Thinking about laziness and sustainability…

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Verbascum nigrum with white valerian, white lychnis and achillea millefolium in the New Garden, Tostat, June 2019

Quite a bit of the garden has lived through one-arm gardening this year.  Generally, this means that I haven’t done my thorough spring weed clearance, and so the early weeds have regained some territory.  But I should not despair.

Reading Thomas Rainer‘s approach to gardening sustainably,  I have found some solace. He suggests that the garden can be seen as a meeting point between plants that we insert as gardeners and the natural response of the terrain to the conditions of life.  Most terrain is populated by plants already when we garden- and we are removing the plants that are linked to that terrain and eco-system, replacing them with others that may not. 

I am cutting to the chase here as Rainer uses science and botany to develop these themes.  So, in my case, the early spring growing and covering of the ground with annual plants/weeds that I did not plant is part of the ecological balance of the ground I work.  Rainer, I think, would argue that the essence of modern sustainable gardening is the point of equilibrium we can create as we balance the insertion of the plants we want with the plants that already exist there.  He would probably also be able to demonstrate that the plants I remove have an ecological function for the terrain, retaining humidity and microbiological balance.  He is looking for a more fluid and sensitive approach to gardening which works with nature rather than being in battle with it.

Take the New Garden in the photograph above.  A month or so ago, I felt that it had really run away with me irretrievably.  All the usual suspects were back and in action, and my new plantings from last year were overwhelmed.  But, now, the balance has changed.  My plants, the Achillea millefolium in particular, have surged into growth and the annual suspects are dying back.  It would still look a bit messy close-up to the Percy Thrower gardener (British TV gardener of the sixties much loved as a suburban gardening hero)- but I am wondering whether ripping out the usual suspects in Spring may not actually be damaging the resilience of this dry, hot area.

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Achillea millefolium, New Garden, Tostat, June 2019

The puritan work ethic in me wonders whether I am just developing a serious case of post one-armed gardening laziness.  But I am dismissing this thought, and going with Rainer.  I think that the dying suspects will end up mulching the ground around/between the plants, and once the heat is up (soon) nothing new will insert itself in there.  I will let you know.

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Verbascum nigrum close-up, New Garden, Tostat, June 2019

I grew some Verbascum nigrum from seed a couple of years ago, and they are still giving.  I adore the up-close exoticism of the cerise and orange stamens, and the stateliness of the bearing.  The flowerheads last for at least a month, slowly opening bottom to top.  I also have some white ones, which have popped up in another part of the garden.  What a pay-back.

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Verbascum nigrum album, Tostat, June 2019

Another surprise returner this year has been Centaurea, popping up to give little hits of colour as if I had sprinkled them there myself.  I grew Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’ last year which is a gorgeous deep maroon, almost black.  I have quite a few returnees of ‘Black Ball’ and, also some of the regular blue have appeared.  A sort of seed reversion I guess, but I don’t mind.

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Ceantaurea, Tostat, June 2019

Ali, the Mindful Gardener, thank you Ali, recommended this great plant to me last year, and so I bought seed.  Erodium manescavii came through easily, and is just beginning to flower.  At first, it doesn’t over-inspire, but now that the plants have settled in and are filling out the space, I can see that it will be a good choice.  Tufty, divided leaves spread out from a crown, and the flowers shoot up, a little hardy geranium-like, but a good size.  I don’t have it in the driest spot, but it is fairly dry all the same, so I will report back as the summer develops.

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Erodium manescavii, Tostat, June 2019

Early morning sun can be wonderful.  Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’– thank you Karen from Marsac, made a lovely crown for Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’ the other morning.  The Pennisetum is easy, fuss-free, and does well in a sunny, well-drained spot.  Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’ is getting better and better by the year, our stony soil takes a while to allow newcomers in- I just need to deadhead more often.

Good that I am almost back to two-armed gardening.

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Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ and Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’ in tandem, Tostat, June 2019

Kentchurch Court, a joyous tour of Centaureas and more

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The Walled Garden, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

A bright, sunny Sunday morning took us to Kentchurch Court gardens when we visited ‘Gardens in the Wild’ in June.  Our visit started with a very good-humoured mixup over our tickets, and in a way, that set the tone for what was a very warm, sunny, joyous garden- and that included the totally fabulous cream and raspberry scones that finished off the visit.  We met the gardener in charge of it all, who seemed as bright and optimistic as his garden over a discussion about Lychnis chalcedonica, the bright red pompoms of which can be seen in the view above and in detail below.

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Lychnis chalcedonica, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

The Walled Garden, in particular, was a joyous mix of shrubs and trees for structure, with big, bold repeating borders stuffed to the armpits with happy plants, some rare and unusual, others cheap as chips, and with repeating swathes of Lychnis chalcedonica, Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’  and Centaurea phrygia.

So brilliant. 300 seeds of ‘Black Ball’ from Sarah Raven, see above, and you would have an industrial scale planting possibility.  I was inspired and have done that, though in lesser numbers, with the Lychnis and ‘Black Ball’.  Really, really easy from seed.

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Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

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Centaurea orientalis, Kentchurch Court, June 201

I adore Centaurea orientalis too, but it does go to mush quickly as my friend Jane observed. For more about Centaurea as a family, Dan Pearson has a useful article.  But there was more to see than a Centaurea tour!

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Lovely mix of Hemerocallis and grasses. Kentchurch Court, June 2017

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Hemerocallis, Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’ and blue Penstemon, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

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A generous pergola, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

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Verbascum nigrum ‘Album’, the Lychnis, Geranium psilostemon, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

And lastly, a mystery plant, well, to me at any rate, and a possible rose identification.  NB. My pal, Jane the Shropshire Gardener, has identified the mystery plant as Salsify– (Tragopogon porrifolius) and it was weaving its way all through the border plantings, with these exquisite flowers and seedheads popping up all over.

What an inspiring garden, full of fun, colour and energy.  And great scones, trust me.

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Mystery plant now identified:  Salsify, aka Tragopogon porrifolius, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

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Stunning Salsify seedhead, Tragopogon porrifolius, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

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Rosa ‘Wild Eve’ perhaps, Kentchurch Court, June 2017