Back from the Via de la Plata

November grasses 1115
November grasses, Tostat 2015

We are back from our wonderful 43 days of walking the 1000k of the Via de la Plata from Seville to Santiago de Compostela. I will write something about this journey in the blog once the impressions have settled in my head, but now is too early.  Rejoining everyday life back in the village has been a strange business- perhaps because walking every day creates such a sharp, clear focus.  Everyday life is less intense.

Meanwhile, back in Tostat, there has been a real Indian summer lasting right up to last weekend when normal end of November temperatures kicked back in.  So, coming back felt a bit like the return of Rip van Winkle- warmth and sunshine just as when we left on 20th September. Meeting the garden again has been a joy.

The clumps of Miscanthus, Silberfeder and Strictus, have become statuesque in our absence. They had just begun to flower in September as we had had such a hot, dry summer.  Note to self: one too many clumps really, in danger of becoming a forest in my opinion.  So one of them will go.

I also missed the peak of the flowering of Chysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, but one tiny bunch still looked fresh, so here they are.

Chrysanthemum Chelsea Physic Garden 1115
Chysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, Tostat, November 2015

I am not a huge chrysanthemum fan, but this one, with burnished, tawny, orange colouring and gold tips, really appeals to me. I bought a plant about 3 years ago, and immediately split it, took cuttings and pretty much butchered it for propagation’s sake.

Last year, it should have been in really good shape, but I was lucky not to lose them with poor overwintering. I now know that it will take very low temperatures as long as it is pretty much bone-dry and nowadays I keep the plants in the open barn, which means that the only thing that they don’t get is…wet.  They seem to like this.  Cuttings take easily, and so I should be able to fill several pots this coming year.  Flowering is really late, around the end of October, even early November depending on the weather.

Orange abutilon and Salvia Waverly 1115
Unknown orange abutilon and ‘Salvia Waverly’, Tostat, November 2015

Sometimes combinations do really work- in the end. I love this. It bowled me over when I got back.  The sharpness of the orange contrasts beautifully with the pale mauve and dark purple of the Salvia. Both these plants have astonished me.  The orange abutilon was an unidentified cutting that I bought from ebay years ago.  It was something I never quite found a home for, and so languished in a pot for years, bunged behind our pergola.

But, last year, I decided to allow it full rein, and dug it in with four tiny plugs of a Salvia new to me, ‘Waverly’.  Both have really won through against the odds.  A soaking wet February after I had planted them in, followed in May and June with baking temperatures, and then prolonged dryness for the rest of the summer meant tough conditions.  There must have been some rain whilst we were away but I know there wasn’t a deluge, though the temperatures abated to the mid20s.   Salvia ‘Waverly’ is now four immense plants, easily 1.3m each both tall and wide, and has flowered like a train.  The abutilon has recovered its aplomb and done the same. What a result.  But two Salvia ‘Waverly’ will be enough, as right now the area resembles a Salvia forest. New homes for two plants next year.

Sphaeralacea munroana 1115
Sphaeralcea munroana (or maybe not), Tostat, November 2015

Sphaeralcea munroana was a new plant to me this year.  I chose it for the driest and hottest part of the garden, and rather hoped it would become an upright and substantial presence.  Well, it has, but not in an upright way. The dainty pink flowers seem to keep coming no matter what, although they are small, and the serrated pale green leaves are suprisingly decorative.  This plant is definitely a tumbler, not a standing giant. Interestingly, the link above clearly describes some labelling and identification problems with this plant, so maybe I ended up with an imposter after all.  Never mind.  But, something will need to be done in the presence department, even if it has done a good job of filling in between other plants and thereby earned its keep.

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.