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

Mists and heat…

This week has been the week of the ‘June canicule’- in other words, serious heat. We have been lucky, half of the hot days have started with misty, damp mornings and we have not gone over 40C. Today, Sunday, it will cool back to the late 20s, which will be perfect. The misty mornings have been a relief and are rather magical, giving the garden a bit of respite from the overpowering sun.

The front garden early in the morning, Tostat, June 2019

I love this dahlia- I only have two, but this is one of them, Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’. The name is amazing, and so is the flower with furled dark blue/grey petals surrounding a brilliant golden centre. The first year, probably the bulbs were too tiny, produced nothing, but this year, the 3rd, the plant is getting into a swing with generous foliage and lots of buds. I didn’t take it in in the winter, I just left it in the pot and took my chances. Lucky me.

Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’, Tostat, June 2019

Mist and dew on bronze fennel, Tostat, June 2019

The dew has been heavy and luxurious, almost like a small shower of rain. The bronze fennel catches the dew beautifully and shines with each droplet.

Cobweb on Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’, Tostat, June 2019

The dew and damp has brought out the summer spiders, creating their connections between plants, and draping some, like the Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’ above. This is a plant that pleases more by it’s vigour and form than by the often short-lived flowerheads, but the darkly outlined cut leaves are present for a long time and work like fake thistles in the garden.

Romneya coulteri, Tostat, June 2019

Romneya coulteri is a plant with a tremendous capacity for life- as long as you plant it where it wants to be- in full sun, poor soil and don’t even think about watering it. But if you move it, it will turn up it’s toes and die- best to buy a small plant, a baby, and then let it grow in situ. It will take a year or two to flower, but then you will have beautiful glaucous greeny-blue foliage and these colossal chiffon flowers like the best Spanish fried egg, crinkly and delicious. It is a bit of a thug, hence why people do try and move them, me included. What will happen if you are lucky is that a piece will stubbornly refuse to be dug up, and next year you can start again with a new baby plant sitting where it wants to be. Give it space, or pin it back with another tough shrub, and all will be well.

Salvia ‘Ton Ter Linden’, Tostat, June 2019

This is a really fabulous Salvia, ‘Ton Ter Linden’. It is a deep purply-red, not quite captured above, and has a drapey habit, so that it could almost be called a tumbling salvia. I picked it out at our local nursery, the wonderful Bernard Lacrouts, mainly for the habit and the deep, dark colour. It is a newish variety, bred in the Netherlands, and named for the famous artist and gardener, Ton Ter Linden. He led the way, along with Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf, towards a more naturalistic style of perennial planting that is loosely called the Dutch New Wave. Another garden on the list….

Sanguisorba ‘Cangshan Cranberry’, Tostat, June 2019

In the same colour band is my almost favourite Sanguisorba, ‘Cangshan Cranberry’– and the moment when the flowerheads fill up with colour is one of my most anticipated summer moments. I don’t have it in the best place, as the massive banana behind it decks it with water when we have heavy rain, but it is the only place where it will be happy- so there we are. At nearly 1.5m it is a tall plant, but wispy and wavy, and takes a few years to bulk up- but all worth the wait. Dan Hinkley found this plant in Yunnan, China in 1996. I am so glad that he did.

Telekia speciosa, Tostat, June 2019

I love this workhorse plant. Every summer, I feel bound to try and increase the fan club membership for Telekia speciosa, as it is such a good reliable plant, and virtually unknown next to the more famous contender in the big-yellow-daisy stakes, Inula magnifica.

Salvia cacaliifolia, Tostat, June 2019

Another new Salvia! Salvia cacaliifolia has charming, triangular-shaped leaves and the bluest of blue branching flower spikes- curiously, it has no Salvia smell about it either. New to me, so I can’t offer much in the way of experience, but I am really enjoying it. It likes a little shade, but other than that, is not demanding.

Cephalaria gigantea, which has been a lovely surprise this June, has found the last week too hard for it, so it is fading fast. Celebrate it with a last photograph after early morning spider activity.

Cephalaria gigantea in the heat and the mist, Tostat, June 2019

Another reason to be happy is another surprise development. A stunningly successful germination rate 3 years ago of Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’ led to rather boastful behaviour on my part- and thence to the punishment of my hubris by the total failure of all the plants to re-appear in the Spring. Aha! Four small plants must have been hanging on in there, as this week up they popped. I am so pleased. My friend EBee will also be delighted. I adore the chocolate flower head and the golden ruff- magnificent, though not necessarily in a floral way.

Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’, Tostat, June 2019
2 days later, with golden ruff, ‘Green Wizard’, Tostat, June 2019

Summer vengeance, rain, and surprises…

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Lilium Flore Pleno, Tostat, July 2018

Whilst we were away in England for a family wedding, summer arrived with no notice and a sense of vengeance- it was out to get us for our wet, cold spring and early summer (which wasn’t).  At least the vengeance could be felt when we got back- toasted and burnt roses, in fact, toasted and burnt was about the top and bottom of it.  We arrived back in a spectacular storm, with heavy hail hammering on the roof of our plane as it came into land.  So we were met by a garden that was toasted and burnt, also utterly decked by the rain, hail and wind.   Oh joy.

But recovery set in.  Some plants have really suffered, so this may mean that they don’t get a second life if they can’t handle the increasingly temperamental weather we seem to experience.  Roses have been a total dud this year, and one new planting has had to be rescued and potted up in the recovery ward.  The earlier lilies, Lilium regale, really hated what was on offer and turned to a mushy brown fairly swiftly.

These extravagantly coloured and shaped Lilium Flore Pleno, have arrived later than usual this year and seem to be coping just fine.  The leopard-spottiness of them is quite adorable to me, though I can see why they might not appeal across the board.  The small seeds, sitting like brown buttons, in the leaf nodes are a real bonus.  Many will germinate in the pots alongside the parent plants, and I just leave them there for a couple of years to bulk up and then plant them on.

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Romneya coulteri, Tostat, end of June 2018

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Romneya coulteri, sky-ward, Tostat, July 2018

In June, it was possible to take a photograph of Romneya coulteri straight in the eye- that astonishing fried-egg look of pure white and sunny yellow looking almost blue in the early morning light.  But three weeks later, and the whole plant has galloped away, far away from me even on a ladder.  This plant is, of course, a thug, but such a lovely one.  I am hoping that a big bush of Lonicera fragrantissima will manage it on my behalf.

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Salvia buchananii, Tostat, July 2018

This small Salvia buchananii is a delight.  Planted in the wrong place by me, and stupendously ignored for a year or two as well, it hung on.  I now realise that it is not a Salvia as per our normal understanding of Salvias.  It likes damp shade really, though it might cope in a Scottish summer just fine.  I now have it in a medium pot, and so it gets lots of water and attention- but it is really worth it, velvety sharp pink flowers, with delicate hairs making the plant look very lustrous.  Lustrous is a good word too for the deep green, shiny leaves.  A really good plant.

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Phlomis Samia and Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardener’s World’, Tostat, July 2018

Here is a very happy situation.  I love ‘Phlomis Samia’ with its big, heart-shaped leaves and tall, dusky pink flowerspikes- and there, something brilliant has happened, probably thanks to the rain.  I bought 3 small plants of Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardener’s World’ about 4 years ago.  They didn’t make it through our summer, and I really regretted that as I liked the idea of the double carmine flowers, without the species’ painfully massive self-seeding that gets out of control with me.  But here it is.  Maybe it was growing slowly all the time, hidden by the Phlomis and the rain has brought it out this year.  What a miracle.

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Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, Tostat, June 2018

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Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, Tostat, July 2018

What a difference a month makes.  This expensive, but really worth it, bulb, ‘Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy’ is one of my favourite summer events.  First, from about mid April, the big purple-red leaves make a dramatic appearance, getting larger and taller, finally reaching at least 60-75 cms long.  Deep down in the bulb, the pineapple-shaped flowers start to form in June, and by July, the flowers are towering over the leaves, nearly, and the leaves have turned a gorgeous olive-green, leaving the stage to the purple-red flowerspikes.   These then take several weeks to slowly open, small flower by small flower, so all in all you are looking at 4 months at least of great pleasure watching this terrific performance.  They are easily over-wintered in a sheltered place, and kept fairly dry, to be brought out in the Spring with a good shower of water, and possibly, re-potting.  So easy, so fabulous.

Rain almost stops play…

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Papaver commutatum, ‘Ladybird’ poppy giving Romneya coulteri a shove-over, Tostat, June 2018

It really has.  I was away for 2 weeks in Southern Spain, enjoying cool, but perfect temperatures for travelling and walking a lot, and have come back to discover a garden that is the closest to a bog you can imagine.  Squelching across the grass, the dry plants in the South-facing border are looking a bit sick, and everything else looks as if it has been on drugs- and not necessarily in a good way.  What had been normal sized Ladybird poppies are now 2 metres tall and out-running the well-known thug, Romneya coulteri.  Weeds have appeared as if in a sci-fi movie, and I can’t quite believe it.  Another 3 ins of rain fell last night, so everything is leaning at 45 degrees, as if being sick in a boat in a storm.  People in the village, never mind plants, are looking very depressed.  Non-stop rain, massive electrical storms which almost shook the earth, and cool temperatures do not suit us here in June.

Roses have been beaten into submission, but not Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’, a thug at the best of times but likeable all the same.  The perfume from the massed swags of roses can be smelt, even by me, from 50m away from the house- and I have never noticed that before.  This rose poses a danger to traffic passing unless we don protection and give it a good hacking every year, but it does hide a horrible bit of wall so I am always pleased about that.

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Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’ battered but unbowed, Tostat, June 2018

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Close up, ‘Kiftsgate’ is almost a sweetie, Tostat, June 2018

Going back briefly to the Ladybird poppies- they are a tribute to the power of the seed.  The only explanation for their appearance is that Andy sowed seed which did not germinate about 4 years ago or maybe more.  In early spring, I cleared and disturbed that ground- and astonishingly, up they popped.  Nature waits sometimes.

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Dripping ‘Ladybird’ poppy, Tostat, June 2018

New to me, and soaked but holding on, are Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Ceanothus x pallidus ‘Marie Simon’.  I had a go at growing the Penstemon from seed and drew a blank, so I bought a couple of good sized plants last autumn and divided them- thus making 6 smaller plants.  I had chosen them for their drought tolerance, so I think the wet is not their thing, and consequently, they look a bit weedy- but the sun has got to come out soon, hasn’t it?  Ceanothus x pallidus ‘Marie Simon’ appealed to me because it isn’t blue, but a lovely pale pink with very good green foliage and reddish stems- a feature it shares with the Penstemon.

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Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Ceanothus x pallidus ‘Marie Simon’, Tostat, June 2018

In both Granada and here, Iris foetidissima is flowering.  Just the concurrence of that is a testament to the weirdness of the weather here in Southern Europe.  Of course, it is more sinister and this is about the growing effects of climate change.  Am I alone in worrying what we are leaving, it would appear, to our children to resolve when it is too late? Or can the human being generate world support for science and technology that can change things?  It worries me a lot.  Back in Southern Spain, I spent a week off-grid on an eco-farm that is single-handedly saving a small piece of the Alpujarras landscape.  It was both a very inspiring and sobering experience. Next post….

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Iris foetidissima, Carmen de los Martires, Granada, June 2018

 

Gardens in the Wild 2017

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Cotton grass blowing in the breeze, Euriophorum angustifolium, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, Gardens in the Wild, June 2017

A garden festival that has great intentions- bringing unusual individual gardens together in a loose network for visitors to combine over a weekend, coupled with a base that offered some stalls with garden plants and items, as well as a programme of speakers.  I really enjoyed listening to the soft, grande-dame tones of Mary Keen for an hour, a great plantswoman and garden-maker, musing and reminiscing with invited interjections from Anna Pavord who was in the audience.

But the central base creates it’s own problem- it’s a long way from any of the network of gardens back to the base, so probably many people only go there once.  Charging a fiver each time you  parked the car seemed a bit steep to me.  End result, seeing the visibly-less-than-gruntled faces of the stallholders for whom there were only slim pickings in terms of business.

And maybe some of the gardens need to showcase the smaller, more domestic gardens that surely do exist in Shropshire and Herefordshire, rather than just the gardens of those with obvious means?  A garden doesn’t have to be stately to be beautiful and interesting to the visitor.  So, I wonder if a bit more rigour in the selection of the network gardens in finding those that are not yet on the NGS radar, or doing some community endeavour and finding 2-3 in a village that could be viewed together, might not broaden the appeal of the festival, which did have a very high panama hat count. Not knocking, honest.

Meantime, at the Old Rectory, Thruxton, there was a garden made and being made over the last 7-8 years with great passion and dedication by the owners, both charming and very helpful people.  The garden around the house had some lovely planting, and a stupendous veg garden with a wall of mellowing fruit, with apricots already looking luscious in the hot June weather.  At the end of the garden, an accidental pond made when earth was removed, was a real highlight.  Big, shaped as if by nature, and planted with beautiful reeds and marginals, it was a delight to wander around and sit by. Amongst the planting there was a billowing cotton grass, Euriophorum angustifolium, and a pretty little marginal, Pontederia cordata, was just coming into flower, with fat spear-shaped bright green leaves.

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Pontederia cordata, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017

Two other lovely things that made me smile for different reasons were Morina longifolia and Romneya coulteri.  The former as I have grown it from seed in the garden here, and whilst short-lived with me, I adore the bizarre ice-cream coloured flower spikes and the thistle-like bright green leaves.  The Romneya has been dug out from our garden.  I love the fried-egg flowers but the thug price to pay is too high here where it revels in heat and sharp drainage- mine would have reached the moon shortly and was busy exterminating everything around it.  Maybe it would work in a cage?

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Morina longifolia, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017

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Romneya coulteri, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017

In the shadier part of the garden, my heart was won by a lovely small foxglove, Digitalis lanata, with strong lemon flowers in the usual spike, much yellower than the link shows, but there you go.

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Digitalis lanata, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017