Living on the edge…

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Rosa Jacqueline du Pre, Tostat, August 2018

Feeling rather grumpy about my grumpiness about the scorched earth situation- and also chastened by kind comments from Australian and Californian readers basically saying that at least I can count on the fact that it will rain again…sometime.  I think that, even though I completely want to create the watering-free garden that I think we all have to embrace- I am still disturbed by the implications of my self-inflicted policy.  It all goes to show that changing our aesthetic to fully embrace sustainability is really hard and cuts to the core somehow.

Having said all of that, I am also aware that I don’t have (yet) to be an utter purist.  I can and should do what I can to garden as close to the edge of sustainability as possible.  But it’s ok to save myself with some watering as the edge moves away from me.  Watering is not to be despised.  So, I am doing some selective watering over the next few days.  I have allowed myself off the hook.  But, from the above, you can see that it has been a bit of a moral tussle.

So, to invoke cheeriness (and maybe rain!), here is what is still looking good without any help from me- though these are isolated spots in amongst a sea of brown.

I actually dug up Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ over a month ago and stuck her back into a pot, as she was looking nigh unto death.  So with a pot-watering regime, she has begun flowering again.  She is really ‘worth it’ to ape L’Oreal.

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Bouvardia ternifolia, Tostat, August 2018

Staying with the pots for a moment, Bouvardia ternifolia is looking very very happy- a true pillar-box red, tender, but can be tucked away dry in a protected spot in the winter, watered copiously in the spring, and up she comes.

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Plumbago auriculata, Tostat, August 2018

In a pot, and in semi-shade, Plumbago auriculata has just begun flowering.  On the tender side, I mistakenly left the pot out during the winter, and was pretty sure that I had killed the plant.  But, it’s always worth hanging on- and back she came in June.  Very late to get started, but looking absolutely fine.

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Cestrum elegans rubrum, Tostat, August 2018
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Fully open, Cestrum elegans rubrum, Tostat, August 2018

Cestrum elegans rubrum was a bargain-basement shrub I bought last winter.  A little on the tender side, I was feeling pretty smug about it until we hit the 2 weeks of -10C.  The shrub collapsed.  I thought it was time for an obituary notice, again.  But, two months later, signs of growth could be seen, and though a little shorter with the heat, I think that next year she will be bouncing back at 1m plus all round.  And clearly tougher than I thought.  I love those surprises.

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Rosa moschata, Tostat, August 2018

I bought Rosa moschata from Olivier Filippi‘s nursery in the Languedoc, maybe 5 years ago.  He is a serious dry-gardening expert and all his plants are worth trying especially with his advice.  I over-risked the dryness it would tolerate, and had to do yet another emergency transplant into a pot.  Note to self: This is the edge of sustainability looking at me, again.  Out of the pot, and in a new home 2 years ago against the central pillar of the outdoor barn, Rosa moschata is reaching for the roof, and is on her second flowering.  Only a dozen buds open, but the scent fills the barn- a deep old-rose scent, gorgeous.

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The unknown red Abutilon, Tostat, August 2018

Last year’s baby Abutilon ebay purchase is in the ground, only about 20 cms high, but has already flowered non-stop since late May.  Abutilons fold their leaves down like wings when they are a bit heat-stressed- but they carry on anyway.  Real troopers.

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Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ and Leycesteria formosa formosa, Tostat, August 2018

The Vernonia nearest the canal is the only one still flowering, wrapped in the arms of Leycesteria formosa– the crimson meets the purple.

And for sheer mystery and magic, this new-to-me Pennisetum, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Japonicum’ is hard to beat, close-up.  Note: In France, this plant is known as ‘Japonicum’- whilst in the UK, it is Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Foxtrot’.

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Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Japonicum’, Tostat, August 2018

Maybe I like the danger of the edge….

 

Such strange times….

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Cistus x purpureus, Tostat, April 2017

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.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, April 2017

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.

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Thalictrum aquilegifolium, Tostat, April 2017

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!

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Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, April 2017

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.

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Rosa ‘Crepuscule’, I think, Tostat, April 2017

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.

Rosa 'Jacqueline du Pré', Tostat, April 2017
Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pré’, Tostat, April 2017

 

‘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.

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Rosa ‘Pierre Ronsard’, Tostat, April 2017

‘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.

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Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’, Tostat, April 2017

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.

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Rosa ‘Zephérine Drouhin’, Tostat, April 2017

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…

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Begonia grandis evansiana, Tostat, April 2017

Gardening where you are…the nature of acceptance

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Chrysanthemum zawadski, Tostat, end November 2016

I think that I am a battler rather than an acccepter by nature. I do accept that I will never enjoy swimming or do it again, despite making myself learn at the age of 43, but I now know that I actually don’t like it- even though I probably did know that before!  In other respects, I am a battler by tendency.  So, when in response to my last blog, I got a comment from a reader in Italy, I felt her pain.  She was talking about gardening in Italy, and finding the August dead period depressing.  This dead period is exactly what happens in the Mediterranean garden, and in any garden, like mine in the last 2-3 years, which are winter-wet and summer-dry.

But I got a smart, and good, smack over the fingers from the website called summer-dry.com, which I stumbled over fortuitously.  In clear and crisp tones, Summer-Dry urges us to get wise, be sensible, live in the real world and ‘garden where we are’.  So, if where we are is summer-dry, then get with it, and discover a world of plants who thrive in cool/cold wet winters and hot-dry summers.  And the object of the site is to switch us onto that.  Absolutely gorgeous photographs taken by the Californian photographer, Saxon Holt, pepper the site and there is masses of useful information and many wise words. As part of the summer-dry project, a book has been written entitled ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry climates (of the San Francisco Bay region)’ by Nora Harlow and published by EBMUD, East Bay Municipal Utility District.  It is really expensive outside of the US, but you never know, I might find it somewhere.

The best part is the idea of changing the aesthetic.  So many of us have toiled, or toil, to make gardens that remind us of our prevailing aesthetic of garden beauty.  If we can move to an acceptance of change in the aesthetic, we can garden more successfully where we are, reduce our frustration and be kinder to the planet.  We can learn to live with the August bald patch, knowing that weeks later, the garden will be refreshed and rejuvenated.  Nothing grows when temperatures are more than 30C and nothing grows without moisture.  So, summer-dry gardening is impatient with the term ‘drought tolerant’ as being, well, inaccurate.  Summer-dry does what it says on the tin, it is dry in the summer and those plants will hang on till the conditions change. So, it is the ability to hang on, rather than be tolerant of drought, that is what we are after.

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A Californian summer-dry garden photographed by Saxon Holt credit: http://www.summer-dry.com

I like the cut of their gib, as we say.  I am following their site and learning from their words- altogether great.  If anyone reads this blog who could help me get a copy of the book, I would be ever so grateful, please get in touch.

Meantime, back in Tostat, I am looking out at the area of garden that I planted up last Spring and kept going through the summer with a spot of judicious watering, and I have a feeling of confidence about it. I had chosen the planting carefully for it’s ability to hang on without summer water, and I think next summer, it will be in good shape.  New growth has been happening in a serious way for almost all the plants- most of which I had grown from seed, and so I may be on the way with it.  Of course, nothing is guaranteed, we could get a killer winter for example, so I have taken cuttings of the Salvias, ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’, ‘Amistad’ and ‘Anthony Parker’.  The latter is still flowering and still outside in a pot, though I will bring it into the covered, but open, barn at the end of the week when colder nights are forecast.

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The still gorgeous, if touched by frost, purple calyxes of Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, November 2016

I can feel a swing coming on- planting up seed indoors, taking cuttings, tidying up pots, ripping out old friends (plants) who have become too friendly…a swing towards next year, and another set of seasons in the garden.  Come on….

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Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ just touched by frost, Tostat, November 2016
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Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’, Tostat, November 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Once a lavoir, on the way to becoming a place to stop and relax…

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 lavoir from the small bridge with the upended scrubbing stone visible April 15
The lavoir from the small bridge with the upended scrubbing stone visible April 15

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.

The view back to the lavoir from the other side of the bridge April 15
The view back to the lavoir from the other side of the bridge April 15

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.

Ancient lavoir with women doing the washing Photo credit; www.fontaine-fourches.com/
Ancient lavoir with women doing the washing
Photo credit;
http://www.fontaine-fourches.com/

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…

Lavoir isonometric Apr 15

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.

This is the cream version of the rose I am planning. Rosa banksiae alba plena. Just imagine this...only creamy yellow. April 2013
This is the cream version of the rose I am planning. Rosa banksiae alba plena. Just imagine this…only creamy yellow. April 2013

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 mollis will 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.