A small miracle…

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Aristea ecklonii, Tostat, May 2017

This little spray of irridescent blue flowers only measures about 15cms from the ground and has only these four buds/flowers on it, but it delights me.  I grew from seed about 7 years ago, three varieties of Aristea- Aristea ecklonii, Aristea major and Aristea inaequalis. The first has stumbled on in a pot, coming under cover for the winter and to stay dryish, the second has grown immense with huge straps of leaves like a Phormium (more later about this one) and the last I nearly killed the winter before last and so have only one slightly mournful specimen at the moment.

So ecklonii has come good, as it did last year.  The flowers only appear in the sunlight and shut themselves when the sky clouds over- and the whole scale of it is ‘freesia-size’, and of course, the slightest puff of wind and it bobs about- hence the slight wobble.  But the colour is quite fabulous- a true, sky-blue and it really shines out.

So, the big sister, Aristea major has done exceptionally well in the leaf department- but nothing else, till now.  In fact, it had a hard winter. I had it fleeced up, but some wind shook the fleecing a little free, and our hard frost nights (-10C) ravaged the leaves.  So, last month, I re-potted it into a massive pot, as it is a big plant- cut off all the black, frosted foliage, which gave it a severe haircut, and hoped for the best.  Only a couple of new leaves have begun growing, but wowee, no fewer than five flowerspikes!  I am truly thrilled.  They came well-disguised, wrapped inside emerging leaves with only a small maternity bump that I didn’t notice for a while.  So, I am waiting, like an expectant parent outside the labour ward. So far, they look like grey wheathusks.

Other things romping away and causing great delight…

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Anchusa italica ‘Dropmore’, Tostat, May 2017

I grew this Anchusa italica ‘Dropmore’ from seed 2 years ago, and as ever, with most perennials, you are paying forward for the flowers, but here it is.  Tall, despite the drought, at nearly eye-level with me, and the same sort of irridescent blue that the Aristea offers, but in a big, slightly floppy, way.  I think it will go from strength to strength.

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That little flash of red, the tiny but mighty Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’, Tostat, May 2017

Good old standards here,  the Stachys byzantina at its best, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ and Centranthus ruber, but that little flash of red that really does sparkle is my new Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’.  I adore it.

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Rosa ‘Alissar Princess of Phoenicia’, Tostat, May 2017

The very first rose this year on this rose, Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’.  It has not had an easy time.  First, I cut it back to smuggle it back in hand luggage from Chelsea 2013, then I planted it for 2 years in a very dry spot which it really couldn’t cope with, then I potted it up in intensive care last summer and lastly, this Spring, it finally got the home it deserves.  A re-developed section with plenty of sun, but also, a little shade and moister soil, and it looks in great shape.  Phew.  It is a gorgeous thing.

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Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’ with good backing, Tostat, May 2017

But maybe my favourite rose is this one, Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’ for its robustness, and above all, the colour, a mahogany red unlike any other, almost burnished at the tips of the petals.  I planted it without thinking sort of in front of this Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’– which I love.  And they love each other, I think.

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Zantedeschia aethiopia, Tostat, May 2017

This Zantedeschia aethiopia pops up naturally in any shady spot with me.  I really love the horn shape of the flowers and the glossy leaves.  The only problem is that the flowers become waste-bins for any garden bits flying around in the air- still, you couldn’t have a nicer bin really.

Sitting back and looking…

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The New Garden, Tostat, May 2016

The weather has been truly Scottish for the past week or so.  Blowing a gale, raining heavily and cold enough to be back in a jumper- the garden has stopped in its tracks.  So, despite a good round of cursing at the conditions outside, once I had stopped moaning about it, I decided to take a good look at things.  And, once I raise my gaze from each individual plant that I am nursing along, I do actually notice that, over time, things do come together.

In the New Garden, above, for example, it has been a long wait for some things.  This year, although you can barely see it in the photograph (centre) because of the galeforce wind, Stipa gigantea has at last decided that it likes me.  The beautiful slim golden fronds now reach about 2m tall and the whole plant has occupied its space fully. This has been helped by the fact that I have been on the case ripping out intruder plants that would have crowded it too much.  I have also embraced the white lychnis and valerian – it is does look light and airy at this time of year, and the best moment for it.  Next to the Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’, not yet tall enough to have conquered the brown stems from last year, my tiny Cotinus coggyria ‘Golden Spirit’ is almost 1m high and I think will really take off next year.  I really like the massed, tumbled look of the old and new planting coming together.  And you would never know that all of it is growing in poor, stony soil.  There have been casualties over the years, but what is there is doing a good job, I think.

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View down the back path, Tostat, May 2016

The back path, by the house, is a tricky space.  Bone dry and sunny on the left hand side of the photograph, with more moist conditions on the right.  I had never used grasses before coming to France, and I am a grassaholic now.  This Miscanthus is a seedling, now fully grown, and put it itself next to the Phormium, where I had earlier planted Hemerocallis. I probably wouldn’t have gone for the tiered effect myself, but having got it, I really like it.  Mind you, I pull out armfuls of Miscanthus seedlings all year round- you can have too much of a good thing.  I always say to myself that I will get rid of the pink valerian, but instead, I will cut it down to a stump after a couple of weeks as the colour goes muddy and the growth becomes lanky.

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The Stumpery, Tostat, May 2016, Dryopteris attrata with black stems, Mahonia ‘Cabaret’ and Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’ (the King) centre front.

This small, shaded, poor, slightly damp soil area is tucked away in the elbow of two walls just opposite the New Garden.  It is my ongoing shot at a Stumpery, inspired by Biddulph Grange.  The conditions here mean that growth is of the slow and steady variety, and I pretty much leave it to do its thing.  But this year, the ferns are bulking up, and I also realised only today that a rather pretty self-seeded thing, a drooping grass under the rose, is actually Carex divulsa, the Berkeley sedge.  So, nothing at all to do with my gardening efforts, but one to be kept and treasured.  Running around between the ferns is a charming little variegated groundcover, which I am hoping will become more adventurous, Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’, and I am replanting at the front some Molinia ‘Edith Dudszus’ a black flower stemmed grass, which will get just enough sun, I hope, after being fairly boiled last summer in another part of the garden.

The thing is I have learnt is that, when you look, really look, is when you can make new decisions about how a plant is doing, and when to move it.  Today, for example, refurbishing the Labyrinth area, I made the discovery about Carex divulsa- just because I was really looking and then I checked what I thought I had seen.  So, eight more Carex divulsa are now being trialled in a hot spot to see how they do.  I love that.  Today, in the belting wind and rain, Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’ is a delight.  I fell in love with it a few years back at Chelsea for its unusual, warm mahogany red colouring and upright flowering.  And when the weather picks up tomorrow, it will look even more glorious.

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Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’, Tostat, May 2016