A new season…pre-autumn…

After the rain, Gossypium hirsutum flower, Tostat, September 2019

This week it has been all change. Fast forward to Autumn, or pre-Autumn if you prefer, with cooler nights and a couple of belting rainshowers. For those plants toiling under the heat, this has proved too tough a transition with many of them lying down with the effort. But for others, like my surprise of the summer, Gossypium hirsutum, it has been a real tonic. I am no Scarlett O’Hara, but I am really chuffed with my baby cotton plants. The glossy plum-coloured foliage is such a thrill in the heat, the upright stance makes such a good statement and these simply gorgeous, if short-lived, flowers keep coming. The flowers vary in colour, I don’t know whether this is to do with heat or coolness, but the flowers open a lovely cream-colour on cooler days and then heat up to the dark plum colour close to the shade of the leaves. In the heat, they go straight to plum.

Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

This Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’ has hung on despite my indifference to it. I bought it precisely for the later summer flowering and the reputation for serious drought- tolerance. It has delivered on both fronts- but despite being in the garden for 4 years, this is the first year that it has really caught my attention. I think that my problem was with somewhat twiggy young growth and tiny flowers- but with maturity comes real beauty. Yes, it is still twiggy, but this is much less noticeable now, and the perfume of the flowers, and their size, has really developed- and it has given over and over this summer. So I eat my hat.

First flowers, Ageratum alitissima ‘Chocolate’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant, newly renamed from Eupatorium rugosum to Ageratum altissima Chocolate’ or even Ageratina, is a real delight. Fabulous dark plum, almost black foliage that likes shade but will take sun, likes damp but will take much drier with time- this is a plant that really grows on you. The flowers come in September, and sweet though they are, tiny and cream-coloured, the main show is the foliage. If it flags in the summer, a bucket of water now and then will keep it going. For this small effort, you get a steadily growing clump up to 1.5m of upright, structural pluminess- what more could you want?

Anemanthele lessoniana, Tostat, September 2019

Here is another lovely thing that you have to wait till September for. This used to be Stipa arundinacea and is now called Anemanthele lessoniana. I moved two big clumps two years ago, and they have taken their time to get over their resentment. But, interestingly, now being in shade and full sun, rather than constant full sun, their colouring has changed. The flowering heads are greener, more silvery-green than pinky-silver and both clumps are enjoying the slightly cooler conditions. They look wonderful and even make the washing line area look, well, dramatic.

Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, September 2019

And another lovely September entrant- Colquhounia coccinea. A buddleia cousin, so read big, bushy with fast growth once warmth starts in the late spring- with the risk of looking utterly dead before that. It rockets up, so plenty of space required and elbow-room. Then, in September, the flowerheads pop up in between the branches. Very pretty, but they can be shy so don’t miss them. It is borderline hardy for me really according to the books. But, I did my best to protect the clump with some fleece during the coldest winter nights, and then hoped for the best.

It does take a while to be willing to risk growth, but I held my nerve. Only snag? Bindweed has decided to move in. So I have seed for Tagetes minuta, which I will grow on in February indoors, and plant out next year. This has been brilliant wherever I have used it elsewhere in the garden, so I have complete confidence it will do the trick.

Erodium manescavii, Tostat, September 2019

New flowers with the rain on Erodium manescavii. Just the way, you grow something and it comes up a treat, so you sow more seed and …nothing. Never mind, I will give it one more go in the spring.

Rain on Eupatorium capillifoium ‘Elegant Feather’, Tostat, September 2019

This plant is a bit of an oddity, but I love it. Eupatorum capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ makes a tall column of feathery green-ness and that’s it, but it is so pretty in amongst other plants and I wish I had more of it. It needs more damp than I can give it, but one of three plants has survived and make a comeback every year. I am not going to tempt fate.

Seedheads of Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Tostat, September 2019

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ is making cranberry coloured seedheads right now- I adore them, they look so bright and juicy.

Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’, Tostat, September 2019

I like Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii‘ for the emerald-green elongated leaves which are very elegant and hold the attention until the buds start coming- whoich can be as late as the end of October in my experience. But this year, we have one on show already. Don’t hold your breath- it takes an age to get from here to a flower.

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, September 2019

This Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ really is- big. 2.5 m or so in my case. It holds the back of the peninsular and outgrows Miscanthus ‘Malepartus‘- so there you are. But, it is currently horizontal on account of the rain, yet still doing purple-mauve beautifully.

Salvia ‘Amistad’ partnering Abelia chinensis ‘White Surprise’, Tostat, September 2019

See? The good old Abelia.

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

Coming over all mauve…

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Liatris spicata, Kalimeris incisa ‘Madiva’, Monarda fistulosa, Tagetes minuta, Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Baron’ and guest wild carrot, Tostat, July 2017

This new border, which I planted up this Spring, has saved my sanity this summer- well, almost.  There must be water under here, which I never noticed before as it used to be a jumble of messy shrubs- but water there is, throughout our burning temperatures, it has looked pretty much like this.  This photo was taken yesterday after rain, so the greens are all refreshed, but the plants are in great shape.  And I adore the self-sown wild carrot, which is frothing up at the back, so I have bought a packet of Daucus carota ‘Dara’ seed to amplify this effect myself next year with any luck. Monarda fistulosa has been torched in other parts of the garden but is still looking good here.  And I will definitely be growing the annual purple millet again, it is fabulous- I may even go for broke and grow the super-tall one, Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’, which can get to 1.5m.  It is super-easy from seed and then blows itself up in purple till the frosts see it off.

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Bupleurum fruticosum, Miscanthus Strictus and Buddleia ‘Nanho Blue’, Tostat, July 2017

Here is another bit that has done really well, although the Miscanthus is about 2/3 of the normal height.  The Bupleurum fruticosum has really hit it’s stride this year and is an insect cafeteria complex all on it’s own.

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Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fuji White’, Tostat, July 2017

This plant is always a surprise, Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fuji White’.   It just soars above the rest of the planting undeterred, and is such a cool customer.  Probably at it’s best in green surroundings, I love it.  It is helped by the fact that there is running water nearby no doubt.

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Salvia ‘Didi’, Tostat, July 2017

A slightly breezy-looking Salvia ‘Didi’, only in it’s first year and so still quite small, is nevertheless quite delightful with delicate pink and light apricot colouring.

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Tiny but indomitable, Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’, Tostat, 2017

Only about 10 cms high, yet this Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’ really does work hard in very dry conditions.  I managed to grow three decent plants from a small packet of seed last year, and I have really come to appreciate this plant, and will be growing more.

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Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Sanguisorbia and a stray Rudbeckia, Tostat, July 2017

I love this combination, and it is brought to life by the stray Rudbeckia.  This is another really good shrub, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, which I planted in last year and it has gone on and on, with tawny new growth that then colours up mauve or wine-coloured.  The Sanguisorba menziesii was grown from seed about 4 years ago and is now a great big clump, which I always forget to prop up until it’s too late.

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Another little group that have come together well, I think- Gaura lindheimeri, Lychnis, Phlomis russeliana, orange Abutilon, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, Tostat, July 2017

And lastly, not out yet, but cheering me up, which has been the point of taking these photos really, (proving it’s not all burnt out there!), are the architectural buds of Hibiscus palustris….to come.

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Hibiscus palustris in bud, Tostat, July 2017