Friday in Tostat…

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Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière, Tostat, April 2019

I went out this morning and could not believe it, Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière, such a good and tough rose, had bloomed first before the normal early-riser, Rosa banksiae lutea– which obliged later this morning but loses the gong.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, April 2019

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.

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Anemone x fulgens ‘Multipetala’, Tostat, April 2019

A small plant but with a big flower, Doronicum ‘Little Leo’ is only one year old, but doing fine.

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Doronicum ‘Little Leo’, Tostat, April 2019

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.

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The quince is blooming, Cydonia oblonga, Tostat, April 2019

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.

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Westringia rosmariniformis, Tostat, April 2019

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.

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Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, Tostat, April 2019

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.

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Muscari ‘Mount Hood’, Tostat, April 2019
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Wisteria and the moment, Tostat, April 2019

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.

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A new view round the side of the house, Tostat, April 2019

Funny how you can discover a new view even after nearly 16 years…pots awaiting planting on the bench when tendons recover…



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

Unknown women and well-known roses…

Madame Alfred Carrière, Tostat, May 2015
Frosted Madame Alfred Carrière, Tostat, January 2017

A dull winters day, and I turned to thinking about names of plants, and, remembering that I had explored the story of Madame Legrelle in a blog in 2015, I was wondering about Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière.

MAC as she is fondly called in the press, is one of my favourites, and is a total workhorse, growing stoutly in dry, stony soil and throwing herself over the wall with abandon- especially when I remember to tie down the new growth.  And she flowers from late spring till just before Christmas.  What a goer.

But, strangely, and this may be the way with plants that achieve workhorse status, the only photograph I have is this one from nearly two years ago.  So I set out to repair the damage of being too well-loved and hence ignored, by trying to find out about the origins of the rose and the woman it was named after.

MAC was bred by a roseriste in his prime, Joseph Schwartz, and was first made available to the world in 1879.  His story bgan earlier, when he shot to fame as the chosen successor to Jean-Baptiste Guillot-Père, one of the most important rose-growers in the rose capitol of France, Lyon.  Born in 1846, Schwartz moved to Lyon as a very young man to be apprenticed to Guillot-Père, and he must have greatly impressed the older man with his dedication for him to have been chosen as the new owner of the nursery.  He must also have been able to raise the money for the purchase- no mean feat.

Almost immediately the roll-call of famous Schwartz roses produced by his nursery attracted international attention, including the release in 1872 of the ‘Reine Victoria’ rose, which was hugely admired throughout the rose world.  A few years later, in 1879, he exhibited ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’.  When first launched, MAC was described as ‘worthless’ and so, during his lifetime, it was not regarded as one of Shwartz’ successes.

Rosa Reine Victoria, Schwartz 1872. Photo credit:

By the early 1880s, Joseph had married Séraphine Riggotard and was the proud father of two very young children, Louise and André, when Séraphine died. Marrying again to Marie-Louise Trievoz, his professional career triumphed with honours bestowed on him in France, and an invitation to a prestigious horticultural event in St Petersburg followed.   It is said that the travel back in the winter created the conditions for the illness that followed, and at the age of 39 in 1885 , he died.  He left the business to the young Marie-Louise, newly a mother herself to Joseph’s third child.

Marie- Louise had grit, determination and talent.  She continued to grow the reputation of the nursery with roses of her own, including the reknowned ‘Madame Ernest Calvat’, and at the age of 48 in 1900, she herself handed the nursery on to her stepson, André.  She held her own in the male-dominated world of rose-growing and is to be admired as a person of courage and energy who became as famous as her husband, although, a modern indignity, she remains known almost entirely as Widow Schwartz, ‘Veuve Schwartz’.

It took me hours to uncover her own name.

From left to right, Marie-Louise Trievoz, before marrying Joseph Schwartz, Joseph Schwartz, and Marie-Louise in later life known as ‘Veuve Schwartz’.  Photo credits:,

It would be not until 1908 that the National Rose Society proclaimed MAC to be the best white climbing rose and it was not until 1993 that the RHS awarded MAC its Award of Garden Merit, more than 120 years after release.  She had a slow birth as a celebrity, you could say.

‘Madame Ernest Calvat’, produced by Marie-Louise Schwartz, Lyon, 1888 photo credit:

But my original quest was to discover who ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ was. Who was she?   There is, unfortunately, no trace that I could find of her, or even a name of her own.  Her husband, Alfred, was the editor-in-chief of the important gardening journal, Revue Horticole, in France and was apparently a keen amateur rose-grower, though, only amateur in the money-making sense as he was a well-known botanist by profession.  But she remains unknown and lost to history.

Pruning MAC, South Cottage, Sissinghurst photo credit:

But another woman was to really make the name of Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’. Vita Sackville West immortalised MAC when she chose her as the first rose she planted in her new garden at Sissinghurst Castle.  She and Harold Nicholson planted the rose on the day that their offer to buy Sissinghurst was accepted in 1930, and it still flowers today.  The last words on growing and pruning roses belong to Vita.  Read them here.





Roses that hurdle….

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.

Rosa Madame Alfred Carriere, Tostat, May 2015
Rosa Madame Alfred Carriere, Tostat, May 2015

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.

Training Madame, Tostat, May 2015
Training Madame, Tostat, May 2015

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.

Training Madame 2, the new growth, Tostat, May 2015
Training Madame 2, the new growth, Tostat, May 2015

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.

Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, May 2015
Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, May 2015

And she is lovely close-up too…

Tumbling, Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, May 2015
Tumbling, Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, May 2015

and her best pal, Rosa banksiae alba plena on another wall…

Rosa banksiae alba plena, Tostat, May 2015
Rosa banksiae alba plena, Tostat, May 2015

The Sissinghurst link above gives a good guide as to how to encourage hurdling, so happy hurdling!