Thoughts on planting and weeding…

Verbena bonarienisis with Daucus carota, Tostat, July 2019

Forced inside by the massive heat last week, I took to reading about gardens rather than gardening. Also, I am in a reflective state about the garden at the moment as I am noticing the changes from having less ‘arm’ to do maintenance, and I am curious about how this will shape up over the summer. So, picking up Noel Kingsbury’s article about planting density, which I would ordinarily have saved for a rainy day, set me thinking. I won’t recount all the detail as you can pick this up via the link, but working backwards from his reasons as to why more dense planting makes sense made great sense to me. He posits three main reasons for dense planting:

  1. Denser planting reduces the need for weeding
  2. It increases biodiversity, providing more cover and food opportunities for essential garden wildlife
  3. More plants mean more biological activity which supports an effective ecosystem

So, possibly post-hoc rationalisation, but here is what I think is going on in ‘The Mix’ my perennials/grasses/shrub combination underneath the cherry tree at the back. A spot of analysis follows…

The Mix, Tostat, May 2019

This May photograph is a little late to qualify as Spring, but it will do. You can see the massive importance of the wafty Stipa tenuissima, the tall Allium nigrum coming through, and the pink of the Oenethora all work well together.

Just now, early July, those Alliums are still there as seedheads, but the whole look has gone up a gear in height and variation. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is sparking red through the planting, and an annual tall daisy, with many small, white flowers, which self-seeded itself last year, and has really romped this year, has taken the eye up further, whilst the Phlomis longifolia var.bailanica is giving stature with seedheads, and the grey-silver of the Helichrysum rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ (now also seen as Ozothamnus) planted 2 years ago is poking through nicely.

The Mix, Tostat, early July 2019

In mid July, the whole scene will change as Monarda fistulosa, which has just begun to open, will ripple through the scene with warm pink long-lasting flowerheads and will compete as the daisy goes over to take over as the main theme. Later, Patrinia scabiosifolia will come in at early August with electric-yellow umbels shooting through leading to Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ in September.

The first flower, Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, early July 2019

All that I have done is chosen some plants and threaded them between one another fairly closely, allowed a little room for self-seeders, and other than removing the odd dandelion or plantain, I have left it to sort itself out. What I have realised is that between me and it, we have built up a flow of plants that move into the foreground and change the dynamic as time passes- giving way to others as they go. Very little has needed to be removed, and the shrubby elements, the Phlomis bailanica, Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’, Helichrysum rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ and Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ have created the beginnings of a permanent structure as a backdrop.

The other article that continues to set me thinking was Alys Fowler’s article last week on weeding. I always like her thoughtful articles, and this year weeding has taken a back seat in Tostat. I have been surprised at how little this has bothered me, and I have learnt that I have only to wait for plants to grow up and over, thus hiding the interlopers. Then summer heat will finish most of the rest off. I just need to stay calm for the month or so in the Spring when it looks as if all is lost. I am going to go easy again on weeding next year. I adore the combination of the Verbena bonariensis and the wild carrot, Daucus carota and will welcome that back. (see top)

Where I will not go easy is my eternal battle with bindweed. But, 3 years ago, I grew and planted out Tagetes minuta all over the garden where we were under siege from bindweed. Tagetes minuta seedlings have continued to work away since them, and we have a very different garden thanks to them. I have ordered more seed for next year to bulk up the population.

Tagetes minuta still doing battle for me, Tostat, July 2019

Creams and colours…

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Cephalaria gigantea, Tostat, June 2019

Two years ago, at this time of year,  we joined in with the ‘Gardens in the Wild’ festival in Herefordshire, and visited about half a dozen gardens over the weekend.  So many good things to see and plants to take in- one of which popped up in various of the gardens, and I adored it.  Cephalaria gigantea won my heart, for slender but tall stature and creamy lemon flowers.   Insects adored it, and so did I.  From seed, it has taken me two years to get flowering plants- they grow so high that I would need a ladder to look down into them, and so you can imagine, two years is what it takes to build up a solid root base.  Unknowingly, I mixed them in with seedlings of Thalictrum flavum glaucum– but I think that the two giants get on rather well.  They are in the most moist part of the garden, so this summer will tell if they can take it.

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Dorycnium hirsutum ‘Frejorgues’, Tostat, June 2019

Dorycnium hirsutum ‘Frejorges’ is a slow-burn plant.  Needing sharp drainage, full sun and poor soil to do best, I was not bowled over it by intially.  But, growing slowly over 2 years, to make a crinkled silvery-green mound, and this year, flowering for the first time (unless I just have forgotten) with creamy pea-type flowers, it has earned it’s place in the garden.

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Jardin de la Poterie Hillen, Thermes-Magnoac, June 2019

The best bit from Jardin de la Poterie Hillen last week was….this view.  It was jammed with people- note to self, don’t bother with Portes Ouvertes days, find another time.  I really liked the shaped shrubs, the bench, the slim cypresses behind, the lilypad bowl and the three weathered uprights that sounded like metal, but felt quite light to the touch.  Material therefore unknown.  I also liked this rather florid clematis- baroque swags of flowers absolutely saved by their cool creamy green colouring, Clematis florida Alba Plena.  A good combination.  On the list.

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Clematis florida Alba Plena, Jardin de la Poterie Hillen, Thermes-Magnoac, June 2019

Back home, the trooper plants are blooming.  Both are Lychnis, the top one, Salmonea, I grew from seed a few years back which I got from the Hardy Plant Society and it is just beginning to self-seed gently in the mixed planting under the cherry tree.  The bottom one is the more common, scarlet chalcedonica– which I also grew from seed, and it gives a real flash of scarlet.  Nothing demure about it at all.  Easy and tough as old boots.

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Lychnis chalcedonica Salmonea, Tostat, June 2019

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Lychnis chalcedonica, Tostat, June 2019

In the Mix, the alliums are over but still making a great vertical against the Stipa tenuissima.  In the morning light, the effect is magical, golden, slender, wafting against the green of the emerging Miscanthus sinensis Strictus– not yet producing the golden zebra stripes that I love.  The Miscanthus has been waiting for heat so far this summer.

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The Mix with Stipa tenuissima and seedhead of Allium nigrum, Tostat, June 2019

In the cool, semi-shady conditions of the Bee garden in Peebles last month, self-sown  and spreading Camassia leichtlinii, don’t know the variety, were taking over beautifully from the Scottish bluebells.  My friend has them planted in and amongst a crimson-leaved acer, and the light filtering through the acer picks out the Camassia beautifully.  Irresistable.  But they must be resisted.  Tostat would bring certain death to moisture-loving Camassia.

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Camassia leichtlinii, Peebles, May 2019

But, close in colour, though again an unknown variety, that I got as a cutting from Jardin d’Antin nearby to us- is the plummy, purply, blue of this statuesque Penstemon- the orange background kindly donated by the spreading branches of the unknown orange Abutilon.

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Unknown Penstemon, from Jardin d’Antin, Tostat, June 2019

A week ago, I was talking about the Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’.  Here is a photograph of the quieter, less-in-your-face flowers of ‘Husker Red’- not creamy in my case, more of a pale mauve I would say, but pretty all the same, and flowering for the first time after growing from seed 2 years ago.  I am looking forward to seeing how the plants themselves develop.

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Penstemon Huskers Red, Tostat, June 2019

This coral-red Salvia is new to me, Salvia dichlamys.  The colouring has that electric quality that you get in the purple-mauve of Verbena bonariensis- it really speaks to you.  I shall be very happy to take cuttings later in the summer, and see what happens when brought in for winter.

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Salvia dichlamys, Tostat, June 2019

Come rain, come shine…

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End of the evening with Stipa tenuissima, Oenethora speciosa shutting up shop, and the last of Cerinthe major ‘Kiwi Blue’ in the distance, Tostat, May 2017

This May has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and in these moments, it is hard not to become totally obsessed with the weather forecast, and then what actually happens- usually not at all as predicted.  In summary, the dry soil sun-lovers have really enjoyed themselves and other things have not, some of which have hung on in there and one or two may have bitten the dust.  This is because I don’t water.  To be precise, I do spot-water things in extremis in their first year, but after that, I don’t.  Stubborn or what, you might well say.  But I am trying to finetune the selection and growing of plants that can live here unaided, and now that there is so much variability in the weather at any time of the year, it makes you feel a bit like William Tell trying to skewer that apple with both legs bound, and from a moving platform.

One of the plants that may have crashed and burnt is one of two Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’.  Interestingly, the one that is in the ER wagon is the one in the slightly less hot spot. I so wanted to grow this plant, having chosen it years ago as part of a planting design for my diploma course- and it was the devil of a job to find it here in France.  So I was mightily pleased when I found not one but two plants last year, and planted them in the early Spring.  It is a delicate, airy columnar shrub, which is pretty undemanding and is reputed to cope with almost any conditions, especially frost.  So, I will have to see if it will perk up from the bottom or find a way of making a comeback.   Meantime, some gentle watering on occasion as it is in the ER wagon.

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Verbascum bombyciferum, where it put itself, Tostat May 2017

Some delights have also turned up. That is not to say that Verbascum bombyciferum is entirely a delight as it can plonk itself slapbang where you don’t want it, and then you have to keep beheading it as it is impossible to get out, with a giant root system that practically goes to Australia.  But it is a mighty and impressive beast when it lands where you might not know that you want it, but you discover that you always did!  With us, the first year is quite a small affair, and then, aged 1-2, the giant seems to leap fully formed out of the ground in front of your eyes.  Felted, hairy and covered in custard-yellow small flowers, it is a one-stop insect feeding station.  It keeps the form and stature right through winter until, totally dried out, it keels over and you are tempted to shout ‘Timber’.

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Assorted foxgloves in dampish soil and sun, Tostat, May 2017

Curiously, it has also been a great year for foxgloves- all self-sown and obviously selecting the parts of the garden where they stand a chance.  That is one of the lovely things about not being too rigid about what goes on where, I love being surprised by what pops up and, also, flip side of the coin, by what doesn’t pop up.  Some years, the foxgloves don’t make much of an appearance- but they always return in the end.

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Euphorbia sikkimensis, Tostat, May 2017

Now here is a survivor.  Grown from seed and fairly weedy for a couple of years, this is the year where it has broken through youth to become a real plant of substance.  I think it’s Euphorbia sikkimensis anyway.  It’s at least 5 years ago that I grew it from seed and it wasn’t a happy sowing, as not much came up, and I lost the tag.  This plant is the only survivor of three.  But it really is worth it.  It is going to make a handsome 1m tall and wide plant, with these electric yellow flower bracts that form on the top of each stem.  Unlike some, it is not a thug, in fact, I would put it in the ‘shy and retiring’ category.  It flowers much later than the rest- sometimes as late as the end of June, and it is willing to cope with the driest, sunniest spot in the garden without any visible complaint.

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Evening sun and handling no rain pretty well, Tostat, May 2017

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Clematis viticella, Aruncus dioicus and the foliage of Paeonia lutea var.ludlowii, Tostat, May 2017

le Jardin d’Entêoulet

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Cotinus coggygria ‘Kanari’ encircled by Stipa tenuissima, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

The first ever garden-visit expedition was made by Tostatenfleur last Saturday to the Jardin d’Entêoulet, just outside Lasseube-Propre in the Gers.  We deserve a blue plaque to mark the occasion!  Nearly 20 of us assembled there at 0930 to be given an excellent and very relaxed tour by the garden-maker, Mme Renée Boy-Faget.  She has made an exceptional garden, and having the energy of an army herself,  it has been a single-handed labour of love.  The word ‘passion’ applies to Mme Boy-Faget.  She is no shirker from hard work and physical labour, and is a walking advert for the benefits of spending her time creating the garden she wants.  In terms of space, it is much much more garden than most of us would contemplate, more than 2 hectares of what were simply fields and farmland up until 2001.  Her work achieved the accolade of being voted ‘Le Jardin Préféré des Français’ in 2014, fighting off 21 other gardens in France- and it was richly deserved.

She has and had a vision.  She clearly has the ability and the ‘eye’ to look at a space, small or big, and see how it could be.  So that is greatly to be admired.  But, perhaps, even more impressive is the simplicity of much of her planting.  She has blended easy-to-grow ordinary perennials which repeat through much of the garden with the occasional show-stopper, like the extraordinary Cotinus coggygria ‘Kanari’ that I have never seen before.

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Rosa Leontine Gervais, Barbier 1903, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

Her lovely collection of more than 280 rose varieties, many of them very unusual, are also accompanied by simple, repeat plantings of catmint, phlomis and sisyrinchium. Grasses are everywhere, much to my delight.  Above is Rosa ‘Leontine Gervais’, which is very similar in colouring and tone to ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’ but with much larger trusses of flowers from cream to warm apricot.  Absolutely gorgeous.

Her planting style is relaxed, plants find their space- and she resists the urge to over-stuff or prune/trim,  the feeling she creates is that the plants get the chance to do their own thing.  Although she will cut back if she dislikes something or becomes too big for its boots- no messing there.

She clearly uses every single one of the many babies that your average Miscanthus produces in our climate here- and to great effect.  I will definitely be going back for an autumn visit when the grasses will be flowering magnificently.  I also really liked the sense of integration in the garden.  It is a glorious whole, with different scenes, areas and colours, but the whole remains connected.  To a great extent, the simplicity of the repeated plantings really helps with that, but also there is a flow through the garden that works even in the new plantings at the bottom of the slight hill.

No more words- here are some views and some plants that really caught my eye.  If in the Gers, ring up and go.  A really inspiring three hours.

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A romantic view of the entrance path, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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A view to the Lutyens bench, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Looking through the relaxed planting, le Jardin d’Entêoulet. May 2017

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The dry garden, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Complete with resident frogs sitting on the lilypads, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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The formal pool, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Red painted vine stumps lead the way past Papaver, ‘Beauty of Livermere’, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Sir Cedric Morris’ performing brilliantly by the formal pool, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Sir Cedric Morris’, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Vilchenblau’ coming into the sun, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Bees enjoying the peony poppy, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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The vine stumps appear again at the pool, a good bit of theatre, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

 

 

Le Jardin Secret: simplicity and elegance matched with drama and boldness

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Kalanchoe beharensis, gold and velvet, feels like cloth, Le Jardin Secret, Exotic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

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A lone Tulbaghia violacea floats in a sea of Stipa tenuissima, Le Jardin Secret, The Islamic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

Le Jardin Secret is a magnificent addition to all that Marrakesh offers, opened only a year ago.  Right in the heart of the Medina on an historic site, an Italian investor wisely chose not to build a hotel, but instead, to create a magical evocation of the Islamic Garden, and an accompanying Exotic Garden.  What a man. I take my hat off to him.  Using skilled local artisans and an international team of archaeological surveyors and historians, as well as the contemporary botanical, architectural and design skills of Tom Stuart-Smith,  Andy Hamilton, Sante Giovanni Albonetti and Karim el Achak– they have all created something quite stunning. Given the people-squash that was Jardin Majorelle, by contrast, Le Jardin Secret was calm and quiet- and therefore, a double delight.

These two plantings above capture the essence of the 2 gardens at Le Jardin Secret.  The first garden you come to is an explosion, an eruption of drama, shape and colour using exotic plants from all over the world.  It soars, surprises, creeps at your feet and draws gasps.  Beautifully brought together for maximum impact and contrast, the planting uses surprisingly few varieties, but creates a rollercoaster of a picture, from a four-trunked palm at least 200 years old to splashes of limonium at your feet.  This garden had no archaeological heritage to honour, there were no traces of what may have once been here at the height of the Riad’s fame in the nineteenth century- and this gave a design free hand.  Fully used, in planting terms.

The Islamic Garden, which sits at an angle to the Exotic Garden, with a dogleg through a new pavilion as the bridge between one and the other, had lots of archaeology which presented itself to the team.  More was discovered as the clearing and excavation went on preceding the build.  This gave the team a classic Islamic Chahar Bagh to work with.  The team took the decision to honour that tradition fully in the choice of plants and trees, with one concession to water preservation and contemporary dislike of bare soil.

Where the traditional Islamic Garden would have preserved bare earth between plants, Le Jardin Secret has chosen boldly to go with a flowing sea of Stipa tenuissima, into which lavenders and other aromatics are inserted.  This grass is a delight. The movement, the way light hits it, the tousled look of it, all create dynamism and flow, but yet no sense of effort or forced energy.

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In the brilliant sun, Stipa tenuissima and lavender, Le Jardin Secret, The Islamic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

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Rosemary hedges hold the sea of Stipa, but the Stipa fringes the raised, classically tiled and paved paths that lead to elegant seating and small, bulbous, fountains.  Le Jardin Secret, The Islamic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

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View down onto The Islamic Garden.  The central rill divides the 4 squares feeding a fountain at the far end (out of view).  Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

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Looking down the central rill to the lotus fountain, The Islamic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

How do you feel in this garden?  It creates simplicity and unity from a limited, traditional palette of planting- but the star of the piece is the humble Stipa which, as water would do, subtly changes the look and the feel of the garden without disturbing.  It was a truly tranquil moment in the rush and bustle that is Marrakesh.  Stunning.

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Looking through the dogleg, the traditional staggered entrance, from The Islamic Garden back into The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

They are a brilliant complement to one another.  The Islamic Garden is a class act, simple, elegant, restrained and cool, whilst the Exotic Garden bursts on the scene like a contemporary firework.  A tour de force.

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Intense light and shade on a hot day, with surprise and stature to match, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

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Brick red Aloe ferox gives a shot in the arm, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

 

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In the shade, Euphorbia dendroides, Aloe ferox (yellow) and Melianthus major, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

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Socking purple, the bee heaven that is Limonium perezii, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

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Red-pink Aloe striata against the deep pink-red of the new pavilion creating the staggered entrance to the Islamic Garden, The Exotic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

Book your tickets to Marrakesh now!