So, today there is no chilly wind and I thought I would do a Spring round-up with mainly photographs. This lovely Anemone x fulgens ‘Multipetala’ has been blooming for more than 6 weeks and these are the best flowers so far.
The quince blossom is much more fragile than the cherry or the apple- it waits tentatively in a closed state until the sun warms it up- and is so easily destroyed by wind and rain. So far, so good.
I have two Westringia rosmariniformis in the garden. Both have been a little stretched by the cold weather in the last week or so, and have browned a bit at the tips, but whilst not yet big flowerers, they have started.
These white Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ are new to the Stumpery this Spring, and I rather like the semi-ghostly presence that they bring, even in the sunlight.
Further down in the Stumpery, these Muscari ‘Mount Hood’ are in their third year, and mot minding, it would seem, the semi-shade. I love the little white hats.
Wisteria can be a plague on all your houses here, as it thugs its way to global domination. But, right now, on the wonky pergola, it looks and smells gorgeous.
Funny how you can discover a new view even after nearly 16 years…pots awaiting planting on the bench when tendons recover…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sizeable amounts of fine and persistent rain have fallen finally. And now the River Adour looks like a river, not just a large puddle. Not normally a gratifying experience, rain, but I have been quite enthralled by it, as has the garden. Although it is becoming very chilly at nights, plants are still growing, and many have made a remarkable come-back from the arid conditions of the summer and autumn. I have been wandering about, as well as doing more practical jobs, mainly noticing how much has in fact recovered. One or two plants have gone beyond recovery and have actually mistaken all of this for Spring. Both the Rosa banksiae, the yellow and the cream coloured one, have sporadically flowered.
The cooling temperatures, and a couple of frosts, more predicted for tonight, have brought out the colours in some plants- something which I had thought we might miss out on owing to the dryness. Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ is rightly one of those Autumn starlets, and the cold and wet, have given the leaves an almost glossy finish.
The unknown orange Abutilon which I love very much for the endless supply of soft orange chinese lantern-type flowers, is still going, but the Berberis, with the very long name, has abandoned itself to scarlet, scarlet drop-shaped berries and the leaves.
Having looked very sorry for itself most of the last few months, my small and experimental Stumpery is enjoying the cool and the wet. The Persicaria is turning buttery, but the two ferns at the front, Dryopteris atrata, are growing back, and the blue-green fronds of the new Mahonia, well, new this year to me, Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ have handled the year well and are looking fresh. This is a slow spot for growth, shady but often dry, and tough, tough stony, poor soil, but like everywhere else, I am just trying to see what will work, and grow, even in less than ideal conditions.
Today, one of the Salvia confertiflora flowers finally began to open, with small, cream-lipped orange-red flowers pushing through the red velvet bracts. Now there’s something you don’t often see- even if it is inside in our cold, but not freezing hall.
Never mind the politics on either side of the Channel, at the moment, we have hurtled from mid-Spring to high summer with barely a heartbeat between. The last 3 weeks have been so warm and sunny that everything in the garden is straining at the leash, but, at the same time, short and depleted as we have had no rain to combat the sudden warmth. I have never had to seriously water tulips in pots before. So bizarre and a bit worrying, all out of joint somehow. But, on the positive side, it is rather wonderful to see almost all the roses in the garden out together, rather than the Banksiae rose being a solo turn for at least a month.
The downside is that the normally tall and wafty Thalictrum aquilegifolium (usually 1.5-2m high) is under a metre high, still, from a photography point of view, it is amazing to be so close to the powderpuff flowers, and on a sunny day against the dark stream bank, it looks almost spectral.
It isn’t possible to do any weeding at all as the soil has baked dry, and so the weed friends are having a great, if slightly dwarf, experience, and there are parts of the garden that I haven’t made it round to yet. The penalties of being away, having lovely friends to stay and the weather- never mind. I am currently enjoying, though she can be quite tart (!), ‘The Deckchair Gardener’ by Anne Wareham, which reassures my dutiful-daughter persona that nothing will be lost by weeding later or not at all!
Sticking with the roses briefly, here they are, looking the best that they have for years. For them, I suspect, the drought is not too problematic as they are really well-established, but the warmth has been accompanied by cool, refreshing nights and so this may be really suiting them down to ground.
I adore this blousy old rose, which I think is ‘Crepuscule’. It has gorgeous, warm, coppery colouring which fades to a creamy yellow and apricot- and a sweet, deep scent. It doesn’t produce many flowers but they are all worth the wait.
‘Jacqueline du Pré’ is a rose that I once attempted to smuggle back from the UK in hand luggage, but gave it up as a bad idea. It now lives happily in Shropshire with my friend, Jane. But last year, it appeared in France and so that was the green light. It is only an infant but even now, has four beautiful flowers, which are probably going to be smashed by the heavy rain that we are finally promised this afternoon. So I dashed out to take it’s portrait whilst intact.
‘Pierre Ronsard’ opens to a dark pink, tightly furled centre, with pale outer petals and then settles into domesticity as above, looking, well, pink. But it is a lovely shape and I adore the tightness of the furled petals. Useless for insects unless they had mining equipment, but lovely all the same.
MAC is curently flowering amongst the euphorbias, and other remnants of Spring, in a dry and sandy location- but it is looking fabulous, hurling itself over a wall and shooting up in the air. What an extraordinary athlete this rose is. I can’t recommend it enough as totally trouble-free rose- and it flowers off and on all summer in spates.
Looking for a thornless, trouble-free climbing rose that needs a little support, but after that, will dig in forever- ‘Zephérine Drouhin’ is the one for you. Lipstick pink is matched with bright green foliage and she now measures about 4m x 3m with me, and is still going up, draping herself very nicely over the end of the house and the covered barn. She is a showstopper when in full flow, which is expected to be next week once the rain passes over.
And at the other end of the scale, Begonia grandis evansiana is making a start in a massive pot. By the middle of June, the pot will be filled by it, reaching 1.5m high and wide, and it is such a good doer that I forgive it for being a begonia. Waiting now for the rain…
Part of my gardening stubborness is a refusal to put the time in on horticultural tasks. I admit it. I am a late convert to proper pruning, and even then, am inclined, too often, to mutter things like ‘It’s better off left looking natural’. This is only true in some cases. So, really getting the best out of roses that hurdle over walls has not been a strength.
BUT…last year, I saw a piece on ‘Gardener’s World’ about the Sissinghurst method and I was intrigued. I have ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ growing in a hot, tough spot, which she seems to really like now she’s a big girl. I have never, though, managed to get her to leap over the wall and droop fetchingly on what would otherwise be rather a dull spot. So, I decided to give it a go.
Armed with loppers and armoured body protection, I jest not, Andy and I did the kind of prune, radical in nature, which I would never have dared to do if I hadn’t literally talked myself into it. The whole massive floppy thing, which had rocketed away last year because of all the rain, was reduced to two main branches, and we pulled the bendy growth over the wall, and tied it down with twine and tent pegs. It looked awful.
Two months later. Here, you can see the twine anchoring the growth which for these bits, we tied to a metal prop which we laid on the ground on the other side of the wall. And flowering is starting, and there is masses to come. It looks as fresh as a daisy, and raring to go. And it has hurdled the wall. I am delighted.
And on the side of the wall she was reluctant to hurdle, you can see, though the light wasn’t on my side this morning, lots of new growth shoving its way upwards, which we will need to capture and force over in a few weeks with a tethering operation…and on…and on…but the main thing is, she’s fine and we have our wall hurdled. Yeah.
Of course, you can also choose roses that don’t need to be persuaded to hurdle. Life can be easier! My two favourites at this time of year are ambitious hurdlers, Olympic standard, the Ennis-Hills of roses. Rosa banksiae lutea, and her best friend, Rosa banksiae alba plena, are top- notch and have already featured in my tough plants selection, so they are NO trouble. The only thing to do is keep them going until they are big enough for champion hurdling, then just help them over the wall a little with a bit of tethering, and after that, they’ll carry on in the same vein themselves.
And she is lovely close-up too…
and her best pal, Rosa banksiae alba plena on another wall…
The Sissinghurst link above gives a good guide as to how to encourage hurdling, so happy hurdling!
About 2 years before we came to France, Andy’s Mum gave me an enchanting book, which really inspired me to want to find ways in which gardening and design can support the development of public spaces for enjoyment. This slim little book, ‘Diary of a French Herb Garden’ by the well known cookery writer, Geraldene Holt, told the story of her restoration of an ancient potager once used by the local priest of the little village of Saint Montan in the Ariege. The small plot was about to be taken as parking space when she asked the local Conseil if they would allow her to restore it into a public aromatic garden, staying true to the memory of priests supporting the community as the apothecary. They did, she did, and the garden remains to this day as a public space.
And as time turns around and comes around, I have been asked to think about how a village public space can be transformed into an engaging and easy to care for public space, offering time to stop and think. This tiny little plot, by an ancient ruisseau or agricultural canal, lies just beneath a very small bridge over the ruisseau, and is bounded by walls and hedges. But, when you step down into the plot, only 9m x 8m at its widest, it does feel as if you have stepped down into the past. The small road vanishes from view, and the rushing water, and the presence of an old upended washing stone, reminds you of how hard a woman’s life was before domestic machinery.
The telegraph pole is a bit in your face to start with, but, being wood, it begins to merge into the background. The shopping bag is mine, with my measuring tapes and whatnot in it.
You can also see that an old kneeling stone survives so that the women would have been able to stay clean-ish themselves when bending down to do the washing.
So, how to make this into an enchanting space? I thought I should begin with attracting attention from the road with flowering planting that will last all year, and then also keeping the palate simple with good perennial cover that will take care of itself, and colours staying within the cream-yellow-blue range, with a flash or two of pink. I have drawn a quick isonometric sketch just to give an idea…
Coming from the little road, you step onto big and small paving stones towards 2 angled slate benches underneath a pergola, shaped a bit like an open book. It will need to be a strong pergola that will support the full weight of the earliest rose, Rosa banksiae lutea, which will shower down onto the pergola in April-May. This rose will be followed by the white passionflower, Passiflora caerulea ‘Constance Elliott, which will flower till the frosts. Should be a showstopper.
Rosa banksiae is tough as old boots and thornless, all good things in a public space. Another rose, Rosa Jacqueline du Pre, will be nearby flowering white and cream later from summer into autumn, bright blue Louisiana irises will cluster at the water’s edge from June till August, and Saponaria officinalis Rosea Plena, the double form of the soapwort which was often planted near lavoirs in ancient times, will provide a good splash of pink. Earlier in the year, Helleborus orientalis will robustly flower, leaving great foliage all year and a Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata‘, which we will have to wait a bit for, will scent the scene from January till March. Acanthus molliswill also fill in gaps with good greenery all year and pinkish flowers in early summer.
Let’s hope that people like the sound of it, and we all start saving plants to make it happen. With one or two purchases along the way.