Here and there…

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Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, December 2018

Since we came back about 4 weeks ago, we have had only tiny frosts and some really warm, up to 20C, days.  It seems quite weird to be looking at flowering shrubs and plants that have been flowering non-stop since mid October and still are.  Colquhounia coccinea was a new addition in early Spring this year.  The link takes you to Louis the Plant Geek, who is also in love with this shrub. A bit of a risk as it is not reliably hardy, probably not to -10C which is my normal benchmark for hardiness- but I thought I would try it, keep an eye on it, plant against a southerly wall though facing North, and be prepared to dash out with the fleece as soon as it flags.  It is quite a big beast, already nearly 2m tall and about 1.5m wide, so no chance of a pot-solution.  So we will see, but right now it is flowering beautifully and we have warmish forecasts for the next week.

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Colquhounia coccinea detail, Tostat, December 2018

From the detailed photograph, you can see that it has felted stems, and certainly the growth pattern is very similar to a buddleia.  The colours are sensational, stacked on each stem so the bush is covered with flowers- really unexpected so close to winter.

I have some salvias that I am very fond of, that grow really big at the very end of the flowering season, and this year I am risking them staying in the ground and having the fleece to hand.  Once they get touched by the frost, I will cut them back to half the size to protect them from wind and then get fleecing.  Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’ won’t make it through without all this help, and it may not be enough, so I am planning on sprouting some cuttings in a jar of water tomorrow.  Same goes for Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’.  Both plants can easily reach 2m x 2m, so pots just get too heavy and unwieldy.

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Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, December 2018
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Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’, Tostat, December 2018

Other than that, I am waging early winter war on my blasted Michaelmas daisies.  I have no idea what variety they are, and you might think that they have been sent to torment me.  They were here in the garden when we arrived, and, mistakenly thinking that they were rather bonny, I spread them about a bit.  In Scotland, they were quite mild-mannered, but here in France, they are no respecters of decency at all.  They will burrow under, swamp from the sides and generally bully, any other plant that you care to name.  Getting them out, or trying to, is usually a Spring ritual- but this year I thought I would hit them while they are still standing and, even though I won’t 100% succeed, I will throw my best at them.

Back in Australia, picking up on the sensational colour-theme, there were so many incredible plants to be found, although I haven’t been able to identify all of them.  Here are some of my favourites to warm up early winter for us all.

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Erythrina x sykesii, Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, October 2018

This coral tree, Erythrina x sykesii, was a knock-out flowering against a brilliant blue sky in Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens. The oldest specimen in cultivation is actually in the Australian National Botanical Gardens in Canberra, where it has been growing for over a hundred years, but somehow, I missed it there.

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Erythrina x sykesii detail, Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, October 2018
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Acacia havilandiorum, Australian National Botanical Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Raining golden bobbles, this was one of the showiest wattles that we saw in the whole trip.  The slender, curving leaves encase the flowers- and the flower colour is exactly that brilliant yellow as in the photograph.

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Golden Grevillea, variety unknown, Grafton, NSW, October 2018

This very fine Grevillea was draping itself gracefully over a garden wall in Grafton, New South Wales.  It could be Grevillea robusta…perhaps.  if it is, it has an AGM from the RHS and is surprisingly hardy, down to about -8C, and is recommended for xeric gardens.  But topping out at 22m or so, makes it a big choice for most of us gardening in more ordinary circumstances.  But doesn’t that colour make you glad that it exists?

 

Me and the Assistant Gardener…

 

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The Assistant Gardener resting in the grit bucket, Tostat, May 2018

I am really delighted that the sun has been shining in Scotland, where the Assistant Gardener normally lives, but am pig sick that we are back to 8 degrees and pouring, cold rain and wind for the last 4 days.  I can’t quite believe it, as it had looked as though we were beginning to emerge from a very wintery spring. I try not to moan, but usually don’t succeed.

Still, last week before all this came upon us, the Assistant Gardener volunteered herself into that role and we smashed our way into a much neglected part of the garden- the area in front of the pig shed and adjacent to the sunken gas tank.  It is actually more promising than that description sounds.  But, as the southern outpost of the New Garden, the area which we cleared of snakes and bramble to have a go at making a garden out of the naturally rocky, stony soil and not much else, it merits more work to it.

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New Garden, Tostat, May 2015

This is a bit of a Terminator section.  I have lost more plants than I can bear to remember in taking a long time to understand how to manage a hot, dry, stony garden area which, in the winter, is bleak, cold and half-wet.  What I have learned the hard way is:  that, unless you are an Olympian gardener with muscles to show for it, this area will defeat you unless you can accept a balance between deliberately cultivated plants and naturally arriving plants aka weeds.  So, the last few years have been about building that balance.  The existing planting is mature and so can take a few invaders without complaint- the difficulty arises in getting to that point of mature balance.  And knowing that the balance will need intervention on a big scale in late Spring when the invaders are settling in nicely and can be uprooted when the ha-ha soil is damp.

2015 shows what I was trying to do.  Much of this still remains though bigger and tougher, but in this very wet winter I did lose a super-big and lovely Halimium, leaning out over the gravel in 2015.  Last year, I laid a plastic cover down on the area to combat some of the invaders, and this was largely successful.  So, the Assistant Gardener and I set to, with the new set of hopefuls that I had auditioned for this tricky area. They included:

a dwarf pomegranate, Punicum granatum ‘Nana’, for its glossy green leaves, gorgeous singing-red flowers, and general toughness

Ononis spinosa, a tough dry-soil ground cover

Achillea nobilis, another tough dry-soil running plant

Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, a fantastic Salvia, sadly not really winter-hardy despite what some say, but it flowers like a train, is a gorgeous deep blue, and I dig it up and stick it in a pot for over-wintering.  It can be huge!

Euphorbia pithyusa ‘Ponte Leccia’, new to me, one of the smaller euphorbias flowering later in June..

and Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, Verbena bonariensis, Echinacea purpurea, some repurposed bits of Sisyrinchium striatum and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ where the soil is just a tad better.

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Linking the new planting (to the right) with the established stuff, New garden, Tostat, May 2018
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The New Garden planting, pig shed to the rear, Tostat, May 2018
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The New Garden, a long view, pre-planting with plastic still in place, May 2018

We did a good job.  Clearing the ground happened,  the plants went in, and they will have benefitted from the 4 days of rain, even though I moan.  The Assistant Gardener learnt that you bang the plant on the bottom while it is in the pot, not when you have already taken it out.  I was a little slow with instructions.  And so now we keep an eye on it all for the first year and then after that, it’s all on its own.

Must get round to trimming off the brown bits.

 

 

Going, going, gone…

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Salvia confertiflora and ‘Anthony Parker’ mingling in the hall, Tostat, November 2017

That’s it.  First big cold spell of this autumn/winter last night with a frost of -2C but the recompense is beautiful sunshine this morning. And to be honest, given all the topsy-turviness of this year weather-wise, it feels better to be having the weather we should be having at this time of the year.

So, on Sunday, much lugging of pots, pruning of things, and then fleecing of the odd pot too big to bring in took place.  Yesterday I ran round and dug up the 3 plants that had been planted in- and managed to remember to bring only two of them into the house.  Result: one very brown and unhappy Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ outside this morning.

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Salvia Mexicana ‘Limelight’, Tostat, November 2017

It had only just flowered, and possibly the flowering had saved it’s bacon.  I am so disappointed with this plant!  I should have paid attention to Louis the Plant Geek.  he says, ‘Want the excitement? Accept the dullness. No pain, no gain.’  Louis is a brilliant blogger.  In my view, he has everything.  Good pictures, great, tested in his own garden information, a witty and astringent turn of phrase- and really detailed advice.  I bow down.

The thing is with ‘Limelight’, the dullness goes on for ever- well, given that it has been outside since April, precisely 7 months.  I am not yet sure that the gain outweighs the pain. Not to mention, that ‘Limelight’ is a thirsty so-and-so, bending leaves down every day in a sort-of-Mum-wait-for-me way.  And growth was stingy to say the least.  From the opposite, more rational point of view, these 2 plants were grown from seed last winter and it thrilled me that they germinated on a sunny windowsill.  And, in the first year, perhaps I am being unduly testy about the lack of performance till now.  So, Louis’ advice is:  sink it in a 3 litre pot into the ground, as opposed to planting it which I did, then at the first frost, cut it back and overwinter in a cool place.  The last part is easy: the big hall, codename IceStationZebra, in our house.

So, I have half-frozen one plant and saved the other plant.  I shall cut both down as Louis describes and hope that over-wintering will give them more of a headstart than they had last year- and meantime, allocate 2 x 3 litre pots for them for next year.  I shan’t be mean and ditch them.

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ had made it just in time to flower.  In fact, the cooler nights have brought out the golden tints at the ends of the petals, which really brings the flowerheads alive, I think.  They can stay outside for now, and I will move them to the outside barn so they don’t get drowned in too much winter wet.

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Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2017

This little Aussie plant, Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, was planted, new to me, about this time last year, and it turned out to be pretty robust in our sunny, dry border, happily shrugging off a spell of -10C last winter.  These are the first flowers on this little plant, and I am hoping that it will slowly bulk up to make a jolly 1m wide and high mound of light green foliage, pretty in itself and then these sweet spotted-throat white flowers in little groups.

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Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’, Tostat, November 2017

And this shot of the back of the garden, looking West, in the last sunshine of yesterday afternoon, is a kind of  over-and-out shot, as the leaves on Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ which are so golden in this photograph, have almost all fallen off this morning.  Another season begins.

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November 2017, Tostat.

Getting to the final blast…

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Salvia leucantha ‘Purple Velvet’ in the dew, Tostat, October 2017

It is almost the end of all things flowering in a concentrated way.  There will still be the odd rose, the odd mixed-up plant that mistakes autumn for spring, but, apart from the Salvias, mostly everything is winding down and packing up for the winter.  Salvia leucantha ‘Purple Velvet’ is a last-minute late star.  It is a tall, rangy plant with elongated, slender leaves and is not a busy plant- it languidly droops rather than gets on with anything.  But the flowers are so-strokable, the word ‘velvet’ isn’t in the name for nothing, and with a heavy dew, it almost feels like a damp flannel. I had a shot at some cuttings earlier in the autumn, and nothing worked, but as it is only flowering now, I will have another go.

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Salvia elegans, Tostat, October 2017

I was given a happy cutting of Salvia elegans in May, and it has rocketed away, forming a bright green, determined plant of Im across and high.  Yes, the pineapple smell is adorable, but really it is the licking flames of the flowers that captivate me, and they even conquer the background of last week’s washing on the line behind it.  I know it is on the tender side, so, in a couple of weeks assuming no frost, I will let it dry out, give it a trim and put it into the open barn, where it will get sun, but protection from wind and rain.  All I need to do is to remember to water it very sparingly occasionally.

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Salvia miniata, Tostat, October 2017

This Salvia miniata, now in its third year, is another rangy soul, pairs of bright green glossy leaves arrange themselves neatly on the stems, and it has been flowering non-stop since June.  It has a fairly upright habit, and flowers in short bursts, but with something of the same velvet feel to each scarlet trumpet.  Another pot Salvia, as it also needs the open barn treatment and freedom from frost and rain.

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Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, October 2017

This Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’ is a giant. Even with the heat and dryness this year, it is a good 1.25m high and wide, and last year it put on another 30 cms at least all round.  It’s a very thirsty customer in the summer, with elegant leaves and a good bush shape.  Just as well, as you have a long wait for the flowers- they burst out while we were away in the middle of October as Tostat had yet another hot spell.  The buds are greyer than the eventual flowers, which are a lovely deep amethyst colour.  Cuttings have taken well and so, as usual, I have a host of small pots to keep watching over the winter.  This Salvia will get the open barn, and the cuttings will come in to a sunny windowsill.

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Salvia involuctra ‘Mulberry Jam’, Tostat, October 2017

An early October flowerer, ‘Mulberry Jam’ is a gorgeous pink with strong stemmed flowers- which can, however, be brittle and broken by passing dogs and cats.  But I adore the colour, nothing wimpy about it, and a good, strong grower too, with dark green foliage.  This one is not hardy either, so they are going to be queuing up in the barn.

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Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, Tostat, October 2017

The award for ‘surprisingly tough’ goes to Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ which has been flowering all month beautifully, and is new to what was a shadier part of the garden. I say ‘was’ as last week Andy attacked the wisteria, which had become indomitable, so maybe the Eupatorium will not be feeling so chirpy next autumn.  Ah well.

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