Thinking about laziness and sustainability…

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Verbascum nigrum with white valerian, white lychnis and achillea millefolium in the New Garden, Tostat, June 2019

Quite a bit of the garden has lived through one-arm gardening this year.  Generally, this means that I haven’t done my thorough spring weed clearance, and so the early weeds have regained some territory.  But I should not despair.

Reading Thomas Rainer‘s approach to gardening sustainably,  I have found some solace. He suggests that the garden can be seen as a meeting point between plants that we insert as gardeners and the natural response of the terrain to the conditions of life.  Most terrain is populated by plants already when we garden- and we are removing the plants that are linked to that terrain and eco-system, replacing them with others that may not. 

I am cutting to the chase here as Rainer uses science and botany to develop these themes.  So, in my case, the early spring growing and covering of the ground with annual plants/weeds that I did not plant is part of the ecological balance of the ground I work.  Rainer, I think, would argue that the essence of modern sustainable gardening is the point of equilibrium we can create as we balance the insertion of the plants we want with the plants that already exist there.  He would probably also be able to demonstrate that the plants I remove have an ecological function for the terrain, retaining humidity and microbiological balance.  He is looking for a more fluid and sensitive approach to gardening which works with nature rather than being in battle with it.

Take the New Garden in the photograph above.  A month or so ago, I felt that it had really run away with me irretrievably.  All the usual suspects were back and in action, and my new plantings from last year were overwhelmed.  But, now, the balance has changed.  My plants, the Achillea millefolium in particular, have surged into growth and the annual suspects are dying back.  It would still look a bit messy close-up to the Percy Thrower gardener (British TV gardener of the sixties much loved as a suburban gardening hero)- but I am wondering whether ripping out the usual suspects in Spring may not actually be damaging the resilience of this dry, hot area.

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Achillea millefolium, New Garden, Tostat, June 2019

The puritan work ethic in me wonders whether I am just developing a serious case of post one-armed gardening laziness.  But I am dismissing this thought, and going with Rainer.  I think that the dying suspects will end up mulching the ground around/between the plants, and once the heat is up (soon) nothing new will insert itself in there.  I will let you know.

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Verbascum nigrum close-up, New Garden, Tostat, June 2019

I grew some Verbascum nigrum from seed a couple of years ago, and they are still giving.  I adore the up-close exoticism of the cerise and orange stamens, and the stateliness of the bearing.  The flowerheads last for at least a month, slowly opening bottom to top.  I also have some white ones, which have popped up in another part of the garden.  What a pay-back.

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Verbascum nigrum album, Tostat, June 2019

Another surprise returner this year has been Centaurea, popping up to give little hits of colour as if I had sprinkled them there myself.  I grew Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’ last year which is a gorgeous deep maroon, almost black.  I have quite a few returnees of ‘Black Ball’ and, also some of the regular blue have appeared.  A sort of seed reversion I guess, but I don’t mind.

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Ceantaurea, Tostat, June 2019

Ali, the Mindful Gardener, thank you Ali, recommended this great plant to me last year, and so I bought seed.  Erodium manescavii came through easily, and is just beginning to flower.  At first, it doesn’t over-inspire, but now that the plants have settled in and are filling out the space, I can see that it will be a good choice.  Tufty, divided leaves spread out from a crown, and the flowers shoot up, a little hardy geranium-like, but a good size.  I don’t have it in the driest spot, but it is fairly dry all the same, so I will report back as the summer develops.

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Erodium manescavii, Tostat, June 2019

Early morning sun can be wonderful.  Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’– thank you Karen from Marsac, made a lovely crown for Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’ the other morning.  The Pennisetum is easy, fuss-free, and does well in a sunny, well-drained spot.  Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’ is getting better and better by the year, our stony soil takes a while to allow newcomers in- I just need to deadhead more often.

Good that I am almost back to two-armed gardening.

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Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ and Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’ in tandem, Tostat, June 2019

Cold snap…

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Hard frost with sun coming, Tostat, January 2019

Two nights now of -6C which arrived all of a sudden but at least the freezing fog has gone and we have bright, even brilliant sunshine during the day.  Our old house is not liking this, and it is back to bedsocks at night for the first time since February last year.  I may have been a bit cavalier about the frost protection- we will see when the temperatures come back up a bit next week.  But frost has its own beauty as Ali, the Mindful Gardener observed today.  Rosa LD Braithwaite has taken quite a few years to decide that she likes me, and only this year has begun to resemble a rose bush more than just a twig.  The very last rose wears the frost rather well, like a celebrity Chopard necklace.

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Rosa LD Braithwaite, Tostat, January 2019

I may end up rueing leaving Pelargonium sidoides outside- I do hope not, but I had forgotten that I had planted it in amongst two roses that I had submitted to intensive care in pots.  If this is the end, it is looking very beautiful all the same.

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Pelargonium sidoides, Tostat, January 2019

My new Australian-inspired arrivals, still in their pots, Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’ and Callistemon sieberi ‘Widdicombe Gem’ are frozen solid, but foliage still looking good.

I have had this Tanacetum vulgare ‘Crispum’ since the first year we were here- and although it is not a looker in the flowering department, I love the crinkled leaves and the greenness of it- a really vivid emerald.  Every time I think that I have lost it, it pops up somewhere else, so there is determination about this plant.  With the frost, it is clearly impersonating a low-lying conifer.

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Tanacetum vulgare ‘Crispum’, Tostat, January 2019

The night is drawing in, as my mother used to say in August in Scotland, and this cold just has to be sat out- damage to be inspected later.

 

Baby, it’s cold outside…

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The last of the leaves on the Acer, Tostat, November 2017

The end of November still brought us beautiful, crisp, sunny days and some cold nights with frost when the silver birch looks at it’s most regal.  But it was still warm enough to garden and to keep working on the changes for next year.  It is true that there is a lovely clarity about the slightly-felled winter garden which often really helps when thinking about changes…which I always am.  It’s not about restlessness, more about continually working away as things themselves evolve, and create new possibilities.  There are always too those corners which, for some deep psychological reason, I occasionally torture myself with by leaving them to fall into decrepitude.  I am then forced to the altar of decision by the mess that I have allowed to develop.  Strange business, the mind.

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Frost on the silver birch and borrowed trees, Tostat, November 2017

But, after a few days enjoying a wintery London, I came back to a freezing mist and was slightly amazed that the car started first time in the airport carpark.  Back home, dawn the following morning, was a delight.  Light creeping into leaf shapes and cracks, dusting the top of iced plants and so, despite the fact that my usual dressing gown was supplemented by my winter parka, I rushed back into the house to get the camera and do my best with it.  Piet Oudolf is quite right, the best plants die well as well as grow well.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ just touched by the dawn light, Tostat, December 2017

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Seedheads of Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, December 2017

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Telekia speciosa, Tostat, December 2017

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Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ punctuated by the fantastic winter crowns of Phlomis russeliana, Tostat, December 2017

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Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’, with the hips of Rosa ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ behind, Tostat, December 2017