Category Archives: Bulbs, corms, tubers & rhizomes

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).

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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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February 2018: End of Month View

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Looking down on the Rose Walk and Knot Garden

Can this really be the first day of March, with my garden looking like this? As we struggle on in the winter cold brought about by cold Artic weather pushed further south (while the Artic itself experiences record highs), you do ponder climate change a fair bit.

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Looking down on the Vine Terrace pergola, with the Iris Terrace below

The temperatures during the past week have not been as icy as the prolonged cold spell last winter (down to minus 15-20 degrees C in Dec/Jan 2016/2017) – we’ve only hit about minus 10 this year! But, for goodness sake, it’s the beginning of March. What do I do with this white stuff when I’m supposed to be digging borders?

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Straight down on the Iris Terrace and vegetable garden

We’ve had months of rain (everyone tells me that during their time in this part of France the winters have become wetter, the summers hotter – my least favourite combination) and then, at the end of February when the sun finally came out, we walked, eyes wide open, into this icy blast.

Along the wet February path there were, of course, snowdrops, aconites and the start of the hellebores. Which reminds me, do your Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’ take a year off? I seem to remember this phenomenon in the past. Last year was great, this year I have one flower. Sad, since he’s my favourite.

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Aconites

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Euphorbia rigida

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Semi-double hellebores which the bees DO like!

But there’s good, too, in the midst of this cold. I’ve really been enjoying (obsessing, almost), over the effect my new greenhouse has made with my dogwoods, planted for winter colour.

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The hazels in the Long Border have now all been chopped back, so a very different feel here …

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And next year there will be a decent mulch, thanks to my new compost bins!

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And this is the first year I’ve really been able to appreciate my knot garden as it was meant to be viewed: from the house above in winter. Virtually all of the box have been grown from cuttings taken elsewhere in the garden – I can’t experience the pain of box blight or box tree moth and the financial loss as well! It would be too much misery, so I prefer to make my own, and slowly. Also experimenting with yew hedging.

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The young plants were direct-stuck in the pattern I wanted over a 3-year period (there were some, although not huge, losses). I’ve done this in either June or September, and have noticed a better ‘take’ with the September cuttings (we have warm, long autumns, generally). I don’t fiddle with them – just trim the base neatly, remove the bottom leaves and push them in. (Confession: even dispensed with the tidying process last time – we’ll see in the spring).

I have now completed the entire pattern, although the smallest, youngest lines in the pattern are not really visible in the pictures you are looking at. I’ve also planted my three Ilex aquifolium ‘Aureo-marginata’ into the Knot Garden – they are supposed to be clipped into spirals. Will I live to see the mature specimens? We gardeners are an undaunted breed, aren’t we?

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This will be the second year I’ve indulged in a rare financial fling – a tulip bedding scheme in the knot garden. Last year I didn’t plant quite enough bulbs. This year I’ve doubled quantities. I chose 100 ‘Blue Heron’ (fringed, mauvey-blue – I’ve admired it for a while, but never tried it), 100 Cistula (a very pale yellow), and 100 Paul Scherer (a very beautiful dark purple, which looks to be a fuller flower than ‘Queen of the Night’). My plan has always been to bed out new tulips, try colour combinations, in this area (‘play’, in other words!) and then to lift the bulbs and replant them elsewhere (even wild areas) in the autumn. The plan’s a bit pricey! Maybe only 50% more would have been enough to do the job.

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Dahlia tubers, gladioli corms and seeds, have been pouring through the front door (whenever the delivery men make an effort to get here on the designated day). That’s because I’m starting to panic about the end of May and beginning of June. We are opening the garden to the public for the first time under the Jardins Ouverts scheme and I sure am nervous! Have a look/click on the link above. Even if you are not coming to my part of France in 2018, there’s bound to be a garden in your chosen area that pleases.

There is SO much to do in SUCH a short period of time and at the moment I’ve no husband-help in the garden. (Although he does plan to come back and make carrot cake for visitors.)

When we get into the beginning of April I will not only be cutting the grass once a week on my own, but also doing all the sowing, planting, etc.

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There’s an awful lot of pruning to be done in the next few weeks

And I am still bound and determined that my new orchard borders will be half-dug (I’m a past-master at digging new borders in June – there’s always too much to do earlier!)

Here the borders will definitely have to be completed by about mid-April, because it gets too hot and new plants in new borders need too much water in the summer months. (Autumn planting is not terribly successful on our heavy clay, what with wet winters.)

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Goodness – I am both excited and REALLY stressed just thinking about what I’ve got to do! Then I think about all the glorious colours of dahlias, gladiolus and tulip I’ve bought and I go back to the nicer kind of dreaming.

Have a wonderful March, and I’ll hope to catch up with you at some time in the midst of it all.

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Tuesday View (and an End of Month View for April)

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Rose ‘Canary Bird’ in the Long Border

Cathy’s meme at Words & Herbs is such a good idea (you show the same view of your garden as it changes through the seasons), but I’ve always hesitated to join in with it because I felt my pictures would be too boring! Now I’ve found a reason.

I’m not very happy with what I call the ‘Long Border’ in my garden. It’s ok, but it fails to please me later in the summer when all is baked hot and dreary with the 30 degree C temperatures we usually get at some stage or another.

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Earlier there were some rather nice tulips and Narcissus ‘Actaea’. Now the border’s moving on to the next stage with philadelphus due to flower along the bank.

Until 2013 it was just a slope of rough grass with three hazelnut bushes. I added cuttings of philadelphus and deutzia that I made in the town where we used to live. Then I started growing plants from the Hardy Plant Society seed list every year.

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Looking up the border from the other direction, it’s clearer that there are also iris and hemerocallis living here.

I was less successful than I used to be in the past, but I still had plenty of Thalictrum flavum ssp glaucum and Asphodeline lutea to plant out. I’ve added yellow and white irises and there are quite a few tulips.

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Artemesia ‘Lambrook Silver’ (from cuttings), Asphodeline lutea (from seed) and Thalictrum flavum ssp. glaucum (from seed) were repeated a little along the border for good foliage effect – now some of the excess thalictrum is due for removal down below to allow space.

Now I want to create a much hotter border for later in the summer – because of the clay soil and the heat, I am trying to bump up the grass and helenium population. Both seem to do well, even with little watering. Grey plants (which I love) don’t do very well here and I make the most of those that are thriving.

Currently a rather nice little ‘Canary Bird’ rose is finally getting away below the purple berberis, embellished with a little Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fern Cottage’ at its feet. The rose has died back a little each year since planting – this seems to be what always happens on this clay soil – but finally this year it is getting its toes in.

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Last year the Long Border still didn’t look right. I’m hoping that in joining in with Cathy’s meme I can work out how to really change it so that I’ll enjoy it in the summer months too.

Anyway – here I am now, Cathy, with my boring border pictures!

The photos were taken on the last day of April – I took them originally to link in with Helen, at The Patient Gardener‘s End of Month View. 

So there are a few more pics of two other areas in the top (nearly completed – continually evolving!) part of the garden.

In addition to the Long Border, I’ve taken a few of the Rose Walk (no roses yet!). I lost my four large bronze fennels in the winter … a pity, because they were so lovely when the alliums came along. Now replanted with the seedlings they threw all over the shop.

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The box balls have been rather badly damaged by our late frosts. I’ve kept them shaggy so far as a measure against box blight while they grew, but they are now just about the right size to keep a bit tidier (out of the typical box blight weather). The roses have an edging of chives and an underplanting of Stachys lanata, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’, dianthus and Achillea ‘Lilac Beauty’ – which still isn’t quite working, but I’m getting there.

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From the other end, there’s a good view of my new greenhouse (still under construction – green umbrella marks the labourer’s shelter).

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There were not as many tulips this year because 2016 saw a lot of tulip fire in this part of the garden, so nothing was added. But these ‘Sorbet’ tulips were still rather jolly.

…. and my tiny little mini-woodland. This last is going to sleep now. I used to adore woodland plants in the past, and this little shaded area at the end of the Long Border is the only place I have (so far) to grow my favourite plants.

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Do go and look at Cathy’s Tuesday View and enjoy what other bloggers are showing us.

Similarly, the great pictures of Helen’s front garden in her End of Month View. She’s renovated it in the last couple of years and I’m in awe!

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In a vase on Monday

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We had a very heavy frost again last night. So many young shoots destroyed! My Magnolia soulangeana ‘Lennei’, which has just flowered for the first time, is a mass of drooping, sad leaves. As is the little Cercis silaquastrum. I do hope they come back again.

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I’ve chosen Narcissus poeticus for my vase today. Included is foliage of Thalictrum flavum ssp glaucum (which I persist in calling Thalictrum speciosissimum!) plus some rather jolly spikey shoots of Campanula persicifolia.

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Thalictrum foliage

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Upright shoots of campanula

The narcissus look like they are about to fly away. I hope the campanula and thalictrum anchor them a little!

Then there are chives, just waiting to go ‘pop’ in the garden …

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and the reddish stems and flowers of blue aquilegias …

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I’ve just read that the scent of the poet’s narcissus is so strong that it can cause headaches and vomiting. Let’s hope not, because they are now sitting on the kitchen table! Someone noticed their scent as soon as I put them outside in the sunshine to photograph this morning.

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N. poeticus is the type species for the genus Narcissus. It is thought to have originated in the Middle East or the eastern Mediterranean area, but now it is naturalised all over Europe.

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In Britain (where it was reputedly brought during the Crusades) we know it as  ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ narcissus. Possibly taken directly from the French ‘Oeil de Faisan’? It is widely used in the perfumery industry here in France – a staggering 11% of perfumes include it as an ingredient.

There are vast natural fields of it in the the Massif Central and the Haut Var region of Provence. Many gardeners in our area of Lorraine advocate planting narcissus around special things if you want to ward off vole visitors (which eat roots and can kill plants almost overnight). So I was  bit distressed about a year ago to read that voles are decimating those wild populations of the Massif Central. The photo below is courtesy of the Fauna Flora Fonge website dedicated to the wildlife of the Massif Central.

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Have the voles changed their tastes?

Whatever – we have voles here, but I am slowly increasing the plantings of this lovely, late-flowering narcissus in the garden. So far, so good – and we do have a lot of voles!

I had imagined it under my four Prunus ‘Tai-haku’. This year the penny finally dropped:  I’m going to have to use the cultivar ‘Actaea’, which flowers a lot earlier. The cherry blossom is a memory by the time the species Narcissus poeticus makes an appearance.

I made an interesting discovery this morning: my ‘new-to-me’ iPad takes better pictures (automatically!) than I can with my camera.

Here’s the picture I took with the camera in the kitchen …

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And here’s what my clever iPad can do (without any of the deep thinking my camera requires!)  …

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Of course, I had to work out how to share the pictures with my computer. It took an age. The eventual solution – works niftily – was via Dropbox.

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Now go on over and see what the others are doing for Cathy’s addictive In a Vase on Monday meme at Rambling in the Garden. I’ve just taken a peek and those tulips are luscious, Cathy!

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In a vase on Monday

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This is probably the most luxurious (and expensive) bunch of tulips I’ve ever bought myself. They are bulbs of ‘Carnival de Nice’ bought from Peter Nyssen last autumn and planted in my cut flower garden.

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It’s a fancy tulip that speaks to me of the period of the Dutch tulip boom in the early 17th century. The ‘broken sorts’, like the famed ‘Semper Augustus’, fetched the highest prices. I I think ‘Carnival de Nice’ must be a distant relative and that’s possibly why the flowers in my home make me feel as if I’m enjoying something particularly decadent.

These broken types with the white streaks on a pink or red background were known as ‘Rosen’.

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It’s just as well I wasn’t around then, because I expect I would have gambled all I have and not even ended up with the kitchen table where they are now being admired and mused over every hour.

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I tried to do quite a few things with them. Nested them on a little bed of purple berberis and then arranged them with Thalictrum speciosissimum as foliage.This is what I actually did with the thalictrum and its young flowerbuds – far too nice for the compost heap, so it is joined by red campion (Silene dioica).

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Foliage and incipient flowerbuds of Thalictrum speciosissimum

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Red campion – Silene dioica

In the end I felt that the tulips looked the part on their own in a vaguely Dutch-looking vase (also another vide grenier find last summer).

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And I couldn’t get it out of my head that they would look just right in my old kitchen that dates from almost exactly the same period as the tulip bubble. The kitchen is pretty impossible for photography, but the flowers really do look their best there.

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As a little addendum – here are my valiant anemones from last week, joined by Tulip ‘Flaming Spring Green’ (this flower refusing to ‘flame’, but nonetheless pretty).

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If you leave a comment, I’d love it if you told me what your favourite tulip of the moment is. A voyage into the world of tulipomania!

Now hop on over to Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden and see what other delights the Monday vasers are offering.

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