Category Archives: Herbaceous perennials

In a vase on Monday

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This is kind of an ‘hello’, ‘I’m still here’ vase, rather than a proper post! The Bon Viveur is home at the moment (until Wednesday), and so there’s little time, but a desire nonetheless to pick flowers.

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These were for our dinner table on Friday night. Still looking lovely on a misty, first day of October. We were lucky enough to get some rain and the temperatures have finally dropped.

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The michaelmas daisies (divided and replanted in the spring) are looking irresistible. They came as small plugs from Hayloft Plants about 3 years ago and were worth every penny, because asters do so well on the clay, in dry conditions.

With them is Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Lime’.

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I like the way that even when the zinnia doesn’t do its double ‘thing’ (and it frequently doesn’t), it still sometimes makes a small effort!

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Go over and look at the other lovely vases on Cathy’s ‘Rambling in the Garden‘. I will do my best to visit everyone’s vases after life has returned to a less than sparkling ‘normal’ speed!

September musings 2

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My first proper harvest of Cox’s Orange Pippin. Shame this isn’t a French heritage variety – but I love it so much and I did get the scions from the Croqueurs de Pommes to graft, so someone around here also appreciates it!

My goodness, doesn’t failure excelerate the rate at which we learn?

The top half of the Hornbeam Gardens, where the cut flowers are, is doing just fine because they are treated like vegetables and watered regularly.

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Asters, of course, don’t really mind dry conditions. But these are just behind my delphiniums and are watered regularly.

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Self-sown Ammi visagna beginning to set some lovely seed for 2019

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The arch next to the dahlias has been ‘sort of ‘clipped now, but needs refinement, because the hedging is still being established. It is also where ‘Rambling Rector’ is growing.

But the lower Hornbeam Gardens have not at all lived up to the picture I had for them in my mind’s eye. I imagined a natural spring shrub garden, that would feature grasses and perennials during the summer.

The arch in the picture below is the gateway to a kind of little hell on earth for plants.

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I’ve been losing a lot of shrubs down there, because of dry conditions – and I do water, but only when I feel it’s essential. So far this year I seem to have lost a Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ and my little Viburnum plicatum ‘Watanabe’. Also feared dead is Philadelphus ‘Virginal’, although this may be shooting from the base. I am vaguely hopeful that ‘Black Lace’ will come back again next spring.

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I’ve watered down there on average once every 7 days during our dry spell (I’m of the Beth Chatto school, when it comes to watering). This dry period lasted roughly  from 8 June through until the present. We had rain for maybe 1-2 hours (once for a whole morning) every fortnight, but it was not really enough given the temperatures. In 2016 the temperatures were actually higher – regularly up to 37- 39 degrees celsius – but that lasted for only 2 months. This year it’s been 4 months of average 33-35 daytime temperatures, although it does seem to have broken now (fingers crossed!).

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So, how to make this part of the garden more beautiful in summer? The things that do well: bulbs, Knautia macedonica (a menace here, self-seeding into any other ‘precious’ plant), Salvia nemorosa cultivars (‘Caradonna’ and ‘Rose Queen’), Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliant group’, Monarda ‘Beauty of Cobham’ and ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Coreopsis verticillata, asters like A.  lateriflorus var. horizontalis, Geum ‘Lady Strathenden’ and ‘Mrs Bradshaw’, aquilegias, Campanula persicifolia, Amsonia tabernaemontana ‘Blue Ice’ and – especially – grasses like Deschampsia cespitosa and the species tulips. The hardy geraniums are also doing not badly and, surprisingly, Aconitum carmichaelii hangs on in there (but is never satisfying).

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I should have recognised the fact that the grass in this area (previously just field) was thin before I dug it up – for some stupid reason I didn’t listen to the alarm bells that were definitely ringing. After research and dredging up memories from the past, I’ve concluded that what I have here is a ‘dry prairie’ (the soil is much lighter on this slope). And, surprise, surprise, the species that are doing well down there are either the same that thrive in dry prairie, or relations. I’m currently compiling a list of plants that could suit.

I’m about to get a bit adventurous: ceanothus, if I can find hardy enough species, Panicum virgatum, Smilacina stellataBaptisia and prairie clovers (Dalea), Delphinium exaltatum, Asclepias (although perhaps not hardy enough, like Agastache, which dies in the winter here), Symphyotrichum sericeum, and so on. Currently I’m feeling inspired although nervous – any suggestions to add to the list I’m trying to compile (which I hope to eventually post on this blog) gratefully received.

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Just outside the lower Hornbeam Gardens, towards the river. I’m nearly finished clipping the hedges down here now. I’m quite pleased with the way they are establishing, but I think a midsummer clip next year would help them to really thicken and look tidier.

Another problem with my original planting is the sloping nature of the site. This means that relatively middle height sedums planted at the front of a border obscure anything behind them (coreopsis, for example). And the shrubs that are doing well (lilacs are terrific, as is Viburnum opulus) tend to want to run/slope downhill! It’s annoying, but again I’ve learnt something huge as a first-time ‘slope’ gardener.

Further up the garden I’ve learnt that things like lettuce, carrots, spinach, spring onions and radish (all benefiting from water and a little shade in the intense heat) should go in small (one person) quantities in what I call my ‘cold frame’.

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This is handy for the greenhouse, so gets watered easily once a day.

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The greenhouse is probably ready to have shading removed. This area is still being developed but I’m very pleased at how tidy it is starting to look in comparison with when it was finished in December last year.

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And also pleased that the yew hedge that was planted to the back of the Rose Walk (to disguise another slope and an ugly concrete retaining wall) is providing a much-needed bit of part-day shade for plants which are growing in the hottest part of the garden.

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And, in spite of the weather, I still have a grass path here! The hedge itself (went in in about 2014, I think) is beginning to thicken up and develop, although it still has a way to go. Although I’m an experienced gardener, and should know better, I still can’t help marvelling at how far a little protection from overhead sun can go to protect and allow even sun-loving plants to flourish without much water.

Clematis ‘Arabella’ is below. The clematis in the Rose Walk are clearly doing nicely, thanks very much, because as we all know ‘feet in the shade, head in the sun’ is the rule.

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Because the soil stays moist for longer in this area, I get quite a lot of self-sowers. Although this self-sown Nicotiana (probably sylvestris) can cope with a lot of drought – they do very, very well here and I strongly recommend them for dry gardens on clay soil.

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Long may my learning curve continue!

I’d love to hear about your failures – and particularly about the plants you think would suit a dry prairie planting.

September garden musings

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If you happened to drop by and you enjoy looking at pictures of my garden – welcome!

But be aware that this post is mostly for the benefit of my absent husband who likes to keep up with what’s happening – it may be too long for you! Also – although I love garden memes, I sometimes find them really exhausting. When I first started blogging, I did it because I wanted to record some of my own garden experiences. To be honest, I wasn’t too bothered if nobody else read what I wrote. The memes have taken some of the pleasure out of that experience … added to which my eyes are not taking kindly to the hours in front of the computer demanded if you truly try to ‘keep up’ and be a good blogging friend.  So these are just ramblings. And I’m giving myself permission to do more!

Here’s your parched garden, Nick. Still no rain to speak of and temperatures have climbed a little again into the low 30s. We are forecast a little rain tomorrow after 12 days – but it often passes us by. And then there seem to be no dark clouds for days to come. Hey ho …

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The supper terrace has been the most luscious place this summer, the foliage so huge, the blooms of hydrangea so welcome (must get more) when it’s hot. This just proves what watering can do.

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And the orchids do seem to be enjoying the trick of hanging outside with a regular spray over. I really enjoy them, because they look more like the orchids I remember from my botanic garden days.

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As epiphytes they relish that regular touch of cool and damp. Unfortunately I haven’t got it automated and so I have to run down (or up!) regularly with my little hand sprayer. But they are looking cool and much happier. The idea is that they are whisked into the house in flower.

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On the Mirror Garden we have a desert aspect. The only things left in the lawn are the Verbascum thapsus that grow everywhere in Chatillon. They have to have their heads chopped regularly.

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I had to cut back the Banksian rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’) hard in July, mainly to dispose of Muelenbeckia complexa. It looked so sweet in that little pot – and remember how I gave out when you accidentally strimmed it Nick? But it’s a horror, and I do wish I’d read how invasive it is before planting it. Below are before pictures …

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It was growing in all the crevices of the old tower which is part of the medieval ramparts. I was fearful for the stone. I’ve sprayed it twice with weedkiller since rooting it out, but it will need more and I noticed yesterday that a tuft in the wall is greening up again.

And some ‘after’ pictures …

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You can see how much pruning I had to throw down to the next terrace (and then throw down to the next – my disposal method for woody prunings). You can also see that I accidentally broke the downpipe from the roof! Even that rusty old thing had Muehlenbeckia growing in it!

Fortunately the rose is coming back after the massacre, although we won’t have much flower for next year.

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Following attacks by the box tree moth caterpillar (Pyrole de buis) I sprayed twice with Bacillus thuringiensis (May and late July) and set three pheromone traps (which caught a lot of adult moths). My box is still alive and, if not thriving, still providing the structural element I like.

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Back in May I did clip all the garden box at the same time when I first discovered the caterpillar (I usually do it in stages). And that removed tonnes of the little blighters, so quite an important step! It took me about 3 days, with 3-hour stints each day. The actual spraying takes about 2.5 hours to cover everything in the garden. It’s debatable if this process is for everyone.

I still like to think the box tree moth can be controlled. It was so bad this year – decimating everyone’s box for miles around – but I think that may have been due to the fact that no one in the area paid much attention to the first onslaught in 2017, myself included. Next year I am also going to try a French nurseryman’s recommendation that box be clipped in late February – he says this can remove any ‘problems’ that are over-wintering in the top growth.

The Vine Terrace is looking sweetly autumnal – although the birds and wasps have had the grapes as usual. Next year, maybe? We need to be bottling our own wine in this house!

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The greenhouse still has some tomatoes coming on, although it’s all slowing down now.

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Outside I’ve been really enjoying the Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ and white antirrhinums that were planted in the two new pots you bought me, Nick. They look good with the Ricinus communis that were never planted out in the Long Border due to the early heat. And what I think are carpenter bees (comments anyone?) are enjoying them too. These big black bees come in the morning (perhaps nesting in the rampart walls?) and are replaced by honey bees in the afternoon. Curious.

I’m so glad that Eryngium ‘Mrs Willmott’s Ghost’ is seeding and spreading in the Rose Walk.

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Biennials and annuals that like to self-seed here are to be treasured because the heavy clay is not for everyone. So far we have Salvia sclarea, Papaver rhoes, P. somniferum and Verbascum thapsus that seem to like us. I notice that all of these like heat and have quite fleshy taproots (with the exception of the annual poppy). For the life of me I can’t establish Dame’s Violet (Hesperis matronalis) or Honesty (Lunaria annua) or Forget-me-not (Mysotis) although I keep on trying, and perhaps they will do better below where there’s more space for self-seeders.

The veg plot is a DISASTER!

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I am still waiting for my brassicas to recover (they usually do in September, but we haven’t had the rain and cool they like). The pumpkins did quite well, but surprisingly little fruit, and the french beans didn’t get enough water after my first great pickings, so petered out quickly. On the other hand, the autumn-sown broad beans were great and I still have perpetual spinach and chard to pick (chard running up to seed slightly), since they can take a bit of heat.

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The Long Border looks pretty messy and dry, but that always spurs you on to plan constructive changes for the following year. There are many shrubs due to be replanted down below and I’m sick of the vast swathes of hemerocallis that I inherited with the garden. It’s a pretty boring plant, in my opinion. But it does love it here and perhaps I should experiment with different, prettier, colours than the standard orange.

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Still roses flowering. ‘Jude the Obscure’ hasn’t been too bad this year, after slowly moving into gear for the last two seasons.

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A friend has a ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, consumed by what I think is brown canker. David Austin should think twice before naming roses after tragic heroes and heroines. But I think Jude will win out, unlike his namesake.

This is the first year that the Reverend Pemberton’s Hybrid Musk rose ‘Felicia’ has risen to her full height.

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There are one or two interesting perennials still flowering (many of my flowers were over far too soon in the Long Border this year, although fortunately it looked good in May and until the end of June when the garden was open). Aster ‘Monch’ is always nice …

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Funnily enough the other asters (michaelmas) haven’t really got into their stride yet. One helenium remains in flower. My least favourite called ‘Loysden Wieke’. I should take it back to the nursery, because they swore I’d love its quirkiness …

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The Hornbeam Gardens are still taking shape from what used to be their field – with the expected weeding (especially of crab grass) that comes with the transformation.

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I’ve managed to clip the hedge in the top half, which is the cut flower garden. You can see my ladder working on the arch …

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But the hedge at the bottom remains hairy and wild. The bottom is also proving a bit of a problem because it is incredibly dry down there, owing to heat and the greedy roots of an ash tree just beyond our boundary. No matter how big your garden, this is a problem that you always seem to encounter. But maybe I should rejoice that the ash is not yet dead, as it is in Britain?

Finally – the little cyclamen, many of which came from your mother’s garden in County Wicklow, Nick, are still alive and starting to bloom really well. A terrible picture, but in the life they are more than whispy ghosts! Hopefully they will still be on the go when you are back at the end of September!

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This summer has given many of us pause for thought. We do not all love gardens that are ‘bedded out’ every year, and some of us feel immoral when we over-use the hosepipe. I water my spaces no more than once a week. In the past this has worked, but this year when I look at the pots that are watered every day and the borders that are rationed I can note a huge difference in growth.

I do not feed borders either, because I believe this just plays into the hands of the big businesses that want to take my precious pennies. And I prefer a natural style of gardening. Instead I use a little slow release, organic fertiliser on roses and I hope that mulching with the product of my new compost bins and the material that runs through the recently purchased shredder will give the soil back what it needs.

I refuse competition. My garden is for our pleasure, not to make somebody I’ve never met a lot of money or to impress my neighbours. But it’s difficult when you encounter climate change as we are doing at the moment. Ideally I’d have a low maintenance Mediterranean-style planting here, with lots of greys and drought-tolerant plants. That’s also why I’m so interested in things that like to self-sow. But the soil does militate against this style of planting. It is cold and very wet in the winter and dry as – well, fired clay, in the summer!

My new year resolution (did you know that September is traditionally thought to be the start of a new gardening year?) is to try and evolve a planting style that is appropriate for this place and not so based on the traditional English herbaceous style that I ‘grew up’ with. So lots of lists – and lots of seed to purchase! I do think grasses and bulbs will figure large, with early-flowering perennials, because the late-comers can’t take the heat. Just wish I could add succulents and dramatic shapes to the Long Border, but it will be way too cold for them here. Could be fun, if and when I rise to the challenge!

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Greenhouse & end of month view

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The greenhouse has been a terrific success for the tomatoes, sweet peppers and chilli peppers.

I was worried that it would be too hot, but the Coolaroo shading the Bon Viveur put up in May seems to have worked well, even though the south side and the roof have not yet been shaded.

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It’s a 50% shading from Australia and seems mainly to be used for sails and shaded pergolas in the garden. Not my first choice, but it works. Although with the disadvantage that it has been trapping a fair few butterflies and moths, for whom I feel sorry every day as I rush past in the heat.

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Perhaps some more traditional green shading for the roof next year would keep it cooler, but temperatures have not risen about 35.2 degrees C. Sounds bad, but the thermometer on the supper terrace (open on all sides, but shaded) shows me temperatures have been up to 36.8 degrees there.

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I received a very welcome present of a vine cutting from a friend, and I’m planning to use it as a more natural ‘shading’ – at the moment the little thing is trying to climb up the Coolaroo – so pretty successful! I’m also toying with the idea of a tub of water in the centre, which would be filled with cooling water and in which, who knows, I might even be able to grow a tiny waterlily like ‘Perry’s Baby Red’. Mmm … could be nice.

At the beginning of July we also put in the louvre ventilation purchased with the greenhouse, but not installed straight off. Instantly we noticed a really big difference in air-flow.

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‘Joe’s Long’ chilli pepper with louvred vents in the background

So – my bad dreams of the whole thing exploding in a burst of broken glass and melted metal in the first summer turned out to just be nightmares.

I wish I had started my annual seeds off earlier, however. I was forced to sow everything at the beginning of April, since I was away at the end of March and knew that everything would die if left untended.

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In some cases this was a big mistake, because it meant that I was still planting out in the second half of June when the heat struck us – much earlier than usual this year. The heat came so early, in fact, that my cannas and castor oil plants have never seen soil and remain in pots. At least the cannas will be fine for next year, but they’ll need to be planted out as soon as possible after the Saints de glace (Ice Saints) next year, so quickly after 11-13 May.

For some annuals the heat was too much – they should have seen their permanent summer positions by the end of May, latest. I was so excited about the good germination of little Rudbeckia ‘Cappuchino’. But when planted out in pots in mid-June, no amount of spraying over could save them from shrivelling in the sun. I think I have only 2 plants left. Other failures were my little ‘Cactus Mix’ dahlias, from Sarah Raven. The plants in the street (shaded for some of the day) are oksh, but those in the garden have never really found their feet after first being ravaged by slugs and then exposed to fierce sun as struggling babies.

But the joy of watching all those little seedlings germinate so easily and then grow into small plants that were – for the first time at Chatillon – not etiolated and miserable will not be forgotten in a hurry. There’s always next year.

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We had some shading left, so the BV created a little canopy over my frame where I attempt to grow lettuce, radish, carrots and rocket. It’s working quite nicely (sprayed over once a day), but I’m not having any luck with germinating lettuce in there at the moment. Predictably, since lettuce tends not to germinate above 26 degrees C. Those days are far behind us now!

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The tomatoes in the greenhouse are fabulous! I grew two from Thompson & Morgan called ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Mountain Magic’, as well as a tomato reputed to be the best for pizzas – ‘Cuore di Bue’.

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Tomato ‘Cuore di Bue’

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Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’

Pointless to tell the BV that with three plants we would, if lucky, have enough fruit for three pizzas. Luckily, the ‘Cuore di Bue’ are equally lovely in sandwiches and on burgers.

The tomatoes show heat stress by rolling their lower leaves, but I’ve been cutting those away and they are ripening nicely. Similarly, the best sweet peppers (‘Californian Wonder’) that I’ve ever had and already some nice green chillis from ‘Joe’s Long’. The last is a variety I strongly recommend. It produces prolifically, even in the open ground here – so much so that I still have dried chillis in the kitchen that I grew about 3 years ago. I think I’m going to have a glut this year because I’m growing 5 plants.

The sweet peppers should be thinned – but I’m so proud of them! I’ve also read that you should prune them to open the centres up a little and ripen the fruit. Next year.

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I even have two melons (I know, but I’m only a beginner!) and the best pot herbs – marjoram, basil and lemon basil – I’ve ever managed to raise here.

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The greenhouse was definitely at its most exciting when all the annuals were germinating in April. But the late sowings meant that the newly planted sweet peas struggled to survive the sudden onslaught of heat in June. The delphinium seed that I so lovingly moistened with damp tea towels were a complete flop, because the temperatures had risen so that I panicked a little and started to move them around – up to the house where, predictably, they were frazzled by sun in the space of an afternoon.

The lupins, ‘Chandeleer’ (pale yellow) and ‘The Governor’ (blue) were my greatest sadness. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m not succeeding. I lost a lot of seedlings when they were pricked out into lovingly purchased John Innes No. 2. Then I noticed that they were yellowing (chlorosis) and potted them on. Instant death. Next year I’ll not give up and I’ll try a peat-based compost and restrict watering to rain water (our water is very, very hard). A friend to whom I gave some seedlings says hers are doing brilliantly – so it must be my poor cultivation technique – possibly over-watering? Always something to learn!

Happy Eclipse season! I hope to be back very soon. August is my most hated month and I’ve set myself the challenge of posting very regularly to compensate. We’ll see …

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A few favourites … daffodils and tulips

 

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So there I was this morning – all chirpy and free like the birds, with a day to spend in the garden. All is going so well down there – things shooting that I never expected to see again, plants establishing nicely with the warmth and a drop of rain.

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Lots of things ticked off my open days ‘to do’ list – forget about clipping the box, visitors will have to experience it wild and woolly! (I got nervous about clipping it because tightly clipped box is more susceptible to box blight. Little did I know that was the least of my worries!)

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Cheerfully I went down, weeding bucket in hand, to attend to revamping my delphinium and aster border in the cut flower garden.

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That was then, and this is now, with me sitting in front of the computer on a still bright April evening. Not my style. How did that happen?

I’ll explain later – first I want to record (as much for my own sake as anything) a few of my ‘favourite things’ over the last four weeks. (Note to self: blog more frequently … and more briefly!)

I haven’t many different daffodils in the garden, but I do treasure the ones I have. First to flower is always the Bon Viveur’s ‘Jet Fire’.

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He develops obsessions with particular plants (two peas in a pod?) and so in it went, first in 2014, and another 10 in 2017.

Then there are the Jennys – ‘Jenny’ and ‘Peeping Jenny’. ‘Peeping Jenny’ starts before ‘Jenny’, in March. Gazing up in search of something … it is all that a daffodil should be.

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‘Jenny’ is my favourite, much shyer and with a paler trumpet. A little confused, with all the little heads looking in different directions. Where is danger coming from? Is it the voles today?

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‘Mount Hood’ was a new addition this year, although I’ve grown it in the past when it just kept on giving and increasing. The Bon Viveur bought the bulbs when he was in Ireland last summer – they came from our previous home in West Cork (where we never grew it!). If you like white daffodils, definitely give this one a go.

 

 

Narcissus ‘Actaea’ is amongst the last of the narcissus to flower – with a delicious scent.

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‘Actaea’ is followed by Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’, the wild poet’s narcissus. It comes into flower at least a week later and is still going strong here, down in the wilder shrub area I’m trying to create in the Hornbeam Gardens.

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This area is a bit like me … it photographs poorly!

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Another new addition (which I don’t recall flowering last year, although it was planted in Autumn 2016) is ‘Goose Green’. Also in this Narcissus poeticus group,  I love it for the pronounced green inside the little coronet. But I’m a sucker for green in flowers.

 

 

And the tulips – ahhh … will I ever get enough of them?

The first, flowering from about 8 April,  was ‘Sweet Impression’ in the Rose Walk.

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There were three little species tulips in the Rose Walk as well. A dainty little Lady tulip, Tulipa clusiana, called ‘Cynthia’ …

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Tulipa tarda

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And Tulipa batalinii ‘Bronze Charm’, which was still flowering this morning.

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Tulipa  saxatilis  ‘Lilac Wonder’ was on the go in the Hornbeam Gardens just before before Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’ started into bloom. When I first planted them in 2016 I had only leaves – this year some flowers!

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I always eagerly await ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘China Pink’ in the Rose Walk. These were planted because they persisted in a previous garden. However, after much thought, I’ve decided that the persistence of a tulip depends on the soil: that previous garden was on clay too – but not as heavy and the garden not as hot as at Chatillon. The Queen and ‘China Pink’ have to be topped up every year in this garden if I want a decent show. The message seems to be that just because a tulip is persistent for someone else doesn’t mean it will work in your garden!

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‘China Pink’ in the background, with ‘Sorbet’ in the foreground.

On the other hand ‘Sorbet’, which hasn’t been planted since 2015, comes back in fairly satisfying numbers each year. It’s a very nice surprise, indeed, when it arrives.

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This is what I love about the Rose Walk at this time of year. I have been equally entranced by stitchwort growing in long grass on road verges – I could look for hours. It’s the allium buds that have me spellbound here.

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I have some rather good ‘West Point’ and ‘Flaming Spring Green’ in the Long Border, which reappear and have done so since planting in autumn 2013 – and I don’t think their number has ever dwindled.

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As planned, I took the ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Aladdin’ (which I had in the Knot Garden in 2017) down to the Long Border this year and they’ve been quite a treat, especially as I managed to plant Euphorbia polychroma (an old favourite of mine for the spring contrast it makes to tulips) last spring. I really love this plant – it’s as delightful in the same way as that old trouper, Alchemilla mollis.

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‘Ballerina’

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‘Ballerina’ with the grey foliage of Asphodeline lutea

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‘Aladdin’ just going over, with Euphorbia polychroma.

In pots I’ve also been enjoying a NOT ‘Queen of the Night’ on the Mirror Garden in my blue pots. It’s really charming, but definitely not what I wanted. Any ideas?

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And on the supper terrace are two pots full of dear little cheapies from Lidl – ‘Greenland’. I adore the Viridiflora tulips. Again that passion for green in flowers …

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And so – in the Knot Garden this morning I met my nemesis (for the next year or so, I reckon). I was admiring the individual charms of purple-black ‘Paul Scherer’ …

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teamed with the fringed violet of ‘Blue Heron’ …

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… while swearing also that such a dark tulip as ‘Paul Sherer’ should never be planted in the centre of the knot again – it disappears – and regretting the fact that pale yellow ‘Cistula’ hadn’t shown up at all (I’ve never complained to a bulb merchant before, but there’s always a first time).

And then I noticed some suspicious webbing on the box plants. Yes, it’s here – box tree moth caterpillar. In fact I suspect that it was lurking last year, but I was in denial at that stage because 2017 saw me in a bit of a Greta Garbo phase!

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I have now trawled over the entire garden and it is everywhere – not a single hedge or plant is untouched (and I have a few hedges).

XenTari has been ordered, and sprayer from Amazon (XenTari is a Bacillus thuringiensis biological control which gets a good press). All arriving Saturday. But I fear the fight to save the box will prove too costly, both in time and money. In my head I’m already planning their replacements. I think lavender would be nice for all the terrace edges where we have box at present. But what about my sweet little dumplings in the Mirror Garden?

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Ilex crenata might look to be a good idea, but I don’t think holly is very happy on our heavy soil. And apparently the only other plant that box moth likes is euonymus … so my back-up plan to replace box with Euonymus japonicus ‘Microphyllus’ is out of the question.

I’ll be afraid to go out into the garden tomorrow morning – will all the box be dead already? Will I spend another 2 hours (as I did today) hand-picking the little blighters?

At times like this you have to go a bit Scarlett O’Hara don’t you?

Otherwise you’d be as sombre (and not as beautiful) as a black tulip.

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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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