Seedaholic? Who, moi?

This is one of the times of the year when I experience a terrible yearning to be growing something new.  I suppose it’s the New Year talking to me, and usually, I have seed ready to go which I have bought earlier and kept, probably because it was recommended to sow it in the Spring more insistently than usual.  Last year was a bit of a horror story seed-wise. The weather was way too hot for too long, and despite copious watering and care, most seeds just don’t want to perform in those conditions.  So, returns were pretty poor. I had boasted in an earlier blog of how easy it was to grow Echinacea ‘White Swan’ from seed. Well, it is normally, if that’s a word that can be used anymore about weather.

Last year, I ate my hat time and time again.  And then again, we had a housesitter with clearly homicidal tendencies as far as seedlings go, who strenuously did not water them, maybe even at all for five weeks.   I was the one doing the Jack Nicholson ‘Here’s Johnny’ impression when I got home.

But, despite all that, and I am taking a risk here, it being only the second week in January, I think some toughies have pulled through.  I have tried once before to grow ‘Patrinia scabiosifolia’ from seed and come a cropper.  Out there, right now, are some pretty promising and doughty looking small plants with good root systems.   Patrinia is a veiling kind of tall, willowy perennial, yellow and see-through, both admirable qualities in my book.  So, I am hoping I will have a good clump of them in the new bit of the garden I am planning. It will be a rounded extension of an existing planting area which will link up with a curvy bed from the other side of the garden, making a narrowish passage way between the two.  So, more opportunity to dig up a bit more of the ho-ho lawn and plant it up, care of a plant fund set up by lovely friends who visited last summer.   So, this is not my photograph, but the photograph from ‘Special Plants’, where I bought the seed last year.

patrinia_scabiosifolia special plants
Patrinia scabiosifolia from Special Plants credit: http://www.specialplants.net

I also love ‘Morina longifolia’ and had a good clump that just fizzled after a few years after some wet springs.  I love its candy-ice whorled flowers and the eryngium like, thistle-imitation base of spikey leaves.  Morina longifolia will take it really hard, and so this time, with 7 or 8 good looking babies in pots, I will put it in a tougher spot and see if that helps it get through periods of rain.

morina_longifolia(2)
Morina longifolia from Special Plants credit: http://www.specialplants.net

And I am really thrilled to say that I have managed not to kill something I have read about, and really wanted to have a go at, ‘Erogonium grande var.rubescens’.  This is a form of red buckwheat which Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, California raves about as ‘goof-proof’ and ‘deer-proof’. I don’t have a deer problem but goof-proof sounds good to me.  I have no real idea how it will do here, but it clearly likes sun and dry, so that’s good for some bits of the garden, and if it’s survival skills through this past six months are anything to go by, it will be just fine.  The baby plants look very happy and, are indeed, evergreen, another plus.

eriogonum_grande_rubescens_erle
Eriogonum grande var. rubescens from Annie’s Annuals credit: http://www.anniesannuals.com

But, as I rummage through my seed store from the fridge, I also realise that my seedaholic tendencies are in danger of running away with themselves.  There are packets and packets and packets of seed, and, yes, this week I ordered more from one of my most favourite seedsites, aptly called Seedaholic.  Go to their site, and be amazed by the generosity of their information about the seeds and their cultivation, not to mention very reasonable prices.  But just before I close, this is one of my purchases from Seedaholic only this week, a new Cosmos, ‘Cosmos bipinnatus Xanthos’.  Cosmos is another plants that everyone, bar me, grows from seed.  So, I am hoping this lovely cream-coloured one will break my curse.

cosmos-bipinna-xanthos
Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ from Seedaholic credit: http://www.seedaholic.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nipping round the garden with the camera…

The rain we have had this week has brought lots of things back from the  brink and encouraged others to push the boat out a bit, so I am frequently to be seen nipping round the garden with the camera.

Sphaeralcea munroana, Tostat, June 2015
Sphaeralcea munroana, Tostat, June 2015

This Sphaeralcea munroana is a lovely thing, but it isn’t at all what I expected! For a start, it should have been a crimson orange, and secondly, I was expecting it to be less drapey and more upright. But, whatever, I am actually rather fond of it. New to me this year, and picked out for its drought resistance, it is described by American sites as a ‘xeric’ plant, which means it is seriously good at drought tolerance. And, of course, as soon as I planted it, we had a soaking wet February. But it has pulled through, and is very pretty, if a sweeter pretty than I meant.  At the moment, it is trailing along the ground rather than growing upwards. But, maybe next year when it grows up a bit..

Anthemis tinctoria 'Sauce Hollandaise', Tostat, June 2015
Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollandaise’, Tostat, June 2015

There is nothing special about this plant, Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollandaise’, but, my goodness, it is a beauty. From 3 tiny pots planted 5 years ago, I have swathes of it now, and I adore it. Tough, pretty, fresh, and very happy to go without water for a while, it is a very good friend. Virtually bombproof, as Bob Brown would say, and most years, there is silvery green foliage all year round. Just deadhead to keep it going, and it will work really hard for you. I am becoming a daisy nut.

Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan', Tostat, June 2015
Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Tostat, June 2015

Another bombproof plant. You can pick up seed for Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ all over the internet for a pound or so, it germinates easily and gives you a great return. These vigorous plants were teeny weeny seedlings only a year ago, and this year, are quite splendid.  I love Echinacea, I am not so sure about some of the very gaudy doubles that are being bred right now, but you can’t beat the simplicity of ‘White Swan’. And here is a mature flower, the flower reflexes as it matures and exposes the central cone. Wow.

Reflexed Echinacea 'White Swan', Tostat, June 2015
Reflexed Echinacea ‘White Swan’, Tostat, June 2015
Knautia macedonica, Tostat, June 2015
Knautia macedonica, Tostat, June 2015

This is another really good plant. Happy in drought, probably fine in good soil if a little floppy, but wouldn’t want serious wet, it self seeds all over my gravel area and elsewhere too. Knautia macedonica is an unbeatable crimson, and wafts elegantly making a lovely haze of transparent colour. The flowers sit at the top of tall thin stems, so it almost seems to float. It will flower forever once it starts until frost cuts it down, and is totally hardy.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, Tostat, June 2015
Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, Tostat, June 2015

Oh oh, another daisy. Rudbeckia fulgida var.deamii is a very yellow daisy, maybe too Birds Custard for some, but I can take the yellow because it is another toughie.  And, though I am fond of ‘Goldsturm’ and have loads of it, I also like this one, which I grew from seed, easy as pie, and this is how they look 2 years on. It muscles it’s way past any weeds, and insists on being seen, so nothing retiring or delicate about it, right down to it’s coarse, hairy legs. But, flowering all summer, who can complain?

Bee coming in, Nepeta tuberosa, Tostat, June 2015
Bee coming in, Nepeta tuberosa, Tostat, June 2015

Warning! This is my 3rd shot at this plant, having grown it from seed twice and lost it. Nepeta tuberosa, so lovely that I will keep at it, needs razor sharp drainage and sun all year round. But if you can give it that, it will reward you with lipstick-shaped upright flower spikes, some more carmine than others, I have had carmine, almost pink, deep blue…It doesn’t last forever, but will self seed if it likes you. It also has the most strokable, velvety leaves and is very striking. Another Derry Watkins, Special Plants plant, and a right good one. Tweezer job on the seedlings so you need a steady hand.

And green is the colour…

Now that we are in a surprise period of large dollops of rain, kindly delivered towards the back end of the day, and continuing for the rest of the week, the colour green is returning to the garden. Not to the grass, still crisp and burnt, and also a large purple clematis which has been completely brule-d. Not to mention one or two other things which probably are not mortally wounded. But there are other things…

Here are two plants that I would probably never be able to grow other than in a pot with daily attention. I wouldn’t normally want to be bothered with daily attention, but there are some things that are just so beguiling that I fall for them. I grew both of these from seed from Derry Watkins at Special Plants about 3 years ago. Not one of my more successful plantings as I only got one good seedling from both sowings, but they are both really worth it.

Astilboides tabularis, Tostat,  June 2015
Astilboides tabularis, Tostat, June 2015

The colour of the new leaves on Astilboides tabularis is mouth-wateringly green, but the hairy leaves are outstanding in bright sunlight, and although it is a slow grower, I am devoted to it.  It grows steadfastly, stubbornly carrying on even if the odd slug gets in there, and when fully mature, the leaves should be much bigger, up to 1m apparently. Don’t believe the RHS.. there is nothing common about this plant. But it does need very consistent moisture, good soil and semi-shade, so hence the pot in my case. So I will just keep it, and pot on as they say.

Peltoboykinia watanabei, Tostat, June 2015
Peltoboykinia watanabei, Tostat, June 2015

This is a complete mouthful of a name- with more syllables than you can quite believe- Peltoboykinia watanabei.  The new leaves are an almost luminous green, and, like the Astilboides, it is totally hardy so I leave both plants out in their pots in the winter.  Again, it needs consistent moisture, good soil and semi-shade and will eventually make 0.75m in height and a bit wider probably. I love the palmate shape of the leaves and its doggedness. It just keeps slowly going.

Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Hint of Gold', Tostat, June 2015
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, Tostat, June 2015

This is quite the best caryopteris I have seen. I also grow ‘Worcester Gold’ which is anaemic in comparison. I bought these Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ as small plants in the early Spring, and though they have taken their time to get settled, and it is a bit too early for flowering, they have paid their way already. The foliage is an exhilarating lime-yellow-green, not a bit sickly, and it is a tough little plant, on its way to making a nice rounded boule-shape about 1m x 1m. So, I can’t wait for the flowers.  I am growing it in 2 places, one hotter than the other, and one with a lot less moisture, but actually, the plants are level-pegging, though the one in the sunnier spot has marginally better colour, so I am very hopeful that it will be a Great Success.

Acanthus 'Whitewater', Tostat, June 2015
Acanthus ‘Whitewater’, Tostat, June 2015

Now, ok, this is slightly slipping from the green theme, but it is so extraordinary that I had to put it in. Have you ever seen a plant that so closely fakes being a pool of spilt, creamy milk?  This is Acanthus ‘Whitewater’.  Now, I love Acanthus, but they really do take their time with me, and this small plant is, believe it or not, 3 years old. But it is in a harsh spot, and so I believe that it will get to the point where the rhizome is big enough for it to be out there all year, not just now and then. Eventually, it will also have candy-pink flower spikes, up to 1,5m- but that’s a way off. So I am used to the fact that it comes and goes, depending on the weather and the moisture, but it does always come back. So I hope I won’t be in a bathchair by the time it gets to flowering.

And lastly…

Begonia grandis ssp.evansiana, Tostat, June 2015
Begonia grandis ssp.evansiana, Tostat, June 2015

a begonia! I am not a begonia fan, but I love this one. Sites say that this is a hardy begonia. I think that’s a dodgy recommendation and I always overwinter it dry in its pot, just out of the weather.  Begonia grandis ssp.evansiana is like an opera coquette..all flashy red underskirts and posing, and gorgeous when backlit. Also, once it likes you, it will give you tons of tiny bulbules, which will sprout all over the place, so it has a generous nature. Mine is maybe 4 years old, and when at full height is a stunning metre and a bit.  Lovely.

I love my workhorses…

Well, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  Workhorses are those plants that are utterly failsafe, reliable doers that actually often get overlooked by me because I know them so well. But it’s in early Spring that you are reminded of what good plants they are, and how it’s your own whims that dictate their survival in the garden, not their intrinsic qualities.  So here are three of mine. They suffer because I can get irritated by their self-seeding and I can get snobby about them because they seem so obliging. But they really do work for me, so I am giving them their moment of glory.

Teucrium hyrcanicum ‘Purple Tails’ is my first unsung hero.  I got seed from Derry Watkins. She is the amazing woman who runs Special Plants near Chippenham, and whose seed catalogue would bankrupt me if I weren’t firm with myself.  I had never been very successful with perennials from seed, but a few years ago, I made much more of an effort to get the conditions right, and Teucrium hyrcanicum ‘Purple Tails’ was one of my first successes.

Teucrium hyrcanicum 'Purple Tails' photo credit: www.specialplants.net
Teucrium hyrcanicum ‘Purple Tails’ photo credit: http://www.specialplants.net

And here is one of the reasons why I love it.  I have just been moving some clumps around the garden in a gail force wind, and yet, in early Spring, it is already energetic, bursting with pretty foliage and raring to go.

Right now in the garden, Teucrium hyrcanicum 'Purple Tails' Mar 15
Right now in the garden, Teucrium hyrcanicum ‘Purple Tails’ Mar 15

You can tell that it’s an early summer bloomer because it is already up and running, but it will give you a good month of flower and then you will have seedheads once the flowers are over. It will self-seed, so then you have the choice of pulling out, making more clumps, or just enjoying it. For me, it likes goodish soil, not too dry, but it is perfectly happy with normal rainfall and warm sun. It is quite an insistent clumper, so it doesn’t let other stuff invade it. It grows to 2′ or so, and one year I must have a go at Chelsea-chopping some of it to see if I can prolong the flowering a bit.

Phlomis russeliana is my second choice.  It works all year. Big plate-sized, thick leaves make sure that nothing else creeps in where it is growing, and then, in early summer, tiered candelabra soft creamy yellow flowers shoot up on straight, tough stalks. By late summer, the flowers have gone over, but the seedheads remain statuesque right through till early Spring the following year when they can be cut back. Winter frost looks stunning caught in the phlomis heads, and so it really is a truly four season plant. It will take rubbish soil, heat, very little water, sun and is altogether obliging.  Here it is growing in what I call ‘The New Garden’ made out of a caved-in barn space at the side of the house. This was another of my Beth Chatto type challenges, to grow plants that work in unenriched, poor, very rocky, free-draining soil. Look how happy it is amongst the kniphofia and perovskia.

Yellow Kniphofia, Gaura lindheimeri, Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire' and the creamy spires of Phlomis russeliana, June 2012
Yellow Kniphofia, Gaura lindheimeri, Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’ and the creamy spires of Phlomis russeliana, June 2012

And my last hero is, Bronze fennel or Phoeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’. It is a light, airy wonder of a plant. The bronze foliage is at its most striking in early Spring. Here is a fennel baby coming up right now in the garden alongside a pal, phlomis russeliana.

Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' coming up in March 2015 alongside Phlomis russeliana.
Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ coming up in March 2015 alongside Phlomis russeliana.

Completely tough, it will self seed everywhere, so you will never be without it, especially in a veiled planting next to roses, the feathery, dark foliage is stunning. The yellow seedheads are really pretty in themselves, and it will be happy in both good and poor soil, but will need sun.

Rosa 'Edith Piaf' and Phoeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' July 2013
Rosa ‘Edith Piaf’ and Phoeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ July 2013

There’s nothing common or garden about these three heroes.

When Shitty Bank isn’t so shitty….

The site of Shitty Bank 2003
The site of Shitty Bank 2003

This is the site of Shitty Bank when we first saw it in 2003.  There is no bank, and it’s not that…bad! Dried out as a result of a huge heatwave that hit France for a month in August 2003, but otherwise fine.  This is was where we decided to put the swimming pool that we built 3 years later, mainly because it was flat, a bit screened by a big hedge from our really nice neighbours, and it was a sun-trap.  So in it went, and with it came a massive heap of spoil, rubbish soil with huge river stones in it, and not much else.

What to do? Well, I had recently read Beth Chatto’s great book about gravel gardening…a new subject to me having previously gardened in Scotland. And so, emboldened by her experiment in gardening with what she’d got, an old carpark space, I decided to do the same with our bank of spoil. An old friend came to visit, laughed, and promptly christened it ‘Shitty Bank’. The name stuck.

Lessons learnt:

– if, like me, your ground is poor and stoney, it will take a couple of years for plants to get their feet down and really take off. So patience really is a virtue.

– don’t bother with ‘small and interesting’ plants…go for rough, tough stuff that will see off all the bindweed and other weeds, or at least sit on them. The ‘small and interesting’ things just get lost in the bigger things and don’t make it. I love Nepeta tuberosa, and did have a good clump which I grew from seed, but rain and other plants pushed it out, and now I have it in a kinder place.

– do plant beautiful and tolerant plants. Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ loves it. She started as a one-foot weakling and is now 3m high x 4m spread.  A few years ago, we had quite a wet summer and the bindweed was growing to serious strangulation point.  So, in the winter, we crawled underneath and anchored black tarpaulin material as tightly as we could around the underneath of the rose.  This has been quite effective and reduced the bindweed by about 80%. With us, this rose is in bloom for easily 10 months of the year.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' changes from deep pink to peach to yellow as the flowers age..
Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ changes from yellow to peach to deep pink as the flowers age..

– another toughie, which is now a small tree, is Vitex agnus castus, which has fabulous purple blossom in late summer.

Vitex agnus caste
Vitex agnus castus flowering amongst Eryngium agavifolium

– and I wouldn’t be without, though it doesn’t last long, I love the way the colour in the flowers fills up like a cartoon blush, and it does happily colonise everywhere….Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’.

Echinops sphaerocephalus 'Arctic Glow'
Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’

And, although like everything else in the garden, there is constant change as plants, and me, change our minds about each other, and each year brings new weather challenges, Shitty Bank does a good job and I have learnt that it survives pretty well now with one really good tidy-up of bramble, bindweed and their pals each year. And now, the plants are big enough to fend for themselves.

Small footnote: I grew my Nepeta tuberosa from seed from Derry Watkins at Special Plants, near Bath, back in 2005.  She is a fount of wisdom, and her brochure is a torture to read- you could choose everything.  Her seed is always good.  If she was down the road from me, I would be penniless.

Early Shitty Bank: Rosa sanguinea, Phlomis purpurea (pink), Stachys byzantina,  yellow Asphodeline lutea, Euphorbia characias wulfenii
Early Shitty Bank: Rosa sanguinea, Armeria maritima Dusseldorf Pride  (pink), Stachys byzantina, yellow Asphodeline lute, Euphorbia characias wulfenii