Early May…

Natrix maura in our pond, Tostat, early May 2020

No, not the Loch Ness monster- but maybe almost as exciting for the new pond. A native watersnake, non-venomous, has moved in. Our water snake, is actually only about 8cms long and it required David Attenborough-levels of patience to take these two photographs. It swims like the Loch Ness monster, though, doesn’t it?

Our dog Molly in lockdown has taken to barking at all birds in the garden, on the wing, on the ground, big and small. So the Hoopoe has only flown by, but it did drop in for a poke about in HG’s garden and he managed to get a great photo of it. The hoopoe is a theatrical costumier’s delight, see the black pompoms on the crest. A short appearance for a couple of weeks until next year.

The hoopoe in the our friend’s garden, Tostat, early May 2020
photo credit: HG, Tostat

The flowers are all out on ‘Tiny Wine’. I have often raved about this gallant shrub and the flowers are just as lovely as the rest of it. Some people might draw the line at a crimson bronze shrub, but I am not one of those.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, early May 2020

In Spring, the Aristea begin to look lively. I have left both Aristea major and Aristea ecklonii out in the open this year, though given the shelter of the thickly-growing wisteria on the pergola. They look all the better for it, though I would have rushed in with fleece if needed. This is a true, strong sky-blue embellished with golden stamens. This Ecklonii sprig is leaning against the big brother, Aristea major.

Aristea ecklonii, Tostat, early May 2020

For my money, this is the best-ever Cistus. Cistus x cyprius var.ellipticus ‘Elma’ wins no prizes for the length of the botanical name, but it is quite the best flowerer in my view. The foliage is a strong green, glossy and slightly sticky with a highly pungent fragrance, and the flowers are big, bold and the whitest of white with deep golden stamens. Not rain-proof sadly, though. This weekend will have given it a good smashing- lucky that the foliage is really bright and healthy all year round. One of the plants I bought several years ago at the dry garden specialist, Pepiniere Filippi.

Cistus x cyprius var. ellipticus ‘Elma’, Tostat, early May 2020

Another pretty crinkled Cistus is this one- Cistus heterophyllus, which I bought from Jardin Champetre in Caunes-Minervois about 3 years ago. It has, as ever, taken some time to settle in but it is looking really good this year. It is a lovely tumbling variety, so would look amazing hanging off a step or terrace wall.

Cistus heterophyllus, Tostat, early May 2020

Note to self- buy some more Allium nigrum bulbs for next Spring. This is the only Allium I have ever really succeeded with- and it deserves a medal for endurance. I love the architectural look it gives with the simple white/green flowerhead.

Allium nigrum and Phlomis longifolia ‘Bailanica’, Tostat, early May 2020

Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley-Fisher’ is a great love of mine. I have written about her before, and this year she is even earlier with the first of her apricot-honey coloured simple flowers.

Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley-Fisher’, Tostat, early May 2020

Lockdown makes me look even harder at the garden and the plants. So this is the first time I have ever noticed the Stipa flowering, and the light was just right making the contrast work in my favour.

Stipa gigantea, Tostat, early May 2020

Thalictrum were one of my first seed-growing successes, but now, more than seven years later, I probably need to have another bash at this one especially, as the powder puff flowers are lovely against early morning sun. Thalictrum flavum glaucum is much more of a beast and a brilliant self-seeder, but Aquilegifolium needs a bit of a boost.

Thalictrum aquilegifolium, Tostat, early May 2020
The pond settling in, Tostat, early May 2020

The pond is settling in really well, with all the plants at least visible on a photograph now. We just love sitting on the rustic bench and watching what’s going on and a new lodger has appeared-this rather chubby dragonfly with the china-blue tummy. It loves living dangerously, perching on the very sharp tip of the Agave…ouch…

Male black tailed skimmer dragonfly settling in, Tostat, early May 2020

Sometimes you need new eyes…

Sometimes you need to go away and come back again, to see the garden in a different way. Having had a day away in the Valle d’Aran just over into Spain, coming back yesterday afternoon and evening was almost a re-discovery.  It was partly thanks to the soft light of late evening, which gave a kindly glow to plants that are suffering, again, owing to drought since our last rain, but it was also that I realised I often look at the garden from the same vantage points, and so, I see the same things.  If you couple this with my usual micro-vision tendencies, where I examine the individual performance of a particular plant- it’s a wonder I am not totally blind really.

So, this is what I noticed yesterday evening, as if for the first time.

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Looking towards the olive tree from the back door, Tostat, July 2016

The light really caught it.  Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana ‘Claret Jug’ shines out from the image with the ruby-red leaf backing picking up the light.  It is such an easy plant.  Although often described as hardy, I wouldn’t risk it even in our often mild, wet winters.  I grow it in a massive pot, partly filled with polystyrene chips to reduce the weight, and I just lug it into a covered, but open space in November, keep it pretty dry, and then start watering in March under cover.  I drag it out in April and the rest is all done without my help, though I do a weekly feed from about May onwards.  I am not really a begonia flower person, so the pink flowers are not my thing, but they are small and the leaves are the main act.  Tons of tiny bulbils get scattered and so you will have this plant forever, and keep your friends supplied if you just pot them up in the autumn.

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Being Gothic, Verbena bonariensis and an arch, Tostat, July 2016

I have often raved about Verbena bonariensis.  I love it for it’s attractiveness to butterflies and other insects, for it’s abundant self-seeding (which can also be a pain), but mostly for the electric quality of the flowers.  In low light, it’s as if it’s wired to the mains.

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A new view, Tostat, July 2016

This is a new view.  I am looking back towards the back of the house, across the top of my only-planted-this-year-from-seed-grown-last-year area.  This area has toiled a bit in it’s first year, finding the spring very cold, the summer very dry and the wind very debilitating.  But, I think it will make it, although this year will be a bit of a damp squib. These Liatris spicata bulbs, bought from Aldi for 60 bulbs at E3, a total bargain, have done a great job in providing some points of punctuation where flowering, as I hoped, has not quite materialised.  I don’t find Liatris a reliable returner year on year, I probably lose about 50% of them over a wet winter, but, they are so cheap and dependable, that I am still a great fan.  In the US, where they are native plants, they are often called ‘Blazing Star’- you can see why, something of the electric about them too.

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Slightly new view, Tostat, July 2016

This is a new view as far as the further away view is concerned.  In the foreground, is a reliable and terrific Pennisetum alopecuroides which I bought ages ago, put in the wrong place, replanted and now it adores where it is.  Slightly flattened by dryness, it is a gentle punctuation point at the end of the promontory bed.  It may be the variety, ‘Hameln’ but I can’t remember after all this time.  ‘Hameln’ is supposed to be the hardiest of the varieties and so it may well be that.   The thing with Pennisetum is that nothing seems to be happening in the growth department until really late in Spring, then up it pops, so it’s important not to poke it and panic.  The other main new-this-year-area is encircling the olive tree, and I have planted, though you can’t see it, another Pennisetum, Pennisetum alopecuroides f. viridescens.  I couldn’t resist the idea of dark-charcoal-purple-black flowerheads meeting, almost head-on in a Pennsietum-off, the older Pennisetum you see above in the photograph.

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A new view, Tostat, July 2016

This is a new view to me.  The foreground is of the new area encircling the olive, this year planted with, a great success in our dry summer, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ has been sterling.  It might even win me over to annuals.  But the real feature of the view is the borrowed landscape.  It is the dark green of the ornamental cherry tree, actually growing in a commune space, over our wall, which brings the Stipa gigantea to life.  Without it as a backdrop, you would hardly see the delicate, golden flowerheads of the Stipa.  Thank you, Tostat.

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The one that nearly got away, Tostat, July 2016

And this is a view that I nearly rejected.  Then I thought, ‘hang on, it’s different’ and so it stays.  Looking back across the grass towards the old privvy door, what you actually see is how comfortable the Hydrangea arboresecens ‘Annabelle’ is with its’ big, creamy flowers still looking good against the big leaves of Telekia speciosa.  And further along to the left, you can imagine though not quite see, the now-pinky flowerheads of Hydrangea paniculata filling in the space.

So dry and thirsty, but not yet down and out.  By contrast, the Valle d’Aran looked bewitchingly green.

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Near Vielha, Spain, July 2016





Sitting back and looking…

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The New Garden, Tostat, May 2016

The weather has been truly Scottish for the past week or so.  Blowing a gale, raining heavily and cold enough to be back in a jumper- the garden has stopped in its tracks.  So, despite a good round of cursing at the conditions outside, once I had stopped moaning about it, I decided to take a good look at things.  And, once I raise my gaze from each individual plant that I am nursing along, I do actually notice that, over time, things do come together.

In the New Garden, above, for example, it has been a long wait for some things.  This year, although you can barely see it in the photograph (centre) because of the galeforce wind, Stipa gigantea has at last decided that it likes me.  The beautiful slim golden fronds now reach about 2m tall and the whole plant has occupied its space fully. This has been helped by the fact that I have been on the case ripping out intruder plants that would have crowded it too much.  I have also embraced the white lychnis and valerian – it is does look light and airy at this time of year, and the best moment for it.  Next to the Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’, not yet tall enough to have conquered the brown stems from last year, my tiny Cotinus coggyria ‘Golden Spirit’ is almost 1m high and I think will really take off next year.  I really like the massed, tumbled look of the old and new planting coming together.  And you would never know that all of it is growing in poor, stony soil.  There have been casualties over the years, but what is there is doing a good job, I think.

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View down the back path, Tostat, May 2016

The back path, by the house, is a tricky space.  Bone dry and sunny on the left hand side of the photograph, with more moist conditions on the right.  I had never used grasses before coming to France, and I am a grassaholic now.  This Miscanthus is a seedling, now fully grown, and put it itself next to the Phormium, where I had earlier planted Hemerocallis. I probably wouldn’t have gone for the tiered effect myself, but having got it, I really like it.  Mind you, I pull out armfuls of Miscanthus seedlings all year round- you can have too much of a good thing.  I always say to myself that I will get rid of the pink valerian, but instead, I will cut it down to a stump after a couple of weeks as the colour goes muddy and the growth becomes lanky.

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The Stumpery, Tostat, May 2016, Dryopteris attrata with black stems, Mahonia ‘Cabaret’ and Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’ (the King) centre front.

This small, shaded, poor, slightly damp soil area is tucked away in the elbow of two walls just opposite the New Garden.  It is my ongoing shot at a Stumpery, inspired by Biddulph Grange.  The conditions here mean that growth is of the slow and steady variety, and I pretty much leave it to do its thing.  But this year, the ferns are bulking up, and I also realised only today that a rather pretty self-seeded thing, a drooping grass under the rose, is actually Carex divulsa, the Berkeley sedge.  So, nothing at all to do with my gardening efforts, but one to be kept and treasured.  Running around between the ferns is a charming little variegated groundcover, which I am hoping will become more adventurous, Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’, and I am replanting at the front some Molinia ‘Edith Dudszus’ a black flower stemmed grass, which will get just enough sun, I hope, after being fairly boiled last summer in another part of the garden.

The thing is I have learnt is that, when you look, really look, is when you can make new decisions about how a plant is doing, and when to move it.  Today, for example, refurbishing the Labyrinth area, I made the discovery about Carex divulsa- just because I was really looking and then I checked what I thought I had seen.  So, eight more Carex divulsa are now being trialled in a hot spot to see how they do.  I love that.  Today, in the belting wind and rain, Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’ is a delight.  I fell in love with it a few years back at Chelsea for its unusual, warm mahogany red colouring and upright flowering.  And when the weather picks up tomorrow, it will look even more glorious.

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Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’, Tostat, May 2016


A retro-feel to the garden today…

Day 2 of the Bac exams for my son, who has been labouring away with revision for what seems like ages, so not much time today what with fetching and carrying, cooking a lunch (well!) and generally doing domestic backup. But, in the garden this morning with my Ipad, and the combinations of bright sunshine and probably lesser photographic quality- not that I’m Lord Snowden you understand- seemed to me to bring a retro-feel to the images, bit 60s tablecloth.  I rather liked it.

Helenium 'Sahin's Early Flowerer', Tostat, June 2015
Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’, Tostat, June 2015

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' and Clematis texensis 'Princess Diana', Tostat, June 2015
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and Clematis texensis ‘Princess Diana’, Tostat, June 2015

Unknown pink Pennisetum, Tostat, June 2015
Unknown pink Pennisetum, Tostat, June 2015

Stipa gigantea against the Phormium, and the washing line!, Tostat, June 2015
Stipa gigantea against the Phormium, and the washing line!, Tostat, June 2015

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

and I don’t know what the strange onion-y thing is, below, but I am fond of it- comes up, looks a bit alien, and does no harm, and then goes away.

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