Delphiniums and other dreams


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Euphorbia x martinii & Tulipa praestans

This site is called ‘Garden Dreaming at Chatillon’, but I never really write about the main dream. Today, when the dream seemed so far away, I refocused and pondered whether or not I actually needed some help in the garden.

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Tulip ‘Sweet Impression’. Still flowering since planting in autumn 2014. Definitely a ‘stayer’.

Since I was about 26 years old my biggest dream has been to have a very large, very beautiful garden and to share its beauty with other people. Sad, I know, but that’s kind of the way some of us think. That dream led me through endless evening classes in London, jobs in parks departments and finally to RBG Kew, where I did rather well.

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Narcissus ‘Peeping Jenny’.  I add to them every year.

Ok – there were other dreams too. I wanted, for instance, to be an excellent flautist (now I am the worst flautist in the local orchestra). I also wanted to be a passing good artist (I love it, but find very little time to do ‘the work’). I also dreamed of playing the violin (I still do, but the cats leave the room).


News today! Narcissus poeticus ‘Actaea’ is flowering. So sweetly scented and one of my favourites, but later this year with the cold weather and rain.

That’s life, isn’t it: if you don’t dream and reach, what are you?

I’m about 1 and a half months behind with work in the garden at the moment (there are very good reasons, but I won’t bore you with details).

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The veg plot is a mess. But there are broad beans, and soon there will be peas!

And it’s going to be open to the public for the first time on Sundays May 27 and June 10 under the Jardins Ouverts scheme here in France. Today I looked at the garden and thought: how can you possibly say that this garden is worth looking at? It’s a mess! Sometimes I think it looks a bit like a four-year-old’s drawing of what a garden should be!

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Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii doing its thing in the (weedy) Mirror Garden

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The steps by which visitors will enter the garden. The hazel at the bottom of the steps needs a close eye kept on it – otherwise people will feel less than welcomed!

Moreover, since I now write a monthly column in an Anglo-French paper called The Connexion, I have a very small reputation to keep up. Ok, so I am a trained horticulturist and I do know what I’m talking about. But it’s starting to feel like ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’.

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The Hornbeam Gardens, where I was working today. Weeds – and scarce a delphinium in sight!

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The geranium and grass border in the Hornbeam Gardens is now overrun by weeds and Saponaria officinalis. I was attracted by the knowledge that the National Trust still clean their fabrics using a solution concocted from this plant.  I had no experience of its desperate tendency to run – and only the odd tapestry to clean.

There are weeds everywhere (I can rationalise and say that most of my borders were virgin soil in 2012 to 2015, and I’m still getting rid of field weeds, but how is that going to help me when people are actually walking around this place?)

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My little Magnolia stellata still braving it out on its weedy bank. Another slope in our garden planned to be ‘managed’ with thick shrub plantings … cough, a natural planting?

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So pleased that the cowslips like us – they are early this year, I think.

So, what I think I need is something called a ‘WWoofer’. The daughter of my Canadian cousin introduced me to this idea when she stayed with us in 2015. She was working her way around Europe, mostly cooking (magnificently) for other people on organic farms. WWoofers are young people who travel round organic smallholdings and are given bed, board and ‘knowledge’, in exchange for their physical labour. When she spoke to me about the concept, I really didn’t take it seriously. Now I’m tempted. Any WWoofers wanting a month in north-east France apply here!

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In the midst of everything I did still manage to replace my hazel clematis supports in the Rose Walk. Not bad – the previous lasted 3 years and I would have spent a lot of money on something that rots just as fast as the hazel I already have growing here.

The delphiniums of the title are another dream gone bad. I have spent so much money on them since the Bon Viveur forced this passion on me about 3 years ago. They have systematically died away after giving their best. His was a passing whim, but now mine is a real addiction.

Long nights over the winter trying to work out why I lost them. The answer is probably that I’m growing (or rather, buying and killing) the ‘Pacific Giant’ series that were bred in on the west coast of the States in the 20th century. They were specifically bred as biennials/short-lived perennials. Which is why they are much cheaper than your standard Blackmore and Langdon type. So, having established that I am buying cheap, short-lived delphiniums, what’s the next move?

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The greenhouse is just grand (although not properly set up yet) and I finally have seedlings germinating that will not be lop-sided.

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Annual lupin ‘Blue Javelin’ making a dramatic showing today.

I decided this year to buy yet a few more cheap Pacific Giants (one is already dead, still in the pot!) …

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My pathetic delphiniums …

… and to invest in some seed of a new New Zealand strain which is bred to be truly perennial. (I could also invest in Blackmore and Langdon plants – I may still! – but it would set me back about £70 for 6 plants, including delivery to France). So, I now have two packets of seed from the ‘New Millenium’ strain (‘Super Stars’ and ‘Pagan Purples’), courtesy of Jelitto Seeds in Germany.

I will be sowing them this week – more internet research here! – after leaving them to moisten for 48 hours in the embrace of 2 damp towels. I hope to goodness this works! Delphiniums are an expensive habit. Watch this space if you are unfortunate enough to share this addiction …

Gone are the days when I used to pride myself on not losing plants!

What’s your dream – and do you have any tips for keeping the dream alive when all seems lost?

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20 thoughts on “Delphiniums and other dreams

  1. Eliza Waters

    Ah, the cobbler’s children have no shoes, and so much work, so little time! 😀
    I find that I can’t work in the garden much more than a couple hours at a time these days. Thank goodness for mulch, or I’d have a bigger mess on my hands. 😉 Keep your chin up!

  2. janesmudgeegarden

    My comments seem to disappear as soon as I press the send button and I have no idea if people are receiving them. Perhaps they go straight into spam! Any way, I’m going to comment here and see what happens. It’s lovely to see your garden without the snow, Cathy, it looks restfully green to me. You do have a lot of work ahead of you and a Wwoofer sounds like a very good idea. Aren’t delphiniums notoriously tricky? I’ve tried once, with little success but I think they need a much kinder climate than ours. I certainly understand why you like them so muchm the blues are glorious.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Jane – I had to approve your comment and was so slow I only approved the first yesterday – but should all be well now! Yes, delphiniums are wonderful. I will give them another year or two of effort and then maybe throw in the towel!

    1. Cathy Post author

      We do have a lot of ivy here – all growing on walls, which it loves (we also have a lot of walls!) It’s a perennial struggle at Chatillon to keep it cut back. Everyone has the same problem – the whole of Chatillon is walls, since we are an old medieval fortified village (always in the middle of a war zone!). I think you are probably noticing the results from the last time I clipped it all back. Thanks for visiting Tony!

      1. tonytomeo

        We have acres of English ivy that we ‘try’ to control. It gets into the big redwood trees and climbs beyond reach. It is pretty on the ground, but is so bad for anything else we want to preserve. Even where it is really pretty, we try to get rid of it every chance we get. It is sad. When I lived in town, I rather liked it. I had the bigger Algerian ivy too!

      2. Cathy Post author

        You are so right, Tony. It’s a pest, although it can look pretty. It’s harder for the older people at Chatillon – they have to pay someone to control the ivy that inevitably grows on their walls.

  3. Christina

    I had the same dream, well about opening the garden although quite a lot of people go come for various reasons. Large gardens are hard when you’re beginning from scratch. Probably the only way is to start slowly, one part at a time but if you’re like me you feel you have to get it all done. Times marches on and all that!

    1. Cathy Post author

      I reckoned you had the same dream Christina. Your garden is so very beautiful, would love to visit you some day in your ‘natural habitat’! I need to take it slow, as you say (but it feels like time’s running out!) Thanks for commenting … will try to visit all the IAVOMs this week – yours is always next for me, after Cathy’s,

      1. Cathy Post author

        You are too right – and maybe I’ll get down to see you some day. It would be lovely to share your garden for real!

  4. bittster

    I would love to visit your garden, even with a couple dozen or hundred weeds. I know it will be amazing once things come on a bit, just like they have each year so far. I can’t believe how much you’ve accomplished!
    I have that delphinium bug as well. I’ve killed many but now finally have one (or finally have just the right spot for it to) do well… until a windstorm strikes and I have a twisted pile of cut flowers. They are amazing when they do well.
    I hope you have time to post photos of the open day. Good luck on the help!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Hi – I noticed on Sunday that you had just posted and am hoping to get over and enjoy your post later today. Yes, the delphiniums, well … I ain’t giving up yet and good luck with your survivor this year – hope the wind doesn’t strike at the wrong time this year!

  5. Cathy

    Finally managed to catch up with tis post, Cathy and I am so glad I did. It was so good to read what you have been up to (or NOT up to!) and to read about your dreams. What an interesting background you have 🙂 Well done for agreeing to eneter the world of garden opening – it is quite a daunting step, isn’t it? I do hope you manage to find a WWoofer (what is the signficance of the name, do you know?) to help you pull the garden into shape before your special days, or at least as much as you will be comfortable having achieved by then. Good to read that greenhouse is pulling its weight and you are now enjoying growing seedlings in a better environment. You may be interested to know that I sowed a mix of Blue with White Bee and White with Blue Bee last July and have a few plants waiting to be planted out, two of which are (very surprisingly!) in bud; I have sown similar mixes before but without any real success. No idea what the secret might be, if there is one! I also have a plant which came from Hayloft (Excalibeur Series, I think) a few years ago which has survived and flowered for the last 3 years. Look forward to hearing how you get on – with everything!!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks so much for taking the time to visit and comment Cathy – you are all over the place, aren’t you? I had to google WWoof – it means Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms! So there! Great about your delphiniums – I remember you had them too when I bought the Hayloft collection. I shall be waiting to see your seedlings in flower. Today, when I was working in the garden I noticed that 3 (at least) have survived, so perhaps all is not lost, but I do think my soil is so very heavy and the poor things have been subjected to endless rain over the last 4 months or so. I am wondering whether in fact I should go down with some grit and feed when I weed around them just to encourage. The problem is that the way my gardening life goes here, when I try to be proactive I usually end up killing something. I am very, very nervous about the garden opening, but was hoping that two friends will show willing and open on the same day.

  6. smallsunnygarden

    Thank you for sharing your woes with us, Cathy. I’ve had a very bleak period with my much-smaller garden over the past six months or so, triggered by things mostly unrelated to the garden itself, but of course those things get in to mess up the dream, don’t they…? I really hope you’ll be able to come by a bit of help (a good way to get a better perspective on things) and get a fresh pleasure in it all soon! What you’ve been creating certainly looks like a dream come true!
    I am curious about the delphiniums, as I felt I could not grow them even in my earlier garden in Missouri because of the hot summers. Do the truly perennial types have any better reputation in heat? I did try the smaller D. grandiflorum ‘Blue Butterfly’ at one point, but it disappeared faster than I could get any good of it – not sure whether it was rabbits or just my ignorance of proper growing conditions! In any case, I most certainly can’t grow them here in the desert, otherwise I would probably be among those addicted. There is certainly something about those statuesque spires of pure blue… 😉

    1. Cathy Post author

      Hi Amy – so lovely to have contact with you again. Yes, you are rightm there’s something about them. I have them in a lower part of the garden where I thought it might be cooler. I really did think it would be too hot on the terraces. I know that Christina, gardening in Italy, doesn’t grow them at all because it’s too hot, she says. She focuses on the annual larkspur instead (with a bit of water, you might try them too – I don’t know, have never gardened in a desert). I wouldn’t be able to comment on the truly perennial types as supplied by Blackmore & Langdon in the heat. When I was reading up, however, I discovered that in England and on the north-east coast of the States they are grown from basal cuttings in spring (as befits a truly perennial plant) and that the reason the west-coast ‘Pacific Hybrids’ were developed was because that didn’t work over there (in the Californian heat?) I’m no expert and this is mostly conjecture. But I’d say they prefer intense cold to any sort of intense heat (someone once left a comment for me saying they grew superbly (and almost wild!) in Alaska.
      ‘Blue Butterfly is a different kettle of fish. It is an annual – so in the same class as the annual larkspur. Maybe try sowing seed early in cells rather than open ground, growing in pots (it’s quite small, very beautiful) and giving it lots of water? So lovely to hear from you again! I am not doing to well at blogging currently!

  7. Angie (Blush Bloom)

    Hello from the US! So, I think we all must be experiencing the same because I feel way behind on my garden. And I love your dream of a garden opened to the public. It is a lovely dream. The wonderful thing is that your garden has wonderful “bones” so the beauty is there just waiting to happen. I was an American version of a WWooofer when I lived in Germany– not because I needed it but because I loved it. It was so much fun! And I got to meet wonderful people.

    1. Cathy Post author

      How interesting Angie – you actually did it, like my cousin’s daughter. I have ‘paused’ that search, but am steaming on with the garden! I think you are right – many of us on both sides of the Pond experienced such extreme weather in Feb/March that we seemed to be stuck in a perpetual winter. Thanks for visiting!


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