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?

 

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