Work in progress….

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Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, March 2019

Sometimes, at any time of the year, you just turn around in the garden and, wham bam, the light spotlights something and you gasp.  And the other day, I just happened to have the camera around my neck, and ‘Tiny Wine’ obliged with photogenic new foliage breaking out in a flash of early morning sunshine.  This is such a good shrub.  Not too massive, though it is now about 1.5m x 1.5m, and such a good performer.  From this glorious happy coloured foliage, the leaves darken to a plum red, small pink flowers appear later in spring, and then in the autumn the first colder nights really flame the foliage.  I love it.  I can only grow it in a damper part of the garden as it really doesn’t do dry, but I wouldn’t be without it.

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Early light, Tostat, March 2019

I yank out Euphorbia chariacas subsp. wulfennii by the handful all year round in the garden as they are such prolific seeders, but in the spring, with the citrus lemon flowers shining, they are magnificent- so the next cull can wait till they have finished flowering.  They catch the light brilliantly- see top left in the photograph.

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Kerria japonica ‘Albiflora’, Tostat, March 2019

This Kerria japonica ‘Albiflora‘ was one of my bargain basement buys last year, and looked pretty weedy till last month.  Unlike it’s bright yellow cousin, which I also have, I have been smitten by the charm of this woodlander.  It likes semi-shade, moistish conditions, which, for me, means only one place, but it seems to have settled in well.  The soft cream-coloured flowers are charming and are matched with sharp, emerald green foliage.  If it is as tough as the yellow one, it will do just fine.

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Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, frosted, Tostat, March 2019

Here was another turn-around moment this morning, catching Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ with a stunning, frosted outline.  Normally, I would have cleared the area around this little Ranunculus so that we can see it better, but this year, projects and tendons mean that it is still a bit covered with winter rubbish.  But the frosting makes the leaves sing.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, March 2019

The frost doesn’t spoil the game for this rose, Rosa banksiae lutea, which is about to flower any minute.  Unfortunately, here in Tostat village, an over-helpful gardener has pruned our lovely Banksiae in the lavoir, including removing most of the buds.  You have to prune after flowering, and allow the rose to build up old wood for next year.  Darn it.  Actually, to be honest, I don’t even really prune it, I just lop off any over-excited arching branches that get in my hair, literally.  It doesn’t need more than that.

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Gunnera manicata, Tostat, March 2019

This plant, Gunnera manicata, always makes me think of zombie hands coming through the earth in any number of trashy horror films.  It really claws its way out of the winter debris around it- no need for a helping hand from me.  Growth rate is fast, pretty soon it will be towering above me, and drinking like a fish from the canal it is planted near.  It wouldn’t stand a chance otherwise.

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A little bit of daffodil ballet, Tostat, March 2019

I am sorry that I can’t remember the variety, but no matter, I thought of a daffodil pas-de-deux, it made me smile.  This one below is definitely Narcissus ‘Thalia’, which I really love for the drama of the dark greeny blue leaves and the pure white flower.  It is almost the last to flower with us.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Tostat, March 2019

This is the first flowerhead on my clumps of Eryngium eburneum, which is such a good plant for me.  Forming big clumps of draping scissored leaves, and sending up flowerspikes to well over my height at 5 feet, it handles everything except winter wet, always looking a bit desperate by the end of winter.  But, within a few weeks, it picks itself up and gets going again.  A great sign for the year to come.

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Eryngium eburneum flowerhead, Tostat, March 2019

 

Twiddling thumbs…

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Tulipa clusiana Lady Jane, Tostat, March 2018

How does this little tulip do it? We are talking stems the width of shoelaces, and the flowers seem so delicate, looking rather ghostly in the greyness and wet of today.  In fact, their light meter is definitely stuck at ‘sunny’.  I am astonished by the casually butch approach it is taking to our latest bout of winter.  We are back to freezing temperatures, wind and rain, even thunder, and once again, any sensible plant has just stopped in its tracks.

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Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, clumping up, Tostat, March 2018

Indoors, I have been laughing out loud at Anna Pavord’s 2010 book, ‘The Curious Gardener’.  Her deft wit and sense of humour pervades this selection of articles she wrote when gardening correspondent for ‘The Independent’.  I really did laugh at her account of Pavord family Christmases- and I love her self-effacing acceptance of gardening bloomers and disasters.  Unlike some, whose books can simply load you up with guilt-inducing instruction, she lightens all loads with her humour and likes and dislikes.

When the weather has given up annoying me for short periods, I have been out planting.  I have to, as my experimental growing perennials from seed phase has produced about a hundred small pots.  All of these have either been sitting on gravel through all the weather we have had, or some lucky ones got planted out in a spare patch to be dug up in the Spring.

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Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’, Tostat, June 2015. This clump produced about 10 plants when split.

Included in that number were some purchases last Autumn that I split and re-potted, so all in all, there is no excuse for not planting up generously.  I have been really struck by how bombproof these small plants have been.  I reckon that the death rate has been only 1-2%- which is brilliant.  The baby Echinacea pupureas were almost washed away in the rains of January and February, but all are putting on good growth although I need to top them up with a bit more compost.

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, was a great success from seed photo credit and seed supplier: http://www.seedaholic.com

So, I am having a dense planting push.  I am ignoring conventional planting distances and going for less than half the normal recommendations.  I have one area that is entirely perennials with some added structural plants- and this area, now approaching its third birthday, is looking very promising, with lots of self-seeding. All I am doing is taking out dandelions and other major pests- otherwise, I am leaving it alone.

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Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’. This split really well and easily, producing about 4-5 plants from each mother plant. photo credit: http://www.finegardening.com

In other parts of the garden, I am using this chance to really beef up the planting.  Mulching is a tricky proposition for me.  It risks flattening self-seeding, which is what I am after, and so I am trying out a slightly different approach.  Having read a short article about Thomas Rainer, an American landscape architect who is a big mover in the sustainable planting world, I then bought his book, written with Claudia West, ‘Planting in a post-Wild World’.  This is a scholarly tome, which carefully explains the building of resilient plant communities, but at the heart of it are the following principles:

  1.  Amending the soil- don’t
  2. Double digging- don’t
  3. Soil testing- do
  4. Mulching- don’t
  5. Planting cover crops- do
  6. Buying a lot of plants- do
  7. Curbside planting- do
  8. Experimenting and having fun- do

By all means read the book- it is very inspiring, but to get the gist, the Gardenista website article kickstarts all you need to know.  I am not a regular Gardenista reader, too much designery clap-trap for me, but just sometimes, it is spot-on.

So, with my small and brilliantly tough plants, I am setting out to offer them co-habitation in the hope that they will make me some resilient plant communities.  And where it is tricky to that fully, I am doing something different again.

My driest, hottest parts are actually pretty much jam-packed with plants- but even so, in  our wet Springs, I get masses of passing-through weed activity.  By that I mean, naturally occurring early season weeds, which actually mostly get burnt off or dried out by the height of summer.  So, this year, I am not going to charge about pulling them out, I am going to leave them be.  This is on the grounds that they have a role in protecting the durable plants through the winter and spring, and then, by and large, they die off.  So, as long as the balance between them, and the permanent plants stays in place- they are actually preventing the dessication and erosion of the soil by being there.

Thinking over- I am dying to get out there again!

 

 

 

 

Winners and losers…

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Cornus kousa, Tostat, June 2016

This year is proving to be very confused.  This week, we have gone from 15 degrees to nearly 30 in three days, and the wind has been a bad friend as I moaned about in my last blog.  But, some plants in the garden have really enjoyed the oddities of the season, and really did their best.

I planted this Cornus kousa more than eight years ago, when I was a very serious novice in our garden.  It is definitely a bit too dry for it where it is, but as it is now more than 2.5 m high, it is probably staying.  This May, though, with our cool, wet weather, really pleased it, and I have never seen the flowers so bright and long-lasting.  They are bracts rather than flowers, but present themselves in this charming way, like a waiter bringing several plates at once.  We never quite get to the fruits as, by then, it really is too hot for it and autumn colouring passes over very swiftly, but, it is a pretty vase-shaped tree, and if our springs are going to be more volatile, it may be that my planting error will not such a miss, more of a hit.

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Cenolophium denudatum, Tostat, June 2016

I grew several plants of Cenolophium denudatum from seed about 4 years ago.  It is a beautiful umbel, offering up wide, lacey plates of flowers and pretty, dissected foliage in mid-summer. Entirely undemanding, other than moderate levels of moisture, and full sun, it makes a lovely clump about 1.2m high by 1m across in a couple of years.

I grow it over my Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ as it starts to appear just as ‘Brazen Hussy’ fades and so they are good companions.  But, my best clump was very pathetic this year, and on closer inspection this week, I think it is one of those plants that needs splitting and refreshing every 3-4 years.  It had clearly died out in the centre and was doing its best to splinter off at the sides with new, youthful growth.  Of course, I had slightly missed the boat for this year, so I dug it up anyway, split  and re-potted it, and have put the new ones in the observation ward for the next few weeks.  In fact, I’ll probably wait till next Spring and stick it back then which will give it the best chance to regroup.

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Neglected Cenolophium denudatum getting intensive care, Tostat, June 2016

The jury is out a bit on my annuals this year.  This sounds as if I am an experienced annual grower, the truth would really be the reverse.  But, with some new areas opened up in the garden, I decided that I should brave my fear of annuals and give it a go.  I loved the seedling look of Nasturtium ‘Milkmaid’.  One or two pretty cream flowers appeared, but, on the whole, the plants were not happy with our weather conditions and looked so scrofulous that I ripped them out last week.   But so far, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ is hanging on, maybe not in the best form, but not yet scrofulous, so in it stays.  The early flowering colour is a bit more yellow than I had hoped, but goes creamy as the flower matures, which I prefer.

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Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’, Tostat, June 2016

This Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ has loved our wet, windy and cool weather.  I am amazed. It has always been a bit on the mewly side, not quite doing ok, not quite fizzling, but to look at it now, you would never know.  And it has really shot up, and it is easily holding its own with the Phlomis russeliana behind it.  The brother plant has not liked his second re-location, and so he is back in a pot in intensive care for a second year, having come very close to fizzling.  I think I am just going to plant them together next year and be done with it.

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Eupatorium capillifoilium ‘Elegant Plume’, Tostat, June 2016

I am so pleased with this!  I struggle with pinks sometimes, they can be too Barbie-doll, and so-called salmony shades often look too like, let’s be plain, the after-effects of a bad night out.

But this Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’ is really delightful.  I grew it from seed last year sent to me by the Hardy Plant Society and it survived murder at the hands of our non-watering housesitter last autumn.   This year, it has come back as single 0.30 m high spikes of bright green foliage topped with this unusual combination of pinks in the flowering head.  Photographs show the flowering heads shaped as domed balls, but mine are definitely flat!

Not sure about drought tolerance, I am growing it in a dappled shade part of a new area, under a cherry tree, and so far, it is handling everything well.  I probably should have nipped off the top growth to make it more bushy, but well, never mind, bushiness will come in the future if it continues to make it.  Some people unkindly call this plant ‘Salmonella’!  I don’t agree.

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Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’, Tostat, June 2016

And, to close, one of only two Lilium regale out of ten that do not resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame…so it has been worth it!

This weekend, we are in Paris to catch the ‘Jardins d’Orient’ exhibition at the Institute du Monde Arabe.  Andy did some of the translation work for it, but I am keen to see the exhibition which will be a rare opportunity to learn about the history of Islamic gardens, and also to see the contemporary Islamic garden that has been designed specially for the exhibition by Michel Pena.  More of this to follow.

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Lilium regale, Tostat, June 2016

Pointless pottering…why it matters

I have often said, when asked ‘What were you up to today?’, this:  ‘Oh you know, pointless pottering in the garden.’  I really have to stop saying that.  There is no such thing.  Firstly, it’s when you wander round that you really notice things, and very often, it is only by breaking the routines of how and where you potter, that you actually see the bigger picture.  I think this is particularly true of me, because I am more than bit of a self-confessed plantaholic.  This means that I am often only looking at the performance and behaviour of one particular plant at a time.  Interestingly, this is how I photograph the garden too. Plant by plant.  There is a side aspect to this, that I have a camera that is not that great at bigger, wider shots, but in truth, I could do this differently than I do.  Habit, you see.

So, today, I am widening the lens just a little, living dangerously and showing you more than one plant at a time.  Combinations came to mind today, those serendipitous moments when you have introduced a new element, or in my language, stuffed another plant in, and the picture is really changed and developed.

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Acanthus mollis behind, Leycesteria Formosa ‘Golden lanterns’ just opening up on the left, and a handful of doughty, unknown cream tulips- and one fly looking for stardom, Tostat, April 2106

I could swear these tulips have moved.  I know they are very robust because I planted a cheap packet of them easily eight years ago, and they may be down to this small clump and one other, but they always turn up.  And now that the Acanthus has really taken hold, the other morning on a light, grey day was just the perfect time to catch them in a photograph with no glare.  But the tulips were definitely further left to start with.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’ in front of unknown blue Iris, 4 unknown cream peony double tulips, frothy Cenolophium denudatum, tiny glimpse of Ranunculus ficaria’Brazen Hussy’ and the box hedge replacement, Eleagnus x ebbingei dusty brown new foliage, Tostat, April 2016

In a similar cream/green combination, the addition of Narcissus ‘Thalia’ has changed this mini-scene for me.  It extends the cream and green away from the unknown, another doughty tulip returner, and as the Cenolophium is now in is third year, it too is making more of an early impact.  The frothy new foliage is a great contrast with the almost cardboard-coloured new foliage of the replacement hedge.  That was a torture, ripping out the mouldering remains of the box last August, but I think the Eleagnus will give us different vistas through the year and I am quite excited to see how well it does.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Tostat, April 2016

This Narcissus is so delicate and pretty.  Mind you, I was lying down to take this photograph as it is quite small in stature.  Note to self: buy some more and find a way of raising them up for next year.

And, whilst pottering, I looked down into the centre of the new Helleborus foetidus foliage.  And, I know that I am trying to broaden my looking, but, it is exquisite close-up and like a mysterious world unto itself.

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New foliage on Helleborus foetidus, Tostat, April 2016

So, here is what I am looking forward to in about 5 weeks, a great drift of Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ punctured later by the tall columns of Liatris scariosa ‘Alba’ which brings some definition when the Anthemis takes a breather.  And that’s a bit more of a vista.  So, now that I have noticed my monoist (is there such a word?!) tendencies, I will try and broaden the angle a bit. If nothing else, I can then remind myself that the whole is more than a sum of its parts.

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Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ in drift, Tostat, June 2015

In a state of adoration…

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Leucanthemum ‘Banana Cream’ after a shower, Tostat, June 2015

I am in a state of adoration about Yellow.  I adore all of it, from Bird’s Custard yellow which hovers on egg yolk orange, right though to the most delicate cream, which hovers on white.  I used to be like this about red, and whilst it remains a favourite, I have succumbed utterly to Yellow.  I dream about it especially at this time of year, when there isn’t much about yet…daffodils and Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’ are yet to open.  Last year was my first with Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’ and I liked it so much that, rather late in the spring season, I bought 3 more very tiny plants.  I had given them up for dead until last week, when first two of them popped through, and then, this week, so did the third one.  They are tougher than I thought.

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Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’, Tostat, March 2015

There is something about yellow that spells warmth, coothiness, comfort, fun and excitement.  Last year, I brought together some clumps of Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ that I had scattered in various locations- and made a big drift of them, paired up with slightly later flowering upright white Liatris scariosa.  They really did look good.  It was fresh, invigorating and really cheered you up.

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Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’, Tostat, June 2015

At the egg yolk end of yellow, is Coreopsis ‘Grandiflora’, which really is quite big, nearly a metre tall and a spreader, I reckon.  It is a tad floppy, so needs staking to really keep those great big double flowers upright, but it flowers freely all summer whatever the weather, and though the more orangey tint to the yellow maybe makes it a bit of a harder sell with other colours, it’s worth it for it’s energy and flowerpower.

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Coreopsis ‘Grandiflora’, Tostat, July 2015

A very much more obliging and discreet yellow is another great plant, which I grew from seed but really only appreciated last year in it’s second year.  It is an evergreen, tough as old boots perennial, Bupleurum fruticosum, and it is such a good plant for dry, poor soil spots with sun.  It will take any amount of dryness and any amount of sun.  With it’s slightly reddened stout stems, olive-green waxy leaves and very upright stance, it holds it’s own in the border, and provides really good structure and oomph at about a metre and a bit high. It needs no attention at all, and then, late in the summer, these delicate umbels in a calmer shade of yellow appear, which are a magnet for insects of all kinds.  It isn’t flashy and it only does what it does, but it will take any punishment.  Even wetter spots won’t put it off, as long as there is some dryness in the growing season.  I am really looking forward to it’s obliging progress this year.

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Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, August 2015

At the lemon end of yellow, is a plant that I bought about six years ago as a tiny at which point it was one of the Halimium clan.  Renamed pretty much everywhere now as Cistus atriplicifolius, it is a sun and dry lover, enjoying the largely stoney conditions in the New Garden, and though it doesn’t bloom for long, and may not repeat flower, it is delightful in full throttle.  Trouble-free, perfect for difficult hotspots, it requires nothing and just performs.

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Cistus atriplicifolius, Tostat, June 2015

And it just goes to show, you can never have too much yellow.  I love the height, well over 1.5m, and the delicate, quilled flowers of Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’.  It is not a spreader, but just beautifully wafts above the reat of the border in summer breezes.  It looks just great with an unknown perennial sunflower that escaped one of my purges earlier in the year.  The warmth of these colours is toasting me, on a grey, cold and wet day in Tostat!

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Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ coping with an unknown perennial sunflower, Tostat, August 2015

Ranunculus, ranunculi…

Last summer, I had a real treat, courtesy of ‘Abebooks’.  Abebooks is a brilliant site for secondhand books, and is my first port of call when I want to buy anything that isn’t hot off the press.  I bought 2 Dan Pearson books and really enjoyed them both. In ‘Home Ground: Sanctuary in the City’ there was a short piece on Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’. I love the ordinary celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, and there is a spot in the garden, normally hard-baked in the summer, which is positively wet in the spring. We get a lot of rain late winter and in the spring, and there is a dip in the ground where water collects and also, probably because of a kink in the old roof, rain comes down from the roof in a spout. So it is really damp, and the native celandines pop up in a matter of weeks ít seems.

Dan Pearson caught my attention with ‘Brazen Hussy’. A great name for a sport spotted by Christopher Lloyd in his garden at Great Dixter, and being a man for bold names, ‘Brazen Hussy’ was what he chose.

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Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ Feb 2015
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Ranunculus ficaria Feb 2015

So there they both are.  ‘Brazen Hussy’ is a dark bronze-leaved variety with glowing yellow petals and quite big flowers- the yellow is almost blinding and for a small plant, it really packs a punch.  I could only find this at a couple of French online nurseries at a serious price, so I bought just three small plants last autumn, and dug them in near to the house, so I wouldn’t have to go hunting for them. For a lot of the winter, they looked very soggy and unprepossessing, and then, despite our biblical rain, they responded immediately to the lengthening light in February and I could see buds forming. So the picture above is of the very first flower and you can see the number of buds still in the wings.  I know from Dan that they die down after flowering, but continue powering away at the root level, so I am planning to move a good plant of Cenolophium denudatum that I grew from seed to grow up and over them.  It will be slow to start up in the late spring, and so they will suit one another very well hopefully. I have to admit that I found a good price for ‘Brazen Hussy’ at a Belgian nursery online, so there are three more small plants on their way to help make more of a clump of them together.  I really love them.  It’s a small price for abundant cheerfulness despite the weather.

PS I forgot to mention ‘Louis the Geek’.  He writes a great blog and I am signing up for it. His piece on ‘Brazen Hussy’ is here.