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.

 

 

Patience is a virtue…growing plants from seed

…and not one that I classically take to, being of the busy bee variety of person. There was a very irritating book, that I don’t remember the title of, which I read as a child, and I remember wanting to stab the character, a girl called Patience, with a fork. But, probably what turned me from just being an enthusiastic gardener with not a lot of time ( you know, 3 small children, full time job) to being a total nut, was the experience of finally obeying the instructions and successfully growing plants from seed.

It is a job for the patient, especially if you are growing perennials and shrubs from seed, as you do have to put in a long wait for the final outcome. Of course, once you get there, you are busy patting yourself on the back for growing 30 whatever they are for about £5, including the compost.

So, I thought I would share with you some of the successes that I have had in growing from seed. And I am choosing plants that give out in more ways than one, often great foliage and then superb flowers. I often pay homage to Derry Watkins, and my first plant was one of my first seeds from her.  Here it is, right now, in my garden, and the size of these leaves has to be seen, easily 12″ long and 8″ across..

Telekia speciosa leaves, Tostat, May 2015
Telekia speciosa leaves, Tostat, May 2015

they are spectacular.  It is Telekia speciosa.  And the best bit is that in July-ish, enormous yellow daises are produced on 2m stalks, which last right through till Autumn and beyond, as the seedheads brown up but make a great skeleton in the winter. I absolutely love them.  I planted them where Derry suggested, moist-ish, not far from the canal or ruisseau. But since then, they have brought themselves right to the front of my partly shaded woodland area, so that they have put themselves right into the sun and away from the moisture. And they also seem fine.  Here are the flowers from two years ago- as they age, they copy Echinacea and the big centre goes chocolate-brown, another little virtue. From seed to flower, I think probably a 2 year wait.

Telekia speciosa, Tostat, August 2013
Telekia speciosa, Tostat, August 2013

And now for something smaller and discreet. I also bought this from Derry. It is Libertia procera.  Of this, Derry says, plant in dry sun. Well, for me, they also work well in not bone-dry sun, but she is right in that the flowers are bigger and better on the plants in my bone-dry spot.  In fact, this week, caught at quite a jaunty angle, I thought they looked almost Japanese, a delicate spray of white, see below…

Libertia procera, Tostat, May 2015
Libertia procera, Tostat, May 2015

the slight breeze accounts for the faint wobble.  The foliage is grass-like, a bit like Sisyrinchium, and stands up straight and defiant all year round, making a clump about 1m tall and 0.25m wide.  So it is a good companion for other, more floppy flowerers giving some welcome punctuation.  Easy from seed, but probably more than 2 years wait for the flowers. For me, I think it was 4 years wait, and although they don’t last long, they are very decorative.

Sideritus syriaca, Tostat, May 2015
Sideritus syriaca, Tostat, May 2015

Quite often, I’ll see a plant I like the look of somewhere on the net, discover I can’t buy it in France, and then I spend an enjoyable hour scouring the internet for seeds. Sometimes off and on, for weeks, I confess.  So it was with Sideritus syriaca, which I first saw on Annie’s Annuals weekly email.  It is a mountain plant, from Greece and Crete, from which a refreshing anti-oxidant tea can be made. I haven’t tried that yet, but I really love the plant. Low-lying, a bit like Stachys with woolly-ish leaves, for me it is a ground-hugger.

Now, it may be that as it grows it will stand up more as in Annie’s photo in the link.  But, this is the second year and it has produced flowers! Result. It was one of those tweezer jobs to deal with the seedlings, I don’t literally use tweezers, it’s more to illustrate the tinyness. But, this year, they have really put on the beef and are 10 times as big as they were at their biggest last year. Yes, it’s for hot and dry, throw in stony and it will be utterly at home. I am pretty sure I got seed on ebay. It is always worth looking there.

And for my last plant, here is also my hand in the picture which shows how tiny it still is in Year 2. Dianthus cruentus, sometimes called the Blood Pink, is going to be a stunner next year. Already, the tweezer scale plantlings are producing flowers and have grown, so you wait. The colour is really hard to reproduce. It is an electric red, rather as Verbena bonariensis is an electric mauve. So the colour is very intense and looks a bit too safe in my photograph.

Dianthus cruentus, Tostat, May 2015..and my hand.
Dianthus cruentus, Tostat, May 2015..and my hand.

Here is where I saw it and was entranced.

Spot Dianthus cruentus. Cleve West, Best in Show, Chelsea 2011.
Spot Dianthus cruentus. Cleve West, Best in Show, Chelsea 2011.

Again, the colour is not as it is. But this small plant was a highlight of this beautiful show garden. After Cleve West and his Best in Show Garden in 2011, Dianthus cruentus plants were in limited stock and disappeared from shelves all over the UK. It was only a couple of years later that you could buy seed easily. Derry Watkins now has it in her seedlist, see the link on the plant name above. Again, it prefers hot, dry, stony…but full sun and handfuls of gravel when you plant it would probably do the trick. Enough already.