Small miracles….

Acanthus sennii, Oloron Sainte Marie, April 2023

Spring can sometimes be very forgiving. Over the years, I have killed off so many plants or lost them accidentally or been robbed by the weather. Being robbed by the weather has become more frequent, though it’s probably, truthfully, head to head with my own planticidal tendencies. And linked to these two reasons for death is often my refusal to play it safe. Sometimes, the idea of a plant is overwhelming and caution is thrown to the winds. And now and then rejecting caution is rewarded.

This spiky small clump, just emerging from the ground, is Acanthus sennii. An acanthus from high ground in Ethiopia. We had an amazing few weeks in Ethiopia in 2017, such a beautiful country and such warm hearted people. So that’s why I bought two of these last year. It is fairly new to France as a plant, which can mean that descriptions are way too optimistic- but I know that. I always check round the world for plant commentaries just to be sure. It also has an incredible red flowering spike, another terrible weakness of mine, anything red. Here is the photo from Beth Chatto’s nursery.

Acanthus sennii photo credit:

To complete the story, both plants were super straggly last year, but with my poor, light soil, I thought that this would not pose a problem. One of them may yet still emerge as temperatures begin to warm up steadily, but one has made it back. I am so thrilled, it’s ridiculous.

Syringa laciniata, Oloron Sainte Marie, April 2023

Syringa laciniata is a planticidal survivor. It has come back from the dead twice. In Tostat, although it is dry tolerant, I pushed it too far, and then again, here in Oloron, misled by a damper summer by far in the first year than last year, I was forced to dig it up and it went back into the recovery room. A year later, I planted it out at the very top of the front garden, with wall protection and, for me, pretty reasonable soil. And it has flowered- properly! It flowers on old wood so it will be another year before the it is out of the clutches of the past. It is a really charming lilac, as much for the ferny, feathery, bright green foliage as for the clusters of mauve flowers. Phew.

Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, Oloron Sainte Marie, April 2023

This lovely Amelanchier has also had a torrid time. I bought two very small plants, probably 10 years ago, in Tostat. They do prefer a moistish soil, so I did the best I could, but over the years, they disappeared into the emerging undergrowth and I completely forgot about them. Maybe 4 years later, I found them again. They hadn’t done much having been overwhelmed by their surroundings. I dug them up and put them into large pots at the back door where, over the next 4 years, they recovered pretty well and even began growing- some. But, the move to Oloron has been really good for them. They love the Barn Garden, the protection of the wall, and also the overhang of trees from the next garden. Strangely, they have adjusted to the dryness and were still in good shape after the roasting of last summer. This one is even pretty much in shade and it is looking fabulous. It is such a good variety. Slim, goblet-shaped growth, short lived but very pretty blossom, and then small fruits. Height-wise, mine are a bit stunted but are now growing well, each about 1.80m tall.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’, Barn Garden, Oloron Sainte Marie, April 2023

Rosa ‘New Dawn’ is an outstanding rose, drought tolerant, forgiving of most conditions and flowers later than others, and sporadically again after the first flush. These two plants were one year old cuttings from my Tostat plant when they went into the ground here in Oloron. They have done a fantastic job of almost covering the old wall behind the vegetable beds, and we have done a good job with them too, with wires and tying them in. It is quite a strong rose, only bendy when young, so tying them in is essential or they career downwards. Even I can smell the fragrance, tick, and the flowers, though not single, are a very pretty shell pink, which even works for me.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’, Tostat, May 2019

And now for more caution being thrown to the winds. I have bought another rose. I am going to plant it it in the hot, dry soil of the sunnier bit of the Barn Garden. Am I mad? Actually not. There is a very interesting, and growing category of roses being identified in Texas, which might mean that we can carry on growing roses in hotter climates. This category is called Earth Kind Roses, and the link takes you to their home page. I have bought ‘Perle d’Or’, a French bred rose from the late nineteenth century, regarded as excellent in terms of performance, and cited as an Earth Kind example. So I am going to test it out. Less caution thrown than you might have thought!

Rosa ‘Perle d’Or’ photo credit:

And now it’s early June…

Gertrud’s Penstemon, such a good plant, Tostat, June 2020

Where has this year gone? I cannot believe the evidence of my own eyes as I look round the garden and see that early summer arrived about 2 weeks ago. Most of the once-blooming roses are over and done with, and spring flowerers of all kinds were beaten by the last 2 weeks of 30C and no rain. But a plant that has just adored it, is my unknown Penstemon, bought 2 years ago at the lovely Jardin d’Antin, where Gertrud has a very good eye for a plant.

Isoplexis canariensis, the Lazarus of the garden, Tostat, June 2020

Years ago, I grew Isoplexis canariensis from seed and had two big pots blooming magnificently. I left them out over the winter once, bad mistake. But incredibly, last year, three small plants re-emerged from death and this year, with a guarantee of good behaviour from me, they are back. I had them kept dry but with protection in the open barn last winter, and they really liked that. Masses of water and some feed to kickstart them and they have flowered 2 months earlier than they used to. I adore the colour, and the glossy evergreen leaves are a great foil to the orange-rusty flowers.

Libertia ixioides ‘Goldfinger’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a really lovely Libertia. These plants have had a slightly chequered history with me, as I grew them successfully from seed and then planted them out in an area that was a bit too tough for them. So, out they came and went into the Mix, the massed perennial planting under the cherry tree. This slim Libertia is not a fastgrower, but it is especially good in the winter, when the orange stripes on the leaves really glow. But this is the first time they flowered, with a sprinkling of these charming white flowers- which, when woven in amongst the other perennials, charmingly catch the eye.

Nigella papilosa ‘African Bride’, Tostat, June 2020

I am a grumpy annuals grower- they aren’t really my thing, but I grew some of this Nigella that we were going to give away as ‘freebie pollinator’ plants at our Tostatenfleur event in April- but it didn’t happen because of covid-19. However, I have loved this slightly different Nigella for the drama of the petals and stamens combo. And in early morning sunshine, the stamens have a ruby glow to them. I am saving the seed for sure…

Oenethora speciosa, Tostat, June 2020

Some people hate this evening primrose, Oenethora speciosa, but the trick is to plant it in rubbish soil and full sun. Any conditions more luxurious will ensure you have a massive growth and it will run and run. And even with rubbish soil, be prepared to yank masses out. Having said that, in low light, the gorgeous shell-pink flowers, of which there hundreds every day, glow. I have been known to be snobby about it, but actually, it is a good doer in controlled conditions.

Pelargonium ‘Ardens’, Tostat, June 2020

This species Pelargonium is a delight- deep red flowers with an enticing darker splash, and needs no special treatment other than a dry winter, protected from the cold, and then watering to wake it up in the spring once frost has finished.

Punica granatum ‘Mme Legrelliae’, Tostat, June 2020

This is a great flowering shrub, which deserves to be better known really. There is nothing quite like the frilly-hankerchief look of the coral and cream flowers. It’s a non-fruiting pomegranate, but is hardy down to -15C and is very happy in not particularly great soil that is free-draining. It won’t like water round the roots in winter. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about the naming and history of the plant, a fascinating story of important, but unknown horticultural women.

Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, Tostat, June 2020

This rose, Rosa ‘Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia’, which I bought with my pal Jane at Chelsea from Harkness several years ago, is a Persian descendant, and is bred for heat tolerance. It grows pretty well in a slightly damper bit of the garden. I love the early apricot-pink colouring, just a bit disappointing that it fades to what I would call a dull brick colour- but never mind. The open, single structure makes it more useful for pollinators than many roses.

Rosa ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’, Tostat, June 2020

Here is a ready-made bouquet of Rosa ‘Great Maiden’s Blush’ or ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’ here in France. It smells lovely and blooms off and on in waves all summer.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’, Tostat, June 2020

I am very fond of Rosa ‘New Dawn’– it has that perfect shell-pink, with a lot of cream in it, a bit of an ice-queen really. But the slightly angular petals appeal to me and it lasts well, flowering for about a month in a lazy droop over the garden wall.

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’, Tostat, June 2020

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’ struggles a bit with me, a bit too dry and hot for it I think, but the colour is fabulous. This photograph does not do it justice- think the deepest, richest crimson velvet, and you are almost there.

Salvia cacaliifolia, Tostat, June 2020

And now for the Battle of the Blues- won only just by Salvia cacaliifolia. This is a tender salvia, with bright light green ivy-shaped leaves, which will just about twine upwards with a little support. I have it supported by a bit of redundant barbecue grill, not yet wind-tested as a support, but it is working for the moment. The blue is deep, and electric.

Salvia patens, Tostat, June 2020

Salvia patens is just a tad lighter in tone, but scores for really big flowers. Oddly it has the same ivy-shaped leaves as cacaliifolia, but has more of a darcyii look about it.

Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’, Ludlow, June 2017

I saw this rose in Ludlow a couple of years ago, and just the year before, I bought it for a rose-loving friend in Tostat, who has just returned the favour beautifully by growing on and giving me a very good looking cutting. I missed the flowers of my new rose in the rain, so luckily had a photo from 2017. I am so looking forward to it. Thank you, H and M, very much.

Approaching Sissinghurst

Siss 25 617
Sissinghurst, June 2017

In June, alongside all the other wonderful gardens we visited, we also went back to Great Dixter and visited Sissinghurst for the first time.  Sissinghurst is a name to conjure with. I realise that I have been sitting here wondering what I could say about Sissinghurst that has not already been said by much more august bloggers and proper writers than I.  And so, a sort of blogger’s cramp set in for most of this summer.

In the end, I decided that I would start with the plants that caught my eye, and then work outwards to some more general comments about the whole garden.  It is, of course, stuffed with visitors every day, and so, long range photographs would have meant setting up camp for the odd second when no-one was passing- not my style.  So, I really did focus on on the detail of the plants and the planting at first, to overcome the sense of intimidation being in such an iconic place.  And I began with the roses that we managed to catch…

Siss Rosa Allen Chandler 617
Rosa ‘Allen Chandler’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Planted by Vita Sackville-West to cover the inner walls of the front courtyard,  this repeat-flowering climber, Rosa ‘Allen Chandler’ has deep cherry-red flowers with long golden stamens, and is a very good do-er according to many.  It would have been a very modern rose to her, an introduction from 1923 by Alfred Chandler and George Prince, the latter being a well-known Oxfordshire rose grower.  It does marry really well with the warm brick of the walls behind it, and although it had been scorched and then drowned by rain on the day we saw it, it was looking pretty good.  On roses, Vita herself says, writing in her 1954 garden notebook

“…There is nothing scrimpy or stingy about them. They have a generosity which is as desirable in plants as in people…”.’

Siss Rosa Blossomtime 617
Rosa ‘Blossomtime’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Probably not planted by Vita, Rosa ‘Blossomtime’ was nevertheless a big bouncing beauty, with huge generous flowers, it is true in pink and not always  my favourite shade either, but a healthy and well-growing rose.  I am a big fan of Rosa ‘New Dawn’ and this rose started out as a chance ‘New Dawn’ seedling.  It is a modern rose, dating from 1951 when it was introduced by Conrad O’Neal, a well-known US rose grower.  It can be grown as a shrub or a climber.

Siss Rosa Cramoisi Superieur 617
Rosa ‘Cramoisi Superieur’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Rosa ‘Cramoisi Superieur’ is a China rose, with twiggy growth, repeat flowering but smallish flowers, and good resistance to disease.  It is a very old rose, certainly grown before the 1830s when various French growers lay claim to originating it.  This may well have been one of Vita’s roses, the cherry-red colouring being a favourite of hers- and very garden-worthy, as it takes all-comers, including heat, with ease.

Siss Rosa Paul Transon 617
Rosa ‘Paul Transon’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Almost the last flowers on this beautiful rose, Rosa ‘Paul Transon’, when we visited at the end of June.  But it is one of those roses that only gets more glorious as the flowers age- the soft mauve is so much more romantic and interesting than the youthful pink.  A 1900 introduction from Barbier Frères,  it grows against a warm brick wall in the Rose Garden, and it may well be one of Vita’s own selections from the 1930s.

Siss Rosa Ispahan 617
Rosa ‘Ispahan’, Sissinghurst. June 2017

In the Rose Garden, another fabulous name from the past, Rosa ‘Ispahan’ was almost at the end of the flush of flowers for June.  Again a pink- but what a grand presence it has.  A Vita selection, this rose is a very old Damask rose, dating probably from the Middle Ages.  A once-flowerer, nevertheless it has huge big flowers, great disease resistance and a strong fragrance, though I couldn’t get near enough to verify.

Siss Rosa Golden Wings 617
Rosa ‘Golden Wings’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Not a Vita selection, but Rosa ‘Golden Wings’ has all of the simplicity of the wilder roses, and the colouring and presence of the breeder’s rose.  Another US introduction from Bosley Nurseries in 1956, it is an easy shrub rose, blooming once and thereafter sporadically, it is heat-resistant, disease-resistant and needs very little attention.

Siss Rosa Trigintipetala 617
Rosa damascena var ‘Trigintipetala’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Rosa damascena var Trigintipetala may be one of the oldest roses in the collection. Dating from before 1612, it appeared in Europe shown by Dr. Georg Dieck in 1889, having originated in Bulgaria or Turkey.  It may also be found under the name ‘Kazanlik’. On a quick search, I could only find a couple of French stockists.

Siss Rosa Wolley Dodd 617
Rosa ‘Wolley Dodd’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

This Vita selection, now bizarrely named as Rosa rubiginosa ‘Duplex’, is a bit of a mystery.  Unusual as it is happy growing in deep shade in Sissinghurst,  I almost passed it without realising it was there, as the last flower was hidden deep in the foliage. Described as ‘armed with thorns’, it should be better known all the same- how many other roses tolerate, let alone enjoy, living in shade?

Enough for now, but I feel I have worked my way in to the Sissinghurst hang-up…