Living on the edge…

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Rosa Jacqueline du Pre, Tostat, August 2018

Feeling rather grumpy about my grumpiness about the scorched earth situation- and also chastened by kind comments from Australian and Californian readers basically saying that at least I can count on the fact that it will rain again…sometime.  I think that, even though I completely want to create the watering-free garden that I think we all have to embrace- I am still disturbed by the implications of my self-inflicted policy.  It all goes to show that changing our aesthetic to fully embrace sustainability is really hard and cuts to the core somehow.

Having said all of that, I am also aware that I don’t have (yet) to be an utter purist.  I can and should do what I can to garden as close to the edge of sustainability as possible.  But it’s ok to save myself with some watering as the edge moves away from me.  Watering is not to be despised.  So, I am doing some selective watering over the next few days.  I have allowed myself off the hook.  But, from the above, you can see that it has been a bit of a moral tussle.

So, to invoke cheeriness (and maybe rain!), here is what is still looking good without any help from me- though these are isolated spots in amongst a sea of brown.

I actually dug up Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ over a month ago and stuck her back into a pot, as she was looking nigh unto death.  So with a pot-watering regime, she has begun flowering again.  She is really ‘worth it’ to ape L’Oreal.

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Bouvardia ternifolia, Tostat, August 2018

Staying with the pots for a moment, Bouvardia ternifolia is looking very very happy- a true pillar-box red, tender, but can be tucked away dry in a protected spot in the winter, watered copiously in the spring, and up she comes.

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Plumbago auriculata, Tostat, August 2018

In a pot, and in semi-shade, Plumbago auriculata has just begun flowering.  On the tender side, I mistakenly left the pot out during the winter, and was pretty sure that I had killed the plant.  But, it’s always worth hanging on- and back she came in June.  Very late to get started, but looking absolutely fine.

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Cestrum elegans rubrum, Tostat, August 2018
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Fully open, Cestrum elegans rubrum, Tostat, August 2018

Cestrum elegans rubrum was a bargain-basement shrub I bought last winter.  A little on the tender side, I was feeling pretty smug about it until we hit the 2 weeks of -10C.  The shrub collapsed.  I thought it was time for an obituary notice, again.  But, two months later, signs of growth could be seen, and though a little shorter with the heat, I think that next year she will be bouncing back at 1m plus all round.  And clearly tougher than I thought.  I love those surprises.

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Rosa moschata, Tostat, August 2018

I bought Rosa moschata from Olivier Filippi‘s nursery in the Languedoc, maybe 5 years ago.  He is a serious dry-gardening expert and all his plants are worth trying especially with his advice.  I over-risked the dryness it would tolerate, and had to do yet another emergency transplant into a pot.  Note to self: This is the edge of sustainability looking at me, again.  Out of the pot, and in a new home 2 years ago against the central pillar of the outdoor barn, Rosa moschata is reaching for the roof, and is on her second flowering.  Only a dozen buds open, but the scent fills the barn- a deep old-rose scent, gorgeous.

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The unknown red Abutilon, Tostat, August 2018

Last year’s baby Abutilon ebay purchase is in the ground, only about 20 cms high, but has already flowered non-stop since late May.  Abutilons fold their leaves down like wings when they are a bit heat-stressed- but they carry on anyway.  Real troopers.

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Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ and Leycesteria formosa formosa, Tostat, August 2018

The Vernonia nearest the canal is the only one still flowering, wrapped in the arms of Leycesteria formosa– the crimson meets the purple.

And for sheer mystery and magic, this new-to-me Pennisetum, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Japonicum’ is hard to beat, close-up.  Note: In France, this plant is known as ‘Japonicum’- whilst in the UK, it is Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Foxtrot’.

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Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Japonicum’, Tostat, August 2018

Maybe I like the danger of the edge….

 

The slimmest of pickings…

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Filipendula rubra Venusta and friend, Tostat, end July 2017

Well, actually, I’m not picking anything.  And the last couple of days have consisted of a massive electric storm, plummetting rain, and now we have boomeranged down to 17C from 37C, with grey skies and more heavy rain.  Not that I mind the rain, far from it, though it is a case of too little, too late, but at least it will reduce the death rate.  All small plants are being carefully tended and watered, not to venture into the ground until this madness is over.  But I liked this view of the Filipendula rubra Venusta, caught in morning sun a week or so ago, and thought that it looked good mingling in with the wild umbellifers.

Yesterday, the buds of the Hibiscus palustris still looked as if they were auditioning for a bondage movie, but today the first flower is out, photograph to follow if it survives this downpour.

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Buds waiting on Hibiscus palustris, Tostat, August 2017

I grew this Hibiscus trionum from seed about five years ago, and it has finally made it to just over a metre tall in our poor, stony soil.  But it is beginning to look worth the effort, and it looks ridiculously green despite the dryness.  Oddly, most English sites describe it as an annual, but I have to say mine is quite definitely perennial.  Even our Maire gloomily pronounced last week that he hadn’t seen such dryness since the terrible summer of 2003, the summer when we first saw the house on our househunting visit over from Scotland.

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Hibiscus trionum, Tostat, August 2017

Miscanthus sinensis Malepartus has decided to flower about a month earlier than normal and has gone straight to the silver stage.

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Flowering already, Miscanthus sinensis Malepartus, Tostat, August 2017

The Sanguisorba menziessii clump that I moved last year is very much liking where it is- again, I suspect that there is water in small springs under this part of the garden.  But the lovely red flowerheads are quickly going over.

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Sanguisorba menziesii, Tostat, August 2017
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Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, August 2017

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ has been flattened prior to flowering this year, as the rain poured off the bending banana leaves, so there are only one or two stray flowerheads surviving.

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Plumbago auriculata capensis, Tostat, August 2017

Having talked about Ceratostigma last week, this week the rather more refined South African cousin, Plumbago auriculata capensis, started to flower.  In South Africa, this could grow in a lax fashion to maybe 2m high and wide, but with me, more like 1m x1m. It is definitely tender and has to come under cover at the end of autumn.  For me, the darker skyblue of the Ceratostigma willmottianum is more attractive than the paler Plumbago, but in the land of small pickings, I will take what I can get.

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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star le Vasterival’, Tostat, August 2017

This Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star le Vasterival’ flowerhead is perhaps half the size of last year, but I am glad it kept fighting to flower, and hope it gets an easier ride next year.  it is named after another incredible plantswoman, Princess Greta Sturdza. who died in 2009.  Of Norwegian and Russian background, she married into the Moravian Sturdza family, and on moving to France in 1955, began her superb garden at Le Vasterival, near Varengeville in Normandy.  Le Vasterival still exists as a garden, not far from Le Bois des Moutiers, with more than 9,000 species and varieties of plants.  More than fifty years of skill and passion created this garden, not to be missed if you are visiting Normandy.  Among her cultivars is Hydrangea paniculata Great Star le Vasterival.

 

Holding the line….

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Vernonia crinita Mammuth, Tostat, August 2016

This Vernonia is about the last plant standing in the garden after this really difficult summer.  Almost everything else has browned and gone over early.  This is partly my fault.  I have been slowly making the garden over the years on the principle that, once settled in, everything must be tough enough to cope with the prevailing conditions- which this year have been on the monstrous side.

I remember reading Beth Chatto’s dry garden book, ‘The Gravel Garden’ when we first moved in.  It introduced me to the completely new world of plants that were so utterly different to my Scottish experiences.  She built a new gravel garden over her old car park in the very hot summer of 1976 if I remember correctly, and spent most days and nights worrying over the rainfall, which she measured precisely and the daytime temperatures, also measured and logged.  Her plan had been to plant correctly and to water deeply once, and then to reply completely on rainfall after that.   She stuck to her plan, despite temperatures in the 90s in old money.  But her agonies were plain as she wrote of the strain of trying to hold her nerve.

I have really felt this this year.  But to be honest, only in the two newly dug and planted areas that I started this year- actually the rest of the garden, whilst gone over early and on the crispy side, is actually ok- just spent.  So, I have decided to water on occasion over the last couple of weeks- reckoning that more than 7 days of 35Cplus, is way over what new plants can handle, and I do want to save my plants.  So, principles are shifting slightly to accommodate extreme conditions.  However, I am still trying to balance the need for the plant to be tested, so that they develop the root systems they need for next year.  So far, this delicate balance is working.

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Acidanthera murielae, Tostat, September 2016

But meantime, back in potted-plant land, it is all looking very lovely, if a real jumble of colours and shapes.  This bulb, Acidanthera murielae, does really well, but only as long as it has a dry frost-free winter experience, and then moisture when it needs to flower.  I rather like my ragbag collection of plants in pots, that will flower in late summer and are pretty obliging, as long as they are personally assured of their daily half can watering allowance.

So, I water with 2 cans, staggering about the garden with them, filling them up from the ruisseau without falling in, and it’s probably doing wonders for my arms and shoulders.  I have counted that to spot water the odd thing, deal with the big pots and then the small ones, and finally the seeds and seedlings, takes about 48 cans- and a full hour.  Mind you, when it is this hot, I love that time of the morning just before 0800 when the air is fresh and cool, so although it sounds like a big chore, I actually love doing it.

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Maurandya antirhiniflora, Tostat, September 2016

Maurandya antirhiniflora is a charming slender seed-grown climber which has flowered for the first time.  I have four small pots sitting in the big pot of ornamental orange, and they have been on the weedy side till this year, but are now twining delicately around the small orange tree, and looking very sweet indeed.  Ranging in colour from dark blue, to this purple, to a soft pink, they are sporadic but worth the wait, and I love the way it dresses the orange, which by now is sometimes a bit on the twiggy side.

And two more trusted plants which come back bigger and better in pot-land.  Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ is cheap as chips, and I love it more for its foliage than the delicate pink flowers.  Brush against it, pick a leave and roll it in your fingers and you are in the souk in Fez or Aleppo immediately.

Plumbago auriculata needs an easy winter.  Not too cold and not too dry, so I take it into the open barn which is usually just fine for it- enough cover to hold back the frost.  It is a slow developer each year, looking like a depressed bunch of twigs right up till June and then it just begins to romp.  It’s going to need a bigger pot next year.  Thank you, Chloris, for your correction on this plant!

See.. .your mind turns so easily to next year….

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Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ caught in the early morning sun, Tostat, September 2016
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Plumbago auriculata, Tostat, September 2016

 

 

Parties and droughts…

It’s been a while!  We hosted a mad and wonderful week of nonsense, great fun and friendship for friends from all over the world, culminating in inviting 62 people to a sitdown meal and dancing in the garden. This madness and fun could not have been achieved without the very hard work of many friends who cooked, carted tables and chairs, washed up and all the rest…But oh, the joy when naievity (ours) (Question: how hard can it be to do this? Answer, quite hard!) is matched by great help from good friends.

And, meantime the garden was gently crisping in the heat with temperatures well into the 30s every day (except the party, what a miracle) and no rain to speak of for a month.  Things were only just holding on with some watering for those plants that went in this year. The tougher birds from previous years moreorless pulled through on their own.  So, this gave the chance to try out something I had been meaning to experiment with- using a bottomless pot.  I read about this in an article by Bunny Guinness some while ago. Now, admittedly, she was mainly talking about small spaces and veggies, but I thought that it might really work where I had a bit of a pre-party problem.

We have a cheap, not very attractive, (but it will be when clothed in green) concrete arch that links the swimming pool area to the New Garden. I had grown 2 very happy Clematis flammula there, until something about this Spring, perhaps the very wet month just when they were waking up, killed them off. Left with tons of brown stick, I decided to stick in a honeysuckle baby, Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana‘, and a new Passiflora Caerula. For once, I bought a decent sized one in a 3l pot, and decided to bash the bottom out of a bigger pot, and use that to install the Passiflora, so that it had really good compost going into the poor soil from the bottomless pot, and also room to develop a good, deep root system to deal with the hot situation.  Then I mostly forgot about it, the party and whatnot…and it is actually doing really well. I did remember to give it a couple of really deep waterings with a full can, but other than that, it is already marching over the arch and will do the job by next year. Thank you, Bunny.

The last 2 nights we have had downpours of the monsoon variety so I am pretty confident we will have made it through the worst of the dryness. But, some things have been performing terrifically despite all my neglect and the conditions…This Echinops, Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’, has been a real doer as in most summers, I love it for the way in which it fills with colour gradually as if it were starring in a cartoon. It grows and puts it itself into the driest, poorest conditions but won’t cope with competition.

Echinops sphaerocephalus 'Arctic Glow', Tostat, July 2015.  Filling with colour like a cartoon plant...
Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’, Tostat, July 2015. Filling with colour like a cartoon plant…

I bought these lily blubs, Lilium Flore Pleno,  for pot planting last year in an absent moment and was a bit shocked when it turned into a very Mills and Boon type flower. But now, I am very taken with the shock of the tiger orange, and love it for its full-blown tackiness. No shrinking violet, this.

Lilium Flore Pleno, Tostat, July 2015...A touch of the Rita Hayworths...
Lilium Flore Pleno, Tostat, July 2015…A touch of the Rita Hayworths…

Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’ as the name suggests, is very tall. Maybe 2 and a bit metres for me. It likes some sun, but not too much and reliable moisture, so I grow it by the ruisseau, which accounts for it being in such a pristine state despite the month long drought. It doesn’t need staking and is completely hassle-free, making a good, solid clump.

Vernonia crinita 'Mammuth', Tostat, July 2015
Vernonia crinita ‘Mammuth’, Tostat, July 2015

I bought this sanguisorba from Groenstraat 13, a very good nursery by post in Belgium. Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Cangshan Cranberry’ is a recent Dan Hinckley introduction from Yunnan, and is now in its 2nd summer with me, and really getting into its stride. It grows tall, to about 1.5m, and once old enough, will hold itself very well against weather even though it seems so delicate. The burgundy flowerheads are gorgeous, and do that lovely thing of bobbing in any breeze. The foliage is delicate and attractive too.

Sanguisorba officinalis 'Cangshan Cranberry', Tostat, July 2015
Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Cangshan Cranberry’, Tostat, July 2015