The spirit of New Year…

Early morning rainbow, Tostat, end November 2019

It’s a New Year. Curious, isn’t it, how the cycle of the seasons is so compelling to us- we follow the patterns of changing seasons- and this time of the year is one that absolutely leads to re-examination, re-evaluation, pondering and pottering. I am an inveterate potterer, with more plans in my head than I will ever actually want to achieve. The garden in winter prompts structural thoughts because there is spareness and space where the summer and autumn plants have died back, and then, clarity emerges as growth re-appears, showing you which and what has survived, prospered and is ready for another year.

This winter, so far, apart from biblical rain and wind in November, has been quite kind to us. A few frosts, but nothing major, and my plan of over-wintering slightly tender plants in pots in the open barn has worked fine. Some plants have really surprised me- like the Leonotis leonorus which flowered even to the very tallest stem in November, living through the wind and the rain in the open barn- so I haven’t cut it back yet, it is still there at 2.5m tall, green and contented.

Some new plants have taken the weather in their stride. Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ which looked a tad weedy when a baby plant, has toughened up outside retaining the glorious red-purple of the leaves and shaking off the frost. It looks like a really sturdy plant, more useful for the tough foliage and the colour than the small flowerspikes in the summer- but I am very impressed. An easy, reliable plant from seed sown in August and kept out of the heat.

Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’, Tostat, December 2019

I had a go at another Erodium from seed in the summer. Erodium pelargoniflorum, grown from seed from Special Plants, is not going to be giant, more of a tough baby at 40cms max tall, but again, showing itself to be well able to cope with winter conditions and still look very composed. I need to find somewhere to plant them to make a drift near the front, or they will be swamped by the big guys.

Erodium pelargoniflorum, Tostat, December 2019

I adore bronze fennel. In the Latin, Foeniculum vulgare purpureum, the plants sounds as though it will be reddish-purple, but bronze is a better description. The spring growth makes a fabulous cloud of frothy bronze foliage which is indescribably romantic with roses, and it usefully covers bare legs. Normally, it would self-seed all over the shop with me, but this very dry summer left me with only a few small plants, so now I have about 50 plants grown this summer from seed. Feast or famine.

Foeniculum vulgare Purpureum, Tostat, December 2019

Santolina etrusca does get more than a bit floppy by the end of summer, but the first few months of astoundingly vibrant, fresh green, just when you need it, is worth all the flopping. Trouble-free and needing nothing, it is a good, though modest plant. From seed, the tiniest seedlings dig in and make plants. Just choose a calm day to sow the seed and then again, wait for another one to transplant the seedlings.

Santolina etrusca, Tostat, November 2019

A donated plant that needed a home, I have been amazed by the winter behaviour of this unknown sedum. I stuffed it in a pot, literally, and it is as happy as can be- with cold temperatures producing this gorgeous red colouring. I have never been that taken with sedum, but this is changing my mind.

Unknown stonecrop or Sedum, Tostat, November 2019

There will have been some casualties despite the easy ride we have had so far. I used to fret, but now I take this as another challenge- there must be a plant out there that I would like to grow which will cope and survive. Another dig in the ribs from the garden.

A very Happy Gardening Year to you….

Giants and troopers…

Two days of persistent rain last week. At Tostatenfleur, we finished planting up the Tostadium, our local cycle circuit, in the pouring rain, a labour of love. Otherwise, I have been venturing out to find the garden moving into gigantic mode- I have never seen the planting so tall. I love tall, as a short person I am clearly searching for world domination in plant height as I myself can’t do it! We have had hollyhocks that are easily 8 feet tall, and Centaurea gigantea that is hitting that and more. It’s not called ‘gigantea’ for nothing.

Catalpa bignoides flowering at Sombrun, June 2019

Ok, Catalpa bignoides is not a good example of what I am talking about as it will be colossal anyway, but here I am, arms fully extended, trying to ctach the huge blossoms that are so striking. If they were nearer the ground, it could compete with hibicus. Generous cream cups, with dark striations and a few golden spots- really rather gorgeous. Our friends at Sombrun kindly gave me two seedlings all potted up- with the recommendation that, in years to come, I could coppice the catalpa to keep it small and create dinner-plate sized leaves. Sounds great to me. Now I have to keep them alive to get to that point.

Cenolophium denudatum, Tostat, June 2019

In the cow-parsley stakes, but a delicate and refined competitor, is Cenolophium denudatum. I grew it from seed years ago, and I have moved it round the garden rather a lot. I need to let it consolidate growth where it is, and probably need to grow some more from seed, as it is a classy plant. Feathery foliage, green fading to cream umbels, and the insects adore it- it is a polite plant, finding ways to fit in with other plants, and reaching about 1m tall maximum.

Liriope muscari ‘Okina’, Tostat, June 2019

This Liriope muscari ‘Okina’ is new to me this year, and was quite a pricey purchase. In the Stumpery, the shady, dry spot where I grow ferns and whatnot, I have a spectacular rose that I have often talked about, Rosa ‘Marguerite, Reine d’Italie’– a carmine hybrid tea that just flowers ten months of the year in the terrible, stony, soil. Underneath it, I had tried to encourage Acanthus ‘Whitewater’ to grow. Three years showed me that it was not a happy bunny there. So, it has come out, and made way for this Liriope. It produces this pure white foliage through the older green foliage and is very distinctive, I think. No flowers yet, but it has only been in a few months. I hope that it will gradually colonise underneath the rose.

Phlomis purpurea, Tostat, June 2019

This year has been a major year for Phlomis. All adored the weird hot February, and the rain has come at precisely the right moment for Phlomis purpurea and Phlomis Samia. The latter is a slightly tricky customer, apt to die back suddenly and inexplicably, but can usually be persuaded to re-boot from the rest of the plant that stays alive. The rain has really accentuated the colouring to a vibrant, soft mauve- in the dry, it can become almost biscuit-coloured. If you have a hot spot with razor-sharp drainage, the world of Phlomis is open for you to romp in. Such a great group of plants. Phlomis Samia is just opening, so will be appearing in the next post.

Veronica longifolia, Tostat, June 2019

I have been disappointed by this plant, Veronica longifolia, in the past. I grew it from seed maybe four years ago, and I planted it hither and thither where I though it would enjoy conditions, and it has never quite hit it’s stride. But this year it is looking good- it makes a gentle mound of slightly floppy blue flowerspires- and planted close to the much taller Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelturm’ it suddenly looks sound and in the right place. Maybe it just needed the time to get settled in.

Santolina etrusca, Tostat, June 2019

Never mind the big pot with the vibrant maroon leaves in it, I am talking about the fluffy green stuff beside it. Santolina etrusca has been fantastic in it’s second year. This was a real fiddle to grow. Tiny seeds grew into microscopic seedlings, so many of them that I nearly collapsed from the effort of potting them up. All overwintered outside in the cold and wet winter, but all, remaining tiny, were planted up in various inhospitably dry, hot spots last year. This year, what a delight. Fresh, green foliage, gorgeous hospital smell, and later on, there will be tiny cream dot-flowerheads. No watering, no nothing.