Category Archives: Herbaceous perennials

In a vase on Monday

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I am struggling to post, what with all going on in the house and our lives. Still, here is my Vase on Monday.

Not too many words, but I’m fond of my (soon to be coppiced) hazel and my hellebores.

Yes, we also have snow, which makes our balcony really slippy going. (Nearly broke my neck taking these pictures!)

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Don’t the hellebores almost look like orchids if you half close your eyes? They started flowering (surprisingly) in November.

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The vase was a vide grenier find from a local glass company at Isches, now no longer existing. I love the fine tracery on the surface, but (as a second-hand buy) it is pretty flawed. More pretty than flawed …

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You may be interested to see that my ‘toilet arrangement’ is still flaunting itself in the living room. (Here’s the previous Vase on Monday, if you missed it.)

Perhaps a comment on how much dust we have around in the house at the moment, since it doesn’t seem worth replacing?

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The element I’m enjoying the most (apart from the darling little hazel catkins and the grasses) is the dried foliage of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.

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A funny way to say ‘Merry Christmas’, perhaps, but I’m going to post pictures of my magnificent – and long-awaited – greenhouse later in the week. And I’ll be just full of the right spirit then, because the Bon Viveur is on his way home for Christmas – see you soon and enjoy the next few days!

With many thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who always gets me happy and grateful when I think I’ve no energy left. Pop on over to her blog and see the other Christmassy vases.

In a vase on Monday


I was SO not going to take part in Cathy’s meme, ‘In a Vase on Monday’, at Rambling in the Garden today.  I promised myself a quick peek at everyone else’s vase this evening and was quite content.


Then I sprinted at high speed around my weedy plot with a camera and saw three things that pleased me a lot and inspired me to do a vase anyway.


The first thing I saw, Rose ‘Veilchenblau’, is already a little on her way out. Unappreciated, poor thing. Since I know that we have only limited time in our house here, due to the difficulty of the garden for an older person, I’ve planted some of my favourite roses (50 in all since 2012) here and there amongst the monster weeds.

They will take time to settle. I promise myself that in the next year or so I’ll get on top of the weeds – and then I’ll have 15 odd years to enjoy. The tactic does work, I promise you! Although it’s probably the reverse of what every other gardener does.

‘Veilchenblau’ is a perfect example, struggling with grass, nettles and the virginia creeper that adores our old walls so much. This is the first year (after 4) that she’s really flowering properly. Here she is in her weedy bower!


The second things I saw were the sweet little spikes of what I believe is short-lived perennial Digitalis lutea. I had a lovely little tray of seedlings from a friend in 2015 and they are settling nicely. Must save seed this year.


Third pretty thing was Knautia macedonica – mental note to self, be more brutal! It’s a sweetie, but currently making the lower Hornbeam Gardens even more of a mess than should be the case.

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Who is responsible for this mess?

It didn’t do well higher up in the garden, but here it is taking over the shop. At first there was pleasure at the seedlings, now I’m kicking myself.

I also added the first decent flowers I’ve had of Scabiosa caucasica since it, too, was planted in 2015.


Et voila!

I’ll look forward to enjoying the links to everyone else’s vases at Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden later in the day. Now I’ll get on and do the work that I was supposed to be doing when I got up this morning. (The weeding will, sadly have to wait!)

I hope this week brings some happy moments in your garden!



In a vase on Monday – back in the game!

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I guess I must have a bit of an addiction – not just to Cathy’s lovely ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme at Rambling in the Garden, but also (and more seriously!) to delphiniums.

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Now the thing is, they are not the kind of plant I would normally be comfortable growing. They require far too much work, and in a big garden with only one person keeping everything up to the mark that’s something you can do without out.


I was persuaded to buy the first in 2012 – my husband, the Bon Viveur, saw it in our local market at Jussey. One stately, gloriously tall white spike in a very large pot. After saying ‘no’ several times, I gave in. It went home with us and was planted out in the Rose Walk. Only about a week later it collapsed completely, a victim of the voles that were gobbling things up as quickly as I could plant them that year.

I bought a Hayloft plant collection. They were planted in March 2015, lower down in a cooler spot and watered, fed, supported lovingly.

So far, so good, for two years. Last autumn/winter many disappeared (I didn’t water much last summer and winter temperatures dipped to nearly -20C). Out of about 15 plants I think we had six left this spring. But by then it was far too late. I purchased more – another Hayloft collection for planting out next spring and quite a few decent sized plants from a mail order nursery I’ve started using called Promesse de Fleurs.

And so it goes on … and will doubtless cost me a small fortune before I’m through. And then there’s the hours spent googling the best way to show them real TLC. Sadly I learnt that the sort I’m planting – ‘Pacific Hybrids’ – are considered by some to be biennial.

This year they have had no attention at all – no support, nothing. A bit of a horticultural disaster.

When the first rain and thunderstorms we’ve had in a fortnight threatened on Friday night I rushed out to pick some of the blooms that were already trailing on the ground.

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They’ve made a pretty vase, accompanied by two stems of Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (I think!) …

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… and some white Campanula persicifolia.

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When I look at their little furry faces through my camera lens, I know there’s no hope for me.

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And oh, that blue! A friend of mine says she doesn’t like blue flowers. Can it be possible that there are gardeners out there who don’t relish a touch of blue on their plots?

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Do you have a favourite flower colour in the garden? Tall delphinium tales also gratefully accepted!

Hop on over to see what all those lovely Monday vases look like – you’ll find the links at Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden. And many thanks to Cathy again for being such a gracious and generous host for the IAVOM meme (at least that addiction doesn’t cost me anything!).

Have a wonderful gardening week!

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Mother’s Day Inspiration: Inverewe Garden



Lilies against a threatening Wester Ross sky

I had planned to write about my own garden in France the next time I blogged. But today in the UK is Mother’s Day, and I can’t stop thinking about my own mum.


Thank goodness it’s turned out fine again!

Together we took short breaks around Scotland and visited quite a few gardens in recent years. My memory of those trips would be different from hers, although there’s a parallel thread. We were the typical mother/daughter double act. My memory is that she stayed (at the age of 82 to 86) in the car too much and was ‘difficult’. Her memory would be that I walked (very fast) a lot – and was ‘difficult’!


This is a brief photographic record of the last trip we took together, in July 2016. You can find out more about Inverewe garden here.

But you must visit – there’s nothing quite like it.

The garden was started in the 1860s by Osgood Mackenzie on a windswept Wester Ross peninsula, close to the village of Gairloch. In latitude it is nearer to the Artic Circle than St Petersburg or most of Labrador.  When Osgood wrote of the estate in 1862 he described only one dwarf willow growing on the whole of the Inverewe peninsula and a thin skin of acid peat where the rock was not exposed.


There may be a Mother’s Day message there?

Probably the star attraction at Inverewe is the walled vegetable and flower garden. To Osgood, this area was the garden at Inverewe – the rest was just ‘woodland’. If you garden on a slope (like me) this will encourage you!


Huge volumes of topsoil and seaweed were added to enrich the area for vegetables, flowers and fruit. There are flat paths at the base of three sloping terraces. (And all of that must have cost a fortune!)


A central path bisects the garden, running right down the slope to the sea shore opposite the village of Poolewe.


At the bottom is a gate that I seem to remember was created by local craftsmen and depicts the tree of life. (I should get my notebook out more often … so what if it’s raining!)


Not just fruit and vegetables in this walled garden – superb herbaceous plantings too, jostling alongside fruit trees.




You may notice that the weather changed while we were there. Inverewe gets rain two and half days out of three! We were lucky to get the half day break …

A closer look at those enviable vegetable slopes.



You’ll notice cut flowers mingling with the colours of purple kale and cabbage in the pictures above. Cut flowers (like the lilies at the start of this post) would be almost as important as vegetables in the house’s walled garden.

Sweet pea ‘Matucana’ and seering orange gladioli …


Not for cut flower, but I fell in love with this luscious poppy, ‘Lauren’s Grape’. I bought seed as soon as I arrived back in France.


And can anyone tell me what this wonderful umbellifer is? I looked everywhere but couldn’t find a label. Is it a selinum species?


Look at these compost bins – I’m trying this at home …


The prettiest thing in the walled garden that day …


Right next to the walled garden there is a newer area (on another slope!) near the glasshouses. Richly planted with South African (and Mediterranean) natives.


In need of a cup of tea? Follow the drive to the old house (not open to the public) and the tea rooms tucked back in the old stable yard. You can use your little electric buggy if you are not so nifty on your feet …


The house was built after Osgood’s original building was ruined in 1914. Here we have the main lawn, with a herbaceous border below the drive. The slope leads to the rock garden created by Osgood’s daughter Mairi.


Moving away from the house into the woodland


Mairi’s rockery slopes to the shoreline. Here, looking back up to the house past an old eucalyptus

On the lawn of the house stands  a magnificent variegated Turkey oak. The lichens are testimony to the clean air up here.


From the house lawn paths lead out in every direction through the woodland gardens and to the highest lookout point.


Bear in mind that every single tree on the Inverewe estate was planted either in Osgood’s time, or later. All he knew was a single old weather-dwarfed willow. Scot’s pine is the ultimate in shelterbelt planting.


One of my chief pleasures that day was the bark and silhouettes of various eucalypts and rhododendron species. Leaving aside the walled garden and the coastline, it is these that the word ‘Inverewe’ will always bring to my mind.


And, of course, this wouldn’t be a Scottish garden benefiting from the warm Gulf Stream without the lush sub-tropical effect of foliage plants … astelia, tree ferns, palms, ferns, bamboos.


And the highest lookout point over the water to Poolewe …


The village of Gairloch is a treat in summer (as long as it dosen’t rain too much!). Even without a visit to the garden at Inverewe (only about 10 minutes away) the peninsula and  occasionally  treacherous coastal road that leads there are a balm for the crowd-sickened soul. Follow the road for Kyle of Lochalsh, turn right just before Kyle … and keep going. For ever …


We stayed at the Old Inn, right next to the harbour. Still a picturesque little fishing port, perfect for a summer evening stroll.


And I never thought I could enjoy plastic so much … look at those colours!


So, as I said, Mum and I argued as we toured Scotland. We stayed in small hotels – and argued about the rooms. We drove – and argued about the roads. We ate in nice little cafes and tea rooms – and then we argued some more. Our joint autobiography would be: We Argued all the Way. But we also talked a lot about our shared past. And, most importantly – and probably why she was so insistent on these trips – we laughed an awful lot together and made very happy (and funny) memories.

Inverewe is the last and (arguably!) the best of these. Incidentally, for any other elderly or less than completely physically able individual considering visiting Inverewe, don’t be put off by the slopes. Mum was provided with a little electric buggy to tootle about in – and given a quick lesson in handling. But even an electric buggy has its limits on an estate like Inverewe. There were things she never saw.


So, on this Mother’s Day 2017 … my thoughts? The next time your mother suggests you take a road trip together, seize the chance before it’s too late. You’ll be living on the warmth of your memories for the rest of your life – and even your regretful recollection of the silly rows will become a reminder of your precious, shared laughter.

Molly Buchanan, 25 January 1930 to 8 January 2017.




Scottish Inspiration 2: Kellie Castle Garden


It’s been a long, difficult winter – and a very long time since I blogged. Hopefully the winter’s treated you well?

Today I’m looking back at what now seems like a kind of golden era last summer, and remembering how much I love Scottish gardens.

Those who read my blog regularly (when I post!) may remember that last year I took a look at a garden in Fife called  Cambo that had developed a prairie-style planting within an old walled garden. Today I’m featuring a very different garden visited on the same day, just a little bit further around the coastline from Cambo.

Who could say, looking at Kellie, that borders of nepeta, roses and delphiniums are hackneyed? They are rightly popular because they are so easy on the eye, especially in this soft summer light.


The garden at Kellie Castle is much more traditional than Cambo, the kind I remember visiting with so much enthusiasm when my gardening ambitions were only in bud. A garden that almost typifies the Scottish style.


Cool climate, lots of rain, an incredible jungle of lush growth during those wonderful June and July days when the countryside pulls out the stops and shows you what it can do.

Nowhere (that I’ve ever visited) can do herbaceous borders – perennial delphiniums and phlox, biennials like sweet william, annuals like sweet peas – better than Scotland can. Fortunately I don’t despair, although I garden in what is (by comparison) incredible heat.


Kellie Castle has been a National Trust for Scotland garden since 1970. You can read all about it here.  The earliest records of a castle on the site date back to 1150 and the Siward family, who owned the lands in the thirteenth century, have been linked to Malcolm Canmore, the Scottish king who overthrew Macbeth.


James VI of Scotland and I of England stayed here in 1617 during his only visit to Scotland after the Union of the Crowns on 24 March 1603. It was he who appointed Sir Thomas Erskine (the then owner) Earl of Kellie, in gratitude for the fact that Erskine had saved his life during an earlier conspiracy against the king.

Of quirky interest is that the fifth Earl of Kellie is reputed to have hidden in a burnt-out tree stump in the castle grounds for the entire summer following the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

The most highly cultivated part of the garden is  seventeenth century with late Victorian additions. There are several features that I particularly love.

The geometric lines of a walled garden always seem to beg for long walks that lead to definining focal points. The paths are narrow at Kellie, but their drama is not diminished by the proportion.


And – as in the best gardens – plenty of areas to sit and enjoy.


Some of the walks are in shade at the base of the main walls. Ferns and Aruncus sylvestris are really something to brag about. All that lovely soft rain.


The climate is not kind to box, in our blight-afflicted era. But Scottish gardeners seem to battle on undeterred. Is there a lesson there for us all? The long, double (and very narrow) herbaceous borders are a case in point. I don’t really notice the box damage with the exuberance behind to draw the eye. But what will the damage be like in a few years’ time?


The seedheads of the angelica really sing out against the billowing shapes behind it – and where would the form and sense of the planting be without the sharp lines of the box? Will they replace the box in years to come with something that will better tolerate close proximity to very tall border companions?

There are many plants in this border grouping that I think of as a bit thuggish on my own plot. Kellie Castle makes me think again. Goldenrod, Lysimachia punctata … Oh, and something to which I’m very partial: the pale yellow, fluffy flowers of Thalictrum speciossisum, rarely seen in such quantity.



A double form of Geranium himalayense (at a guess) is a bit more special.


The soil below is, as in all the best herbaceous borders, invisible. And here’s the secret of that incredibly tall – yet upright – growth in such a narrow space. A network of nylon webbing through which the plants grow in spring.


I was going to try the same in my own delphium borders, which are backed by michaelmas daisies. And then I realised it would be impossible, since I want to get in to cut the delphiniums.

Sometimes the dividing line between herbaceous border and lawn has been created by roses grown as swags on metal supports. A pretty solution for boundaries in a formal garden.



The organic vegetable plot doesn’t lack a decorative appeal either – and again, the path dressed with a rose-tumbled arch helps to pull the whole together.



There’s the odd little accent I’d kill for in my own garden – we don’t often see these forcers in this part of France. But the Kellie collection of rhubarb varieties is pretty spectacular and deserves the ornament.


And some quirky little trained fruit trees in an open area at the bottom of the garden.


Tropaeolum speciosum is not something I’m ever going to be trying at home. It loves acid soil and a cooler climate – it is hardy to -10 or -15 degrees centigrade. I’ve seen the best specimens climbing through yew hedges in Scottish gardens – not for nothing is the common name Scottish flame flower – although it actually comes from Chile. Kellie Castle’s sample is one of the nicest.



Finally, leave the walled garden for a breath of air on the beautiful Fife coastline.


I’ll be back with news from my own garden soon. Until then, have a good weekend!

Tree Following March 005