On time and sunsets…

From sunset to sunset. Not strictly true,as I took these photographs over three successive days…but, well, who’s quibbling? Week 3 of lockdown and time has taken on a surreal quality. I am never sure what day it is in the week until I take a look at a gadget, tablet or laptop, and, time itself seems to me to have stretched in quality too. With so much time to focus in on friends, family, the garden, the house as well as all the things I enjoy doing, sometimes I can feel the sense of there being no pressure to complete anything- just a sense of achievement if I move things along a little.

Normally, I am a gardener of bursts, bursts of concentration and energy which can lead to charging at things with a lot of sound and fury. This last 3 weeks, I am feeling a different pace, where the wander round the garden first thing with the green mug of tea doesn’t turn into making a list. Rather I notice that something needs doing, and I think, ” Well, that needs doing, ho-hum”. In other words, it’s the difference between noticing things and self-recrimation for not having done it yet. And some things feel as if they may never get done, shock horror, till next year even.

Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’, Tostat, March 2020

Now here is a plant that I have been ignoring. Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’ was bought in a bargain basement fervour last Spring, and, until, a week or so was a bunch of very dead looking twigs. Hooray for Spring regeneration. This is a small shrub, which will do no romping unlike most other Cornus relatives. Eventually, it should make a 0.80m clump all round, with golden foliage and fiery stems in the winter. It will get there, I have faith.

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’, fresh ruby stems, Tostat, March 2020

This plant, Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’ was bought as seed from the truly wonderful Liberto Dario, who sells his amazing collection of seed through his Facebook page. I am totally in love with this plant. A biennial, so the first year is the appearance of the gorgeous purple splodged foliage, which stayed true all winter for us, and then, in the second year, you get the ruby red stems and the deep pink flowerheads on an upright and sturdy plant. The purple splodged foliage is to be seen to be believed- in low light, it almost looks like a Star Wars plant from a distant planet. I love it so much there are three photographs- possibly a first in itself.

If you don’t know Liberto, his seed collection is phenomenal. Much of his seed material is pretty unusual, and he has a great range of seed for hot, dry situations, being based in Greece. I can’t recommend him highly enough. If you are interested, follow the link above to his Facebook page and PM him. He will then send you plant lists and you can while away hours trying to choose.

Emerging flowerhead, Tostat, March 2020
And the flowerhead opens to a dark pink, Tostat, March 2020

Meanwhile, the Epimediums have been clumping. I am not a great tidier of the old foliage, I don’t mind spotting the sprays of pretty little yellow flowers in amongst the leaves. They are so fragile-looking, but can take a fair bit of Spring weather without collapsing. I have now forgotten which Epimedium this is- but I am taking a chance at ‘Fröhnleiten’ on account of the yellow flowers.

Epimedium x perralchium ‘Fröhnleiten’, Tostat, March 2020

And here is my favourite Anemone, just demonstrating the importance of happenstance in the garden. When I first planted the three small bulbs here about six years ago, the bluebells hadn’t turned up and I hadn’t planted the Physocarpus, one of my favourite shrubs- what a great mix they make.

Anemone x fulgens Multipetala in amongst Spanish bluebells and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, Tostat, March 2020

On warmer afternoons in the past week, this pretty butterfly has been very active- I am not a great butterfly buff, so my identification may be off- I stand corrected if needed.

Maybe Pararge aegeria, the Speckled Wood butterfly, enjoying Euphorbia, Tostat, March 2020

I have identified this Muscari, down below, as probably ‘Mount Hood’ but I am not sure as it is a paler blue than Mount Hood in most of the descriptions. But I promised Tony Tomeo that I would take a photograph of this sweet little white-capped Muscari- so promise delivered! By the way, it is a darker blue today, 2 days later, but I am not sure…

Muscari, possibly ‘Mount Hood’, Tostat, March 2020

And hello, here comes Osmunda regalis. This poor fern is in a place it likes, but it gets lost in the wash later in the year, so I only ever notice it when the first new leaves are powering up. Sorry!

Osmunda regalis, Tostat, March 2020

These are the first leaves on Carpinus betulus Franz Fontaine- a beautiful fastigiate beech, which I bought really tiny about 9 years ago. It had a serious accident with an animal, which reduced it by half, and I was in despair. So, even though it is only a metre and a bit high now, I am very very fond of it, and can’t wait for it to become a real tree….

Carpinus betulus ‘Franz Fontaine’, Tostat, March 2020

And here is an attempt to show you Hedera helix erecta– which, as you can see, is more of a Hedera right angle- erecta in real life. I love the tightly packed leaves on the stem, but have no idea why it has decided (both plants) to do a 90 degree turn rather than grow straight up. I think I am stuck with right-angle-itis. Mind you, it in a hot, dry spot, and seems to be perfectly happy.

Hedera helix ‘Erecta’, Tostat, March 2020

I am a newbie with vegetables but am making a nervous start this Spring. I sowed seed, under fleece, of the Pea ‘Douce Provence’ and am thrilled with my first flower…

Pea ‘Douce Provence’, Tostat, March 2020

And to demonstrate that Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane Grey’ is even more lovely before she opens, here she is.

Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane Grey’, Tostat, March 2020

And I think that’s been quite enough from me….

Tostat sunset, March 2020

Big and little in focus…

The first Apple blossom, Tostat, yesterday

The lockdown in France, now extended until somewhere in mid May, creates a strange state of continual tension. Forced to focus in, the mind explores small things, small changes, observes more than usual maybe in the garden. But tension exists continually with the global macro situation of countries battling, systems battling, people battling the hidden enemy. I think that I have adapted reasonably well to the changes in everyday life, but then, unexpressed distress is never that far from the surface- usually prompted by news of close family and friends or stories of loss. So, the early appearance of blossom in the garden set off tears this week, tears for earlier times when there were less big questions to address and maybe much more complacency.

Cherry blossom, Tostat, yesterday

The apple blossom in first flush is pink and embarassed to be out so early whereas the bitter cherry is self-assured, just a little early but who cares? And with the bright, sunny weather, not always warm till the afternoon, and sometimes misty in the mornings, buds are appearing

Libertia grandiflora was one of the first plants that I tried from seed, courtesy of the Hardy Plant Society. It slowly, slowly makes a stately clump of bright green strappy foliage, evergreen all year although looking tired by the New Year. And then, the fat buds hide themselves by sitting sideways on on the stem, so they are easy to miss on a quick fly-by. It will take the driest conditions and also is happy in moist conditions- a very tolerant plant.

Libertia grandiflora in bud, Tostat, March 2020

Last year, I planted five small clumps of Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ into terrible soil in full sun close to the Stumpery. Terrible in that it largely consisted of coarse sand and building rubble, mixed with old crumbling concrete. And here they are again, unbothered by their neglectful surroundings and bringing an air of pristine sophistication temporarily to a squalid little corner.

Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, Tostat, March 2020

Sometimes plants creep up on you. About 2 weeks ago, obscured by my weirdly right-angled Hedera helix ‘Erecta’, (which I must try and photograph so that you can see how odd it is), I noticed this tall, slim, strung out plant with shrubby stems- so clearly not a weed. Poking around at the bottom of it, having already decided that it closely resembled a Phlomis but with no memory of it all- I found a handwritten label from a great nursery in the Languedoc at Caunes-Minervois, ‘Le Jardin Champetre’. Phlomis cretica, it is. I might remember it when it flowers!

Phlomis cretica in bud, Tostat, March 2020

Our gas tank left us last month. A dramatic experience, as you can see. Our plan is to create a wildlife pond in the driest and hottest part of the garden. This may seem mad, but I think it will be fine, and anyway, what else interesting could be done with a giant hole. Getting started on it has been slow. But we are buckling down to it, and helped by the fact that nurseries are still taking and delivering online plant orders, there will be news as to progress. I have never had the chance to do this before, so it’s a whole new area of knowledge to get the head around, which does make it very worthwhile now that life is constricted.

The gas tank leaveth us, Tostat, February 2020

Back to the micro, and Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynabbie Gem’ is flowering- it is the very lightest shade of mauvey-pink so it easily looks white in bright sun. It has not been such a good plant as I had hoped, very stringy and tall, but it does cope with an exceptionally dry and hot part of the garden, so I shouldn’t be too hard on it.

Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynabbie Gem’, Tostat, March 2020
Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, Tostat, yesterday

This little tulip, Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’ is a fleeting thing. Very fragile and slender, I think it actually looks best partially closed, as the petals which open out white are a gorgeous muted pink on the underside. My photographs have not done it justice, I will try again.

Twiddling thumbs…

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Tulipa clusiana Lady Jane, Tostat, March 2018

How does this little tulip do it? We are talking stems the width of shoelaces, and the flowers seem so delicate, looking rather ghostly in the greyness and wet of today.  In fact, their light meter is definitely stuck at ‘sunny’.  I am astonished by the casually butch approach it is taking to our latest bout of winter.  We are back to freezing temperatures, wind and rain, even thunder, and once again, any sensible plant has just stopped in its tracks.

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Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, clumping up, Tostat, March 2018

Indoors, I have been laughing out loud at Anna Pavord’s 2010 book, ‘The Curious Gardener’.  Her deft wit and sense of humour pervades this selection of articles she wrote when gardening correspondent for ‘The Independent’.  I really did laugh at her account of Pavord family Christmases- and I love her self-effacing acceptance of gardening bloomers and disasters.  Unlike some, whose books can simply load you up with guilt-inducing instruction, she lightens all loads with her humour and likes and dislikes.

When the weather has given up annoying me for short periods, I have been out planting.  I have to, as my experimental growing perennials from seed phase has produced about a hundred small pots.  All of these have either been sitting on gravel through all the weather we have had, or some lucky ones got planted out in a spare patch to be dug up in the Spring.

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Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’, Tostat, June 2015. This clump produced about 10 plants when split.

Included in that number were some purchases last Autumn that I split and re-potted, so all in all, there is no excuse for not planting up generously.  I have been really struck by how bombproof these small plants have been.  I reckon that the death rate has been only 1-2%- which is brilliant.  The baby Echinacea pupureas were almost washed away in the rains of January and February, but all are putting on good growth although I need to top them up with a bit more compost.

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, was a great success from seed photo credit and seed supplier: http://www.seedaholic.com

So, I am having a dense planting push.  I am ignoring conventional planting distances and going for less than half the normal recommendations.  I have one area that is entirely perennials with some added structural plants- and this area, now approaching its third birthday, is looking very promising, with lots of self-seeding. All I am doing is taking out dandelions and other major pests- otherwise, I am leaving it alone.

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Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’. This split really well and easily, producing about 4-5 plants from each mother plant. photo credit: http://www.finegardening.com

In other parts of the garden, I am using this chance to really beef up the planting.  Mulching is a tricky proposition for me.  It risks flattening self-seeding, which is what I am after, and so I am trying out a slightly different approach.  Having read a short article about Thomas Rainer, an American landscape architect who is a big mover in the sustainable planting world, I then bought his book, written with Claudia West, ‘Planting in a post-Wild World’.  This is a scholarly tome, which carefully explains the building of resilient plant communities, but at the heart of it are the following principles:

  1.  Amending the soil- don’t
  2. Double digging- don’t
  3. Soil testing- do
  4. Mulching- don’t
  5. Planting cover crops- do
  6. Buying a lot of plants- do
  7. Curbside planting- do
  8. Experimenting and having fun- do

By all means read the book- it is very inspiring, but to get the gist, the Gardenista website article kickstarts all you need to know.  I am not a regular Gardenista reader, too much designery clap-trap for me, but just sometimes, it is spot-on.

So, with my small and brilliantly tough plants, I am setting out to offer them co-habitation in the hope that they will make me some resilient plant communities.  And where it is tricky to that fully, I am doing something different again.

My driest, hottest parts are actually pretty much jam-packed with plants- but even so, in  our wet Springs, I get masses of passing-through weed activity.  By that I mean, naturally occurring early season weeds, which actually mostly get burnt off or dried out by the height of summer.  So, this year, I am not going to charge about pulling them out, I am going to leave them be.  This is on the grounds that they have a role in protecting the durable plants through the winter and spring, and then, by and large, they die off.  So, as long as the balance between them, and the permanent plants stays in place- they are actually preventing the dessication and erosion of the soil by being there.

Thinking over- I am dying to get out there again!

 

 

 

 

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Caught in a flurry, Magnolia stellata, Tostat, March 2018

Strange how the cold breeze ruffled some of the new flowers on the Magnolia stellata, but not others- and with no windbreak either.  The weather is bouncing quixotically from 2C in the morning, to 21C, and then greying over in the afternoon with a cold wind- which accounts for the fact that most things are biding their time for more stable temperatures- but it is Skegness-bracing for us humans- and the ground is slowly regaining malleability as the torrential rain seems to have stopped.

Only small moments are happening in the garden- human activity is focusing on big-weed removal, like dandelions where I don’t want them- they can help themselves to the ‘lawn’ in my view.  Personally, I wouldn’t grace our mossy and dry, how can it be both?, grass with the term ‘lawn’.  But then again, I’m not that bothered about lawn-stuff.  My eyes glaze over when Monty Don starts on about lawns and grass.

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Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, Tostat, March 2018

I rather like the delicacy of this little tulip.  I have a feeling that I should have planted them deeper, I will try and remedy that for next year.  I bought a handful of Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’ in the autumn, as an experiment.  Of course, I had forgotten where I had planted them, and then I had also done a massive clearout of the vicinity, which may have disturbed them a bit.  So they are a bit on the wobbly side.  I had a go at tucking them up a bit more with some pale gravel, which does set them off quite well but may not really help anything.  Let’s hope that they are tougher than they look.

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Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, Tostat, March 2018

If there is enough sunshine, the flowers open wide to show thick chocolate stamens and a splash of liquid gold at the centre.  I think, though, that I like the half-open position, so that the soft pink contrasts with the white of the flower.

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Narcissus Finland, I think, Tostat, March 2018

Continuing with the pale and delicate theme, these daffodils have graced me with a return this year.  I think I have to review my bulb purchasing.  The last couple of years, tulip and narcissus bulbs have done very poorly for me, despite growing them in pots with sharp sand to help with drainage.  So, last autumn, I just threw some old bulbs into the ground, thinking, ‘Fat chance’.  But, there they are.  Looking back, I think I have named this variety properly, but carelessness abounds.

By contrast, these daffs, from a purchase last autumn, have positively shocked me with their Disneyland colouring.  I am sure that these were meant to be cream with an orange trumpet, a sort of extra-frilly one, but you need your sunglasses on for these.

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Narcissus ‘Chantilly’, Tostat, March 2018

With a name like ‘Chantilly’, you would expect cream, wouldn’t you?!

The white Japanese quince, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, was pretty nipped by the frost the other week, but bolstered by a background show from the Magnolia stellata, was giving a final show.  I rather liked the impressionistic feel of the breeze through the blossom.

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Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, last flurry, Tostat, March 2018

But for more to happen, we must wait more.  A beautiful installation at the Garden Musuem, London last month took my fancy on a wintry day.  Called ‘The Vitrine’ and made by Rebecca Louise Law, it is a simply gorgeous copper wire suspension and arrangement of flowers.  Here is the view from one side, and, with reflections, from the other side.  Magical.

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The Vitrine, by Rebecca Louise Law, 2017, Garden Musuem, London

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The Vitrine, from the other side with reflections, Garden Museum, London