Amazing! Despite the coolness and the rain, at noon today, Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley-Fisher‘ burst into flower- roll of drums etc etc. It feels like a roll of drums is required, because, as I commented in an earlier post, it seemed to me that she wouldn’t make it after a torrid first year with no flowering at all.
What can I say? Golden-warm apricot flowers that seem to put others in the apricot category in the shade, and bright red new growth that adds to the fun. Stand aside, Buff Beauty, I say. Though Mrs Oakley-Fisher is a compact plant so far, though maybe in California, aka Annie’s Annuals, she gets bigger.
Who was she? Only one photograph exists, of a woman taking her responsibilities seriously , named for one of the first women to be elected to the National Rose Council in 1921. She was from Sudbury, in Suffolk, and the rose was bred probably by Cecil E. Cant, the son of the famous rosarian, Benjamin R. Cant, of Colchester, only 16 miles from Sudbury. Cants dominated the rose breeding world of England in the late nineteenth century, established in 1765, by 1880 they were the leading rose exhibitor.
The rose dates from 1921, when it was first exhibited, and pretty soon Vita Sackville-West was growing it at Sissinghurst, and giving away cuttings to friends, such as the incomparable Christopher Lloyd, who grew it at Great Dixter, where you can still see it.
I am so thrilled that she has made it- and yes, today I learnt that it is Oakley-Fisher with a hyphen.
So, the tendons are mending- but largely one-armed gardening continues as I am keen not to mess it all up again, which is probably what I did in the early Spring. So, some parts of the garden are engaged in slugging it out with annual weeds and that nightmare called ‘Sticky Willy’ in Scotland…whilst other parts have benefitted from my rather feeble attempts with the left hand. I have to just accept it. Most things are in their 2nd/3rd years or older and so will eventually tower over the rubbish, which will start to wilt once the warm weather arrives. Be stoical, I say to myself.
I bought some tiny auriculas on my last but one visit to Chelsea, which puts it at at least six years ago. I loved them dearly outside in a little raised, stony bed in Linlithgow and they loved the coolness of it all. Needless to say, they have toiled here- but they hang on in there and I keep them in the shade, but sometimes with less moisture than they would like. This year, Auricula Jungfrau has been the best- it is a pale pinky-peach colour, normally a little inside the beige range for me- but up close, they have a miniature baroque quality to them, and they look as if cherubim with nothing on should be holding them in swags. I am rather glad that they are not cream-coloured as Barnhaven suggest in the link.
This year, following a link on Noel Kingsbury’s new blog from Portugal, I bought seed from a lovely man called Liberto Dario. He has a Facebook page and if you would like seed from him, message him on Facebook and he will send you the lists. I have been really enjoying trying the seed out. This gorgeous yellow Cerinthe was something I tried early this Spring. It is about the same height as the blue Cerinthe, but a bit bushier in inclination and the flowers are a lot shyer. You have to look for them under the mottled leaves, but they are so fresh and pretty with the red splodge at the top and the vibrant yellow. They seem to be as tough as the blue, so let’s see if I can get seed from them later in the year.
Poor old Totally Tangerine, I think, found last summer altogether too much, too much heat and too little rain. By last year, my clumps of this great Geum were really big- this year they have been on a diet, but are still there. I may consider moving them back into the shade of the Daphne in the autumn and see if that perks them up.
This is the time of the year when, if it’s sunny, you need to be up either really early or getting into the evening- the light is already almost too strong for good photographs. But I just made it with the new foliage on Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’- vibrant ruby coloured and just flushed with dew.
There is a story to Rosa Mrs Oakley Fisher. I bought one 30 years ago for my Mum, who was a green-fingered garden lover. I thought she would love it for the apricot flowers and the slightly 1920s form of it. Embarassingly for her, it died on her, but she didn’t tell me till ages later. So, when I saw it again last year for sale here in France, I wanted one to remember my Mum by. Last year, it was very unhappy and I thought it might have gone the way of the original. But no, this year, it looks as if it has cracked it, and the slim, elegant buds are just about to burst on the next sunny day.
Frost is still around. This isn’t unusual but a bit annoying. It is one reason, as well as the one-armed situation, why my tender pots are still all clustered, albeit outdoors, near to the house at the back where they get a bit of warmth from the walls. Just a touch of frost though gives some plants a diamond-necklace look. It certainly doesn’t bother Convolvulus cneorum at all- one of life’s tougher troopers.
Here is a real surprise. A comeback kid, that didn’t ought to have. A too-late-in-the-season purchase last Spring, which I knew was a risk, didn’t make it and I kicked myself-again. But, only one small sprig, but alive neverthless, popped up, coming through the foxglove leaves to flower. The other thing to remember about geraniums is that they really are tough- don’t give up on them.
Being of part-Persian stock, I bought this lovely little rose, Alissar Princess of Phoenicia, expecting it to be tough and able to cope with heat. It has struggled a bit, but this year, in its 3rd year, may have got itself on an even keel. The only slight disappointment is that I don’t get the rather charming colour change in the flowers from cream to pink. This may be because it is in a sunny spot from the off, but all the same, it is pretty.
This stunning shrub flowerhead was unknown to me when I took the photograph last June, but this morning I met it again. Cestrum elegans could not be resisted. Going for 6 euros in the sale at Jardiland (just the name makes me sniff with disdain!), I nearly fell over the trolley grabbing it. It is just a touch on the picky side, wanting not too much wet in the winter, and semi-shade. So this means that I will have to fufill my dream of digging out the Kerria japonica that has been a marked plant for the last 2 years, and putting it where the Kerria was, just in the lee of our big pine tree but far enough away to be moist and not wet. But if it likes me, it should shoot up this year to maybe 2-3m all round and flower nonstop from June till November. And when the flower is the cerise-pink pineapple that it is- how can you fail to love it? The old nuisance of a pine tree will also give it a bit of winter protection, which will help.
Now why am I so snotty about Jardiland? I really should grow up and get over it, because there were yet more gems in the Jardiland sale. I bought two Abelia grandiflora prostrata (in white I think), and two Cistus corbariensis. What a coup. I had been mulling over the Abelia, more than 10 euros elsewhere, not to mention the postage. I am a recent almost-fan of Abelias. Firstly, they are really tough, secondly, they flower in July-September, and thirdly, they are good-sized shrubs.
Yes, shrubs. This from the woman who rarely waxes lyrical about shrubs, I know. But I am undergoing character reformation. I know I need more of them in the garden. I need to think of the garden as more of a smogasbord, and sue the shrub element to bring green where there is none, flowers when I need them and above all, structure and shape. So, the past year I have concentrated on growing perennials myself from seed, well, maybe 80% of the time, and spending my cash on some shrubs that are not entirely pipsqueaks to start with. So, I am focusing on shrubs with a couple of years behind them, but still small enough to be affordable.
I think the Abelia will be lovely- no more than a metre high and maybe 1.5 m wide, so bigger on the spread, and fairly dense, which will help with groundcover. The Cistus is reputed to be the hardiest one, and I am going to plant it in a couple of hot spots that are currently empty. Cistus can just suddenly give up on you. You can’t blame them really, all that frantic blooming for weeks at a time comes at a cost. So, best to keep an eye on them. The other, rare, dry day I was doing a bit of an inspection and realised that a good half of a massive Cistus pulverulentus had died away unbeknownst to me. The other half will probably be fine, and it was probably due to the general exhaustion and the relentless dryness we had right up until the end of November.
And in the same vein, I am hoping that my Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo-Shibori’, so pretty and which I love, will also make a comeback this Spring. It is looking pretty done in, all thin, pasty twigs at the moment. And it may be that it has coughed much as the aforementioned Cistus and for the same reasons.
Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ is in the last chance saloon. This is my third attempt to grow this rose, and I have succeeded only in killing it so far. It has big sentimental pull for me as I bought one for my Mum years ago, from the late and much-missed ‘Plants from the Past’ nursery run by the inspirational David Stuart in Belhaven, outside Dunbar. I bought loads of lovely plants from there for our garden in Linlithgow. Actually, I remember now my Mum managed to kill ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ as well. Must break the ‘Like Mother, like daughter’ thing here.
So, the last chance plant is now inside the house in a pot in our cold hall, near to the backdoor window, and without tempting fate, it is already budding. A lovely soft apricot shade, with golden stamens, she dates from about 1921 and was bred by Cant’s of Colchester, the oldest rose hybridiser in the UK dating from 1765, and still in business. Pray for her now and in her hour of need. And me.