Ne’er cast a clout till May is out…

The rain began on Sunday and the temperature fell from a very pleasant 17c to only 3c. Spring is a cruel business sometimes- and the harshness of the return to winter temperatures in a matter of hours can catch you and the garden unawares.  But there was the bonus of rain and that can’t be knocked as we are in a bone-dry Spring this year. Some plants handle these swift changes with applomb.  Like Cistus x purpureus ‘Alan Fradd’.

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Cistus x purpureus ‘Alan Fradd’, Tostat, early April 2017

It has a crinkled look about it, and has very slowly grown from a tiny tot to a big, ranging bush of 1.2m all round.  I do nothing to it in the way of snipping or pruning, as I rather like it’s collapsible, droopy look- it’s true, I like my plants to do their thing rather than be primped up.

Another shrubby thing that is on the droopy, way-out side of the fence is Lonicera syringantha.  I think that I bought it in a bin-end sort of way, and for ages it languished unsuitably planted.  But about four years ago, I gave it a second chance and it has romped home with that chance.  True, it arches and weaves itself about but the small pink flowers smell lovely in a delicate sort of way, and it has made itself into rather a nice, front of border plant that allows lots of stardom to others behind it, but gives some nice shapes.  The flowers are tiny, and it was a miracle of evening light and no wind at all, that I managed to even get them in focus- from the rear!

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Lonicera syringantha, Tostat, early April 2017

Another arching shrub, maybe it qualifies as a small tree, which really does have centre stage presence, but only for 3 weeks- but this is such a good short run, that it really is worth it- is Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’.  You need to like glowing yellow.  But, if you do, and it is such a great refresher in Spring, this is the shrub/small tree for you.

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Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’, Tostat, early April 2017

It goes baroque on you.  Swags of glowing yellow flowers hang like expensive earrings all over it- in fact, in the rain, it is almost weighed down by it’s own blossom.  Magnificent and not well-known enough really.  Very tough, takes the cold but needs sun, and grows to maybe 3m x 3m, maybe a tad bigger in the end with us.  It needs good drainage, will handle dry and you want to place it so that the baroque glory isn’t lost or hidden by anything else.

Our wisteria flowered like a train and then packed up when we got the first rain the other week.  I know people in the UK who would love to be able to grow wisteria, and I was one of those people,  But living here now, it has to be encouraged with care.  Like honeysuckle, it moves very swiftly from being lovely to world domination, and they share the same socking great root systems which cost sweat and tears to deal with.   But, for a couple of weeks in the two places where it is allowed, it can look and smell magnificent.  What can be more lovely than eating beneath this canopy, humming with bees at the same time?  I am sorry I have no idea which wisteria it is.

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The wisteria, Tostat, mid April 2017

Moving swiftly to orange, as I love to do, and Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ has towered away in big clumps all through April and has really handled the heat and the dryness.  I am really hoping there maybe a little more to come, if the rain doesn’t batter it too much.   I adore this plant.  The colour, the fading to a golden-peach, and the stubborn bright green leaves all make it an exceptional doer.  Looking out on it right now,  it is beaten but as yet unbowed.

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Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ against the evening sun, Tostat, April 2017


After the rain…

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Apple blossom, after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

The big snag about being away for nearly 5 weeks at this time of year?  It’s the weed world domination situation.  When we left there were, of course, small signs of the usual suspects breaking out all over the place- but 4 weeks plus of sun and rain, and whoopee, they are romping home in large numbers and are knee-high in some more pampered corners.  I am normally tranquil about weeding actually, as I take the view that I weed only a few times a year in the cooler months, and then rely on very tough plants to tower over any remaining weeds and basically smother them.  On the whole, this works, and it disturbs the soil less and I am not that garden-proud that cardiac arrest sets in if I see a dandelion.  Just as well, actually.  But I have to say that, right now, tranquility has evaporated.

Yes,  my spirit was a little shaken when I returned and met the reality of my absence face-on. What would have been a case of gradually getting on top of things early was now too little, too late- and what I needed was arm-to-arm combat.  So, that’s why I am sitting here, as it is bucketing outside, with soreness in the shoulders, wrists and the right hip- I am so right-handed in every way.  It’s been a unrelenting job for the last week and I have probably another 4-5 days to go, not to mention that one big area has a nesting blackbird with 3 babies in it, so it is on maternity leave for the moment.

But some things rise above the mundane.  Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’ is a lovely thing at the time of year, with arched branches weighed down by over-the-top custard yellow blossoms, a bit like a fuchsia on speed.   I have another one, much bigger, but it needs rescuing from a badly over-planted area by the front gate, and I need a bloke with a serious digger to move a palm tree at the same time- so this probably means next early Spring, not now. But the second Sophora, having started out as a 1 foot weakling 5 years ago is now as tall as me, and in very good shape.  It does nothing much for the rest of the year, but this Spring display is so sumptuous that it deserves a rest.

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Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’. after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

Last year, on a walk with friends, I came across a clump of the most gorgeous double, fringed anemone- and I spent months trying to find bulbs online, at vast expense- well, E30 for 3 teeny bulbs seemed a lot to me.  Once grown in many country gardens in France, Anemone x fulgens Multipetala is now really rare- probably because as it shows hardly any growth outwith the flowering season of March to end April approximately, it would be very easy to disturb and rip out thinking that nothing is there.   It is showstoppingly lovely- fringed and tousled in a brilliant red that shines.  So, I am really pleased to have a couple of flowers per bulb for the first year.  I have planted it near a Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, whose emerging foliage is a deep plum colour- a happy accident as I had forgotten the spring Physocarpus colouring.

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Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, April 2017

And, whilst our daffodils and tulips are splendid- there is something very entrancing about the tinyness and delicacy of an Epimedium.  I only have a couple of clumps in the dampest, shadiest bit of the garden.  I don’t cut the foliage to show the flowers better, it seems to me to be too much like hairdressing, and it is beguiling suddenly finding the flowers hiding themselves.  Here are the two that I have, somewhat abashed by the breeze and the heavy rain…

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Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’, Tostat, April 2017
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Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’, Tostat, April 2017