is what I found out about the origins of this beautiful and tough plant.

Punica granantum 'Madame Legrelliae' 1858  credit:
Punica granantum ‘Madame Legrelliae’ 1858

This lithograph appeared in 1858, and may be the first illustration of the plant.  It appeared in the most important Belgian horticultural periodical entitled  l’Illustration horticole, journal spécial des serres et des jardins by Charles Lemaire (editor), published by Ambroise Verschaffelt.  But the story may have an earlier twist. The 2104 Delaware Centre for Horticulture catalogue for their Rare Plants Auction contains a fascinating short passage on Madame Legrelle.  Her full name was Madame Caroline Legrelle d’Hanis and she lived in Berchem, near Antwerp. Caroline was regarded as a distinguished amateur horticulturalist by The Magazine of Horticulture, and it is believed that she got the original Punica plant from a Mme. Parmentier, another Belgian woman horticulturalist, living in Illinois, US. Madame Parmentier is reputed to have said that the plant she gave to Madame Legrelle was the only one of its kind.

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

Caroline may have been the daughter of another famous Belgian horticulturalist from Antwerp, Jean-Francois Legrelle d’Hanis, who lived from 1817-1852, and she herself only lived to the age of thirty, dying in 1874.  Very possibly, she never married and took over the pioneering work of her father in the nursery.  She was also connected to other reknowned botanists and horticulturalists and clearly possessed a warm and engaging personality, as well as a sense of mission about her work. She is referred to often as generous and helpful in texts of the time.  A charming inscription exists in a book given to her by her friend, Henri van Heurck, in 1864 when she would have been only 20 years old,

To Madame Caroline Legrelle d’Hanis, Protectrie de la Botanique, Berchem, 3 Janvier 1864

Henri van Heurck himself was a key figure in Belgian science and horticulture. He developed pioneering work on microscopes to support his own botanical studies, was an important plant collector, and finally, persuaded the city of Antwerp to set up its own botanical garden, and became its first Director. His own plant collection was purchased by the city on his death and housed in the Botanical Garden he had founded.

In 1860, Caroline exhibited to great success at the exhibition in Brussels of the Societe Royale de Flore de Bruxelles. The exhibition catalogue states that she

exhibited a large and beautiful collection of palms, more than 50 varieties and examples of Begonia, a brilliant collection of 23 Caladium, also a Dracaena Australis flowering at more than 3m

It is also possible that Caroline’s mother may have been a partner in the pioneering horticultural work at Berchem, from the following quote concerning the discovery of Chysophyllum imperiale.  A Mr Linden won a prize for his work on this plant at the Paris Exposition in 1867, and he recounts that

This noble plant was an inmate of both British and Continental botanical gardens for thirty years before its           genus was determined […] according to a careful history of it drawn up by M. André (L’Illust. Hortic. vol. xxi,         1874, p. 77 & 152, t. 184), the first living specimen known in Europe belonged to to Madame Legrelle-d’Hanis,       at Berchem, where M. Linden saw it in 1846 with the name Theophrasta imperialis.

Thank you, Jardim Formosa, for these useful bits of information.

That’s all, just these tantalising fragments of a life in botany, and a life that allowed a woman, unusual for the time, full recognition and parity with her peers.  That is something to be celebrated by planting Punica granatum ‘Legrelliae’.

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