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

Such strange times….

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Cistus x purpureus, Tostat, April 2017

Never mind the politics on either side of the Channel, at the moment, we have hurtled from mid-Spring to high summer with barely a heartbeat between.  The last 3 weeks have been so warm and sunny that everything in the garden is straining at the leash, but, at the same time, short and depleted as we have had no rain to combat the sudden warmth.  I have never had to seriously water tulips in pots before.   So bizarre and a bit worrying, all out of joint somehow.  But, on the positive side, it is rather wonderful to see almost all the roses in the garden out together, rather than the Banksiae rose being a solo turn for at least a month.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, April 2017

The downside is that the normally tall and wafty Thalictrum aquilegifolium (usually 1.5-2m high) is under a metre high, still, from a photography point of view, it is amazing to be so close to the powderpuff flowers, and on a sunny day against the dark stream bank, it looks almost spectral.

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Thalictrum aquilegifolium, Tostat, April 2017

It isn’t possible to do any weeding at all as the soil has baked dry, and so the weed friends are having a great, if slightly dwarf, experience, and there are parts of the garden that I haven’t made it round to yet.  The penalties of being away, having lovely friends to stay and the weather- never mind.  I am currently enjoying, though she can be quite tart (!), ‘The Deckchair Gardener’ by Anne Wareham, which reassures my dutiful-daughter persona that nothing will be lost by weeding later or not at all!

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Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, April 2017

Sticking with the roses briefly, here they are, looking the best that they have for years. For them, I suspect, the drought is not too problematic as they are really well-established, but the warmth has been accompanied by cool, refreshing nights and so this may be really suiting them down to ground.

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Rosa ‘Crepuscule’, I think, Tostat, April 2017

I adore this blousy old rose, which I think is ‘Crepuscule’.  It has gorgeous, warm, coppery colouring which fades to a creamy yellow and apricot- and a sweet, deep scent.  It doesn’t produce many flowers but they are all worth the wait.

Rosa 'Jacqueline du Pré', Tostat, April 2017
Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pré’, Tostat, April 2017

 

‘Jacqueline du Pré’ is a rose that I once attempted to smuggle back from the UK in hand luggage, but gave it up as a bad idea.  It now lives happily in Shropshire with my friend, Jane.  But last year, it appeared in France and so that was the green light.  It is only an infant but even now, has four beautiful flowers, which are probably going to be smashed by the heavy rain that we are finally promised this afternoon. So I dashed out to take it’s portrait whilst intact.

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Rosa ‘Pierre Ronsard’, Tostat, April 2017

‘Pierre Ronsard’ opens to a dark pink, tightly furled centre, with pale outer petals and then settles into domesticity as above, looking, well, pink.  But it is a lovely shape and I adore the tightness of the furled petals.  Useless for insects unless they had mining equipment, but lovely all the same.

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Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’, Tostat, April 2017

MAC is curently flowering amongst the euphorbias, and other remnants of Spring, in a dry and sandy location- but it is looking fabulous, hurling itself over a wall and shooting up in the air.  What an extraordinary athlete this rose is.  I can’t recommend it enough as totally trouble-free rose- and it flowers off and on all summer in spates.

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Rosa ‘Zephérine Drouhin’, Tostat, April 2017

Looking for a thornless, trouble-free climbing rose that needs a little support, but after that, will dig in forever- ‘Zephérine Drouhin’ is the one for you.  Lipstick pink is matched with bright green foliage and she now measures about 4m x 3m with me, and is still going up, draping herself very nicely over the end of the house and the covered barn. She is a showstopper when in full flow, which is expected to be next week once the rain passes over.

And at the other end of the scale,  Begonia grandis evansiana is making a start in a massive pot.  By the middle of June, the pot will be filled by it, reaching 1.5m high and wide, and it is such a good doer that I forgive it for being a begonia.  Waiting now for the rain…

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Begonia grandis evansiana, Tostat, April 2017